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How Do I Avoid Hiring the Wrong Editor for My Book?

Mar 24, 2021

Your editor is there to make you sound your best, not to rewrite you. Here are the questions you should be asking anyone you're considering hiring as your editor.

What books have you edited?

Do due diligence here...ask if the books were bestsellers and if they were thanked in the acknowledgments—anything that can help you determine that they’re legit and telling you the truth!

What’s your favorite genre of book?

This doesn’t mean that if they usually edit historical romance and you wrote a recovery memoir, they’re not a fit but it may. Find out if they’ve edited ANY books like yours in the past.

Do you do developmental editing or just copy editing?

There is a huge difference here. Developmental editors often come from the world of traditional book or magazine publishing and they are there to take a big, wide look at the project as a whole. They’ll say things like, “Let’s consider taking Sally out” or “I totally lost track of where you were going in the third chapter.” Big stuff. Often a developmental editor will do an edit and then need your input (because they’re filling in holes that they need you to provide information for) so two edits may be involved.

A copy editor or proofreader, meanwhile, is just looking for typos. If you have a big conceptual problem in your book, this person will not address it because it’s not what they’re trained to do.

Sometimes an editor just reads a manuscript and provides feedback. If that’s what you’re getting, you’re going to need another editor after so MAKE SURE YOU CLARIFY ALL OF THIS UP FRONT.

TO BE CLEAR: In all likelihood, you will need TWO editors: a developmental one AND a copy editor. (At Launch Pad, we actually put the manuscripts through three or four editors, because the more eyes on it, the more likely we are to catch everything.)

Even after shelling out money to this editor(s), your book will still have typos. It sucks. And it’s the truth. Don’t hate your editor. Human eyes miss things. Harry Potter and The Tropic of Cancer both had typos when they were first released. I highly recommend giving your book to five friends and asking them to read (do this at the same time that a copy editor is going through it). Just clarify to your friends that they are looking for TYPOS ONLY (I’ve seen way too many people get dragged down rabbit holes when they give their completed manuscripts to non-writer and non-editor friends who find their inner writer or editor and start explaining how the book should change. DOUBLE NO!) Ask your friends to send you a list of the typos they find so you can make the corrections. To make extra sure there are no typos, after you have the completed version from the copy editor/your friends you can always use a dictation software to “read” your book aloud to you. Many times we hear mistakes our eyes didn’t see.

What do you charge? UM, YEAH, OF COURSE.

Here’s the thing: editor fees vary WIDELY. I charge a minimum of $5000 to edit a book, while I know others who will do it for $100. I would avoid people who charge by the hour because you never know how quickly or slowly they’re going to work. If you want to play it safe, I would budget a minimum of $1000 for your editor; an editor I refer people to charges four cents a word so a 50K word manuscript would be $2k. YES this sounds like a lot but it’s the most important place to put your money.

Do you have any references?

Get this information and then reach out to previous clients. It’s a pain in the ass but I can’t tell you how many clients come to me having worked with an editor that didn’t do anything and overcharged them. Confirm this person has raving fans before you part with your cold hard cash.

Can you do a sample for me?

Most editors will edit roughly five pages in order to give you a sense of what they do. You should be able to get a sense of how liberal or careful they’re going to be based on that sample.

How long do you estimate this will take?

Just because someone can do it quickly doesn’t mean it’s a rush job. Because editors are freelancers, their workloads vary all the Ime so you may catch someone when they don’t have any other projects on their plate, or when they’re drowning in work. For a full (30,000-50,000 word) manuscript, I would say a month is a good turnaround Ime.

What format do you work in?

Most editors I know work in Word and then have the editor use Track Changes but some people like to work in Pages or Google Docs. Any are fine but just get on the same page from the beginning. 


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