5 Things You Should Know before You Hire an Editor

I routinely receive inquiries about my editing services from writers who are just about ready to hit the “publish” button, and writers who have a very rough draft and need to get it to the next level. What I’ve noticed is that most of these writers have a pretty vague idea about what they’re looking for in an editor. They’re unsure about pricing, expectations, and what they need to do to be part of the process.

I get it. Figuring out the hiring of an editor can feel overwhelming and confusing. But with a bit of a research (and I really do mean just a bit), writers can go into the process feeling like they have a handle on the situation. Here’s a quick checklist to get you started:

It’s Important to Know What TYPE of Editor You Want
A developmental editor will help you deal with plot holes, flesh out characters, and suggest sections and sentences that can be cut for the sake of brevity and flow. Developmental editing focuses on shaping the story from the raw clay of sloppy first draft to a more finished product that’s ready for the spit-and-polish of finishing touches.

Once you have the draft that’s ready for the spit-and-polish treatment, you’ll want to look for a line editor. Or check with your developmental editor to see if line editing is also something they can do. A line editor goes through the manuscript line-by-line, looking for every little typo and incorrect usage of grammar. Line editors know when to use a semicolon instead of a colon, and how to use quotation marks inside of quotation marks. Really nit-picky stuff.

The Takeaway:
Developmental editors works with rough drafts; line editors should be called in when you’re working with a final.

This is probably the most confusing area for writers, and rightly so. Some editors charge by the hour and some editors charge by the page. If an editor quotes you an hourly rate, it’s still difficult to figure how much you’ll pay unless you know how many pages they’re able to edit per hour on average.

The best plan is to look for an editor who will give you an estimate of the total cost before they start the project so you won’t be hit with sticker shock at the end. They’ll probably have to take a look at your manuscript first to see what they’re dealing with, but a good editor should be able to give you at least an approximate range for pricing. A decent editor will charge right around $40 per hour (going higher depending on how much experience they have), or $3.00-$4.00 per page (again, it could be higher if they’re a veteran editor with tons of experience).

The Takeaway:
Be prepared to invest money in a good, professional editor. They are worth it.

You Can Ask to See Samples of Their Work
Getting a sneak preview of the editor’s work beforehand can really help you determine if they’ll be the right fit for you. Some editors have a gentle, soothing touch and some are more aggressive with their opinions, and with the red pen. You want someone who will be a good match for your personality, as well as your work.

You can either ask to see samples of the editor’s previous work, or you can ask them if they’ll do a test edit on your work (sending five pages or so is standard) so you can see what their suggestions and changes will look like in the flesh. If you feel excited and encouraged after going over the samples, it’s a good sign to move ahead. Likewise, if you feel they want your writing to move in a direction you’re not comfortable with, you’ll know before you invest any money.

The Takeaway:
Either request to see 5-10 pages of your potential editor’s previous work, or ask if you can send 5-10 pages of your own. Seeing samples helps the writer determine personality and work-style fit.

Your Editor Should Be Your Audience
This is something I run into all the time with my clients, and I feel blessed that I read so widely and so I can fit into many different types of audience for them. Many of my clients come to me after a disastrous experience with an editor who just wasn’t their audience, and so didn’t understand at all the conventions of the genre the writer is working in, or objected to the overall tone of the entire book.

If you’re writing Literary Fiction and you hire an editor who only works with Urban Fantasy, chances are they’ll think your book is too slow and lacking the fireworks and action they’ve come to expect from a story. Or, if you’re writing a Medical Thriller and the editor works mostly with Mystery & Suspense, they might get bored with all the technical jargon. Ask your editor what genre of books they usually edit, and also, what kind of books they like to read in their free time.

The Takeaway:
Your editor should be someone who genuinely enjoys your genre of writing, and who has experience editing books of that type.

It’s Going to Take Some Work on Your Part Too
Editors are brilliantly talented individuals who can take your manuscript from “seriously needs some work” to “solid manuscript ready for query,” but they’re not magic wizards with illimitable powers. They will still need your open mind, willingness to make changes, and hard work ethic to get your book where it needs to go.

Many writers assume that tossing off a manuscript to an editor means that their work is done, but this is not the case. If anything, a good editor will probably push you even more out of your comfort zone as they push you to work even harder on your book. Editors make suggestions and changes, yes, but as the writer, you’re the one who ultimately has the final call. If you get your manuscript back with a ton of valuable feedback and do nothing about it, the book still doesn’t have a fighting chance.

The Takeaway:
Be prepared to work hard, and work cooperatively, with your editor. They’re working for you, but it’s still you who is in charge of working successfully for your book.

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