Editorially Speaking: How to Find a Book Editor You Can Trust

Editorially Speaking: How to Find a Book Editor You Can Trust

Editorially Speaking is a new monthly column for The Write Life. Over the next year, we’ll cover topics like how to find and vet an editor, how much you should expect to pay for an edit, what you ought to send an editor, how to get on your editor’s good side and much more.

As for your host, I’m a full-time editor, author and ghostwriter.

I’ve written, coauthored, or ghostwritten eight books and have edited dozens more. I’m well-versed in self-publishing, and I’ve helped a handful of clients craft proposals for traditional publishing, one of which was picked up at the tail end of 2016.

In other words, I’m in the trenches every working day.

Through this column, I hope you’ll learn what I wish I would have known about editing and editors when I first became serious about writing as a business.

To that end, let’s get to what may be the most pressing topic for a new author seeking to self-publish.

How to find an editor

You could search the Internet for “editor,” “book editor,” or “Help, I need an editor ASAP,” but you will be overwhelmed with choices.

Even that last search phrase has more than 200,000 hits, and most of those seem to be video editors. So how are you supposed to find the right editor for your book?

Try each of these steps until you find one that nets you at least a few good leads.

1. Seek referrals from other writers

The best advertising for an editor is a satisfied client.

Talk with your fellow writers, whether online or in real life, and ask who they recommend.

However, you may encounter a Catch-22: better editors’ schedules may be packed, and you may not want to wait a few months for them even to begin working on your book.

That’s when you proceed to Step 2.

2. Seek referrals from that referral

If your writer friend has provided a glowing review of his or her editor, but that editor doesn’t have room for you in their schedule (or they don’t provide the specific kind of editing you need), kindly and quickly ask that editor for a referral to another editor.

Most experienced editors have professional connections they’ll be more than happy to leverage in order to help a writer.

But what if you don’t have any writer friends who’ve used an editor?

3. Check pre-vetted lists

Instead of searching the entire Internet for an editor, consider these sites that have already compiled lists of qualified, capable editors:

Whether you use these sites or other compilations, be sure to read up on how a list was curated.

Did the editor have to pay to be listed? (The EFA requires a yearly subscription.) Did someone else have to vouch for their work in order to be added? (Other writers vouched for editors on K. M. Weiland’s list.) Could they simply add themselves? (Fiverr, Upwork, etc.)

Always conduct due diligence.

How to vet an editor

After discovering a handful of editors who seem like a good fit, you’ll want to spend more time ensuring that they’re the right person for you and your book.

After all, you’ll be closely working with them on something that’s likely very close to you.

By investing time up front to find the best candidate, you may just succeed in landing a great editor on your first try, saving you the hassle of further back-and-forth emails with more editors.

Vetting an editor can be as simple as two steps, though each of these steps could require a fair amount of work on your part.

1. Do your research

Before contacting an editor, comb through your prospective editor’s website.

Carefully read about the kinds of editing they offer. Browse through the books they’ve edited. Read their endorsements.

If you’re really intent on learning about what it’s like to work with that particular editor, consider reaching out to one of that editor’s clients. Find the editor on social media to see what he or she is like apart from their writing work. Conduct a search with just the editor’s name to see what the rest of the web may say about them.

2. Ask specific questions

Don’t waste your time (or theirs) to discover information that’s already online.

Do as much homework as you can before contacting an editor by email or phone. However, you will undoubtedly have specific questions that can only be answered by contacting your prospective editor.

Here’s a list to help you think through what you ought to know about your editor before contracting to work with him or her:

  • What types of editing do you offer?
  • How much do you charge?
  • How long have you been editing?
  • Can you put me in touch with other clients you’ve worked with?
  • What experience do you have in [insert your genre]?
  • What’s your process in working with writers?
  • What software do you use to edit?
  • Will you send me a contract before work commences?
  • Can we schedule a face-to-face meeting [virtual or IRL] prior to beginning work together?
  • How often (and how) will you be in contact with me during the editing process?
  • Do you offer a sample edit?
  • When is payment due?
  • What are my options for payment?
  • Will you be nice to me?

Despite what they may do to your manuscript, most editors I know actually are nice people.

They love to read as much as you do, and their goal for your book is the same as your goal for your book: to make it the best it can be with the time and resources allowed to them.

Finding the right editor for your book can be challenging, but if you approach it from a professional mindset and follow the suggestions in this article, you should be able to find someone who can make your book shine.

May your search for an editor be short and successful.

Have you worked with an editor before? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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25 comments

  • Good article, Blake. I would add a few things:

    1. You find the perfect editor and they’re booked up – literally: To avoid this problem, I always advise writers to do two things several months (at least) before they think they will be ready to look for an editor: (1) SAVE – good editors aren’t cheap, so squirrel away an editing fund; (2) Start looking EARLY. You might find the perfect editor and have to wait six months until they’re available.

    2. The EFA is for US-based editors. Find the editorial directory in your country. If you’re in the UK, check SfEP’s directory and in Australia, you need to check IPEd’s directory.

    3. Asking whether they do a sample edit. Most editors will ask to see the manuscript so that they can assess the job and work out pricing, and a free sample edit (generally several pages, anywhere in the manuscript) is usually part of this process.

    4. Will you be nice to me? Most editors are nice, but we’re not paid to flatter our clients or give false praise. A good editor will be diplomatic, but honest. If there are serious flaws in your manuscript, a good editor will tell you so, kindly, and offer constructive suggestions.

    • Blake Atwood says:

      Excellent additions, Sally.

      The question about niceness was mostly tongue-in-cheek. Most first-timers seem overly afraid that an editor will eviscerate their work. While that may happen, my hope was to set new writers’ minds at ease when contacting an editor.

      • Yes, and some writers are more sensitive than others. Some clients say ‘it’s in your hands, I trust you’, and others want the bare minimum of changes to their work – even though it may need much more.

  • Debra Lueck says:

    Glad to see this addition to The Write Life. I’m a newbie and have spent hours searching and researching editors. Your list and advice will be helpful in the future. I would like to comment on getting a free sample edit. I did this with three editors who offered their services at comparable rates. What a vast difference in their editorial styles, abilities, and helpfulness. I actually stuck in a line that was obviously grammatically wrong and didn’t take the story forward but not one caught it! My biggest deciding factor was their “expert” comments. Some didn’t make sense, some were downright off base. The one that got me was when the editor, who claimed he knew the subject matter thoroughly, misnamed and misspelled the places and events in my story, which was historically based in fact. I pick one but wasn’t overly impressed with the results. Guess you get what you pay for!

    • Blake Atwood says:

      Thanks for your comment, Debra. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had lackluster experiences with your editors. That’s why I always suggest seeking referrals from other writers. At least then you should know what you’re getting. But I also know that not all writers will have such connections, so you have to make the most of the time and research you’ve done. I hope your future searches go better!

  • Lucille Joyner says:

    If you are going to write a monthly article on finding an Editor, shouldn’t you first define it? There are those – like me – who love to write, but know nothing about the field. How do I know whether I need an Editor or not if I don’t know specifically what an Editor does?

  • Dara Syrkin says:

    Writers have another resource: the Professional Editors Network (PEN), headquartered in Minnesota, but serving writers and readers around the globe. The organization is chock-full of talented wordsmiths, editors of every stripe, indexers, and book designers. Thanks for your great article, Blake.

  • Wendy says:

    A poor man’s version might be
    1) Get a copy of Self Editing for Writers or like
    2) Find another author in the same financial straights as you are
    3) Agree to edit each others books.

    Not as good as hiring a pro editor, but at least you’ve got a different set of writer-wise eyes looking at the manuscript.

  • Charles Wycoff says:

    Genre for me is if-y. “Odyssey of a Soul” is a spiritual fiction set in historical times from 12,000 B.C.E. up to today. At least as accurate as one can find history. Key, is the soul is the viewer rising and falling in merit during its sojourn through the tenth human life-form. Three female and seven seven males with the 3rd coming as a female with greatly advanced merit to give to the world.
    I’ve studied for forty years about reincarnation and I use it only to stay close to its tenets without attempting to preach it. It’s just the vehicle. Who would be interested in editing such a book.

  • Amanda Perry says:

    Great and helpful advice . I am just starting out on this adventure , having plotted my book and drafted about half do I wait until I have drafted the whole story? I am reaching a point where some good constructive help would be good so Mentor or Editor ? Argh ……

    • Blake Atwood says:

      If you’re absolutely stuck, search for a developmental editor. The best ones act as plot mentors. I recommend Andilit.com, but feel free to use the resources I mentioned in the article to broaden your search—and find someone with experience in your genre.

      Alternatively, as others have said in the comments, if you need to conserve cash, find some other writers in your genre to provide feedback.

    • Amanda, if your budget is tight, consider having a manuscript assessment rather than going straight to a development edit, which can be very expensive. Some editors offer manuscript assessment services – there are also businesses that do only manuscript assessment services. This is usually done for a fixed price based on word count, and you receive a detailed written report outlining the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses, so you know what parts to work on and improve.

  • Staci Jacobson says:

    Hi, do these resources also apply to screenplays? If not, can you advise on that subject? Thanks.

    • Tori Yabo says:

      Hi Staci,

      I found out about your question from Blake.

      Everything in Blake’s article also applies to a script editor with one major additional consideration: the editor needs to be experienced in script writing, specifically.

      These are a different beast because, unlike books, which can have long explanations, scripts communicate exclusively through dialogue, action, and context, and are often compromised by too many words. In addition, at the copy-edit level, punctuation and grammar is sometimes non-standard in dialogue because it is focused on actor delivery rather than a rigid style (a seemingly errant comma is a dramatic pause, for example).

      You’ll want to make sure your editor has experience with scripts and how they translate to film. For example, the script editors on my team also work in media production, owning the script writing, script editing, shooting, and video editing of films and commercials, and I personally have been acting professionally for over six years.

      Feel free submit an inquiry on our site http://www.eyecombeditors.com or email tori@eyecombeditors.com, letting us know what your piece is about, how many words it is, the level of editing you need, and your desired completion date. Because of the Jan rush, I’m not sure I have anyone immediately available, but I wanted to at least answer your question so you can find someone who meets your needs, whether us or another.

  • Milk Shake Lover says:

    What about the people who are scared to give their work to strangers to read because they fear that the strangers will steal them. Yes that does sound silly but I wrote a very good story a while back and it was stolen from me and transformed into what is known as the underworld today. Yes, that was based on something I wrote. (Back in the day I never typed my work so most of my stories were hand written and no I did not copyright them because I did not feel they were worth it) I am sorry if I sound like a lunatic but that is how I feel.

  • Yumna says:

    Hi, Blake. This article helped me a lot. I love to write and I dream on being a young writer. My search for a good editor was made easy, thanks to you? However, it would be greatly appreciated if you wrote another article discussing issues of self-publishing other types to publish a book.
    Thank you!

  • Audrey Owen says:

    A quick addition for your Canadian writers. Here’s where to find credible Canadian writers. The EAC also has a mediation service if there is a dispute between an editor and client. http://www.editors.ca/

  • “Don’t waste your time (or theirs) to discover information that’s already online.”

    Yes! I can’t tell you how many queries I receive from the online contact form on my web site that say, “What do you charge?”

    “Well, for that I’m going to have to send you right back where you came from—my web site!” 🙂

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