Questions to ask When Hiring an Editor, by Courtney Koschel
You’re finished. The End has been written, and you’ve tweaked to the point that if you look at it one more time you’ll curl up in the fetal position with your hands wrapped tightly around your knees and weep.
After you’ve given it your best, you decide the next thing you want to do is hire an editor. If you Google “freelance editor,” a million searches will overwhelm you, threatening to send you back to the fetal position. Finding someone to work with can be a scary task. There are many editors out there with different areas of expertise. You’ll want to ask different editors about their specialty in order to pick the right one to work with on your project. Be aware that the different editors often use different names for the type of work they do. I’ve included those in this post. Here are some questions to keep in mind during your search.
- What types of editing do you do? Like I said earlier, different editors have different areas of expertise. There are developmental editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders. Developmental editing (sometimes called content editing) is pretty extensive and comes before copyediting. This is when an editor will look over your work for the overall picture. They’ll analyze the characters, their motivations, the flow of the story, plot holes and inconsistencies, sometimes rewrite and restructure the work, and look for any other major big picture problems. A copyeditor (sometimes called a line editor) focuses more on grammar, style, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. and comes before proofreading. A proofreader is someone who looks for anything a copyeditor would miss. Their skills lie in looking over a piece that’s already pretty polished. They will look for grammar, punctuation, and misspelled words. All of these different types of editors are important, but make sure you choose the right kind for your project.
- Do you have references? Most experienced editors will have references. Ask to see them. You’ll want to look at what their previous clients said about them, and note their strong points. Ask yourself if they match what you want for your project.
- Do you edit my genre? Crucial question. You want someone who is familiar with the type of writing you do. Some editors work on multiple genres, and that’s fantastic. But someone who edits primarily adult romance may not be the right pick for your young adult fantasy, and someone who edits mostly children’s picture books may not be the right fit for your adult thriller. You get what I’m saying.
- Do you offer a sample? A lot of editors offer a sample, even if it’s a small one (and honestly, that’s still generous. It takes me an hour to perform developmental edits and hard copyedits on 4-5 pages). I am highly favorable of this. This gives you the chance to see what type of editing the editor sees for your manuscript, and it gives the editor a chance to preview your work to determine what type of editing they recommend. Both are important. Once you receive your sample, go over it. Is your writing stronger? Were they thorough?
- What can I expect from you? This is important for a variety of reasons. You’ll want to know what their communication style is like, what is offered with the editing package, how long it will take them, and how they go about giving updates on your work. Everyone has different communication styles. Some people prefer email, and others prefer Skype calls. Find out what your editor likes and decide if it fits with your style. The editing package will vary for every editor. Some will offer a consultation, others may not. Find out what is offered and decide if it’s best for you. It’s important to know how long it will take them because you’ll need to make sure the editor can meet your expectations or deadlines. I’m pretty confident that most editors are aware of how stressful the writing/editing process can be. Most are mindful of this and will give updates to make sure you’re comfortable with how things are going. Ask the editor when can you expect to hear from them. Will they contact you once a week? Will it be the same day every week? What will they provide in an update? Don’t expect them to take a ton of time to go over things they’ve done that week, that’s a waste of your money. Just ask them to check in, and maybe include where they are in the project. Figure out if this works for you.
- How much will it cost? This one is tricky, and it will definitely vary. Some editors will be more expensive than others. You have to decide what’s best for you. The most expensive editor may not be the right one for your particular project. The cheapest one may be what you need. Just make sure you’re not choosing someone strictly based on price. As long as you’re educated in your decision, you’re probably making the right choice.
Make sure you ask these questions, and you’ll probably think of more. Like I said, the best decision is an educated one. Have you worked with an editor before? What questions did you ask?
Courtney Koschel has been writing since she could hold a crayon, but now she writes fiction for young adults. She has a BA in journalism and a MS in environmental science. In the past seven years she has worked as a journalist, an editor, technical writer, technical editor, and freelance editor. She charges $20 an hour for copyediting and $50 an hour for developmental editing.
I realize that not every editor/proofreader is perfect for every writer. This is why I am presenting the series, Editor Spotlight. If you know an editor or proofreader who would like to participate, ask them to contact me at karenselliott AT midco DOT net. The Editor Spotlight series will be presented throughout the next several months in between my regular blog posts and special theme weeks. – Karen S. Elliott