How To Hire An Editor

by Darla on October 15, 2012

You have written a book or you are in the process of writing one. That’s great! Maybe you’re just thinking about writing one. It’s going to be a bestselling novel. Or maybe it is more practical—a tool for promoting your coaching practice, something you can sell at a public-speaking event.

You need an editor, or a writing coach, someone who can help you align your vision for the book with what you have written so far. You want help pinpointing just the right tone of voice. You’d like insight.

How do you find the right editor for your book? Should you put a post on Facebook to see if anyone knows an editor? Google “editor”?  How do you tell the mediocre ones from the really good ones? Are the good ones just more expensive, or do they have a solid reputation? Both?

Here are some tips for finding and hiring the right editor for you.

Use a Variety of Sources.

Your goal is to find several potential editors, and to choose the one that is the best fit for you. Do a Google search, post on your Facebook page, search on LinkedIn, or mention it to local writers’ groups. When you find two or three editors you like, it is time to get more information about each of them. Ask questions in email or on the phone—what type of editing do they do? What are their strengths? What are their specialties?

Ask for a Sample Edit.

When you find an editor you are fairly certain is a good fit, request a sample edit so you can have a clear sense of what the editor will do for you.

Editors have different strengths and talents. Getting a few pages of sample editing or even a few minutes of a free consult to see how they really work and what their edits will look like on your manuscript is a great way to get a preview of what it will be like to work together before investing your time and money.

Most editors are happy to write a brief proposal of their plan for you, which might involve critiquing your book, giving you a chance to revise it, then copy editing for you following your revisions. If you plan to publish your book, ask your editor if they can advise you on this and what their consulting fee is.

The bottom line—find out everything up front.

Follow Your Gut

After you interview several potential candidates, sit on it for a bit, then trust what your gut tells you. Sometimes you may not even be able to explain your choice, but if you are good at trusting yourself to make the right decisions, you will be in good hands.

The worst mistake you can make is ignoring your gut and trusting someone on their credentials and stardom alone. Don’t look at the books they sold, their specialties, and their degrees without really considering if they are the right editor for you.

Many of my clients have hired me and said, “I don’t know, it’s not something I can explain, just that I think you’re the right one for me.” And it has always turned out to be true. Of course this does not mean I am right for everyone. But that’s okay. If I’m for you, you will know it in your gut!

Expect Some Wait Time

Good editors are busy editors. Of course there are seasonal shifts in our work, natural ups and downs, cancellations, and unexpected openings in schedules, but I can’t tell you how many times over my career people have come to me expecting that I can start their project right away.

You want the truth? I am usually booked three months in advance. Or more. And many of my colleagues are booked even farther out than that. However, often, I can get you in sooner, due to shifts in my projects.

The time between contacting your desired editor and getting on their schedule is  a great opportunity to get some distance from your work (especially if you just breathlessly phoned them after typing “the end” on the last page of your book), gather yourself, and even do some revising.

How can you productively work on your manuscript until your scheduled start date with your new editor? First, read through your manuscript again and cut any “fat.” For many of my editing projects, I charge by the word. If you cut some of the fat ahead of time, all the better for your budget!

If your book is nonfiction, start writing your book proposal. Begin the research and homework of gathering the material necessary to compose a strong book proposal to send to agents and publishers. Check out the resources on my website for self-publishing, finding an agent, and writing a query letter.

Don’t be discouraged by an editor’s wait time, especially if it’s someone you are really looking forward to working with.

Understand the Cost and Pricing

Most editors want a partial payment, or retainer, prior to starting a project. This lets the editor know you are serious and allows them to reserve a spot on their busy calendar that they won’t give away to anyone else. Chances are, most editors will also accept a variety of payment methods—personal check, money order, PayPal or other online payment methods.

When the project is completed, most editors want to be paid in full before the final batch of the work is returned.

Make sure that the expectations around payment are spelled out clearly and discussed up front. I have my payment terms listed on my website, my invoices, and also on my contract.

Ninety-five percent of the time, I give you the total cost of your project up front. Although, if the project is multi-tiered and involves a lot of development, I may work on retainer and bill as we go. If this is the case, then I always discussing pricing and options with you along the way, and I always provide you with a good ballpark figure from the start.

Sign on the Dotted Line

When you hire an editor, they will be working on contract with you. If you are like me, I don’t want to sign my life away, which is why I keep my own contract short and simple. The contract states our agreement, what I will do for you, terms of payments, and what happens if either needs to end the contract or terminate working together.

Always review the contract, and question your editor about anything that feels confusing or uncomfortable.

Feel Good about Your Decision!

Like any good working relationship, ask for what you need, ask for clarification when you are unclear about something, and keep communication open so that you have the best possible experience working with your editor.

In other words, there is no need to put your editor on a pedestal or cast them in a golden light. Yes, they may be gods and goddesses of the written word, but they are human just like everyone else, and love to hear feedback.

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