The single most decisive factor should be the quality of the edit itself: Will this editor help improve your book? In order to assess this, nothing beats a sample edit (even if you have to pay for it). Testimonials and credentials (such as experience at a major NY publisher) can help you narrow your list, but you should submit the same sample to a variety of editors and compare their work side by side. Some editors will push too hard, and some won’t push hard enough; some will simply “get” your writing, while others will seem to speak another language entirely. In my experience, the editor’s résumé is far less revealing than the quality of the sample edit. In fact, the higher an editor’s pedigree, the more reluctant the editor might be to provide a sample edit. Don’t be afraid to insist: no one should expect you to invest in a car without a test drive!
If a book has an editor, you will be able to find their information in the opening pages of a book before the table of contents or first chapter. This information is often on the copyright information page, although the editor’s name may be listed in the acknowledgements or on the title page instead. If a book has no press or an editor is uncredited, you may need to do some research or contact the author to get editorial information. To contact an editor, contact their publishing company or use their personal or professional website to reach out to them. Remember to always be cordial if you’re planning on a getting a letter or phone call back!
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If you’re a first-time author and have never hired an editor before, I would not recommend hiring an editor without first getting a sample edit. An editor can have a great resume and speak eloquently on the phone, but the real test of their skills is how they edit your book, and the sample edit is a quick, free way to find out. It’s standard for a freelance editor to offer a free sample edit unless they are exceptionally well-known.
I usually ask for a 10-20 page sample – one page is a bit scant for a really accurate estimate. I’ll do an editing sample, too, but how long I’m willing to make it depends on the proposed length of the piece I’ll be editing. As for the “hidden message” strategy, if I saw something like that, I’d suspect the prospective client was fearful and suspicious and I’d probably run the other way. I willingly provide testimonials, references, and links to published work, so tricks aren’t necessary. It’s important to me to build a professional relationship of mutual trust with my clients, backed up, of course, by a contract that protects us both. I don’t think I’d like to work with a client who plays “gotcha!” Lots of good suggestions in this article, though.
A very helpful article, thanks! I’ve been trialing editors for my current romance WIP, including industry stalwarts from The Big Four, to freelancers and hobbyists, *budget* options and the gurus who cost a pretty penny. From 9 to 5 I’m an editor myself, so it’s been great experiencing the process from a writer’s perspective. I’ve documented some tips below on what to look for in an editor (and what should send you running) , which you might find interesting.
Software and Systems – Some of us writers like using certain types of writing tools or software. I personally love to write my books using Scrivener, and will then switch to Google docs for better tracking systems. However, I've run into editors who only use Word document. That's no bueno for me. So, make sure they are good with whatever writing programs you want to use.
As for multitasking, believe it or not, I try to schedule so that I am only working actively on one book at a time. Research keeps showing that “multitasking” is actually less efficient, because of the time lost to leaving behind one task to restart another. (Think of it this way: If you take on two clients at once for work that would take one week each with your full attention, either you can tell both clients the work will be done in three weeks because you’ll be alternating between them, or tell one client it will be done in one week and one that it will be done in two weeks, because you’ll complete one before you start on the other. Which of those makes more sense?) Obviously, with back-and-forth communications, sometimes complete “monotasking” is impossible, but I think it should be considered the ideal.
You draw distinctions that use idiosyncratic definitions of some fairly standard terms. For example, Chicago defines the terms “manuscript editing,” “line editing,” and “copyediting” as synonymous with each other, and none of them as synonymous with “mechanical editing,” although that is one element of them. Certainly, I agree that an author has a right to expect more than merely mechanical editing unless that is specifically what they have requested. However, I cannot agree that the only route into competent and appropriate freelance editing is internal employment within a publishing house, and that the only clients who should be counted as a relevant part of a freelance editor’s curriculum vitae are those who are traditionally published.
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Experience: Experience, including internships at publishing houses and work in other media—such as newspaper or magazine editing—also is important for prospective book editors. Moreover, connections in the publishing world, whether to another editor or successful writer, also can help your chances of landing a job as a book editor. If you are interested in editing books that deal with a specific subject, such as fashion or food, you should have formal training or work experience in that area to increase your chances of getting hired. To grow your network, you can join professional organizations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).
You also said it’s not fair for self-publishing authors to apply those standards to editors when they don’t work with publishers themselves. It’s one thing for authors to have the right to publish their work and make it available for readers to judge its merits, and quite another for someone to ask those authors to invest in them for their expertise.
Most editors in my genre charge from 002 to 007 per word. That’s for developmental and FLE, (Final line edit) – three rounds in all. The 10,000 fee you mention here would put off anybody from ever hiring an editor. I know few writers who could pay that, which is why Amazon is flooded with poorly written and badly edited books. I would encourage writers to contact other authors in their genre for tips on editors and to cultivate good beta readers.
When you’ve found someone who seems like a decent candidate so far, make first contact. (The contact form on the website is fine as a first step.) Introduce yourself and state what you are looking for (a developmental critique, copyediting, etc.). Give a very brief description of your project, including its genre and approximate length. Give an idea of your planned next step and any deadlines (even if only approximate ones). For example, have you already signed a contract with a subsidy press for publication next fall? Are you planning to submit the manuscript to publishers and/or literary agents after editing?
I keep second guessing myself on things like where a space should go when someone is talking and if I have to keep saying “He said” “She said” etc., over and over. Or Mom vs mom. It goes on and on so I am thrilled to read Trish’s response about hiring an editor for a chapter or two. I would love to do that when I finish before I do a complete rewrite myself. I think that would help save so much time.