June 21, 2017

The Author’s Guide to Finding & Hiring an Editor

Your editor is more than a nameless someone who checks your work. Maybe you need help shoring up the soft spots in your story. Maybe you need a coach to keep you moving forward each month and get your manuscript over the finish line. Perhaps you’re seeking turnkey project management for a self-published title.

Once you find the right services, what sort of approach would be a comfortable fit? Are you looking for someone who can reliably pick up an edit on the fly, or are you hoping to find the perfect someone who’ll become a valued member of your publishing team?

Here’s how to find and hire a qualified professional editor for your novel.

“Great advice from @LisaPoisso”—Jane Friedman


Do you really need professional editing?

Someone who’s not a professional editor won’t even be aware of the things about editing they don’t know.

New authors sometimes ask why they can’t simply have their book edited by a bevy of beta readers, a friend who’s a freelance writer, or a retired English teacher who moonlights as an editor. You could—but you wouldn’t be getting the same depth of experience and editorial standards as you do with a professional editor.

Your helper may be great at grammar and spelling, but professional editors spend every day not only dealing with the intricacies of language but also immersed in developing style and usage trends, conventions and trends within genres, e-publishing processes and standards, book marketing and sales trends, changing fiction conventions, typographical issues and more. Someone who’s not a professional editor won’t even be aware of the things about editing they don’t know.

If you’ll be querying agents and publishers, you need a compelling story in a competent presentation. But the field is more competitive than it used to be, and polish is becoming more important than ever. Some agents and publishers no longer consider manuscripts that lack professional polish when so many that come in are already well across that line. Developmental editing and line editing are no longer automatically a given in the traditional publishing process, so if you want those things for your book, hire it yourself before you submit.

If you’ll be self-publishing, you need a strong story in an utterly professional presentation. This is a professional product you’re selling for money. If you wouldn’t want a publisher to release your book with copyediting from a student or someone who got As in English ten or twenty years ago, you shouldn’t expect to do the same as a self-publisher.

How do you know what services you need?


While it behooves you to understand the types of editing and what each is designed to accomplish, your editor should evaluate and help you understand what type of editing your manuscript needs and why. A prospective editor should ask to see your manuscript—often the entire manuscript, especially if you are seeking developmental editing or a critique—and ask plenty of questions about your work.

I like a simple initial consultation that includes a questionnaire, a brief look at your manuscript, and a sample substantive edit of a few hundred words.

  • The questionnaire helps me learn about the revisions and development you’ve put into your manuscript so far, as well as your editing and publishing goals for the book. I’ll make different recommendations for authors with different editing and publishing goals. If your prospective editor doesn’t consider these things or doesn’t care, you could be looking at the wrong editor.
  • A look at your entire manuscript lets me spot big-picture issues and allows me to recommend the services I think would be the best fit for your book. If it looks like your book isn’t quite ready for an edit, I can recommend alternatives to help you get your manuscript where it needs to be. When you ask an editor to look at your book, you should get the sense that they’re recommending the best process for your book, not the best choices from their own menu of services.
  • A brief sample edit gives you an idea of what the editing process will look like and what sort of approach and tone my feedback will take. More on that in “Should you expect a sample edit?” below.

An ethical editor will refer manuscripts to colleagues for services or specialties they don’t provide, recommend additional revision or development for manuscripts that need additional work, and turn down edits for manuscripts that aren’t ready for editing. Your editor should help you understand whether your manuscript needs developmental (story) editing, line/copy (writing) editing, or both, based on whether you’re planning to self-publish or preparing your manuscript to query for traditional publishing.

Is your manuscript ready for editing?

Nobody wants to spend time, money, and effort on a manuscript that’s not ready for prime time. Hiring an editor is not a fast-track solution to speeding through the tough stuff. Early revisions are an author’s responsibility.

Hiring an editor is not a fast-track solution to speeding through the tough stuff.

The first thing you should do to prepare for editing is to thoroughly revise and critique your manuscript. Most successful authors I work with go through at least three drafts before they consider their work ready for the intermediate steps of workshopping, critiques, or beta reading. Those processes spawn still more revisions. Please don’t send an editor a draft of your work that hasn’t been through that level of scrutiny. Producing a polished book takes work, and it takes time. This is the editing and revision process many of my self-publishing clients use.

One thing you can do to speed the process along is to start lining up an editor a few months before you think you’ll be completely finished with your revisions. If an editor has an established client list, their schedule can fill several months in advance. If you wait to choose an editor based on who has immediate availability, you could get lucky, but you could also lock yourself out from editors whose services are in demand.

Qualifications: How do you find a freelance editor?

Build a respectable short list of editorial contenders by examining basics like budget and background.

Anyone can hang out a shingle as a fiction editor, so how do you find a qualified professional? What kind of background would make a particular editor a good fit for you and your book? Finding an editor for your manuscript shouldn’t leave you feeling as if you were clinging to a plank over a sea of unknown terrors.

Even first-time authors with no connections can build a respectable short list of qualified contenders by examining basics like budget and background. From there, you’re just a few steps away from finding an editor you click with, someone who understands your manuscript and style and will work hand in hand with you to put a professional polish on your manuscript. The articles below show you how.

Read the full article: Learn where to find professional editors and what to consider when you’re ready to hire an editor.

How do you find an editor who “gets” your writing?

You deserve an editor who gets you, who gets your work, and who lifts up what makes your novel distinctive so readers can appreciate it too.

Your editor is more than a nameless someone who “checks your work.” Whether you write as a creative outlet or a tolerable way of making some money, you deserve a compatible editor who connects with what you’re all about. You deserve an editor who gets you, who gets your work, and who lifts up what makes your novel distinctive so readers can appreciate it, too.

So what is it that you’re looking for? Do you want a particular service? Complete editorial development? Turnkey project management? Are you looking for someone who can reliably handle your project on the fly, or are you looking for someone who’ll become a valued member of your publishing team?

Read the full article: Find a compatible editor who fits your style.

What should you tell a prospective editor about your book?

Your inquiry is your chance to set the tone for a business and creative relationship.

Your first inquiry to a prospective editor sets the tone for your business and creative relationship. Give them the kind of details about your book and publishing goals that will help them decide whether your manuscript will be a good fit with what they do.

Even if you’ve never used an editor or been published before, your inquiry is your chance to show that you’ve done your homework—that your manuscript is as clean and prepared as you can make it, that you’ve already begun studying who your readers might be and how your book feeds their interests, and that you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve from this edit and from publishing this book.

Read the full article: Find out what to tell a prospective editor about your book.

How far ahead should you schedule your edit?

Six months before your edit would not be too soon to begin lining up an editor you’d love to work with.

It takes time to identify, screen, and select an editor who’ll be a good fit for you and your manuscript. While you could luck out and find an editor who has an unexpected scheduling lull—it happens to all of us—experienced editors tend to have built up a demanding roster of clients and referrals and are likely to be booked at least several months in advance.

High demand doesn’t mean you can’t use or afford these editors too, but it does mean you’ll have to plan ahead. Six months before your edit would not be too soon to begin lining up an editor you’d love to work with. Bonus: There’s nothing like a looming editing deadline to motivate you to whiz through your last round of revisions.

Read the full article: Learn how soon to begin to plan your editing and revision schedule.

Should you expect a sample edit?

A sample edit is one of the best ways to determine if a prospective editor will be a good fit for your writing. Because the process of editing requires a certain compatibility between the author and the editor (see “How do you find an editor who ‘gets’ your writing?” above), many fiction editors provide a brief sample edit for prospective clients; others rely on other ways of demonstrating their value.

My sample edits are typically about two pages (500 words). I edit at the substantive level to show you the sort of issues I’m finding in a typical passage. You’ll get an idea of what the editing process looks like, how your story will read after editing, and the tone and approach I use in my feedback and suggestions. And at a time when you may be feeling overwhelmed by revisions, you’ll be uplifted at seeing how a skilled editor can transform your manuscript into something that reads as if it had come straight from your hand but stronger, smoother, and better than ever.

Read the full article: Learn how to evaluate a sample edit.

How much does editing cost?

How much does editing cost?Many editors who work with other types of editing than fiction charge more than editors who work strictly with self-publishers. The rates provided by the Editorial Freelancers Association rate chart include data based on slower, more technically demanding types of editing than the typical novel. You can get a good feel for a realistic indie publishing budget based on this article at Reedsy.

I don’t recommend dipping much lower than these rates in search of a good deal. If you want professional quality, look for someone who’s a professional—that is, someone who makes a living at editing. Could you support yourself on a month’s worth of work at the rate you’re paying? If not, you’re probably looking at someone who offers services on the side, and the time and resources at their disposal may not match those of a full-time professional. You get what you pay for.

Read the full article: How much money should you invest in your writing?

What if you’re on a limited budget?

If you could only afford one round of editing, should it be developmental editing or copy editing? Developmental (story) editing ensures that your story is strong and vital. Copy editing (or line editing) crosses all the t’s and dots all the i’s. Successful commercial fiction needs both, but you may find yourself with the budget for only one or the other.

Even the dullest story can be copy edited into a beautifully polished volume—but will readers keep turning the pages? A compelling plot sells more books than correct commas every time. On the other hand, a look at the Amazon reviews of any title reveals readers who simply can’t get past glaring errors and quality issues. A hot, unedited mess turns readers off before they’ve had a chance to be captivated by your fantastic story line.

Read the full article: Figure out the type of editing your book needs most.

Read the full article: 10 ways to save money on editing.

Could you use volunteers to edit your book?

It’s the things you don’t know about editing—all types of editing, not just the kind that catches typos—that can hurt your book.

It’s the things you don’t know about editing—all types of editing, not just the kind that catches typos—that can hurt your book. In the old days, traditionally published books received rigorous shaping and developmental editing by agents and publishers, then traveled through a system of copyediting and proofreading before ever reaching print. When you self-publish your book, you take on the responsibility of managing all these processes yourself. Discerning readers will notice if you choose to skip steps along the way.

Understanding what kind of editing you need starts with understanding your publishing goals. Are you a hobbyist or an aspiring pro? If you’re self-publishing because you’ve always wanted to see that pet idea in print, your editing needs to meet different standards than if you’re hoping to attract the attention of an agent or publisher.

Read the full article: Decide if volunteer editing or proofreading could work for your book.

Lisa Poisso, Book Editor and Writing CoachReady to find an editor for your book? That editor could be me. Do you need help developing your story? A seasoned editor to polish your writing? A coach to help you sort out your ideas and see the big picture?

 I'm Ready to Get Started