Val, thank you, lots of good stuff here, and it’s great to suggest giving a credible newbie a try. As an encrusted oldie, I can say that it’s sensible to deal with a niche/specialist editor, but sometimes editors have broad experience in both fiction and nonfiction writing (I’ve written and edited a good deal of both), and thus can edit with confidence across styles and genres. Thanks for a sound, thoughtful post.
Inspect the spine of the book and look for a smaller name under the author. Turn the book over and look at the spine—the thin side of the book where the pages are bound to the cover. If there are multiple names on the spine of the book, they are always ordered with the author’s name first, and the editor’s name after it. On most books, the editor’s name will be smaller so that a passerby can quickly tell who the author is.[5]
I find many of these responses by Trish to be unethical trolling for business on another editor’s conversations. Trish may be an excellent editor, but her actions here leave me speechless. I agree with a lot she says, but what if her dealings with me are as unethical as her trolling here. I expect expertise and experience from my chosen editor. But, before that, I expect a high ethical standard and professional interaction on the web.
A professional editor will not only help improve your manuscript, but they should be able to provide guidance for you as a writer to help you improve your writing skills. A great editor will tell you what areas you should be focusing on to improve—things like using the right point of view (POV), avoiding filler words, writing dialogue properly, character development, and more.
I’m a first time writer. Today I’m about 60% done with a “novel” (a thinly disguised autobiographical account of finding romance and starting a family during the Viet Nam war). I believe that hiring a developmental editor at this time would help me complete the work in a better ‘voice’, ultimately saving time and money. The alternative would be to finish the work as this column advises before submitting for edit.
For my book, Career Change, I gave an early copy to people working in my department in the day job who I knew were dissatisfied with what they were doing. They came back with questions and suggestions for what to include as additional material. For The Healthy Writer, we asked medical doctors to read it as a sense check (even though my co-writer, Euan Lawson, is a doctor!)
Really great advice. I just wish editors and proofreaders were more affordable. I find that the cost often dissuades writers from hiring help, even though it’s a really important investment. I like PaperBlazer (https://www.paperblazer.com/hire-a-proofreader-or-editor-for-your-novel/) since it’s more affordable than a lot of other editors. The other comments here are very helpful as well.
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.
Due to popular demand, we’re adding a low-cost manuscript review + passive developmental edit to help you find and fix the “cause of death” before you invest in editing or proofreading. You’ll get expert eyes on your manuscript, and while we won’t focus on or fix every little issue, we’ll help you identify the big red flags that are killing your book slowly. These are the places readers will give up and agents will ditch your manuscript into the slush pile. In-depth comments and suggestions will be provided to help you clarify and restructure your book, but this feedback is “hands-off”: we won’t go in and actually make changes, though we will point out signs of weak writing, repetition, and provide tips on how to improve as a writer. If you think your manuscript might be a mess, or you want to focus on the large, important stuff that matters most, this is for you.
An edit requires a substantial investment, many times greater than the cost of a book. Editors who spent years as assistants, learning the craft of editing and acquiring the knowledge of how to guide authors, are a safer choice. Their track record speaks for itself; editors at this level have bestsellers and award winners in both the traditional and the self-publishing space.
I’m sorry you feel that way about my participation in the discussion and defending editors of similar background to myself from what I considered unwarranted disparagement. Perhaps the only approach that would have 100% proof against accusations of “trolling” would have been to allow the claims to stand unchallenged, but that did not seem fair to people who come here to get useful information.
I recently contacted Ebook Launch on the advice of a fellow author, and I am extremely pleased with the results. Dane was professional and very prompt, always keeping in touch with me as the process unfolded. I had both my ebook and print versions of the cover within a week of paying for them. They were professionally done, rivaling anything I have seen from the top publishing houses. Excellent work!
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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Well, hopefully, now self published authors can now see that there are a lot of AMAZING editors who can do outstanding work for a LOT cheaper than that list. As for the free editing sample, yeah – so long as the editor has solid proof that they are a legit editor with great credentials, that’s all you need. But if they don’t have that and won’t provide a free sample edit, then there are a lot of fish in the sea and it’s best to move on.
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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.

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 »
If however the editor is going to disassemble the book act by act, scene by scene, beat by beat, and show technically in story structure terms what needs to be changed, then the editor is spending far more time in analysis and constructing the demonstration of such to the client. Of course, this really depends on what service a client wants as well.
Thank you for this most timely article. I’m a newbie writer that is writing a history book on a small WWII town. It is a little unique in that it will have many newspaper clippings and historic construction photos. The narrative will only be there as a clarification to these items. I want to be sure that this narrative is smooth flowing and comprehensive. I’m not certain to what degree editing will be involved. You article certainly helped bring to light things I should consider.
The Vietnam war is on and our protagonist (me) joins the Navy to avoid being drafted. Ordered overseas, he loses his respect for the cultural norms of his parents’ generation regarding sex, marriage, and the war. Tom is on a great adventure. He also loses his virginity at the age of 19 while stationed in Korea. The narrative is full of shocking revelations about the conduct of that war along with sweet and very personal vignettes concerning Tom’s personal life (nothing salacious, no titillating descriptions of the passionate and torrid sex which occurred). Stories and pictures relating to women in three countries who competed for Tom’s affection. The epilogue reveals that Tom is still married to the woman that won him 41 years ago. They have four grandchildren today. Tom (me) has a positive outlook throughout, enjoys all the challenges and relationships, and is still convinced he has achieved his life’s goal of being a dependable husband, father and grandfather.

Freelance editors normally do not double as literary agents. Not only is it not our area of expertise, but it can actually lead to ethical quandaries. There have, unfortunately, been cases of literary agents saying that potential clients’ work “has potential” but needs to be edited (by them or their employee), for an exorbidant fee. It would also be possible for editors to give the impression that they are guaranteeing publication of a project, when that is something no one but a publisher can do. Many professional organizations forbid their members to combine these two roles, to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

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