This is great advice, Val! Thank you for sharing. I’m a freelance editor as well. I agree with the advice about giving a newbie a shot because I was a newbie freelancer four years ago, with newbie rates because of being a newbie. But I had already been editing for five years in-house and at professional competence level, so my early clients got a bit of a bargain from me!
OUR EDITORS are confident, calculated, experienced and ruthless. We tend to look for people with at least an MA in Literature and 2 years of full-time book editing experience, but will also give editors a chance if they’ve edited at least 10 books and can provide references from happy clients; or if they’re successful authors themselves who have published several books.
The romantic myth of an author sitting alone in their room and emerging with a finished book is just that: a myth. Writing is a tough skill to master. Good books are the product of talent, craft, revision and more revision. Like all creative arts, writing requires critique from knowledgeable professionals who can make suggestions and provide direction from a perspective most writers can’t obtain on their own. From developmental editing — with advice on story and structure — to copy editing and proofreading, working with a range of book editors is absolutely crucial when writing a book. But where can you find the professionals with the right experience in your genre to take your story to the next level?
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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.
Editors’ fees vary so drastically that authors are often (rightfully) confused about how much to pay. I’ve seen copyediting fees that range from $20/hour to $300/hour. That said, I’ve seen plenty of authors pay $20/hour for a poorly executed copyedit that needed to be redone. I know one author who paid $200/hour for a copyeditor who’d worked on a famous best-seller, operating under the false assumption that a good copyedit would be their ticket to best-seller status. That didn’t happen. Get a few bids and consider paying a couple different editors for two hours of their work and compare. It’s important to judge the work rather than the fee. Consider this investment as research rather than money wasted.
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 »
Attention to detail is a critical skill for editors. So how do you screen out editors who might not wield a virtual red pen with the chops to catch every typo, grammar problem, style issue, and the like? You could post a job ad for an editor and subtly screen out applicants that aren’t as detail-oriented by including some fine print in the description.
Of course, my c.v. does include traditionally published books, but in those cases, I was hired (yes, on a freelance basis, which you would not “count”) by the publisher rather than by the author. The reason my marketing to authors instead emphasizes my experience with self-published and even vanity press authors is because working with a publisher is different from working directly with an author, particularly with an author who has made a conscious choice not to be traditionally published. Some might even say that working within a publishing house provides less preparation for working with self-published authors than does working with other self-published authors. I, however, would not go so far as to say that, because I really do believe we can come to our profession by different paths, just as people can come to writing by different paths.
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.
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.
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 want to thank the author of this article, the people responsible for this website, and the helpful comments I’ve read here, before discontinuing my watching of this thread. I have reached out to several developmental editors through emails and by posting my need for such an editor on the-efa.org. If anyone decides to go that route, the response has been tremendous. Be aware of their policy for posting jobs, though. They require aspiring authors to adhere to the ‘going rates’ shown here: http://the-efa.org/res/rates.php.
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.
“My books have very complicated formatting with over 100 illustrations each, external links, and numerous bulleted lists. None of the formatters I contacted would even take these on but John said “No problem!” He completed my original three e-books quickly, for a more than fair price, and they look great. I have no hesitation recommending Ebook Launch’s work to other e-book authors!”
Next, it is possible to follow the road to traditional publication without hiring your own editor, with editing being done at the publisher’s expense. However, you have to be a very good writer and self-editor to get on that road, and what you write has to fit into a very marketable niche. You also need to be very patient and willing to weather plenty of rejection along the way. Don’t jump too quickly to the conclusion that this option is closed to you. Do your research carefully. There may be a small press that is just right for your book and that will be happy to help you make it the best it can be while paying YOU rather than making you pay them.
Note: On the spreadsheet, the editor’s total cost will be automatically calculated once you insert your total word count and the editor’s per-word rate. If you’re given a per-page rate, you can calculate a per-word rate by assuming the industry standard of 250 words per page, e.g., $3 per page equals $3 per 250 words. Dividing 3 by 250 equals $.012.
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.
If “the greatest benefit of an editor is that he is she is not the author—the editor is someone else,” then an editor is no more than a beta reader, and all authors would need is friends to read their novel and give feedback. I recommend beta reads before a book is sent to me for editing, because casual readers, approaching the story fresh, can indeed find flaws in the book the author is too close to the story to see. But it’s after the beta reads that a professional editor steps in to do her magic. A skilled fiction… Read more »
Hm, I’m a longtime freelance book editor and have a few thoughts to share. I think one page of editing is not enough to gauge much, and that you should be able to get a sample edit of 10 (double-spaced 12-point) pages from a potential editor. You’ll have a better idea after a complete chapter has been edited, and you should have a contract that allows either you or the editor to opt out cleanly at various stages. Another thought: sometimes authors don’t know what level of edit they need, and a good editor can assess this based on reading a few pages of your ms. and spot-checking the remainder. Also: a lot of book editors (like me) work primarily for publishers rather than for individuals. It’s just easier. I know I’ll get paid, I don’t need to educate publisher clients about the process itself, and they send me regular work, so we get to know each other’s needs and preferences. Lastly, I wouldn’t really expect a newcomer editor to be able to handle a booklength manuscript very well (I was that person once — eek). If it’s someone really new, they should have had good training somewhere imo. Book editing is a technical undertaking. It’s also about knowing what to leave alone. Inexperienced people often tamper with authors’ work unnecessarily. Anyhow, I’d be happy to answer any questions.
A good editor is worth their weight in gold. Myself, I’m a frugal person, so I do my own ferocious self editing. I once belonged to a writers group, and the material the members submitted for critique made me cringe. Their story ideas were good, but were full of unnecessary adjectives, numerous misspelled words, run on sentences, and they had their characters grunting, snorting, huffing and puffing. I would spend time editing and when I gave back the material, the people were offended. I figured these people were looking for praise and not the truth.