Make the Most of Hiring an Editor

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.



Style Choices: the Oxford Comma

You’ve likely seen one of the various memes addressing comma confusion. A popular example demonstrates the difference between eating eggs, toast, and orange juice versus eating eggs, toast and orange juice which could conjure images of orange juice-covered toast. The former version uses the Oxford, or serial, comma for clarity, but doing so is not a rule; it is a style choice.

As in the example above, the Oxford comma comes before the conjunction in a series of three or more elements. The Chicago Manual of Style strongly advocates for using this style, while the AP Stylebook does not require it unless omitting it would reasonably cause confusion. For example, writing “I put a book, pencil and pen in my bag” is clear without placing a comma before “and.”

I personally prefer to use the Oxford comma unless a client prescribes to a style guide that says otherwise. For me, always using it is a simple way to ensure that readers will not stumble over the sentence or be confused. Others prefer to cut commas wherever they can without changing meaning. This is also an acceptable choice. Whichever style you choose, the most important thing is to maintain consistency throughout the work in question.


Dialogue Formatting Tips for Fiction

How to format dialogue is a topic I encounter again and again in the editing and writing community. Questions about where to put the quotation marks, how to indicate interruptions, when to use capitalization, etc., abound.

Here is a quick tip sheet to refer to whenever you are writing. I’ve provided a downloadable version below.

Dialogue Formatting Tips for Fiction

Direct Dialogue

  • Direct dialogue should be enclosed in quotation marks.
  • A change in speaker should be indicated by a new paragraph.
  • Punctuation of the spoken sentence should be enclosed in the ending quotation mark.
  • If using dialogue tags to break up the sentence, the second clause does not need capitalization unless the first word is a proper noun.


“It’s so hot today,” said Jane. “Did you bring the beach umbrella?”

“Yes,” Michael replied, “it’s here.”

Long Dialogue by One Speaker

A speech that spans multiple paragraphs requires an opening quotation mark at the beginning of each new paragraph, but a closing quotation mark is only placed at the end of the final sentence of the final paragraph.

Interrupted or Faltering Speech

  • Use an ellipsis to indicate faltering speech.
  • Use an em dash to indicate interrupted speech or abrupt changes in thought.


“I . . . I mean . . . it’s fine. It will all be fine.”

“Are you sure? Yesterday you—”

“I said it will all be fine. Just drop it!”

Unspoken Discourse

  • Internal dialogue or thought may be written with or without quotation marks. Whatever the author’s preference, consistency is key.
  • If a thought begins midsentence, it should begin with a capital letter.


“Why,” I wondered, “did I choose this book?”

Why, I wondered, did I choose this book?

She wondered, Why did I choose this book?

Numbers in Dialogue

  • Most numbers should be spelled out when writing dialogue.
  • Numerals for years, trade names such as 7-Eleven, and phone numbers may be used if it is deemed more practical.


“I have two hundred thousand dollars to invest in this business.”

“Please call me at 555-302-5588.”

Click the link below to download and save this document for future reference.
Dialogue Formatting Tips

I hope you find these tips helpful. Happy Writing!

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