ROUND ONE: We’ll start with a manuscript review – a quick read-through to identify any major problems, boring parts that need trimming, conclusions that can be made stronger, suggestions for rewrites, plot improvements or problems, story arc and structural analysis. We’ll ask lots of questions and provide tips and recommendations. Your editor will be like a personal writing coach. We’ll send an editorial report on the big issues that can be improved. After you’ve rewritten to your satisfaction, we’ll move on to part two.

I would add the suggestion to be prepared for the editor to request a look at the manuscript (not just a short sample) to prepare an accurate estimate. This has been my practice for some time, and it allows me to provide a flat fee for the entire project. This makes budgeting much less complicated for the author, although of course I am willing to bill by the hour if preferred.
Amazing post, Dave, and definitely an important topic. My first book I used one of the larger “editorial agencies” you mentioned. The quality wasn’t bad but there was no direct contact with the editor. Just ship it to them and they ship it back. I’ve tried out several editors now and found a very good one who did a great job on my list book. Once you find a good editor, stick with him/her and build a relationship if you can. Thanks for the list provided and this editors test is a great addition.
From your comment, you may be in search of a manuscript critique, where you pay a professional to essentially conduct a beta read with the added benefit of their experience and knowledge about the craft. Then they’ll give you a few pages’ worth of considerations. When I don’t have the time for such critiques (and I only critique nonfiction), I refer my clients to andilit.com.
Once you have narrowed your options down to a few editors, five or less for example, set up some initial contact with each of the children’s book editors. Start by contacting them and see if they can answer your core questions via email. Find out if they are willing to chat with you by phone or skype about your project when you are ready to make a decision. Ask for them to specifically identify what children’s book editorial services they will be able to provide.
Anyone wishing to pay someone 500 bucks to read their book just so they can be given a short and unhelpful overview is arguably getting what they paid for. Naturally, self publishers and the like can’t really justify the amount they’d have to spend on a real editor of story structure, but it still baffles me that these so called developmental editors exist. That is, unless they have a follow up service after the fact that is actually worth it.
Moreover, the casual distinction between a (developmental) “editor” and a “copyeditor” can be a bit simplistic, particularly in a self-publication or even vanity-publishing context. A self-published author may barely have the budget to hire one editor, so that editor needs to be able and willing to blur the lines between developmental editing and copyediting. The editor must also be accustomed to working with authors of a variety of strengths and weaknesses, including many whose work would not, in fact, have been accepted by a commercial publishing house in its current form. I have come to take great satisfaction in taking a new or newish author by the hand and helping them find ways of making their work the best it can be. Of necessity, this must include line-by-line correction of grammar and style (often a surprisingly great amount of such correction), but can rarely be limited to that.
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“My advice is that you take a couple of days off—go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle—and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book. . . . How long you let your book rest . . . is entirely up to you, but i think it should be a minimum of six weeks.”

Wonderful article! The difference between the types of editors can’t be emphasized enough, escpecially when it comes to price. I’ve seen too many new authors seek out a copywriter when they need a content editor. (Most bad reviews that say “they really need an editor!” reflect that.) This is a relationship and you need to be able to work with the person. If you disagree with all of their suggestions, or they can’t see your perspective, then the edit is worthless. Writers also need to be aware of the difference between an edit that’s going to help the story and… Read more »
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And a word of warning. The Editorial Freelancers Association, mentioned in this article as a potential source for finding an editor, does not vet its applicants. Anyone, including “self-proclaimed” editors, can join. As stated in the membership guidelines: “Any full- or part-time freelancer may join EFA.” It is basically a listing of freelancers offering services online, and for a fee, members can have access to a job board. While some legitimate editors list themselves on the EFA, so do a lot of other people. Membership is by no means evidence of professional qualifications.

Fiction writers may want to join a writers group or workshop to benefit from the help of others who have experience with your genre and can help you develop your craft, challenge flaws in your narrative or character development, and help you improve the overall quality of your story. A flawed plot or character is much harder to revise after you finish writing your book, so it’s important to catch such problematic aspects of your book early on.
For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
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Obviously there is a big difference. I actually started with screenplays (with some mild success) partly due to hearing that as long as you have a good story, the grammatical errors won’t be a big deal. Well, that was not true. Maybe if a producer liked the story or I was already established but every contest I entered always came back with feedback about the grammatical errors. Even if I won or placed as a finalist, I always received critique on that. Very little is spelling error, it was more about structure, etc.
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