Because just like everything in life, not all editors are the same and just because that editor your friend is using has been great for them, that doesn’t mean that editor will be perfect for you.
But before I get into specifics, I want to just touch on why an editor is so important.
Even if you’ve chosen traditional publishing as your route, believe me, any professional literary agent will spot an author who isn’t ready for prime time in a snap. If that agent absolutely loves your story, they’ll either work with you on editing (although that’s rare for a literary agent) or advise you to get an editor and try them again after you do. But there’s no way they’ll attempt to sell your book to any publishing house without that editing being done first.
And if you choose indie publishing and put your book out there without the benefit of any editing whatsoever, I guarantee you, your readers will know it as well.
So no matter which route you chose for publishing, whether traditional or indie, you want that finished product to be the best it can be before you send it out to a potential agent and/or publisher, just as you want it to be as perfect as you can get it before putting it out there for the world to read.
So, what level of editing should you be looking for?
Well, any author who lands a contract with one of the Big Five Traditional Publishers is assigned three editors.
First, there’s the developmental or content editor reworking and polishing the book you thought was already finished.
Next, your book goes to the line editor for fine-tuning and smoothing out that prose.
And last, the all-important and crucial proofreader.
If you’re a new author, or even relatively new, more than likely, a developmental or content edit is what you need, and that’s even if you’ve been part of a critique group and used beta readers. Let’s face it, friends and family simply aren’t as honest and forthcoming as an author needs them to be. They don’t want to hurt your feelings or cause a rife in your relationship. Plus, if they aren’t professionals, they really don’t know everything to look for.
A more established author, and no matter how established, will need a line edit. In fact, the more prolific you are, the less time you have to do that editing yourself. And this is after you’ve polished, revised, and polished again. Plus, an extra set of eyes is more important than you can imagine.
And last, if nothing else, I beg you, at very least, hire a proofreader. I can’t stress that enough.
The cost of a good editor can vary greatly. What you’ll pay will depend largely on the level of editing needed and desired, as well as the editor you choose. And remember, just because the editor charges more than the next guy doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better qualified or better at what they do. Nor does it mean the cheapest editor is the right one for you.
And just as a precautionary note: Never pay an editor upfront in full! And if an editor asks you to do so, I’d think twice.
Now, that all said, your editor is your teammate, your cheering squad, and your coach, all rolled into one. Or at least, they should be. They should be working with you, not against you. Your editor should not only appreciate and understand your voice, but they should also appreciate and understand your story.
I strongly believe that a writer needs an editor they feel a connection with. Someone they can trust to be honest, helpful and encouraging.
So let’s talk about how to find that person who fits with you.
The first step is to start by asking for references from other published authors who write in your same or similar genre. But don’t just grab that first name someone gives you and run with it. Try to collect a number of names, and when I say a number, I mean like a dozen or even more.
Why so many? Because you’re going to slowly narrow it down to just the right one with each step you take.
Next, make a checklist of what’s important to you, and here are just three of the most crucial things to consider:
Do they edit your genre? Most editors specialize in specific genres. For example, don’t waste your time checking out an editor who specializes in non-fiction when you write psychological thrillers. So make sure the editor does include your genre in their portfolio.
Next, do they offer the service you need? Many editors offer a variety of services, whereas some offer just one or two, for instance, maybe just proofreading or only line editing. So make sure the editor you’re considering offers the service you’re looking for.
And third, can you afford them? Do they charge by the hour, the word, the page…? Do they charge depending on where you are in your writing journey? Because many do, and with those editors, the rougher the writing, the more the editor charges. So make sure this is an editor you believe you can afford.
So, once you’ve got your list of editors and your checklist, now you’re ready to start vetting these editors. To do so, you want to start by checking out the editor’s website and social media accounts and check out their reviews or testimonials. What you’re looking for initially is a connection.
Does what you see appeal to you or turn you off?
Do you see grammar and spelling errors made by the editor themselves?
Do you see positive comments and reviews, or do you see negativity coming from the editor, their clients, or anyone else?
Is their website too confusing to navigate? Or does their social media say nothing about what they do or what they offer?
Are the services offered clearly defined or so vague that you’re left with no choice but to contact the editor directly for more information?
And how about those prices? Are the prices clearly listed, or again, do you have to contact the editor directly?
After looking at all of this, if what you see turns you off, cross them off your list. But be fair to yourself, and don’t be hasty. As you go through the process of narrowing down your choices, you might start with a two or three strike system. In other words, don’t cross them off if they’re missing just one or two things on your list. At least, not right away.
Next, go back to those reviews or testimonials, and don’t just take a better look at what you see there but dig deeper. Pick at least two clients who’ve used this editor and ones who write in the same or similar genre you do. Then contact those clients directly. You can easily do so through their social media accounts. If they’re happy with their editor, more than likely, they’ll be happy to tell you why.
Now, after you’ve gone that far, you should have that list pretty well narrowed down. So, next, you’re going to contact the remaining editors and ask for a sample edit. And all editors should offer a sample edit to potential new clients. If they don’t, I’d wonder why not and honestly, that would be a mark against them in my book.
After you get those sample edits back, take a good look at what they’ve done and take a good twenty-four hours or more to consider how you feel about it. Was the editor overly harsh? Do they give you the impression they didn’t get you or your story? Do they suggest changing things that you feel are wrong for you or your story?
Take your time to really take a good look and then compare each of the sample edits. You should be able to again narrow down your choices from here, but don’t go down to one just yet.
Next, following that sample edit, for all those still on your list, you’ll want a complimentary consultation. The main questions to ask are:
What level of editing does the editor believe would suit you best?
What would the total cost be for your specific project?
What is the editor’s turnaround time?
And when can they fit you in on their schedule?
Again, make sure that the answer to each of these questions works for you.
Last, you take each of those remaining editors’ samples, coupled with the results of those individual consultations, and now you should be where you feel you’ve found the one who’s right for you.
So that’s the crux of it. I hope my tips have been helpful, and I hope you find that editor who is just right for you.