Regardless of whether you self-publish or submit your work to an agent or publisher, smart writers know the manuscript must be edited before it’s ever sent. Some writers have the fortune of having a friend or family member edit their manuscript. The downside of this approach is that people who know you well may be reluctant to give you honest feedback and a full edit. It’s also difficult to know if they really have the skills—they may be good, but are they really good enough? If editors are sending rejection letters or your self-published books aren’t selling, the first question you should ask is whether you need a (better) editor.
But where do you find one and what should you look for?
Gone are the days of old school marm editors with graduate degrees in English grammar. Today’s editors have degrees in many different areas, not just English. To find an editor, you are likely to have a choice of two routes: a freelance editor or an online editing and critiquing site.
Freelance editors often sign up to popular freelance sites such as Elance or Guru. You can also find them in directories for your writers’ associations and writing networks. The National Association of Independent Writers & Editors is a good place to start looking.
If you try out the freelance website route, you are likely to get your editing done cheaper than most other places. The old adage applies: You get what you pay for—usually. There are definitely a lot of exceptions, obviously, as this was how I got my start as a freelance editor, and I fancy myself as quite a good one.
Either way, there are several qualities and requirements to look for in a potential editor. First, make sure they are native English speakers. Hiring out of India or the Philippines will get you incredibly cheap prices, but the quality of your manuscript will suffer. One of the hazards of going with an online company with multiple editors is that you don’t know who your editor is. Ask to “meet” the editor through email, phone call or video chat.
While your editor need not have a degree in English, they should have a college degree in some field. For instance, I learned my grammar and punctuation skills through a graduate program in political science. In order to ensure good skills, ask to see professional samples of their editing or writing. As an editor, I got permission from one of my clients to use a small excerpt of their writing (before and after editing) to use as a sample for my portfolio to send to potential clients.
Don’t judge all editors—freelance especially—by their pricing. Many new and fantastic freelancers need to undercut the competition to jump start their business. Likewise, you can find some barely adequate editors charging at the high end of the spectrum. This is why it is critical to review portfolios and obtain samples.
The critical question is to ask what you are going to get for the price. Online editors should be charging by the word for long manuscripts such as novels. Whatever the charge, you must ask what level of editing is offered:
- basic edit (punctuation and basic grammar changes),
- moderate edit (basic edit with some critique/feedback and changes for consistency)
- full edit (moderate edit with many of the major changes made by the editor, along with comprehensive revision suggestions)
Unless you are an absolutely fabulous and very experienced writer, a basic edit is mostly worthless to new writers. New writers need comprehensive feedback from a professional to improve your writing to the level necessary for publication.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the ultimate goal is to find an editor with whom you can build a long-term relationship. Jumping from editor to editor will only cause stress and uncertainty every time you change. Actually talk to your editor and develop a friendly working relationship. Once you find a good one that fits your style and personality, hold onto them. Use him or her on all of your writing projects to ensure consistency in your manuscripts, stories and articles.