How Can You Find a Good Editor?
This is a question I see a lot of indie authors and book publishers alike asking: How can you find a good editor?
It’s not difficult to find an editor these days. The profession has relatively little regulation, which means almost anyone can call themselves an editor. Yup, so long as you’re good at English and you want to edit books, you can start billing yourself as an editor.
There’s a difference between “finding an editor” and “finding a good editor.” While editors of all qualities might be a dime a dozen, the “good” ones are a little more of a rarity. If you want to find a good editor, follow some of these tips.
Know What You Want
One of the biggest problems I see is people who don’t know what they want or what they need. I’ve worked in-house for publishers. Sometimes, I’d be told to hire someone to do a “mechanical edit,” when what the book really needed was a solid substantive edit. Later, the person who commissioned the edit would complain about how the editor didn’t address this issue or that issue—seemingly forgetting that addressing such an issue wasn’t in the editor’s purview.
If you don’t know what you want when you go hunting for an editor, of course you’re going to be dissatisfied when you get the edit back!
If you want an editor to address only major spelling mistakes and the like, say so. If you want someone to take a deeper look at underlying issues of structure, you’re going to have to ask for a more comprehensive edit. Before you reach out to an editor, familiarize yourself with some of the terms editors use to describe what they do. Learn some of the differences between a copy edit, a proofread, and a substantive edit.
Keep in mind editors themselves squabble about what really constitutes a copy edit and where you cross the line between a “line edit” and a “structural edit.” You don’t need to be an expert, but being familiar with the terms—and what you want in the edit—will help you find the right person.
Look at Their Resume
What credentials does your editor have? As I said, almost anyone can bill themselves as an editor. You could start up your own business tomorrow and call yourself an editor. Always ask to see a prospective editor’s resume.
Keep in mind there are no credentials that make someone a guaranteed good pick for an editor. I’ve met editors who have certification through editorial associations, which is relatively rare, who still suck. Some editors have no formal training at all—but they have years and years of experience. Editorial training programs are a relatively recent invention, so editors who have been in the game since the 1970s and 1980s might not have a fancy degree or training, but they may have worked for a litany of authors, publishers, organizations, and others.
You should also take a look at where the editor’s specialization is. Over time, most editors tend to carve out a “niche.” As a result, you may not want to hire someone with a primarily academic portfolio (like myself) to edit your romance book. I’m probably a great choice for your non-fiction self-help book or a history book.
What do you want to see? A combination of experience, training and credentials, and expertise in your area.
If you have other authors in your circle, ask for recommendations. If someone truly enjoys working with their editor, they’ll likely give you the name! A publisher may also be able to give you some recommendations, although publishers can be more guarded about their lists of editors, especially if they use freelancers. They want to keep those “gems” for themselves, in my experience.
Asking around can also tell you who to avoid. Poor editors develop poor reputations. Your author friends may not want to put anyone on blast on Twitter, but they’ll likely be willing to give you names in a private chat. They want to make sure you spend your money wisely when it comes to hiring an editor.
Ask for a Sample and Proposal
Most editors will give you a sample edit. The best editors will also outline what they believe your project needs and how they’ll approach it. You might also ask for the names of works they’ve worked on and check them out yourself through a service like Google Books or Amazon’s preview function.
The sample allows you to see how the editor works. A sample edit on your own work might be difficult to look at, but it can give you an indication of what to expect. The proposal will also give you an indication of what the editor saw and how they plan to address it. It can also give you insight into their process.
If you’re still seeing mistakes in the editor’s sample or their proposal doesn’t address major flaws (or ignores your major concerns), you might want to consider another editor.
Look at Their Website
Another thing authors and publishers alike need to look out for is scam artists posing as editors. They are out there. Take a look at the website for any editor or proposed editing service. How clean is the copy? If the website is littered with typos and grammatical errors, chances are your work will come back to you in a similar state.
Good editors will also be willing to tell you about the people they’ve worked for and the projects they’ve worked on. If the editor is cagey about all of his or her clients, or they can’t name a single book project they’ve worked on, you should take your business elsewhere.
Finally, you should always be able to contact your editor! They should list a mailing address (and more than a PO box), a phone number, and an email. If you can only get in touch via phone or email, you could be looking at a scam.
Be Mindful of Your Budget
Once, I was directed to contact a new prospective freelancer about working on a book project. He was very, very senior in the industry. He was well-known and well-respected. He wrote me back a very lovely proposal about how he would work on the book.
There was one major problem: He wanted to charge $10,000 for the editing project. My budget was a fraction of that.
This guy was likely a good editor; I can’t say he was a great editor because I never worked with him. We negotiated a little, but couldn’t come to terms. Our budgets were too far apart. We parted on polite terms, but that was the end of it.
Always be mindful of your budget. Yes, you might find a good editor, but you may not be able to afford them. Some will be willing to negotiate, but others may not be able to. You may not be able to agree to terms. Your budget does factor in to who you will be able to hire, and it may rule out some of the best editors available.
Don’t think that means you can’t find a good or even great editor, however. I’ve worked with many affordable editors who do wonderful jobs, and many who go over and above for every project.
Conduct an Interview
Writing is your business. If you were hiring a vendor for any other business, you’d interview them. Same thing if you were planning to hire someone for your business, you’d most definitely interview them!
If you can meet with your prospective editor in person, do so. If not, try to arrange a video call or a phone call with them. Chatting or emailing can be useful, but it doesn’t always give you the same sense of the person. Of course, you’ll likely do most of your correspondence over email! Nonetheless, talking in person or on the phone can give you a real feel and understanding of the editor. Their enthusiasm for editing and for your project should shine through.
Look at Professional Associations
If you’re really stuck for names and recommendations, peruse one of the professional associations for editors. While not all editors choose to enroll themselves, you’ll at least find a starting point here. If the association’s database offers you search tools, use it to look for editors who list experience or expertise in your genres.
It doesn’t have to be incredibly difficult to find a good editor. There are many ways to find someone who not only knows their stuff, but who works well with you.