The Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Book Editor
After self-editing your manuscript as best you can, it’s time to start looking for an editor.
You want someone who will give your book the best shot possible, but how can you make sure you select the right person?
There’s a big difference between editors who point out your weaknesses and come up with solutions, versus those who give general advice that doesn’t go anywhere. One author who kept getting generic feedback from editors that amounted to, “It’s good, keep writing,” ended up with a 215,000-word tome. The weary man finally found an editor who was able to show him how to cut the manuscript in half and tighten the plot.
Working with the wrong editor isn’t just a costly financial mistake, it’s demoralizing to put so much effort into a book and not feel good about the result. You want your narrative to live up to your expectations.
The right editor’s advice should help you achieve that. His feedback will make perfect sense to you, and the results will be true to your voice and your story.
To find this magical unicorn of an editor, here are five questions to ask and red flags to look out for.
1. What publishers has the editor previously worked for?
Every editor you consider will have a list of books she’s edited — if she doesn’t, run the other way. This makes it seem like she’s experienced, but you need to take a closer look.
Are they all self-published titles?
There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing as an author (in fact, it’s the future of publishing), but there’s something wrong with being an editor who has only worked on self-published titles — it can be a red flag that she’s only ever worked as a freelance editor.
People don’t become editors by waking up one morning and saying, “I’ve read a lot of books, some good some bad… I was an English major… I need a job, so…”
The title of an editor is earned. It takes three years at a publisher before you can edit your own books. Editing is a skill that comes from working with experts — other editors — for years. People who have only freelanced likely never had the opportunity to be guided and mentored by editors.
The second issue with freelancers is they often don’t know what works in the marketplace. Traditional editors have acquired books from agents and published them. They understand the market, and they know what it takes to make something salable.
“It’s important to know the editor’s credentials in the publishing industry, to know that they know what works in the marketplace,” says Chelsea Lindman, an agent at Greenburger Associates.
This is crucial for authors planning to self-publish, too. These editors know what it takes to make a book appealing to readers, no matter how it’s published.
When you look through the editor’s booklist, check to see which books were published traditionally. Ask the editor if she’s ever worked for a publisher.
2. Is he an editor or a copyeditor?
If an editor tells you he edits and copyedits, consider that a red flag. Editors and copyeditors have different backgrounds, credentials and roles.
An editor will address your creative content, writing style and language use. He’ll focus on the way you communicate your story. A copyeditor is more technical. He makes sure your spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax is in accordance with industry standards. (He also looks out for internal consistencies and fact-checks your work.)
There is some overlap between the work of a general editor and a copyeditor, since editors will fix some grammar and inconsistencies, but it’s not the specific purpose of an edit. A copyeditor has a rule-based understanding of the Chicago Manual of Style, which your editor doesn’t.
When you’re presented with an editor’s booklist, make sure you ask whether these books were copyedited or edited. If they were copyedited, you’re not dealing with an actual editor.
3. How many authors does the editor work with in a given month?
Editing is a time-intensive process. Your editor will carefully read your manuscript, sometimes more than once, and make notes along the way. She’ll take time to think about the weaknesses in the work and come up with accurate, successful solutions.
Experienced editors won’t accept more than two or three books per month, depending on the length and type of edit. If the editor you’re considering is juggling seven to 10 books per month, she doesn’t have the time to be thorough or thoughtful.
4. What’s the editor’s approximate quote?
Compare the editor’s quote to the standard rates from the Editorial Freelancers Association or from other published rate guides. If your editor’s quote is high, compare his experience to the other quotes you’ve received. Editors with many New York Times bestsellers who are in high demand will ask for higher rates.
However, it’s not uncommon to find an experienced editor at the standard rate.
If the rate is low, once again look closely at the editor’s booklist. Usually, this is a sign of inexperience. If you consider working with the editor, ask for references from his publisher and clients.
5. Can you get a trial edit?
Beyond experience, you want to find an editor who’s the right fit for your story. You want to know if you’d agree with her feedback and line edits.
To find out, ask the editor if she would be willing to do a trial edit, a short edit that may only cover 10 pages. The editor won’t know enough about your story to give you her authoritative opinion, but she’ll know just enough to show you what her thoughts look like.
It’s also ideal if a quick phone call is included in the trial, to make sure you have a good rapport. A trial edit is an inexpensive way to see if you’re partnering up with the right editor before you commit to a full edit.
The process of finding the right editor may seem like a slog, but it’s worth it. The rewards of working with the right person are legion.
Not only will a good editor raise the appeal of your manuscript, but more importantly, she will make you a better writer.
If you found a great editor for your work, how did you know he was the one? If you’re looking ahead, what questions do you have about the process?
Looking for an editor for your fiction or nonfiction manuscript? NY Book Editors can help connect you with the right editor for your story.