Moving on, today we're talking about professional editors and how to make sure you don't hire a crappy one. I've covered this topic in the past. However, I still get tons of questions about the hiring process. Where do you find editors? How can you tell if they're legit or not? So I'm answering every question I can think of in as much detail as possible right now.
A few disclaimers: This topic is mostly geared toward Indie writers. If you go the traditional publishing route, you're going to get an editor from within your publishing house. Additionally, the steps I'm going to go through are specific to hiring an editor, not necessarily hiring a sensitivity reader or a professional critique.
Now that that's out of the way, let's land you an editor to polish up your book baby! I'm breaking down the ten things you need to consider when choosing a professional editor for your novel.
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Number 1: Find the Editor
“But Jenna, I don't know how to find an editor!”
Then you're not looking very hard, because they’re all over the place. Pretty much everyone and their mom thinks they can be an editor, so there are a bazillion editors and “editors” all over the internet. You can find them on freelancing websites, social media, and of course, through Google. However, the key here is to find a good editor, and if you want to increase your odds of landing someone compatible here are a few suggestions.
First, ask around. Talk to fellow Indie writers who have written books you've personally read and enjoyed. Bonus points if they write in the same genre or a similar genre as you do! Ask them who edited their books and whether or not they liked their performance.
Second, read books. Lots of Indie writers list their editors in the book itself, either on the copyright page or in the acknowledgments. If there's an Indie book out there that you love and you think is really well-edited, open that sucker up and check for the editor.
Third, ask editors! Sometimes we contact editors and their schedule doesn't align with ours, which blows ass! The thing is editors know other editors, so you can always ask them if they have any recommendations.
And fourth, take advantage of resources. As I already said, you can search freelancing websites as well as Google, but that can be a little overwhelming. If you want to skip the headache, try popular writing organizations, groups, or forums.
In my Patreon writing group Cyborg Central, we get lots of questions about editor references, so people are constantly making recommendations. Or, we've even got editors within the group itself! You can also check sites like the Alliance of Independent Authors or Reedsy, which may have databases of service providers.
Number 2: Types of Editors
There's more than one type of editor, which means you need to know exactly what type of edit you're looking for at whatever stage of the edit you're currently at. Typically, every fiction book goes through four stages of editing. First is the developmental edit, which basically means editing the content and structure of the story itself. Second is the line edit, which covers writing style on a sentence and paragraph level. Third is the copy edit, which focuses on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And lastly, we have the proofread, which is basically a safeguard covering any typos or small mistakes that were missed along the way.
“But Jenna, what type of edit do I need?”
Probably all of them. Sorry ’bout it! And in even worse news, the odds of finding one editor to do all of this for you is slim to none. On the bright side, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll need to hire four separate editors. Many editors offer package deals, which means they offer more than one type of edit. For example, many editors will have a developmental and line edit package, or a line and copy edit package. This means you might only need to hire a couple of editors, but the odds are you're gonna have to hire more than one. Additionally, the types of edits you seek out should be in that specific order. First, the developmental edit. Second, the line edit. Third, the copy edit. And finally, the proofread. Trust me, I'm a doctor (that’s not true).
Number 3: Website
Once you've got a list of editors you wanna investigate, it’s time to check out their websites! If the editor doesn't have a website, that's sketch as fuck. If they do have a website, take a minute to look around. Are there any typos? If they can't edit their own website, do you really trust them with your book? If the website is a wasteland with very little information available, that's also a red flag. A lack of transparency isn't a good look when you're trusting someone with your life's work and your money.
Number 4: Credentials
Like any job, an editor needs to have training, schooling, or work experience within their field. The average editor will likely have a bachelor's degree in English, Journalism, or Communication. Or, maybe they've been in the game for a while. Maybe they have work experience with an agency or publishing house. This is important to mention because not a lot of people understand what makes an editor qualified. For example, being a writer does not qualify someone to be an editor. If it did, then you wouldn't need an editor in the first place, because remember–you’re a writer! Being an elementary school or high school teacher also doesn't qualify someone to be an editor, at least not for fiction novels. Editing essays is not the same process as editing books.
Often, an editor's credentials are listed directly on their website, and if they're not, you can always ask them politely. Any legitimate professional should have no issue telling you their credentials if they've got any at all. Now, sometimes an editor's credentials, especially if they've been in the business for a long time, essentially become their backlog. Meaning if they've edited a number of bestselling novels, that is now their credentials. Some writers feel this is perfectly adequate credentials and tells them all they need to know. Others want more information. Ultimately, that's a judgment call, and it's completely up to you.
Number 5: Testimonials
It's very common for editors to feature testimonials on their website, letting you know that, “Hey, I have clients and they actually like me!” If an editor doesn't have testimonials, that either means they're brand-new to the gig or no one likes ’em. If they're new, they should be open about it and thus have lower rates, and if they suck, maybe just don't hire them. While I wouldn't recommend hiring an editor who has zero testimonials, I also wouldn't necessarily say that hiring a new editor is a bad thing overall. Sometimes working with a new editor is a good thing because they're more passionate and they're going to work harder for you. Sometimes it's bad because they don't have experience on their side. In contrast, working with a seasoned editor means working with someone with tons of experience. But, on the flip side, they may be burnt out from the industry and tired or outdated. It's up to you to decide how you feel about their experience because there are pros and cons to each side.
Number 6: Past Work
Similar to testimonials, an editor should have a list of some of their past work on their website. You can usually find some of the books they've edited alongside their testimonials. Just like with the last point, if they're not forthcoming with their past work that either means they haven't edited any books or they don't want you to see them . . . because they're trash. If they do have their past work listed, carve out an afternoon to go through it and see how those books are doing. If they've got terrible reviews all citing editing errors, that's a red flag. Read through sample pages of those books. Notice any mistakes? You'd be surprised how many typos I find on the first page. Now, it's important to note that just because an author hires an editor doesn't mean they're going to take their advice. That crappy final product may be all the author's fault, not the editor. But if you're not impressed with the writing quality of any of the books on their website, the outlook is not so good.
Number 7: Rates
The average editor, depending on a few factors, will usually charge between a fraction of a cent to three cents per word. If they don't charge per word, they usually charge per page or per hour, but the rates should still typically align with what I already mentioned.
“But Jenna, that's a really big range and I've got tens of thousands of words to work with!”
I know, right? Being a writer sucks! A few factors go into determining an editor's rate. First of all, the type of edit they're performing. As we already covered, there's the developmental edit, line edit, copy edit, and proofreading. And as we go down that list, the edits get progressively cheaper. That means a developmental edit should cost a lot more money than a proofread. The second thing to consider is experience. Someone who is new to the business is likely going to charge less than someone who is seasoned.
The third point is demand. If someone is highly popular, it's their prerogative to raise their rates. On the flip side, if they have little to no demand, then they are likely going to lower their rates in order to incentivize clients. The last thing to consider is legitimacy. If an editor doesn't have proper experience for the gig, they are much more likely to charge ridiculously low rates. If the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That's not to say that all editors with cheap rates are scammers. As I said, there are many factors that go into determining a price. It's just good to know that scammers exist in the industry. I've also seen scammers charge insanely high amounts like ten cents a word because they're hoping that the price increase will make their work look like a premium service. Professional editing is already expensive enough, you don't gotta mortgage your house in order to hire someone legit.
Number 8: Paper Trail
An editor will either issue you an invoice, a contract, or both. If they do not provide either of these things, red flags are all over the place! You are creating a business arrangement with a person and that means proper business documentation. I personally wouldn't want to work with an editor who refused to file the correct paperwork.
Number 9: Sample
Nine times out of ten, any editor that you contact will be willing to provide a sample edit if you ask for one. This can be anywhere from three pages to three chapters. It completely depends on the editor. Keep in mind editors are not required to offer sample edits. It is well within their rights to say, “No.” But having a sample edit is a great resource because then you can see their work firsthand. Some writers even put known mistakes within their work just to make sure that the editor catches them during the sample. If you dig their style, fantastic! If not, on to the next.
Number 10: Chemistry
Sometimes an editor ticks all the right boxes . . . and then you contact them, and everything goes to shit. Chemistry reveals itself in a variety of ways. For starters, does your editor work within your genre? If you're writing a high fantasy novel, then a contemporary editor is probably a bad choice for you. Editors often list their specialties on their website. If it's not available, just ask. Most editors work within a variety of genres, but many have some absolute no-goes. For example, nonfiction, children's books, graphic violence, or erotica. Next, you gotta consider scheduling. Editors can book months, even years in advance, so it behooves you to start contacting these people well before you need ’em. If your preferred editor isn't ready when you are, gotta get back to searching. The last element is personality. Maybe you email each other back and forth and you just don't vibe. Their editing style doesn't work for you. Maybe they're too soft or too curt. Maybe you just don't like 'em! Gut instinct is there for a reason. If the person just doesn't mesh well with you, keep looking!
So that's all I've got for you today!
Professional edits are a very important part of the writing process. It absolutely cannot be skipped. But if you follow these ten steps, you should be that much closer to finding the perfect editor for you!
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