Last week, I posted 4 Reasons Why You Need an Editor amidst a variety of other great posts on the topic of editing, and we’re continuing that series with this post because of a question posed in one of the comments–How do you find a good editor?
Finding an editor is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest part–easy because there are a lot of editors out there, but hard because not all of them are awesome (or even honest, for that matter).
Lots of people in this world claim to be freelance editors. Maybe half of them are qualified. Of the qualified, probably 25% are good editors. Of the good editors, some of them are great, and an even smaller portion are truly excellent, world-class editors.
So how do you identify who’s in that top echelon of great and world class-level editors? Try to meet with one or two at a writers conference to talk to them and feel them out. They’ll likely be on faculty if they’re any good.
If you can’t afford to attend, the next best thing is to stalk faculty pages of these same conferences and identify editors you think could be a good fit for your project. Then contact them and get to know them. Ask questions. Use some of the following suggestions to help you better gauge whether that editor is right for you.
I’d say you’ll never know for sure that an editor is a good fit for you unless you try them out (more on that below), but there are a variety of ways you can separate the chaff from the wheat, so to speak. Here’s the information I’d collect to try to ascertain an editor’s quality and skill (not necessarily in this order):
1. What do they charge, and how do they charge?
A good baseline for figuring out what an editor should be charging for the type of edit you want can be found on the EFA Website. In the paraphrased words of Captain Barbossa, this is more a set of guidelines than actual rules.
You should be able to find this info on editors’ websites. If it’s not listed there, they’d better at least have contact information on there so you can ask them what they charge.
Make sure you have a budget in mind, and be aware that a great edit can cost thousands of dollars, especially if you’re looking at having a full-length manuscript edited. Check out Lindsay Franklin‘s Editing Sticker Shock post for more info on that. If the editor’s prices match what you’re willing to pay, then you may have a good match.
Equally important is how they charge. Some editors charge by the hour, by the page, or by the word. Each of those methods has their own drawbacks and benefits. I charge by the word because I think it’s the most accurate representation of what I’m actually doing as an editor, regardless of how long it takes me. Knowing how your editor charges can help you determine how you want to proceed with the edit, if at all.
2. What types of edits do they do?
In an attempt to try to simplify how I work with my clients, I’ve rendered a whirlwind of editing offerings down to just three basic choices: a Full Edit, a Developmental Edit, and a Proofread/Copy Edit. I figured it was easier this way, because more options tend to confuse clients rather than empower them to make a clear choice.
But that’s just me. Every editor is different. Some offer critiques as well. Some offer ghostwriting and rewriting services. In the end, you as the author need to correctly identify where your manuscript is at (and the editor can help you with this) and make sure the edit you’re paying for is the edit you need.
3. Check the editor’s qualifications.
If your editor isn’t qualified to be editing, you can figure that out pretty quickly. Again, this information should be on the editor’s website, or you should be able to contact them and get it for them. Not all editors are willing to throw that info out into the public, so you may need to ask, and don’t be ashamed of asking. If they’re a good editor, they’ll cooperate and address your questions.
Some examples of qualifications your editor could and/or should have:
- A degree in a writing-related field (though this isn’t a requirement. I have a degree in Pastoral Studies and am still considered by my clients to be a fantastic editor). Advanced degrees in writing can be even better (but with more education typically comes higher pricing).
- Experience in editing, especially in your genre or one similar.
- Past successes as a writer and/or an editor (though not all great editors are great authors, and not all great authors are great editors). This could include awards the editor has won, awards won by clients, teaching experience, publication record and credits, work experience, number of years editing, etc.
4. Do they have a good reputation?
You can’t really ask an editor if he has a good reputation, but you can look at what others are saying about his work. Ask around. Is your editor ethical? Fair? Flexible? Reasonable? Respected?
You’ve got to define what each of these terms means to you personally, but each of them can play important roles into your decision. This goes hand-in-hand with the next suggestion…
5. Ask for References.
Unless they’re new at this and trying to break in (which they should disclose to you up front), your editor should have a long line of happy customers who will vouch for the quality of the edits they received. It’s even better if they have repeat clients who’ve used them for more than one project, especially novel-length projects.
Think about that that says: “this editor is so good that I not only paid them thousands of dollars to edit my first manuscript, but then I paid them thousands of dollars more to edit the second manuscript.” That’s high praise.
6. Do they have a waiting list?
As of the time of this posting, I’ve got clients penciled in from January of 2016 through July of 2016 for major, book-length projects. A waiting list of more than two months is usually a good sign. The longer the waiting list, usually the better the editor.
A waiting list may intimidate you, but look at it as an opportunity to save up for that edit. If an edit really will cost you a few thousand dollars, then waiting six months for the edit is really a blessing in disguise.
7. Ask them do a test edit, or hire them to edit a smaller project as a test.
A lot of editors do a free test edit before you have to decide if you want to hire them. I offer that outright on my editing services page. I’ll do a five-page sample edit for any prospective client. Why is this beneficial?
For the author, you get a clear picture of what they can do for your story, how they edit, and whether or not you like their editing style.
For the editor, it helps them more accurately quote your project because they’ve seen the quality of the work they’ll be editing.
In my case, every time I perform a sample edit for someone, they love the sample edit. Whether or not they have sticker shock over the prices I quote them is another story.
8. What are they doing now?
This is an abstract question. What I’m getting at is, are they up on what’s happening in the world of writing? Are they actively editing a variety of genres or specializing in one or two areas (both have their advantages, and the elements of a great story transcend genre)? Are they involved in the publishing world beyond just editing?
For example, I’m the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Splickety Publishing Group, I’m teaching at 8+ conferences for writers plus a class at Taylor University this spring, and I’m actively working on publishing my own new material.
In short, if your editor is involved in the world of publishing, it shows that they’re probably doing this more than just for a paycheck, and that’s what you want, right?
Everything I just shared with you is strictly my opinion as a freelance editor. Whether or not you choose to use the contents of this post when looking for an editor is up to you, and regardless of whether you follow this information to the letter, you still might end up with a shabby or conniving editor.
At the end of the day, it’s on you, the author, to do your due diligence, and do everything you can to not get ripped off. Unfortunately, a lot of editors out there are predatory. Even if you do all of the above, you might still land a scam artist, but I’d say it’s unlikely.
It’s usually a good idea to stick with someone you know, even if you have to spend a bit more to pay their rates. If you’re looking for some reputable editors, check out Splickety’s editing services page. Any of the folks listed there would do a fantastic job for you.
Did I miss anything? What other considerations have you included when looking for editors for your projects? What has worked for you?
Please share these and any other related questions or comments below.