How to Hire an Editor, Part 2: Ask Questions

iStock_000016462169XSmallIn Part 1, we reviewed the different types of editing so you can determine what you need and therefore, what kind of editor to seek out. Now that you have a few names, start a conversation.

Where to even begin?

This is why it’s so important (if at all possible) to have an idea of what kind of editing you need. What you’re calling “editing” might not be the same thing your potential editor is pricing you on. It’s your book and your money, so you would do well to know what you’re getting into.

Ask the potential editors about:

Experience. How long have they been editing, what books have they edited, what kind of editing do they do? If they don’t know what kind of editing they do, that’s a big ol’ red flag.

Genre preference/competence. For instance, I don’t like to read zombie stories. It’s a matter of personal preference, and I apologize if you’re the Shakespeare of zombie novelists. An editor who likes them and reads them is going to do a better job for you.

Availability and time frame. Get clear about your schedules and expectations early on. Most editors book up weeks, even months in advance. (Although we do sometimes get unexpected breaks in our schedules.) If you need the editing done by a certain date, ask if the editor can help you in that time frame. Get a rough idea of when the editor can start and how long it will take. [Note: try to leave enough time in your production schedule for the editing. This is really not a process you want to rush. Chances are greater that something will be missed.]

Ballpark price.
Generally (and, as so many things in life, your actual mileage may vary), an editor can give you a ballpark price based on the length of your work and a sample of your manuscript. Some may have set per-word or per-page fees for developmental editing, copyediting, or proofreading. Charging by the hour raises a little eyebrow for me. Editors work at different speeds. Sometimes we have to stop what we’re doing to look up particularly thorny issues or even consult with our peers. That’s why I think it’s more equitable to charge authors a per-project or per-word (or page) fee. See David Antrobus’s excellent guest post on how editing fees are generally derived.

What does that quote include? The price you’re quoted may look a little daunting. Ask the editor what services that includes. How many passes through the manuscript? Will you have a phone conversation after you get your edits back? Can you float corrected sections past the editor? If you’re getting a lot of personal service, the quote might seem more in line.

Sample policy. Some editors will offer to do a few pages of sample editing to show you how they work or to determine what level of editing you will need (if you’re still having questions about that). Some charge for samples. Some include it in their overall fee. Editors disagree on this policy, but if you’re concerned, it’s worth asking about, especially if you’re on the fence about which editor to choose.

If you can contact previous clients. Most editors will give you references – either a page of endorsements on their websites or contact info for previous clients. If you’re contacting an editor’s clients, this is a good opportunity to ask if the authors were satisfied with an editor’s service: if they thought it was worth the money, would they use him or her again, was the editor professional. Your criteria can vary tremendously depending on what’s important to you. You’re not hiring a BFF or someone who is always going to pat you on the back. If this is your first novel and you are not accustomed to strenuous critiquing, an editor who gives a little encouragement (while not letting you off the hook for errors or suggestions to make your story or writing stronger) could be what you need, rather than someone who is very blunt. Others might want a slashing red pen and are less concerned about “bedside manner,” so to speak, as long as it results in a better product.

Other things you might like to know:

Do I need a contract? Some editors will offer one as part of doing business. It’s generally a good practice if you will be working together for the first time or if you’ve had a negative experience with an editor or other service professional. If you’ve worked together before, it’s up to the two of you whether you’d like one.

Do I pay up front or after? I’d feel a little uneasy if any professional asked for all the money up front for a service. Asking for a percentage before work begins, even up to half the quoted fee, is common practice. Don’t be afraid to ask your prospective editor if you can pay in installments. We all work a little differently, but most of us feel your pain and are willing to work with you on payments.

Did I miss anything?

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.

13 thoughts on “How to Hire an Editor, Part 2: Ask Questions”

    1. Thank you, and thanks for visiting, Teresa! Interesting and very good point. I never really thought about a non disclosure agreement. Maybe because I also ghostwrite, I consider it implied.

  1. Good advice, Laurie. I’ve observed more than a few instances of issues from not asking these questions. This series is great for helping authors understand the different types of editing and helping set expectations for both parties. Without a meeting of the minds as to what is expected and what will be delivered, neither party is likely to come away from the experience satisfied.

    1. Thank you, Al. It’s a relief to deal with the details up front, too. All it takes is one instance of getting burned to ABSOLUTELY know what questions to ask next time!

  2. Good stuff, you’re making it less intimidating for newbies to get it right at the beginning of their career.

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