The question of how to choose the right editor is one of the most common queries I see floating around writer communities, and for good reason. It’s an important question! A quality book editor represents a substantial investment of time and money for most authors (I’m guessing you fall into that category, since you’re reading this post), so you want to get it right.
A quality book editor represents a substantial investment of time and money for most authors, so you want to get it right.
Big surprise, there’s no foolproof method for choosing the right editor for you and your manuscript. Book creation is an organic process and, as such, defies 10-step plans. But you can make a wise, informed choice of editor. You just have to ask the right questions.
So, what are the right questions?
Is the editor pleasant and professional?
Don’t give your book baby to an editor you don’t know you can trust. Are they professional? If an editor’s website is haphazardly thrown together and it takes them a month to answer their email, you should probably think twice.
Ask for referrals from authors you respect (most editors are also happy to provide references and testimonials). Is the editor’s demeanor pleasant and respectful? Editors and authors tend to have a close, on-going relationship. If they’re a difficult person prone to drama, it will make for a difficult working relationship.
Nobody has time for that, least of all you.
Do they have relevant professional experience?
It should go without saying that any editor you’re considering must have writing experience and expertise. But consider also your style and type of writing. An editor who specializes in non-fiction devotionals and self-help books will have a very different skill set and look for different issues in manuscripts than a story-loving fiction editor.
For example, an editor familiar with non-fiction might focus on fact-checking and making sure everything is cited properly, while a fiction editor is looking for pacing issues and flat characterization. Research your prospective editors’ specialties.
Great editors are often authors and passionate readers as well. (That’s why they went into editing, after all). If they read and write in a particular genre, they are more likely to love your book and be aware of audience expectations and the standards for that genre.
Great editors are often authors and passionate readers as well. If they read and write in a particular genre, they are more likely to love your book and be aware of audience expectations and the standards for that genre.
I’ve traveled to over 30 countries , so I’m passionate about novels with multi-faceted characters and rich cultural world-building. I love “soft” speculative fiction, so I specialize in editing character-centric space opera, urban fantasy, steampunk and similar genres, but typically avoid hard sci-fi, epic-scale medieval fantasy and non-speculative genres.
That said, don’t discount an editor if you like them personally and their credentials. I specialize in speculative fiction, but I’ve written romantic suspense/military fiction and edited historical fiction, contemporary/women’s fiction, mystery/thriller, and romantic comedy novels. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the authors on those projects and they were great experiences for both parties.
Are their prices competitive?
Take the time to do some price-checking of editors you are considering. Most editors charge by the word, though some charge an hourly fee. Most editors also charge different rates for different types of edits, with content (substantive, developmental) edits bearing the highest ticket price since they are more concept-oriented and in-depth, not to mention time-consuming.
Beware of editors offering services for significantly less than the going rate. After the sticker shock of professional editing prices it can be tempting to go with a lower-cost option. And some part-time or beginning editors discount their prices to build their client base, and are legitimately skilled editors.
However, generally you get what you pay for when you hire an editor. Quality editing is a painstaking and time-consuming process for comparatively little pay. The best editors will respect their work enough to charge a fair price for it – and so should you.
Quality editing is a painstaking and time-consuming process for comparatively little pay. The best editors will respect their work enough to charge a fair price for it – and so should you.
Do they offer a sample edit or consult?
Many professional editors will offer first-time clients a free sample edit (usually the first 3-10 pages). This helps them evaluate your writing level and estimate how long it will take them to complete your manuscript edit. Take advantage of this chance to see their editing style and prepare yourself for the problems they are likely to find in your manuscript.
Some editors also offer a manuscript consult option. In my consults, I listen to authors share their vision for the story and their career and give feedback on their manuscript outline (which they’ve submitted to me in advance). They have the opportunity to pick my brain on everything from types of edits to character development.
Personally, I love the chance to get to know an author and provide preliminary feedback on their manuscript before it ever reaches the content edit stage. My clients have also stated they find it helpful and clarifying. Manuscript consults can be a great way to get to know an editor and their editing style.
Manuscript consults can be a great way to get to know an editor and their editing style.
Do they offer the type of edits I need?
Without expounding on the different types of edits (you can find descriptions and breakdowns on my editing services page), you should be aware that there are several different kinds. Often, editors will specialize in one or two kinds of edits (my specialty is deep developmental content edits). The main types are a content edit, a line, edit, and proofing.
A content edit focuses on the big picture of your manuscript and story. An editor looks for plot structure, pacing and characterization issues, as well as making notes of on-going problems like show vs. tell and point-of-view slips.
A line edit is for manuscripts that are structurally sound and already have dynamic characters and an engaging story. They are usually preceded by a content edit. An editor focuses on word choice, grammar issues, correct dialogue tags, sentence length, etc. It’s not uncommon to have several rounds of line edits.
A proofing is the polishing stage of edits. An editor looks for punctuation errors, some grammar problems, typos, and other fine details.
Use beta readers and critique groups to get an accurate picture of where you’re at in your writing process. If you’ve not had a content edit before, you’ll likely want to start with a manuscript critique or content edit. If you’ve already been through several rounds of edits and just want a second pair of eyes to find all the typos you missed, you’re looking for a proofreader. Be aware that many editors who are skilled at developmental (big picture) edits are not the best proofreaders, and vice versa.
Choosing the right editor for you and your manuscript can feel overwhelming at first, but knowing what you’re looking for is half the battle.
Choosing the right editor for you and your manuscript can feel overwhelming at first, but knowing what you’re looking for is half the battle. Once you’ve chosen an editor, you’ve taken another huge step in your writing journey. Now you need to know how to work with an editor to make the most of your experience.