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How to Hire an Editor

December 5, 2011

You’re thinking you’d like to obtain a professional edit before you submit your work for publication. Of course you’ll poll your writer friends for their recommendations,  and you’ll review the experience and references of any editor you’re considering, but how else can you can evaluate a freelance editor to be sure you find the best one for you?

Max Perkins, Hemingway’s editor, isn’t available

Here are some basic criteria to consider:

Level of Editing

This is a topic that deserves detailed discussion, and I will address it in more depth in a future post. For now, it’s important to note that there are a variety of editorial services ranging from reworking a manuscript (substantive editing) to final polishing (copyediting).

While the same editor might be able to perform all levels of editing, he or she will more likely specialize or be more talented at one level. Additionally, levels of editing should be completed sequentially, not at the same time. (It is not effective to copyedit a manuscript that still is—or should be—in a state of flux.)  If you’re not sure what level of editing your manuscript is ready for, an editor should be able to help you determine that. In my experience, many aspiring, unpublished writers will believe they’re ready for a copyedit when they actually need guidance on craft and developmental issues.

Prescriptive, Collaborative, or Instructive

There are also differences in editorial styles. Some editors will tell you what to do and are very “by the rule.” Others tend to be more collaborative or instructive, willing to discuss possibilities or teach the whys and hows behind their suggestions. (Expect to pay a little more for a teaching edit.) What kind of relationship with an editor would work best for you?


What is included in the cost of the edit?

Ask questions about the editor’s processes. How many passes at the manuscript does she take? What style guide(s) does she use? (Chicago Manual of Style is considered essential by many publishers.)

Will you receive a hand-marked manuscript or an electronically edited one using Word’s track changes feature? Is a written summary (sometimes called an editorial letter) included in the deal? What will that cover? Will your copyeditor produce a  style sheet that documents style and formatting decisions? Do you receive a face-to-face or phone conference? Follow-ups after receipt of the edit? After revision?

Which of these elements are important to you?

Great, Fast, Cheap

It’s a beautiful dream, but it’s rare to find all three attributes in one editor. You can fill your tummy at Taco Bell or in a fine restaurant, but the experience of eating in either place will be quite different. When choosing an editor, cost and speed are important considerations, but the quality of output and the total experience desired should be your bottom line.

Check out the Editorial Freelancers Association’s list of editorial rates to get an idea of the range of charges you can expect. Note that partial payment upfront is industry standard and full payment before the job is completed is not.

Interview, Get a Bid & Compare

I see a lot of  “submit your manuscript here” and “click the button to submit your payment” editorial services advertised  with no “face” on the Internet. Frankly, they give me the willies. Your book is your baby; do you want to turn it (and hundreds of dollars) over to a stranger?

A caution here. There is much more to becoming a professional editor than loving words and grammar,  experiencing critiquing or proofreading in a writers group, or having a degree in English. Anyone can call themselves an editor.  Be sure that the editor you hire is a true professional with relevant experience and training who believes in continuing her education.

Interview several editors and compare written bids that specify cost, terms of payment, timeline, deliverables, and anything else that might be important to you before you hire someone. You should feel comfortable with your decision to hire and comfortable with the person you choose to work with. A professional editor should not be reluctant to be interviewed. In fact, she will be interviewing you to see if you are a good match for her, too.


Mary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and writing coach with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. She does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

  1. December 5, 2011 8:21 pm

    Never thought about interviewing editors, makes sense though. Information about types helpful. Claudia

    • Mary Ann de Stefano permalink*
      December 5, 2011 8:45 pm

      Definitely interview. You’re inviting someone into your writing process. That’s pretty personal, and you want to feel comfortable with the editor you choose.


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