6 Ways to Find the Right Editor for Your Book

Find the Right Book Editor. Makealivingwriting.comYou probably have more than one  book idea floating around in your brain. And you should just get on with writing it. It’s relatively easy to write an e-book or self-publish these days. And it’s a smart way to build your personal brand, help other people, grow your freelancing business, and ultimately make more money from writing.

But once you’ve got your book written, there’s at least one more step in the process…editing. And it’s something a lot of writers dread. Sound familiar?

So what do you do when you’ve written a book and want to make sure you’ve done your best work?

You could try and self-edit, or pass off your prose to a family member or friend for free feedback. But either way fails to give you the kind of objective view you need to make the biggest impact. Both editing options are frequently plagued by bouts of frustration and procrastination, and conjure up horror stories about the editing process.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Find an editor who is competent and affordable, and you’ll sound smarter, reduce roadblocks that could prevent you from publishing, and give your readers greater value.

Here are six ways to find the right editor for your book:

 

1. Understand the editing process

Editing is editing, right? Wrong.

The price you’re going to pay an editor depends on a lot of different factors. You may just want an editor to proofread your book to catch minor errors and typos. Or you may want to work with an editor to help you overhaul your book. Getting familiar with the kind of editing options available will help you choose the right editor. Typical book editing services are:

  • Developmental Editing examines the big picture and structure of a book. This is heavy editing and, if needed, should occur first.
  • Line Editing is stylistic editing, which refines each line for smooth and clear text.
  • Copy Editing addresses grammar, word usage, and punctuation, while checking for internal consistency of facts.
  • Proofreading is the final check for typos, repeated words, spacing and formatting consistency.

Note: These terms may be used differently depending on the editor. You should clarify with potential editors exactly what their services include. If you are not sure which editing services you need, many editors offer a free consultation.

2. Give potential editors a test-drive

Some writers shop around for an editor by sending them a page from their book and requesting a sample edit. It’s a legit way to see if an editor has the skills to catch errors, improve word choices, and maintain your voice.

But it’s not the only way you can gauge an editor’s skill level. What if you sent an editing quiz to which you had the answer key? You could compare results of several editors to see who has the best grasp on grammar rules. This will ensure an editor is effective, especially for copy editing.

3. Find an editor in your niche

Whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been writing for some time, it’s no secret that the most successful writers specialize in a niche. Why? Focusing on a niche helps you become an expert in that area, write better content, ask better questions, and know where to find sources and research. The best editors typically specialize in one or a few niches for similar reasons.

A good editor understands the market of the material she is working with. If you’re going to trust someone to make changes to your book, especially for developmental editing, make sure she is experienced in your niche.

4. Expect editors to read the fine print

Attention to detail is a critical skill for editors. So how do you screen out editors who might not wield a virtual red pen with the chops to catch every typo, grammar problem, style issue, and the like? You could post a job ad for an editor and subtly screen out applicants that aren’t as detail-oriented by including some fine print in the description.

For example, if you create a post to find your next editor, place a random requirement in the middle of the job description. Dave Chesson, aka the Kindlepreneuer, likes to use, “Respond with ‘Hey, Jedi!'” (Nerdy, but works). This is one way to find an editor who thoroughly reads all the details about editing your book.

5. Ask for referrals and references

Asking your network for referrals to help you find an editor for your book is a good way to find someone who’s already proven they’ve got the skills to edit your book. If that doesn’t work, you could ask potential editors for references. If you’re going to vet an editor by talking to references, you might ask:

  • What type of project did you work on together?
  • Was there anything you were unhappy with?
  • Did the editor meet agreed-upon deadlines?
  • Did the final cost match the initial quote?
  • Would you hire this editor again?

Not every editor will have contact information for references, but most will.

6. Give newbies a chance

After doing your homework to find the perfect editor, you might discover that the person with the most experience and rave reviews also charges the most for their services. If you don’t have piles of cash to pay a top-ranked editor for your first book, consider giving a newbie a chance. You can find affordable editors on the Freelance Writer’s Den job board, social media groups for self-publishers, and online platforms like Upwork, or Reedsy.

If an editor’s rates seem skeptically low, send an editing test, ask for references or a sample, place a hidden message in your post, and see if they understand the different types of editing. If an editor passes all of these tests, even if she’s a newbie, give her a try. This could save you hundreds of dollars and help you find a skilled editor who is competent and affordable.

Find the right editor to help you improve your book, and you’ll be making a good investment in yourself and your writing business.

Have you had success finding an affordable yet effective book editor? Leave a comment below and share what’s worked for you.

Val Breit has a knack for keeping writers calm while transforming mediocre writing into straightforward, error-free, marketable, and engaging pieces for readers to enjoy at Keep Calm Write On.

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44 comments on “6 Ways to Find the Right Editor for Your Book
  1. Susie Rosse says:

    I have two more questions for you! I was checking out your Freelance Writers Den page. How long does it take to get in if you’re on the waiting list right now? It sounds like it has great opportunities since there’s a job board!! If I joined the Den and found jobs there, would you still say I should query magazines/newspapers by myself anyway?

    • Carol Tice says:

      The waiting list works like this: Anytime we have an opening for new members, everyone on the list is eligible to join, at once. So it’s not like you have to wait in a queue — which is a good thing, since there are over 6,000 people on there already!

      Currently, we will be reopening for a bootcamp in the next week, so stay tuned! Beyond that, not sure when our next regular opening for $25 members will be — possibly not until 2017.

      The job board is NOT a big reason to join the Den, especially if you’re a new writer. It’s a higher-end board that doesn’t post any low-priced gigs, and is a good resource for mid-career writers. But in general, the board is a real sidelight to the point of joining the Den, which is to access 300 hours of training+, 24/7 forums for support, live events where you can ask questions of experts, and more.

      And if you want to write for publications, yes, you’ll be needing to query them in any case. Most of our listings and referrals I’d say are for business writing, though we do get some referrals for publications within the Den — I was personally referred a $3,200 article by one member recently. 😉

  2. Susie Rosse says:

    Thanks everyone! (@Carol changed the name here too like you asked)

  3. Work in house first. That’s the best way to learn all you can about editing and proofreading and make good connections. I have met several people I’ve worked with from hanging out in Twitter and responding to tweets asking for an editor or proofreader, but I have had the most success from business connections I made while working in in house. Other things – a web site, professional associations such as the SFEP and the EFA (though I can’t say much more on these as I am not a member of either yet!), social media.

  4. Sparkles says:

    Hi! Do you have any idea for finding clients for when you’re a freelance *editor* instead of a writer?

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s mostly relationship-based, I’ve found. Freelance editing is far more competitive and difficult to earn well in, is what I’ve learned. Your competition is a legion of laid-off major magazine editors who all have 20+ years of experience and a lot of connections.

    • Val Breit says:

      Referrals from those in your network and past clients, facebook groups and forums for writers, and directories for freelance editors are some ideas. I know some editors find clients on sites like upwork, but I have not gone that route.

      I agree with Carol. The competition is pretty fierce and getting referrals and recommendations from those you know is the most successful way I’ve found clients.

  5. Deena says:

    I am an editor with thirty years of experience.

    I can understand a publishing house sending a potential editor an editing test, but I think it’s inappropriate for a private author to do so. For one, it’s a bit insulting. But more important, many authors don’t know what to look for in an editor, or how to “read” responses they get from potential editors.

    I like the idea of embedding “fine print” into the initial email. I also think it’s a good idea for an author to check references; the questions Val suggested are great. Third, as another commenter said, an editor can give the author a general assessment of their book, which will help the author decide if that particular editor will be a good fit or not.

    As far as asking for samples, unless an author is willing to pay, I think a potential editor should not give more than four pages/one hour’s worth of work. Asking for ten pages to be done for free is cheek — would you ask Starbucks for a free cup of coffee, which you will pay for only if you think it tastes good?

    There is potential for an adversarial relationship between authors and editors, and the more we see articles such as this one, the further we will progress toward closing the gap between two opposing sets of expectations.

    Deena

    • You make a very good point on the sample issue, Deena. I once worked for a web site that connected clients and editors semi-anonymously. I was constantly being asked to do free samples of small documents such as resumes and bios. Basically these folks were getting their whole text done free. I got off that platform in a hurry!

  6. You have to be able to afford an editor first. I got one quote for $2700, but I’ve seen quotes for under $500. Hard to believe an editor could do a good job for that little money.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, Rob, I’ve learned people offer their services for pay for a variety of reasons, and they live in a variety of circumstances. Some do it just to make a little side money, because they love the creativity…it’s not everyone who’s doing it because it’s their main livelihood. Others are new to the field and don’t feel they can command more. And sometimes, maybe you connect with someone who’s affordable, but they still do a great job.

      Certainly, every day people take a chance on Fiverr and places like it and hire someone super-cheap. If they ALL had bad experiences with that, I think these platforms soon wouldn’t exist, so sometimes it must work out!

  7. Good article. I especially like to see mention of the different types of editing. I find that a lot of new writers don’t know this; they get a copy edit and think everything is nicely edited only to discover once they’ve published that people are saying the book needs a good edit. That’s because it needed developmental and line editing as well. I often find that indie books could do with a line edit. I think it’s the most neglected area of editing.

    My way of letting authors try me out is to do a manuscript appraisal for them. That way the author can decide whether or not I’m the right editor for them before outlaying major money. I also do some editing as part of the appraisal so they can see what I do. Of course, I also do free sample edits if anyone asks.

  8. MICHAEL says:

    Your last point is actually raising my eyebrow in the sense that no one ever wants to make a newbies his/her editor.But the newbies can actually have some creative editing style which the experienced one still havent gotten..A case study is the people who work in the government house or secretariat, the same way in which they draft a letter in the 90’s is still the same way they are still giving it now.But giving newbies a chance to explore their creativity can bring about great and effectual changes..

  9. This is great advice, Val! Thank you for sharing. I’m a freelance editor as well. I agree with the advice about giving a newbie a shot because I was a newbie freelancer four years ago, with newbie rates because of being a newbie. But I had already been editing for five years in-house and at professional competence level, so my early clients got a bit of a bargain from me!

    The other thing I really like is your breakdown of the types of editing available. That’s what I find needs to be explained the most. Especially in business editing, you get scenarios when someone thinks a document needs “a proofread”, when it really needs a copy edit or even a heavy line edit, and you have to justify the cost or the time it takes to complete it.

    • Val Breit says:

      Thanks, Lindsay! I’ve found the same thing. The types of editing are the most important to explain, yet can be really confusing when different editors/writers/sites use different terms. Giving examples sometimes provides the best clarification. The types of editing differ significantly!

  10. Tom Bentley says:

    Val, thank you, lots of good stuff here, and it’s great to suggest giving a credible newbie a try. As an encrusted oldie, I can say that it’s sensible to deal with a niche/specialist editor, but sometimes editors have broad experience in both fiction and nonfiction writing (I’ve written and edited a good deal of both), and thus can edit with confidence across styles and genres. Thanks for a sound, thoughtful post.

    • Val Breit says:

      Absolutely, Tom. Encrusted oldie, I like that one. Thanks for your thoughtful and positive comment. I think the heavier the editing, the more important confidence with a genre or niche is. For a developmental edit, I’d want someone with specialty experience in my genre, whereas with a proofread, I’d be comfortable with pretty much any competent editor.

  11. Wynne Brown says:

    What Angela said!

    A wonderful resource for people in search of editors is the Editorial Freelancers Association. It includes a LOT of information about what kind of editor to look for, in addition to a rate chart, and a directory of freelance editors around the country.

    Authors can also post a request on the EFA joblist; if you do, be prepared for many (as in possibly hundreds) of responses. Also, when posting a request about a manuscript of xx number of pages, please be aware that the industry standard is 250 words per page.

    Hope this helps!

    • Angela Arcese says:

      Sure, Val! Sorry for the lack of paragraphs, by the way. I should clarify, too, when I say 10-page sample edit, it’s possible that if a project needs a very heavy edit, a potential editor can’t offer that much for free. For what I think of as a medium edit, 10 pages isn’t too much to ask.

      • Angela Arcese says:

        I’m somehow having a hard time posting here, ugh. This was a response to Val, above, obviously. Sorry! And now I can’t delete it.

        I was going to agree with you, though, that the EFA membership seems good. Another option for copyediting (and beyond) is Copyediting-L. I see job postings there occasionally and the members are serious and knowledgeable.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Angela, due to the huge amount of spam posting attempts I get daily, commenters can’t post links, so that’s likely your trouble. But happy that you’re sharing these resource names! I’m sure my folks can look them up.

      • Val Breit says:

        No worries on the paragraphs 😉

        One of the cool things about being a freelance editor and having your own business is you get to decide what to offer for free, what’s a sufficient sample edit, your rates, services, etc.

        I personally offer a sample edit of 4 pages (1,000 words using the 250 word industry standard) and feel that is sufficient for my business.

        Thanks again for the comments and clarification.

      • Carol Tice says:

        I’m just not sure how many editors want to do that much free work…but I guess you can always ask and see if they’ll provide!

        • Anne Pushkal says:

          I usually ask for a 10-20 page sample – one page is a bit scant for a really accurate estimate. I’ll do an editing sample, too, but how long I’m willing to make it depends on the proposed length of the piece I’ll be editing. As for the “hidden message” strategy, if I saw something like that, I’d suspect the prospective client was fearful and suspicious and I’d probably run the other way. I willingly provide testimonials, references, and links to published work, so tricks aren’t necessary. It’s important to me to build a professional relationship of mutual trust with my clients, backed up, of course, by a contract that protects us both. I don’t think I’d like to work with a client who plays “gotcha!” Lots of good suggestions in this article, though.

    • Val Breit says:

      Awesome, Wynne, thanks for sharing the Editorial Freelancers Association as another potential place to find editors. It is another great resource!

  12. Good advice. I definitely recommend getting a sample edit, not just to test the editor’s skills but to see if you’re a good fit for each other, too. There’s often more than one ‘right’ answer when it comes to editing text. Many editors offer short sample edits for free; some ask for a modest fee.

    I highly recommend the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Directory. I would post a link, but I keep getting an error saying my comment has too many URLs in it! A quick Google will get you there, though.

    Editors in the SfEP Directory have to be of a certain level of membership and adhere to the society’s code of practice, so it’s full of quality editors. You can search by specialism, too. I specialise in editing fiction, for example, but you might search for someone who specialises in the subject of your book.

    • Val Breit says:

      I agree, Sophie. It’s important that an editor knows her stuff and can work well with the author. Often times a sample edit and the communication that entails can be a trial of what working with the editor/author will be like for the whole book.

      I tried adding the SfEP directory link in this comment too, but got the same error. A quick Google search will work for anyone interested in that resource. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Angela Arcese says:

    Hm, I’m a longtime freelance book editor and have a few thoughts to share. I think one page of editing is not enough to gauge much, and that you should be able to get a sample edit of 10 (double-spaced 12-point) pages from a potential editor. You’ll have a better idea after a complete chapter has been edited, and you should have a contract that allows either you or the editor to opt out cleanly at various stages. Another thought: sometimes authors don’t know what level of edit they need, and a good editor can assess this based on reading a few pages of your ms. and spot-checking the remainder. Also: a lot of book editors (like me) work primarily for publishers rather than for individuals. It’s just easier. I know I’ll get paid, I don’t need to educate publisher clients about the process itself, and they send me regular work, so we get to know each other’s needs and preferences. Lastly, I wouldn’t really expect a newcomer editor to be able to handle a booklength manuscript very well (I was that person once — eek). If it’s someone really new, they should have had good training somewhere imo. Book editing is a technical undertaking. It’s also about knowing what to leave alone. Inexperienced people often tamper with authors’ work unnecessarily. Anyhow, I’d be happy to answer any questions.

  14. Katy says:

    Alternatively, just hire me!! Ha. Cheeky – but sometimes you have to be. 🙂

  15. Marcie says:

    Ok, I didn’t know the differences between the types of editors and what they do. Thanks for enlightening me.

  16. Isaac Anim says:

    I like your last point. People mostly hire based on years of experience. This discourages the newbies from tackling major tasks.

    They might say, “After all, I am a newbie, no one will appreciate my work and see me as a professional”.

    Lets learn how to allow newbies to show the kind of skills they have. Who knows? They might surprise you.

    • Val Breit says:

      Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Newbies know they have to over deliver to compete in the market when they don’t have years of experience on their resume. Thanks, Isaac!

      • Carol Tice says:

        I always think there’s a sweet spot in the marketplace where broke newbie writers’ need for a good editor and good-but-newbie editors’ need for experience meet. 😉

        • John S. says:

          Carol & Val –
          Thank you for this most timely article. I’m a newbie writer that is writing a history book on a small WWII town. It is a little unique in that it will have many newspaper clippings and historic construction photos. The narrative will only be there as a clarification to these items. I want to be sure that this narrative is smooth flowing and comprehensive. I’m not certain to what degree editing will be involved. You article certainly helped bring to light things I should consider.
          Thanx again …… John