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Business 101 for Writers: Production: Hiring an Editor

Here is the point where you are at the end of your free resources. It’s time to bring in the professionals. You’re going to need to hire several, and we will cover over the next few posts how to do find and choose them, how to hire and pay them, and how to avoid common mistakes.

What makes me so much of an authority on this topic? I have been published by small presses and self-published and I know the work and expense that goes into both. On the other side of things, I work as a freelance editor and writer, and have worked and associated with literally hundreds of editors over the last decade or so.

There are many I would recommend wholeheartedly, and those I would not. I would also tell you, in the interest of fairness, that I am not the right editor for everyone. I am also very busy, as are many other freelance editors I have worked with. So even if you wanted to hire me right now, my time schedule might not fit your needs.

Your Path to Publication

At this point in your writing process, you may not have decided yet what your chosen path to publication will be, but it only matters a little bit at this stage. Your work should be well edited before you send it to an agent, a small press editor, or a publishing house, especially if you are a first-time author.

As you go further down your journey, your publisher may be more inclined to accept an earlier draft, especially if you are on deadline, and help you walk through the editing process.

However, if you plan to self-publish, or if you are a new author or even new to a publisher, you should present them with the best work you can. This means that you should find and hire an editor to polish your work.

This comes after critique groups, re-writes, and advice from your friends who are willing to read your work before it is published. These should all be people that offer you valuable feedback, not just “I love it! You are so talented!” This is not the stage where you need cheerleaders: you need honest yet kind critique.

A professional editor takes that to a new level. They have been trained on story and plot structure as well as grammar and spelling, and should be able to help you with word choice and many other aspects of your work.

The Editor Search

Once you have determined it is time for you to hire an editor, you have to find one. The search for an editor is much like a search for an employee if you are in a day job. There are some primary differences though, and you must understand those as well.

Word of Mouth is the Best

Word of mouth is the best advertising for the editor, and it is also the best way for you to find one. Find other authors in your genre who are self-published and who have hired editors before, and ask who they hired and what their experience was.

A good clue is if you have read their work. If you have seen glaring errors that got through the editing process, that may not be the entire fault of the editor, however, it does offer a clue to how thorough the process was, and what it might look like for you.

In self-publishing and even small press, the editor is early in the process, and a copy editor, the author, and even whoever is formatting the book can introduce typos (I have actually had an experience where this happened to me. That is another blog post, further down the line). This is a reason to follow the process I outline in this series: it prevents or at least minimizes the chances of this happening.

That being said, if their book is plotted well, characterization is good, and the overall story is well developed it speaks to both the talent of the author and the talent of their editor to either assist them in shaping the story or leave it alone if it was done well originally.

An editor can do damage just as well as they can do good, and it is important to know the difference. If the author really struggled to connect with the editor, but they did a good job on the book, it may be their personalities did not click. But this is important as well. Liking your editor will help you work together better.

Job Boards/LinkedIn

Having trouble finding an editor through word of mouth? You may want to look at job boards and LinkedIn. But these come with a caution: you should beware of any freelance editor who is not busy or is running ads to get clients. There are certain job boards and internet forums to avoid, and that is one of the reasons I suggest LinkedIn: it is a place for professionals, and you are more likely to find a solid editor there with a good reputation.

Job Boards: First, do not start with Fiverr or similar cheap job boards. If your first question for the editor is “how much will it cost?” you are asking the wrong questions. As a part of running your authorship like a business, you should have budgeted adequately for an editor and the other professionals you need to hire.

Later in the post, we will cover vetting editors, but cost should be among some of the first questions you ask, but it should not be your biggest concern.

Look for ratings and recommendations on job boards. These are a form of word of mouth: you may not know the editor, but someone does and has used them before. These ratings and what reviews say will often give you a picture of the process.

If you are shopping job boards, pick a few editors and put them in a to-contact list. Probably the first one you find will not be the one you settle on, so give yourself options so you don’t have to go back and start searching from scratch.

LinkedIn: First, you should have a LinkedIn presence of some kind. As an author, it will help you a great deal, if in no other way than in marketing (more on that later in the series as well).

Second, LinkedIn is a great place to make professional connections. These are not people who are going to necessarily buy your book, but they are those who are going to help you make it into a finished product, distribute and market it. (Does this sound like the process we are talking about overall in the series? Yes, it does.)

When looking for an editor on LinkedIn, use the search box to search for “freelance editor.” If you just search the word “editor” you will get a lot of magazine and website editors as well, and you will have to wade through their profiles too.

Establish a connection with them by “connecting.” Linkedin offers you several options when you do this, including leaving a message. Use language like “new author (or established author, if that is you) looking for a freelance editor for my [insert genre here] novel project.”

This lets them know right away that you are a potential client. Connections without messages on LinkedIn often result in requests for free work, something editors get a lot of (trust me, I do) and that we have to ignore. So while they will often accept your connection request, if your initial outreach is not professional and clear, you may never get a response from them at all.

Make a list of editors you have connected with on LinkedIn, and stay on that website. You are going to start the vetting process next, and LinkedIn will be your first step.

The Vetting Process

Once you have made your list of editors, you need to vet them or narrow down the list to a few possible candidates. To do this, you are going to look at each of them in more detail using tools and data easily at your disposal.

Linkedin

Every professional editor will probably have a strong LInkedIn presence. There are some simple things you can look for to let you know if you are dealing with someone experienced or not.

  • Look at years of experience: Much of the time this will be either under jobs: even if the editor has worked as a freelancer, they will show this along with how long they have been doing it.
  • Look at education: Most editors have a degree of some sort, and probably some ongoing education as well. If they are professional, they want to list classes they have taken and certificates they have earned to illustrate their qualifications.
  • Look at recommendations: one think Linkedin allows you to do is recommend someone who has done work for you, and editors will usually have some recommendations there, although not always. Many authors do not have a strong LinkedIn presence, and so don’t even know how to do recommendations there. (did I mention, you as an author should have a strong LinkedIn presence? I think I did)
  • Look at Endorsements. While not all clients will write a recommendation, many will take the time to click on endorsements, and if a significant number of the editors LinkedIn contacts have endorsed them, at least you know they have a good reputation, especially if they are endorsed by their peers.

Not all of these LinkedIn guidelines will apply to every editor, but you can at least get a sense of their footprint by having a look at their profile.

Website

The editor will probably have their own website. It should offer some idea of what their editing process is, an overview of rates, and a clear way to contact them for more information or even hire them.

If their blog contains posts about editing, read them. Discover what they edit, what the process is, and what they think of the current state of publishing. Much of this will let you know if they are a fit for you or not. If you do not share their views in some areas, working together could be tough.

Remember, just because an editor was good for someone else, or has a good website, or has a solid LinkedIn does not mean they are right for everyone, including you.

Many editors will also include a calendar with their next openings for edits, although an equal number won’t share that until you are further into the vetting process. If it is available, take a look. If the editor is booked up beyond the time when you want to have your book complete, you need to evaluate if they are worth waiting for and adjusting your goals, or you just need to move on.

Other Social Media

Social media besides LinkedIn is a great place to gather information about a potential editor. What do they like and not like? What books do they read? What do they Tweet about? What do they do in their spare time?

Often if you can find other ways to connect to an editor outside of your writing, your relationship will just be better. Trust will be built faster and you can develop a real friendship.

It is great that an editor is professional, but there will be times in the process of editing and publication when you will want to scream, cry, or just rant. Often, your editor can empathize and be a good sounding board. It’s really about more than just editing your manuscript, but about shaping your story and in some ways who you are as a writer. Choose your editor carefully.

Meeting, and a Test Edit

Once you have selected an editor or group of editors, it is time to meet them, whether that is in person or online and have them do a test edit.

Free Test Edits

Some editors offer a free test edit of a chapter or two to see how things go and to evaluate your writing. This helps them see how much work they are going to have to do on the rest of your manuscript.

It helps you see if you like their style and they are a good fit for you. Obviously, free is the best price for a test edit, but be aware: This may not be as thorough as the editor will be once you are paying them.

Also, a test edit is only a small part of your book. There may be other parts that need more extensive work or less. So be prepared for variations: if what you handed the editor is pretty polished, initial edits may not look as harsh as they will be where your work is rougher.

Paid Evaluations

The best of both worlds really is for you to hire the editor, or more than one, to do a paid evaluation of your manuscript. They will look through the entire work, and can then let you know what the problems are, what kind of edits you really need, and an estimate of how much it will cost to fix it.

This is better for both of you: the editor knows you are willing to invest in them and their opinion, and you know the editor has a stake in making your work a priority and will give it their best.

Either way, once you have completed this process, you will be ready to hire an editor, hopefully. When you are, you will need a contract. We’ll talk about that next time, as this is an all important step in the production process.

Published inAdvice for AuthorsAuthorpreneurBusiness AdviceWriting as a Business Series