Find your perfect editor
If you want to start a rumble among writers, try asking “Would you pay an editor?”
Personally, I think great editors are priceless gems. Lousy editors are a waste of time and money. But how do you tell the difference, especially when the perfect editor for your best pal could be the worst one for you?
How to find a great editor:
- Make sure you’re ready. Writing advice abounds in low-cost classes, seminars, critique groups and manuscript swaps. Exhaust these options and hone your skills before considering an editor. Jumping the gun means shooting yourself in the foot.
- How do you know you’re ready? Have you polished and submitted at least one manuscript to agents and small publishers, received several requests for full manuscripts, but weren’t offered a contract? An editor might help boost you over the last barrier. Have critique partners given you conflicting advice, but you can’t think of a third solution that will take your baby to the next level? Objective professional editorial advice could help.
- Don't pinch pennies. If the price tag seems like a good use of your money, you’re either ready or stinking rich. Great editors are pricey ($1,000-$2,000). If you’re prepared to take a second job to pay for the extra help, go for it.
- Ask for the right thing. Editorial services have a specialized vocabulary. Make sure you’re asking for (and paying for) only what you need.
- Developmental editing is what most writers need when they consider hiring an editor. Are your characters strong and individualized? Is your dialogue crisp? Is your plot tedious or full of holes? Developmental editors won’t touch grammar, spelling, or punctuation, but can point to places your submission lags. They won’t make changes for you. Developmental editors are teachers, coaches, and guides. Working with one can be like taking a master class in literature with your own work as the topic.
- Line-editors and copy-editors scour text for typos and other problems. Line editing may include fact-checking and searching for problems like echo words, clichés, and expressions you use too often or don’t need. I think of them as employing a fine mesh filter to weed out small problems I might not notice on my own, but that are easy to fix.
- Proof-readers come on the scene after all the editing is done to make sure you didn’t install new errors while taking out the old ones. They’ll look at formatting, too. I think of them as quality-control technicians.
- Define your search. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s hard to know when you’ve found it. I outlined my parameters by saying I wanted an experienced developmental editor, preferably one with publishing experience who had worked in my genre with authors I enjoy reading and respect.
- Shop carefully. I asked every writer I knew to suggest editors. Some of them asked agents or publishers. I measured each suggestion against my pre-established criteria, starting with the editors’ websites. If I a website seemed unkempt, out-of-date, or sported spelling or punctuation errors, I put a line through their names. I also nixed anyone whose website just didn’t sit right with me, even if I couldn’t put my finger on why. Editing is as personal a professional relationship as you’ll ever have. Trust your gut.
- Ask questions. You need be sure that you and the editor are literally on the same page, so you’ll need to ask questions. So will they. Ask how long the process will take, how fees are calculated, when the editor can start, and how they like to communicate. I recommend working with someone who includes follow-up questions in their fees, and who will provide an editorial letter along with any line edits they may also do. Some editors got prickly when I asked for client names. I crossed them off my list. I needed to feel free to ask any question of my editor, without worrying that it would offend them or make them think less of me.
- Samples. Most good editors will ask for a sample of your work. This step is their way of evaluating your writing. If an editor suggests you take more classes before trying again, soothe your hurt feelings with the knowledge that she’s saved you money, time, and frustration. Even the priciest class is less expensive than editorial services.
- The perfect match. Ultimately, I found a great editor who fit my genre, writing style, and me. Her suggestions helped catapult my work forward. Her experience as an acquisitions editor for a top New York publisher meant she had contacts among agents to whom she willingly referred me. (Not all editors will offer this surface to all writers.) With her help, I nabbed my initial three-book deal with Kensington. It has expanded into a six-book series with audiobooks.
- The not-so-perfect. Why do some writers curse editors? Maybe they had a bad experience. Or maybe they hold the outdated belief that publishers nurture newbie writers, taking a spark of imperfect creativity and fanning it into a conflagration of book tours, movie deals, and celebrity status. It’s a nice fantasy, but if it ever existed, it no longer does. Possibly, these writers believe their non-fiction expertise is sufficient for them to professionally publish their novel without help. I’ll bet my breakfast that they’re wrong. Self-publishing is a misnomer. No one succeeds alone.
Whether you’re hoping to nab a traditional publishing contract or produce a polished project under your own imprint, development editors can help. But only if you do your homework. A bad developmental editor, or one that you chose badly, is worse than no editor at all.
Thank you for visiting my blog. When I'm not blogging, I write the Maggie McDonald Mystery series about a Professional Organizer and her Golden Retriever. Learn more about me and my cozy mystery series, including upcoming sales, appearances, and books here.