All serious writers need editors. Even editors need other editors.
I’m sure I’ll get all kinds of backlash from indies and experienced writers saying this isn’t so, but I respectfully disagree. Naturally, the more you learn to write and improve your writing craft, the less editing you need, but no one is completely objective about their own work and no one is perfect and never misses anything. But that is a topic for another post.
Working on the premise that all writers need editors, then, here are some things you should consider when deciding what editor to hire.
- What kind of edit are you looking for?
Knowing what you’re looking for is a key part of finding an editor.
Are you a newer writer, with a recently finished manuscript? Chances are you need a developmental or content edit. Different editors may have different ways of describing essentially the same thing, but a developmental or content edit is more of a big-picture type of edit to look for writing craft issues, plot holes, and overall flow.
A line edit is for more experienced writers who have the plot and characters nailed down and need someone to go over the fine details, line by line, and make sure there are no mistakes.
Many editors will offer a complete edit which includes both of these elements. If your manuscript is in pretty good shape, this is probably the best value for your money.
For newer writers, I have found that in many cases there are enough issues that need to be worked out in a developmental edit that paying for a complete edit may be counter-productive, since much of what will be noted in a line edit will change with revisions anyway, but ask your editor if he or she will work with you on a back-and-forth type of basis.
Also, knowing what you need and what your strengths are will help determine what type of editor you’re looking for. Editors are human, and they have their strengths and weaknesses. A professional editor will be competent all-around, but may have some things they prefer or that are their more natural inclinations, so matching an editor’s strengths to your needs will help you end up with a well-rounded manuscript.
- What is your budget? How much do you want an editor to do for you and how much are you self-taught?
Many editors will offer small package deals that will do a deep edit on a portion of your manuscript. If you are a self-taught kind of person who can apply something noted earlier in your manuscript to the same types of issues throughout, then this is a good place to start.
The more you can self-edit, the less work and number of hours an editor has to invest in your manuscript, so the less expensive it will be. If you’re on a budget, a smaller edit is a good place to start.
- Does the editor understand your genre?
While most good editors can catch mistakes in writing craft and flow, storyline, and character development, there are specific things that are important elements in every genre, so having an editor who understands the conventions of your genre is important.
For example, there are certain formulas for Romance that don’t apply to Young Adult. There are certain allowances in Sci-Fi that won’t work in Cozy Mystery. There are prose styles that are effective in fiction that don’t work when it comes to non-fiction.
Finding an editor who understands the intricacies of your particular genre will help take your work up to a level beyond just story flow and grammatical error.
- What is the editor’s level of experience?
There are plenty of good editors out there who are just starting out in their businesses. You may get a better price, and that may fit your needs at any given time, but remember, editing is a profession like any other. For the most part, you get what you pay for. Yes, there are certainly charlatans out there who will overcharge and do a poor job, and there are excellent editors who are willing to work very cheaply, but as a rule of thumb, the more experienced you are as a writer, the more experienced you will need your editor to be.
- Does the editor have references?
By this I don’t just mean “does he or she have them,” because anyone can come up with a couple names of people who will vouch for them. Ask to speak to those references. Email them and ask questions, like, “What did this editor help you with the most?” and “What did you learn from working with him or her?” Verify references and be specific.
- Does the editor offer a sample edit?
If an editor is asking you to invest hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars with them, it’s fair and reasonable to get a sample of what you can expect to get for your money. Many editors will offer a sample of the first few pages for free or for a small fee.
Remember, they are professionals trying to make a living just like anyone else, so it’s poor form to ask for a bunch of free samples that you never follow through on, but if you’re serious about investing in your writing, then it’s okay to get an idea of what you can expect by asking for a sample.
- Is the editor a good fit for you?
This is a very subjective thing, and only you can decide. An editor is more than just someone you pay to do a job. They are friends, mentors, cheerleaders, and more. They’ll tell you the hard truth about your manuscript and help you make it better.
They are not (or at least they should not be) trying to rewrite your story or steal your voice—they’re trying to help you make your story the very best possible version of itself it can be.
Find someone who understands your vision for your story and what you’re trying to accomplish. Find someone you connect with on a personal level. Remember, editors are people too, and all of us get along with some people better than we do with others.
Ask specific questions, and make sure you feel comfortable with the answers. You are trusting this person with one of your most cherished possessions—it’s okay to be picky. Find someone you are confident will do a good job with your manuscript and who you can see yourself developing a long-term working relationship with.
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