Last week, I share some expectations that you can reasonably have of an editor (and some that aren’t so reasonable either.) Today, I’m sharing some tips on finding a good editor. A “good editor” is an ethical, high-quality editor who is a good fit for you and your book.

Each year, I read over 50 manuscripts for clients. Most of those clients come to me through referrals or web searches, and I try to honor their trust and courage in just contacting me by being really honest about what I do (and don’t do) as an editor. I probably get about 3 queries for every client who hires me, and that’s a good thing. Writers need to be wise about hiring an editor, and sometimes wisdom includes deciding an editor is not for you. No harm, no foul there.

Finding YOUR Best Editor

  1. Determine what type of editing you want or need. Before anything else, you need to think about the type of editing you want or need for your manuscript. Are you looking for an editor to guide you on building out your story or giving you feedback on the structure for your nonfiction manuscript? Are you seeking someone to help you work out a couple of problematic passages or give you notes on what works and doesn’t in the full draft of a book? Are you looking for someone to clean up the writing? To correct grammatical, mechanical, or typographical errors? All those tasks require a different type of editing (this post gives a little more detail on those various types) and, thus, require a different kind of editor. Often, if you contact a potential editor, they will help you work through the specific work they do and guide you about what your manuscript needs, but if you want a straightforward copyedit, you don’t want to hire someone – like me – who only does developmental and content editing.
  2. Consider an editor’s style of critique. Any editor worth their snuff is going to be practiced at giving critical notes in a way that is accessible and helpful without being insulting. That said, some editors are more gentle, and some are more blunt. One might say your character needs more “fleshing out” and suggest a few questions to help you explore the character while another might say, “This character is shallow. Give him more depth.” and leave it at that. Both are effective forms of feedback, but the first is giving more guidance and the second is giving more direction with the expectation that you know what to do. I, for instance, am more of the first sort because I work, most often, with first-time authors who don’t know editorial or craft-based language. But if you’re a more seasoned writer, my tone may feel patronizing, and you may want to work with someone who just gives you direct notes that you can then apply. Think about your personality here, too. How are you with criticism (because editing is criticism), and what style would make you most likely to be able to accept that criticism?
  3. Seek out referrals or references. Nothing is going to help you find an editor better than the suggestion of a writer or expert you respect. Now, you’ll still need to consider the first two points in this list, but if a writer you love has a particular editor, that editor does the type of editing you need, and has a style you would find helpful, then maybe you should consider that editor for your manuscript. Or maybe a trusted authority – a blogger you love, a publishing expert you respect, a teacher you adore – suggests an editor. Then, you’ll want to seriously consider that suggestion. There are a lot of people out there using the title of “editor,” but not all of them have experience, knowledge, or the necessary communication skills to do this job well, so referrals can help you find someone reputable and skilled. The same goes for references or testimonials from the editors you are considering. Many of us have testimonials on our websites – read those. Or ask us if we can give you the names of writers with whom we’ve worked so that you can ask for their candid opinion on our work. Do a little homework here, and you’ll find that your choices of editors will go up in quality very quickly.
  4. Evaluate the books/pieces that the editor has edited. Peruse their website for titles or covers of books they’ve done, or ask for a list of titles they’ve worked on. Then, consider the genre of the books they’ve edited. Do they mostly work on business books but you’ve written a fantasy novel? Well, then, they are probably not the editor for you. Do they have a slew of children’s titles on their website and you’ve written a picture book? Maybe they are worth considering. If you want to go even a step further, you can get hold of a copy of some of those books and evaluate the writing. Keep in mind, however, that most editors have very little say – except perhaps for copy editors and proofreaders – over the final text, so just because a book is great (or terrible) that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the editor. Still, if you find that several books edited by the same person tend to have the same problems, then perhaps this editor isn’t a great choice.
  5. Think logistics. You need to be very practical in choosing an editor, too, and consider things like lead-time, turn-around time, payment method, method of commentary, etc. For instance, most editors have a lead-time that ranges from one month to twelve months (so plan ahead!). How soon do you need your book edited?  Do you prefer hand-written notes to in-text commentary? If so, then, you’ll need to seek out the rare unicorn of an editor who still edits on paper.  (Note, these people are so rare that I don’t know of one, and I know hundreds of editors.) Get the details about how an editor does the logistical side of their business and be sure you can work with their systems.  (Another note – don’t suggest exceptions to their systems. Most of us have developed our practices through lots of trail and error, and we know what works for us. So if it doesn’t work for you, no worries. Just seek out someone whose systems do work for you.)
  6. Ask for a sample edit. Most editors will offer a free or ver low-cost sample edit of a set number of pages or words. Take advantage of that sample so you can see how an editor works. (Please, though, don’t do what I saw one writer suggest other writers do and ask for sample edits from dozens of editors so that you can get your manuscript edited for free.  First of all, that’s disgusting and unethical, and second of all, it’s a terrible idea for your book because you’ll get wildly inconsistent feedback that will make your manuscript a hot mess.)

If you take these steps, I have no doubt you can find a good, ethical, helpful editor who is perfect for you and your book.

A Note on Cost

But before I leave you to the search, let me point out one thing – please see that I didn’t suggest that price should be part of your determination of whether an editor is a good choice for you. That’s not because I don’t believe in budgets or because I don’t understand that sometimes we can’t afford to hire people to help us. (Believe me, I know that first-hand.) But I don’t suggest you use price as your evaluation tool because it’s a false marker. You can find really good editors for very reasonable rates (note that I said reasonable, not ridiculous. If someone tells you they’ll read your 50,000-word manuscript and edit it for $50, run away. Fast.), and you can find mediocre editors for exorbitant rates. Do your research. Find an editor you like. Get a quote. Consider your budget. Then decide if you can hire that person. If not, maybe you can save up and hire them a bit later (another reason to plan ahead for editing). Or maybe they offer a less expensive service that would still give you helpful feedback but within your budget. (For example, I offer a manuscript review service that is considerably cheaper than a content edit but provides much of the same commentary, just in a different format).  Finding a good editor is worth some expense, so do what you can to work with the person you like best.*

Now, what questions can I answer for you about finding an editor? Any editors you recommend? Any horror stories (no names please) you’d like to share about an experience with picking the wrong editor? 


*If you’d like a sense of the prices that are reasonable for editorial services, this list from the Editorial Freelancers’ Association is a good reference.