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.
Thanks, Jessi. Everything you say is true, but for anyone reading this and feeling anxious about the EFA, I’d like to put in a good word for the organization. Established in 1970, they’ve been around for much longer than the current self-pub/e-book revolution (so: not a fly-by-night company), plus they exhibit at major events (BEA, AWP, etc), where you can meet some of the editors in person. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with their members and recommend them on my resources page.
I have heard so many horror stories about editors and experienced a few myself. If an author is uncertain about an editor, most editors will do one sample chapter or 10 pages (whichever comes first) for free to give the author an idea of their style. Edits can be very intense and I would encourage authors to listen if they keep hearing the same things about their work from different sources. That said, they also don’t need an editor who is so brutal they never want to pick up a pen again.
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.
I held the role of blogger and web content writer for a multimedia entertainment company before transitioning to freelance work. I have assisted many clients on projects ranging from product descriptions, to blog articles, to content editing. My areas of expertise are in science, fashion, travel, and yoga. I have also edited over 50 eBooks and can provide professional book descriptions.

I’d add that for UK writers, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Directory is the best place to search for editorial professionals. Each editor has been vetted for professional competence through the Society (you have to be assessed to become a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member), so it’s a pretty trustworthy source: http://www.sfep.org.uk/directory/directory.asp
Call or write to the publishing company the editor works for to see if you can talk to them. You may be able to reach an editor directly by asking to speak with them at work. Send a formal letter or place a friendly call asking to speak with the editor. Ensure that you’re able to articulate why you want to speak with them ahead of time by practicing the conversation.[10]
Whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been writing for some time, it’s no secret that the most successful writers specialize in a niche. Why? Focusing on a niche helps you become an expert in that area, write better content, ask better questions, and know where to find sources and research. The best editors typically specialize in one or a few niches for similar reasons.
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!
I am late to this discussion. But I would like to speak for all those authors starting out…editing, although a necessary evil, is very expensive. Let’s face it, writing a novel is not a paid venture. If you sell your book to traditional publisher, or self publish, you will rarely make this expense up. To spend $5.0-$10.0 on your novel is just out of reach for most. I realize that editors “work hard” and “put a lot of time” into their work. But there seems a disconnect in the market place. Writers are writing for free, and shelling out all the money for little return. And yet it seems the only ones profiting is the “market place” on services. It is more an “industry” for publishing, than a means for a writer to get published, or make a living. I wish there was a middle ground for writers: an editing service that prepares your novel for submission to agents and editors at publishers, but doesn’t cost your first child! There is a need, and is truly an untapped market. But what you have are editors, at all levels, “demanding” the market price, whether they are experienced, starting out, or good. There seems to be no heirarchy with an equal level of professionalism for new writers vs experienced who might have a bigger budget for editing. I liken it to buying cars. You can buy a car at $15.0 and still get a good, safe car that looks nice and is drivable.. Or, you can buy a car at $50.0 if you want more prestige, quality service, personal attention, more features. Both are acceptable and worthy, just at different levels of affordability. Although editors are arguably at different prices, as the comments have indicated, the less you pay is for limited services, not a varying level of editing. It’s like getting a car with three wheels. But new writers do need a full service of editing…at an affordable price. I am not sure how to get there, or the value to editors, but there does seem to be a gap that needs to be filled- reliable editors, who can help bring a novel to a professional level for submission, and it be worth their time in doing so, at a rate that is more manageable for a writer’s pocketbook.
Funny video! But as a freelance editor, I want to point out that “proving” my skills is only part of the equation. The bigger reason for me to offer a sample edit is to determine if the writing is READY for an edit. Learning to write fiction is a craft. Beginning authors are often better served by attending workshops or joining a critique group to develop their skills BEFORE submitting their work for editing. I simply cannot take on a new client without seeing any of their work.
Perhaps there is some misunderstanding of the phrase ‘developmental editing’ used in this article. Given the number of hours necessary to process, dissect, and reconstruct a text of that size, it sounds like anyone who charged that lowly is doing the job for fun and has a spouse to provide for them–all the while devaluing the work of people who do this for a living. It’s really not ethical.
I got in touch with Ebook Launch lately to sort out a cover for my second book, and I cannot recommend them enough. The process was quick and easy, and the effort put into capturing the mood of my story was apparent from the first sketch. Their service was friendly and accommodating, and they were open to making or reverting changes to my covers without any trouble. I appreciate the hard work they put in on my behalf, and wholly recommend their services.
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.
“I am the self-published author of four novels: both ebooks and paperback. I have used the formatting and book cover design services of the amazing team at Ebook Launch for two of these titles. I’ve found all at Ebook Launch to be patient, incredibly helpful, super quick in delivering, but above all, very professional – and reasonably priced to boot! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Ebook Launch for your next project; these are, without doubt, the go-to-guys for the self-published.”
My facility with words derives from a love of literature and a background in French, teaching English, and editing. Throughout my academic and professional experiences, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of texts, from academic papers to blogs to web content to novels while respecting English grammar and mechanics within the context of various style guides, including AP, CMoS, APA, and MLA.
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.

You know, Rob, I’ve learned people offer their services for pay for a variety of reasons, and they live in a variety of circumstances. Some do it just to make a little side money, because they love the creativity…it’s not everyone who’s doing it because it’s their main livelihood. Others are new to the field and don’t feel they can command more. And sometimes, maybe you connect with someone who’s affordable, but they still do a great job.
Check out freelance websites like UpWorkor even a great site called Scribendi. (Warning: if you source an editor from these sites, make sure you hire another, professional editor to go over it afterward. There is no way to know what you are getting otherwise. Just because the draft comes back better than it was before, does not mean it was well-edited!)
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