Working with a Professional Editor: Part 1 – Finding the Right Editor

How much do you charge to help with editing of a manuscript? How does this work? I’ve never used the service of a professional editor before so maybe you could guide me on the inner workings of such a relationship.

Stephen Hopson asked this question in a comment on my post Inspiration: Two Heroes to Admire and Emulate.

Stephen’s question merited a longer answer than a comment, and if one person asks a question, usually other people are wondering the same thing. I’m answering the question in two posts to cover the topic thoroughly.

Each relationship between a writer and an editor is unique, and many editors work differently than I do. If what I say conflicts with your experience, please share what you know or ask any questions you have in a comment.

Details about how I work can be found in Information for Clients. In this series, I will approach the process from the writer’s perspective.

The first step of the process is to find the right editor. You may want to consider two or three editors to determine which is the best for you.

Ask for referrals from other authors and bloggers you trust. Search the Internet for “editor+____” filling in the blank with the genre or subject of your book. Visit social networking sites to look for blogs about editing. Contact a local writers group or ask teachers and librarians who they know.

After you have several prospects, find out more about them and interview them, either by e-mail or phone.

In determining whether an editor is the best one for you and your project, consider the following:

  • Does the editor have the technical skills you need? Editing skill includes not only knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and usage, but also familiarity with style guides and conventions needed for your project. Ask for references, testimonials, and samples of work. Often you can find the information on the editor’s Web site or blog. For example, you will find information about me on the about page, in the information documents linked above and on the about page, on the testimonials page, and on my main Web site.
  • Does the editor have experience in projects similar to yours? Different editors specialize in different kinds of work. I do a lot of business editing – proposals, letters, manuals, and reports – but I specialize in working with authors, both fiction and nonfiction (especially those who plan to self-publish). However, I’m not qualified to edit every kind of book – I stay away from genres and subjects that I find unfamiliar (fantasy, science fiction, children’s books) or offensive (erotica).
  • Do you feel comfortable with the editor? This is especially important if your project is large, such as a book manuscript. If your project is a business letter, you won’t be working as closely with the editor and certainly not for such a long time. But if you’re getting a book ready for publication, you’ll spend a lot of time with the editor. My clients become my friends – you don’t necessarily have to be friends, but you certainly don’t want to grit your teeth every time you have to deal with your editor.
  • Is the editor as passionate about your project as you are? Your book is your baby, and you should trust it only to someone who believes in it and wants its success as much as you do. Read through my archives and you’ll find a number of posts about my client’s books. I’m as excited and proud of them as I am of my own work. Although my passion about the project grows as I work on it, I don’t want to edit any book I don’t really love and believe in.
  • Will the editor provide the level of editing you want and need? Some editors only correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage. Others, like me, look at plot and characterization in fiction and at content and organization in nonfiction. For example, in a current project, I moved several scenes and deleted the first four chapters of a novel. I did this only after lengthy discussion with the writer, of course. After I explained my rationale, he agreed the first few chapters were backstory and not really needed and the story flowed much better when the scenes were moved. Of course, that also meant that some of the backstory that was relevant had to be woven into the storyline. The manuscript was very different after editing, but the story was unchanged.
  • How will the editor make or suggest changes? Some editors still work the old-fashioned way by marking edits in red ink on a hard copy of the manuscript. Some send a separate list of recommendations for the author to incorporate. I make changes directly in the manuscript using Word’s Track Changes. The author can see exactly what I did and either accept or reject the change. I also use comments liberally, especially at the beginning of the project, to explain what I’ve done or to ask for clarification. I’ll cover more about this in the next post, but you need to know how the editor will mark changes before you can decide who to hire.

  • Will the editor improve your work without destroying your voice? Your editor should suggest changes that make your book better – otherwise you wouldn’t need an editor. However, an editor should never change your writer’s voice; in fact, a good editor will help you find your own voice and ensure that it shines through your story. My goal is to make my client’s work sound like them – only better. To ensure that I understand what the client wants, I give a free sample edit to every author who considers me for a project. I ask for a representative sample of the work – about five pages for a book-length manuscript – to edit so the client can see exactly what I will do.
  • How much will the editor charge? Editing prices vary widely. I gave some ranges in What are your prices for writing and editing services … and how much value do you give? I charge by the hour rather than by the word or page because there is such a variation in the amount of editing different manuscripts require. I give an estimate based on the sample edit but make sure the client understands it is an estimate. If I discover a major plot problem two-thirds of the way through the novel or a hole in logic near the end of a nonfiction book, I may have to revise my estimate to help the author resolve the problem. Usually I stay within the estimate, and I always keep the author informed if it looks like I might need more time. You should certainly feel confident that the price of editing fits your budget, but I don’t recommend that you base your choice of an editor solely on price. Consider the value you will receive.

In the next post, I will discuss how you will work with the editor you have chosen.
Working with a Professional Editor: Part 2 – How It Works
Related Posts:

Who Needs an Editor?
Ten Tips for Self-Editing
Self-Publishing Primer: Part 11 – How much does self-publishing cost?
Self-Publishing Primer: Part 12 – What do I need to do and when do I need to do it?

[tags]editing, choosing an editor[/tags]

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