As a member of quite a number of writing groups, I frequently see people asking what their next step should be once they’ve finished their manuscript. Again and again, the reply from successful, published authors is to hire an editor. They tell the original poster that no matter how great their grammar is, no matter their degrees and experience in the writing world, having a professional read and edit their work is of the utmost importance.
And they’re right. It’s nearly impossible to distance yourself enough from your work to look at it with an unbiased eye. The strong, dynamic characters and exciting, attention-holding plot that formed in your head, may not have come across for any reader other than you. The rhythm and flow of your dialogue may not be so enthralling to your reader. There are more than likely a good amount of spelling errors, incorrect grammar usage, and inconsistencies that you gloss over on your fiftieth read through. There is nothing to be ashamed of here. It’s for all of these reasons and more that publishing houses and self-publishing authors alike all hire editors before putting their books on the market.
So, how do you go about finding the right editor? More important, how do you make the most of your time with one?
- Make a list of potential candidates. Do this by asking for recommendations from your writing community; search on LinkedIn or Google; check professional editing associations and directories for listings. Look for editors who have experience in your particular genre (websites, profiles, and directory listings should contain this information).
- Know what your budget is and be upfront about it. Many editors will list their services along with their rates (usually a range) on their website. If you find an editor whose rates line up with your budget, reach out to them. Most editors will ask to see at least a sample of your manuscript before giving you a quote. Many will be willing to work with you to come up with a package that you can afford. The better shape your manuscript is in before you seek an editor, the more money and time you may be able to save. (See my tips on self-editing.)
- Ask for a sample edit and fee quote. Many editors are willing to edit a short sample of your work at no charge. Others may charge a nominal fee that will be applied to the final quote if you choose to hire them. A sample edit is a good way for them to gauge the level of editing needed as well as how much time it will take, and, subsequently, how much they would charge for the job (based on the full manuscript word count). Oftentimes an editor will request to see the entire manuscript and will choose to edit a sample from somewhere in the middle. The first few chapters generally receive the most attention (and rewrites) from the author and are not as representative of the rest of the work as the later pages are.
A sample edit is also a good way for you to see if this editor is a good fit for you. A few questions to ask yourself: Does the feedback from the sample meet your expectations? Do you like the way the editor communicates their edits and suggestions with you? Do you agree with their assessment of the editing level needed? Do you understand the type and level of editing that the editor is suggesting?
- Request a contract. If you are pleased with the sample edit, the quoted fee, and the rapport that has developed, then request a contract. Contracts are essential to a good relationship with your editor. At a minimum, they serve as a blueprint for the business relationship between parties. They help to manage expectations and deadlines. And they protect both parties should things go awry (i.e. missed deadlines, non-payment, unforeseen emergencies, etc.).
Finding an editor that is a good fit may take some, but it will be well worth the effort.