Whether you’re working on fiction, non-fiction, family history, business book, or a memoir, hiring an editor is going to become a reality.
A few times in my recent travels, I have heard someone say, “I’m only self-publishing though. What do I need an editor for?”
A well-edited manuscript is absolutely critical to finding success in the modern publishing game. Don’t want to take my word for it?
Go ahead an publish a half-baked manuscript on Amazon and just watch the comments flow in. Readers rage with an uncommon, white-hot fury whenever they find typos, glitches and inconsistencies in a book they paid even a couple of bucks for.
Planning on sending your book to a traditional publisher? Well, the standard is high enough now, that even your spec book needs editing.
If you’ve come far enough that you have a completed manuscript, your best bet is to go the rest of the way and get it edited or polished. I know you may be eager to press PUBLISH or SEND, but caution rules the day here.
Not all editors are the same though. Not all editing is the same, either. That is why knowing what you really need is the key to hiring the right pro.
Here are the six question you need to consider when hiring an editor.
Question #1: What Kind Of Editing Do You Offer?
There are many kinds of editing out there. Your primary challenge is to find the right editor for the current state of your manuscript.
For example, if your book is pretty clean and you’ve done multiple drafts, you’re probably looking to hire a proofreader. They’re they detail oriented ones that make sure all the commas are in the right places.
If your story is pretty solid — maybe on draft two — but you’re worried about content and language, you’re looking for someone that does line editing. They’re the ones that notice how often you use a word.
Even further out, if your story is a pile of first draft mush, you need to get a development editor in there pronto to get your story in shape.
Whatever stage you’re looking at, you need to ask your prospective editor the right question. For example, I provide high quality developmental editing for fiction and non-fiction but I definitely don’t do proofreading.
Some editors perform all of these services.
The key question in hiring an editor is “what kind of editing do you offer?” If your editor does not know these definitions, or does not have experience with what you need, they’re not the right editor for you at this time.
The trick here is also knowing where you’re at. If you need that service, it’s best to talk to someone for a manuscript consultation.
Question #2: Are Your Familiar With (Insert Genre) Manuscript?
By (INSERT GENRE) I mean, what kind of book are you writing? If you’re writing fantasy (or mystery or supernatural romance or a memoir…) you want to make certain that your editor knows the genre.
Why does this matter?
First off, every genre has conventions and is governed by a set of rules. Well, maybe that’s not really true, no one at the “paranormal police department” is going to cite you $200 for misusing a ghost, but readers of those genres have certain things they’re looking for in a story.
Good writing is a general concept all editors in some way understand, but to achieve good (INSERT GENRE) writing is far more nuanced and challenging.
If your book is going to eventually compete with other fantasy books on the Amazon shelf, you need to make sure it “follows the rules”.
While we’re talking about genre, here is something you need to know:
There is no “this book is for everyone” cop out allowed. There is no single book or movie written for an audience of everyone. Your book has a defined audience and you’re writing to please their expectations.
Question #3: How Do You Give Feedback?
An editor’s job is to give honest feedback about what is working (and what is not working) in your manuscript. Hiring an editor is how you, the writer, comes up with a set of solutions to fix it.
How you get that feedback is key. It’s your solution map. I’ve had editors working on my fiction hand back written notes and Word track changes. I’ve had editors send long emails. Others still offer a phone consultation.
Personally, I like Word track changes and an hour chat. Other clients I’m sure don’t want to talk about the work. They want that written email to reference over and over as they work through.
The point is, when hiring an editor, the feedback is your product. It’s what you receive to work on. It absolutely needs to fit your needs.
An editor should have a process. I certainly have mine. As the client though, you are perfectly within your rights to ask for something different, additional, new, or in lieu of.
Question #4: What Is Your Fee Structure?
In the same way as I recommend clients ask this question of a ghostwriter, understanding an editorial fee structure I think is the best way to go.
Why structure over cost? Because you want to know how that prospective editor comes up with the price they’re charging you.
Are you buying something you don’t need? Do they charge you by the word? Are they charging by the hour?
Understanding someone’s fee structure also allows you to avoid the dreaded add-on. Yeah, those happen, that annoying little $75 extra the editor tacks on in the end when you ask for your one-hour phone consultation and they didn’t incorporate that in your price.
Get everything out front. It’s best this way.
Question #5: What Books Have You Edited?
This is an iffy question in my book. I think, however, if you want some social proof that your editor is good, go ahead and ask.
My trouble with this question is, what if you don’t like the book? An editor is really only as good as the writing. The best editor could have worked tirelessly (and excellently) on something that simply did not gel.
If an editor pointed me to some gauzy covered harlequin romance as something they did, well, I’m not crazy about those books. I don’t read them. Some of my pre-conceived feelings about those books creep in.
Suddenly, they’re the romance editor.
I’m an old hat though. I don’t get scared off easily. If my next editor offered me a harlequin romance book as an example, I’d be able to look past it.
Maybe you want to avoid that shock? Maybe you don’t care?
Question #6: Do You Offer Samples?
This is one of the most critical questions to ask when hiring an editor. Can you offer me a sample edit of some work?
A sample shows you that the editor can get into your voice. They understand your genre and have an idea of what you’re trying to do.
Furthermore, this allows you to see what they offer for the money.
Here are the three important caveats to this question.
1.) You rightfully cannot ask for more than a 500 word sample. Seriously. More than that is asking for a little too much.
2.) Most editors take time to get “warm” with a manuscript. I would hazard a guess that an editor really gets a sense of a book after 1-2,000 words.
3.) As a developmental editor, it is quite difficult for me to show you anything in a 500 word sample. I can try, but it’s difficult to say, “this is where the story could go” when I’ve literally read 1/100th of it.
I would also say, don’t ask the same editor for a sample on book two that you asked on book one.
This is a one shot deal, but it’s valuable, so I recommend taking it.