You’ve completed your book and you’re now ready to speak with a professional editor. Only you’ve never worked with one before and so have no idea what the process looks like or even where to begin.
Confused? You’re not alone.
Rest assured, almost all first-time writers are in this position.
Even for those people who’ve established themselves with successful careers outside the publishing world, editing is a brand new and unfamiliar experience. For this reason, it’s important to find an editor whose experience closely matches your needs.
As you may have already discovered from an initial online search, there are countless editors out there working in a wide variety of areas. Some work only on fiction while others work only on nonfiction. Still other editors work equally well on both fiction and nonfiction.
Types of editing services
Then there’s the question of what type of editor you’re looking for. The title “editor” can mean very different things depending on the job.
For instance, a line editor marks sections that need better transitional material for improved readability, eliminates repetitive or verbose material, alerts the author to missing information necessary for reader comprehension, reworks confusing or awkward writing, and performs basic fact-checking. Most authors, particularly first-time authors, choose a line edit.
Authors who are more confident about their writing may want a copy editor to correct faulty spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, awkward or incorrect word usage, transposed words or letters, and to ensure consistency in spelling, numerals, hyphenation, and capitalization. Because this edit is a kind of polish, a copy edit typically follows a line edit.
A third type of book editor is a developmental editor. A developmental edit is more aggressive than the other two and often includes rewriting and reorganization.
Finding the best book editor for your manuscript.
Once you’ve determined which edit best fits your expectations, it then becomes a question of finding the best editor for your book. Considering the vast number of freelancers to choose from, the task might at first feel daunting. However, it needn’t be if you know what to look for.
Here are 10 basic questions to ask any editor to determine if you’re potentially a good fit.
1) Do you work with the type of book I’ve written?
Many editors specialize in certain subjects or genres, such as memoir, mystery novels, or academic works, while others have edited widely across genres and topics. Whether or not the editor is a specialist or works more broadly, the main concern is, have they worked with the kind of book you’ve written?
If, for example, your book is a romance novel, you’ll want to find someone with experience in this specific area. Whatever an editor’s background might be, make sure he or she is familiar with the particulars of your market and audience.
2) Can we speak on the phone?
While a call isn’t essential, it helps clarify expectations, including the scope and limitations of the editor’s services.
It also allows you to ask questions and express your individual needs upfront, which helps the editor better understand your intentions for your work. Consider the phone call a meet-and-greet.
At the same time, your editor selection shouldn’t be based on whether or not the editor agreed to speak by phone, especially if your first language isn’t English and your accent is heavy. You and your editor may communicate better in writing.
3) Can you provide me with a free sample edit?
This shows you what a formal edit looks like and the editor’s editorial style. That’s important because, much like writers, an editor’s style varies from one person to the next.
A free sample is usually 1-3 pages. Don’t expect a professional book editor to give you a 10-page freebie; however, editors may charge a lower-than-usual rate to do a longer edit and then apply the fee you paid toward the complete edit once you hire that editor.
If you’re in contact with several editors, use the same material for the sample edits. Don’t go overboard with Internet shopping. You may lose track of which editors you liked and which you didn’t.
It’s important for you to know that developmental editors, line editors, and copy editors tend to focus on their areas of specialty. A copy editor tends to copy edit and may not be willing or able to restructure your book.
At the same time, be open to the feedback you get from the editors you’ve contacted. If a copy editor reviews your sample and tells you that the book needs a developmental editor first, consider that option even though the cost is higher. It’s in your best interest. A professional editor who touches your manuscript has the same goal as you: a successful end product.
Further, not all editors offer sample edits. Some with decades of editorial experience will argue that their history speaks for itself, so should someone decline a sample, don’t take it personally.
4) Do you edit electronically or on hard copy?
As with style, the editing process varies from person to person. Most editors edit electronically (Microsoft Word with tracking) while some edit by hand from a hard copy.
Most writers prefer an electronic edit that allows additions and deletions to be accepted or rejected. If you opt for an edit on paper (hard copy), you’ll need to transfer all those changes into your manuscript.
5) When can you start and when will I receive the edited manuscript?
Turnaround time varies depending on an editor’s schedule. It’s not uncommon for an editor to be booked for months in advance, so be certain that he or she can complete the job within your timeline, if any. It’s better to wait for your preferred editor than to select an editor based on the closest start date.
Editing is not the same as reading. A 100-page manuscript may need 2 weeks for copyediting and proofreading or 8+ weeks for a developmental edit, when you and the editor are going back and forth to restructure and fine-tune the content.
6) How much will it cost for you to edit my book?
This is the most common question asked early on, yet it can’t be answered before other issues—such as level of editing–are agreed upon. Writer A, whose first language isn’t English, probably needs more editorial intervention than Writer B, a former journalist. Writer A’s book may take twice as long to edit and cost twice as much as Writer B’s.
Proofreading may start at a penny per word. A standard line edit might run between three and six cents per word, a developmental even more.
You should definitely not expect an answer to the price question if you refuse to show a portion of your manuscript to your potential editor.
Be wary of anyone offering to work at an unusually low rate. While the constraints of your budget will dictate whom you can afford to hire, make sure the editor you’re selecting is a reliable, experienced professional or you’re wasting your money. Ask for references from former clients if none are posted on the editor’s website, or use a vetting service such as Book Editing Associates.
7) Will I be able to ask you follow-up questions and correspond with you after the edit?
Not every editor will allow unlimited follow-up exchanges with a client once the edit is completed. In fact, some will say outright that they consider the relationship over once the edit is returned to the author. The term “single pass” in your service agreement usually means a closed door after the initial edit.
These editors are in the minority. So, if you feel the need to work with someone who’s willing to stay in touch over a reasonable amount of time, say several months, that’s an important priority to keep in mind. Remember that the editor is offering a service and don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay an hourly fee for a continued consulting arrangement. Freelancers can’t afford to give away free time.
8) Will you help me write a cover letter?
You might also want the editor to help you write a cover letter should you plan to submit to agents or publishers. You get only one chance to make an impression, and an editor’s input can make all the difference. This may be part of the editor’s services, or not.
9) Will you help me find an agent (or help with self-publishing)?
This should not be a deal breaker since there are publishing consultants who perform these services, and Kindle Direct Publishing is easy for most writers to use. The editor’s sole focus is on the quality of your manuscript. However, know upfront if these are services you will want after the edit. You and your editor should be clear about all expectations.
10) Will our agreement be in writing?
The only correct answer to this question is “yes.”
DON WHITE edited 6 New York Times and Los Angeles Times Bestsellers. Among the notable writers he’s edited are Gore Vidal, Edward Albee, E. Lynn Harris, Edmund White, and Samuel R. Delany.