Every author must decide what is important to him or her in an editor, but in these days of electronic communication, honestly I do not think it is important to seek a local editor unless your book is specifically related to something of local interest. Even in that case, you may benefit from the perspective of someone who does not have all the local knowledge it can be easy to presume, so that you can prepare your book for a wider audience.
Unlike most other basic “proofreading” packages, ours includes copy-editing where needed, light revision, rewriting and improved word choice, as well as a one page summary of some big picture issues that can be improved. If we see something that looks bad, we’ll fix it – but we won’t wrack our brains trying to solve bigger issues like plotting, character motivation, story architecture, etc.

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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.
The greatest benefit of an editor is that he or she is not the author. An editor is someone else. Some editors are professional writers, but every single one of them is a professional reader. As a writer, you’re probably a voracious reader, but you can never be a true reader for your book. By bringing forth a book into the world, you’re asking other people to read something you’ve never read. If you sincerely want the book to be the very best that it can be, then you must ask someone else to read it first. You owe it to your book, to yourself, and to your readers.
It can take some time to find the right editor, so you may want to start asking around even before you have a text that is ready to send. If you know a fellow author who can recommend someone, that’s wonderful, but if not, it’s fine to poke around the websites of some editors and see who appeals to you (and seems to work within your genre). Then contact them by whatever method they request (often a contact form on their site).
All points well taken, Derek. (To be fair, Teymour does address the different levels of editing.) I’d add that, as far as the surgeon analogy, even the best editor can’t fix a mediocre story. Some stories are dead on arrival and no amount of resuscitation is going to help. Also, an editor might be able to fix some things, but the “patient” also has a lot of work to do after the operation is done.
Hi Sean, as an editor I run permissions for authors. It’s a case of contacting each right-owner (author or publisher) where the quotes are not deemed public domain, and provide them with context for approval. You can do this yourself or I’d be happy to quote for the work, if you’d like to contact me directly? My email address is alisonjmcguire@gmail.com.
Genre – If you’re a nonfiction author, your best bet is to choose editors who understand the structure of good nonfiction books; they know what works and will keep readers happy. If you’re a fiction author, select a fiction editor who is passionate about those stories and knows what readers of your genre are looking for. Choosing an editor within your genre is especially important for developmental editing.
As a freelance editor, I would like to express my strong disagreement with the idea that a freelance editor must work as an employee of a publisher for three years to be any good. In my field, spirituality, many publishers have gone to having most editorial tasks beyond acquisitions performed by freelancers, so the in-house positions being held out here as a prerequisite for freelancing simply don’t exist; many editors must cut our teeth as freelancers. It also occurs to me that self-published authors usually bristle at the idea that they are not “real” authors unless their work is accepted by a commercial publishing house. Is it fair to apply this standard to the people they propose to employ as editors?
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.
#1. ACCOUNTABILITY: Anybody can call themselves an editor these days, but even if they have the right skills, it doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job. I’ve heard too many horror stories of editors who ghosted clients or provided shoddy work, leaving writers out of pocket with no recourse for a refund. We have one of the best refund policies in the industry and take personal responsibility for every project, which means – if clients aren’t happy with the work, we’ll do everything in our power to fix it.
What an editor does is discover your characters, your situations, and your images without seeing any of the creative process that brought them to life. Where you might see all the crossings-out and labors, all the accidents and decisions, the editor sees only a page. This is the clarity you need, and you can never achieve it for your own writing, simply because you envisioned it first. The editor will tell you what an attentive, an educated, and, most importantly, a new reader will experience while reading your book.
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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.

In Frank’s situation, I would lean toward the first option of getting a written “developmental critique” or “manuscript assessment.” While a sample edit would be helpful in determining whether this person would eventually be a good choice as an editor, I believe the critique on everything written so far would, for most authors, be the most useful for making course corrections before completing the manuscript.
After writing some of the book or a first draft of a book, some authors decide that they need more than an editor; they need a writer to take their writing to the next level, in order to get published or reach the level of sales they aim for.  I can refer aspiring authors to excellent, experienced co-writers, book doctors and ghostwriters, some of whom have worked on New York Times Bestsellers and other award-winning books. Find out more about ghostwriting services.

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.

Working with a professional editor can be one of the most rewarding experiences in an author’s life. You’ll probably learn more about the craft of writing — plot, characterization, dialogue, worldbuilding… — than if you took an creative writing course. However, as is always the case in creative endeavours, critique can be hard to accept. This is why you should seek an editor who’s not only experienced in their field, but whom you’d feel comfortable receiving feedback from. In the words of one of our Reedsy editors:


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.
Trish – I agree with your replies to this article and Carol, I agree with your comments too. And while I disagree with some of Natasa’s points, a sample edit is definitely good advice, not only for the writer, but also for the editor to ascertain what type of editing is needed. Many new, inexperienced writers still ask for a ‘proofread’, only to discover what they actually need is a developmental edit. I also agree with Natasa’s point that a good rapport is crucial. As to the suggestion that an editor shouldn’t be working on seven to 10 books per month, well, I never work on more than two (although I do fit in other small projects for regular business clients – they break up the working day and help me to refocus). I don’t know how anyone could work on such a large volume of books effectively — or at all — unless they were very short books!
#1. ACCOUNTABILITY: Anybody can call themselves an editor these days, but even if they have the right skills, it doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job. I’ve heard too many horror stories of editors who ghosted clients or provided shoddy work, leaving writers out of pocket with no recourse for a refund. We have one of the best refund policies in the industry and take personal responsibility for every project, which means – if clients aren’t happy with the work, we’ll do everything in our power to fix it.
2. Copyeditors aren’t the last line of defense when it comes to a book’s mistakes. Formatting, which is done after an editor has done their job, can lead to unintended errors being introduced into the text. That’s why it’s important to hire proofreaders to comb through edited text *after* the book has been formatted for print or digital. Proofreaders are your last line of defense—but they’re human too.
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