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How to Hire an Editor

August 4, 2014

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?

What level editing does your manuscript require?

It’s important to know there are a variety of editorial services ranging from big-picture guidance (developmental 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 In my experience, many aspiring, unpublished writers will believe they’re ready for a copyedit when they actually need broad guidance on craft and developmental issues.

What style of editing appeals to you? 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 most 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 stylesheet 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, and 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.

Good editors are busy. Plan ahead.

Interview candidates, gather bids, and 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? Good editing involves conversation. Think twice (or more) about hiring a service that will not allow you to talk to the person working on your manuscript.

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 StefanoMary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

  1. August 5, 2014 10:28 am

    Thanks for this info, Mary Ann. I’m going to be looking for an editor soon. I have my novel finished, but I’m taking a break from it for now. Maybe I can network and find a good one at the conference in October. I’ll be looking for a content editor, and I’m going to make note of the questions you have here in this post. I was disappointed to find out that I could not have any contact with any editors in advance of payment through my membership with FWA. I really would like to interview an editor before handing out my work and payment to a stranger.

    • August 5, 2014 11:43 am

      Hi Lori,

      I’m glad you found it useful. Congratulations on finishing your novel, You are smart to take a break from it, so you can read it again with fresh eyes. A couple things in response to your comment:

      1) Do you mean FWA’s Editors Helping Writers service? As I understand it, and I could be wrong, the fee is for a sample edit (30 pages) only. After that, if you want to continue to work with the editor, I believe you contract with them directly. Also, on the front page of the FWA site there is a link to contact Bobbie Christmas, the head of the program, directly. Did you try her?

      I have to say that I agree with you about the need to talk to an editor first. If you aren’t able to do that, contact me through my website, and I will send you Chris Coward’s (FWA President) address. Perhaps if you gently explain the issue, the policy can be changed.

      2) I am a content editor. I specialize in comprehensive manuscript evaluations. I like to start with a phone call so I can understand the writers vision and she can learn about how I work. Then I take a look at the manuscript and provide a proposal detailing exactly what I’ll do and what the cost will be. There is no commitment required to go that far, and even when the writer decides not to work with me, at least she will have a proposal to measure others against. If you are interested, contact me through my website when you’re ready.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • August 5, 2014 1:02 pm

        Hey Mary Ann, I have talked with you before, but didn’t know you were a content editor. I will definitely keep this in mind for when I’m ready. Maybe I can meet you at the conference?

        Regarding the FWA editors … I had already contacted Chris Coward about it some time ago. I wasn’t sure I understood it correctly and that’s why I contacted her. We went back and forth with several emails, and the way I understand it, Bobbie Christmas chooses the editor for the author. There is no direct contact until after the fee is paid.

        I appreciate your input. Let me know if you’ll be at the conference. This will be the first time I’m attending, and I’m looking forward it. I hope we can meet.

      • August 5, 2014 4:02 pm

        Mary Ann, I just checked back to the Editors Helping Writers, and you are correct, 30 pages are submitted and edited for $129.50. There is no contact with an editor for that price other than the returned, edited pages. Once those pages are edited, the author can decide whether or not to use the editor who edited those pages. If they decide to use the editor, then they will have contact and find out the editor’s fees. I was disappointed, because if the editor doesn’t work for me, I’m out that money and will have to come up with more money for a different editor. I can’t afford to do take that chance.

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