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.
Rates – Most online book editors are freelance editors, which means they set their own rates. Editors may charge per word, hour, or project. Editing is a valuable investment in your book as a good editor can turn your story from meh to amazing! But the highest rates don’t necessarily mean the best editor, and the lowest rates could be wasted money. Definitely take rates into consideration, but don’t select an editor solely on price.
Copy editors catch spelling mistakes, errors in grammar, and inconsistencies in your text. They know when compound words are hyphenated (or not), whether the book is ‘laying’ or ‘lying’ on the table, and whether eagles have ‘talons’ or ‘claws.’ They’ll go through your manuscript line by line for accuracy and consistency of style. A good copy editor will make sure that your voice remains intact while restructuring sentences, and substituting weak word choices for stronger ones.
Editing is one of those skillsets that many people claim to do well but which few actually do. And while it’s probably the most important service an author can solicit (second only to book cover design), it’s often undervalued. Furthermore, most authors have no idea how to assess an editor’s work, and the result can be catastrophic, ranging from an editor who introduces new errors to an editor who changes the intention of your writing.
Copy editors catch spelling mistakes, errors in grammar, and inconsistencies in your text. They know when compound words are hyphenated (or not), whether the book is ‘laying’ or ‘lying’ on the table, and whether eagles have ‘talons’ or ‘claws.’ They’ll go through your manuscript line by line for accuracy and consistency of style. A good copy editor will make sure that your voice remains intact while restructuring sentences, and substituting weak word choices for stronger ones.
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!

There seems to be something half-way between beta-reading and development editing. I think it’s right for many new writers — I’m just finishing my first book, and was not about to pay a real development editor, but beta readers weren’t engaged enough (especially friends unwilling to point out the negatives). But it this kind of editing doesn’t really have a clear name.


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]
If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.
Lots of authors I know have a hard time finding an editor because they feel that they want to “know” their editor. This is understandable when you’re entering into a developmental relationship, but copyediting and proofreading are much more technical skills. The best copyeditors and proofreaders I know are freelancers who are hard to find because they’re working for publishing houses, and the only people who have access to them are companies and/or individuals with stables of editors they’ve cultivated over years in the industry. If you find a service (or individual) you trust with access to a stable of editors, be open to being assigned to one. Ask about the individual’s qualifications, and what other books they’ve edited, but let the trial edit be the deciding factor rather than any connection you hoped to have between yourself and your editor.
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]
We’ve set up a unique “first chapter critique” service which includes up to 5,000 words (which should actually include 2~3 chapters… or a prologue, preface or intro). This will be an deconstructive developmental edit, pointing out exactly where your weaknesses lie and what you can do to make them better, but will not include a full edit or proofread. We will, however, edit your blurb, bio or query, as long as they fit within the 5K word limit.
I cannot speak for all editors, of course, but I know I and many of us would be open to editing just part of your book at first, say, a particular chapter or two that you sense needs a lot of work. That is often enough to show you mechanical errors that you tend to make repeatedly. You can then go through the entire manuscript yourself looking for as many of the same kind of errors as possible. You will sharpen your basic writing skills in the process, and it will pay off in all future projects.
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