How to Hire an Editor, Part 1: Know What You Need

file000349823764Recently, we asked if you had any questions. The answers, in order, are: yes, but only if the light bulb wants to change; it depends on the phase of the moon; wait until Rich Meyer finishes feeding his cats; we’ll never reveal the secret gruel recipe; because it’s there; and yes, Chris James looks even more handsome in person than he does on the Internet.

Meanwhile, commenter Wendy asked, “Where do I start looking for a good reasonable editor? I know those two words don’t usually go together but I will need an editor soon and don’t have a lot of money to do it with. I know I can’t edit my own work because of the brain auto filling. Need fresh eyes. Any suggestions?”

It’s true, Wendy. Most of us can’t edit our own work. That’s mainly because our brains are exceedingly clever. Once you read over a manuscript two, three, seventeen times, your brain tries to save you the effort and begins to skim over small words and errors. There are plenty of great ways to self-edit your work, but nearly all writers hit a saturation point where they need to call in an editor. A lot of authors have questions about where to start looking for one. It’s not just the newbies — many former trad-pubbed or small-press published authors are going indie, and they’ve never needed to hire their own editors before.

So let’s break down the steps of the hunt for an editor.

Before you even start looking, know the type of editing you need.

Do you need help shaping the story (or series) or have you been told that you have significant plot or character development flaws? If you need help with unresolved plot threads, think you might need some scenes cut or rearranged but want a professional perspective, you might benefit most from hiring a developmental editor. (Also referred to as a content editor or substantive editor.) This is normally the most expensive type of editing. (Note: nonfiction also has a kind of “narrative arc” within it, and a developmental editor can help if the story you’re telling doesn’t flow right.) Because of the expense, many indie authors use beta readers to help shake out those pesky issues.

Have you used beta readers, critique groups, or the services of a developmental editor to work out the major problems, but you need a good review of grammar, spelling, punctuation, point-of-view and word usage, tenses, consistency, and how all the sentences flow together (among many other nitty-gritty things)? Looks like a job for a copyeditor (or sometimes called a line editor depending on who you ask.)

Have you finished the copyediting, but you are about to publish and want to make sure you haven’t missed anything during your corrections, like little typos or that weird thing Microsoft Word does with apostrophes and em dashes? You might just need a good proofreader.

But isn’t figuring out what I need the editor’s job?

Sometimes. An editor can often help you determine what kind of editing you need by reviewing a sample of your manuscript. An important note here about the different types of editing: it’s difficult (and sometimes not in your best interest) for one editor to perform all three functions for you. Not only are these different skills, but editors have human brains as well. Multiple passes through the same work increases the chances of missing errors. I’d love to see some research about this, but from personal experience, I’ve found that two passes are optimal: the second catches what I may have missed (or flagged for further study) on the first pass. This is why a lot of indie authors use a proofreader after doing the copyediting revisions.

Some overlap in service isn’t unheard of: a sharp copyeditor can pick up on light developmental issues like an unresolved story thread or a section where the tension luffs. A proofreader might flag a clunky sentence, a POV or tense shift, or some other problem missed in copyediting. Some editors offer one, two, or even all three services, although they will probably not apply them all to the same manuscript. But, like nearly everything in indie publishing, your actual experience may vary.

Now let’s find some names. Here are a few places to start:

  • Facebook/social media groups. In Facebook, a few good groups to investigate are MasterKoda, Authors and their Editors, and Editing for Indies. Some of these groups, as well as other groups geared mainly toward authors, maintain lists of service professionals (editors, cover designers, formatters, etc.) in their doc files. If you’re in doubt about making a request in a group, you can’t go wrong contacting the group admin.
  • Ask other authors: Your fellow authors are some of the best sources for information about the editing professionals they’ve used and recommended. As with any other social media pursuit, common sense applies. If you’ve read a book that you think has been edited well, a polite inquiry to the author can get you that editor’s name and contact info.
  • Ask service providers, like cover designers and formatters.
  • If you don’t do social media, ask your local librarian. Librarians are great sources of information not just for finding beta readers and book clubs, but also editors and proofreaders.
  • Check into freelancers websites like oDesk and Elance but be really careful. Always check references to make sure you’re working with a professional and not someone who is simply going to pop your manuscript through Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check program.

Next time, Part II: The hunt continues…what to ask your prospective editors.

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

26 thoughts on “How to Hire an Editor, Part 1: Know What You Need”

  1. Great info. When I asked other writers, they weren’t looking for editors, they were busy querying agents. So I went to a conference, and asked the presenters for referrals. Found a wonderful editor that way.

  2. Great article, Laurie! I would like to suggest a stellar editor I recently used for my latest thriller. Her name is Laurie Boris. I believe you’ve heard of her? 🙂 I can’t tell you what a HUGE help she’s been. A One Way Ticket to Dead is so much better because of her incredible attention to detail and professionalism. It was actually a fun process (huh? Editing can be fun?) If you’re a writer in search of an editor I can’t recommend Laurie highly enough.

  3. Thanks, Laurie. I spend one heck of a lot of time explaining to authors that there are different types of editing. Unfortunately, lots of authors are in a rush to publish or short of funds and come looking for “one size fits all.” If I could add my two cents: Please, oh,please dear respected authors, DON’T ask for a quote without giving your editor a chance to eyeball the manuscript, and DON”T expect that any decent editor can turn it around in two days’ time. We are thorough and precise, we CARE about what we do, and even in the instant world of internet communications, we need time to do it well.

  4. Thanks for this, Laurie. Just this morning, I was thinking that I ought to brush off some of those completed manuscripts. I thought to myself, “how can I find the right editor for what I hope to accomplish?” Looking forward to part two!

  5. I’m afraid I must concur with DV; I know an exceptionally good editor, Laurie Boris, who copy edited my debut novel, DEADLY SWITCH: A Stone Suspense. Seriously though, once you get the credentials out of the way (Laurie has that covered) I think it’s very much about the personal fit. I can honestly say I never dreaded working with my editor–in fact, it was a great experience. Most of all, I never felt overwhelmed during the process. That’s not necessarily what I always hear from trad published authors who have had editors assigned to them!

    1. Aw, thank you, Karen. 😀 I had editors assigned to me for my first book, published by a small press, and from what I’ve heard, I got lucky. I worked with some terrific people.

  6. As some here know, I recently went through this myself. After being with a small press pub. with lax editing skills, I needed three books professionally edited.
    I do agree that a good beta reader can reduce your editing costs and I highly recommend this step after you feel that you have done all the self-editing that you can.
    My last comment is not to give up! I began to think I wouldn’t find the right person – someone I felt worked well with me, my budget, and my genres. I got samples from at least eight different editors before I made my decision.
    This is excellent advise, Laurie! I’ll make sure to pass it along. 🙂

  7. My first two attempts at finding an editor were through LinkedIn, although not through those groups you mentioned, Laurie. Might I suggest that IU is a very good place to look as well. 😀

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