Finding an Editor You Can Trust

Trusting someone else with your manuscript is one of the more difficult aspects of becoming an author. We editors know that. We understand your heart and soul are in that manuscript, and we only want to help make it better. But not every editor is right for every author. Finding the right one for you can feel like a minefield of choices. There are ways to make that decision easier.

My absolute #1 piece of advice for choosing an editor is to get sample edits. Many editors will edit a sample of around 1,000 words for free, though some charge a nominal fee—time is money, after all—but apply the fee to the final cost if you hire them. Make sure you send each editor the same sample of your work so that you can directly compare their skills and style. This sample can indicate which editor is the best fit for you. Does an editor over- or under-explain their changes? Did they miss obvious errors the other editors found? Do the changes they made preserve your voice and writing style? Does the sample reflect value for the cost?

I recommend getting samples from no more than five editors—more than that can lead to choice overload. So how do you find those five editors?

  • Ask for recommendations from other authors, either through an online group or people you know personally.
  • Most professional organizations have directories you can filter by specialty. (Just google something like “editors association” with your country to find the right one for you.)
  • Check the acknowledgements in a self-published book you have enjoyed reading. Not all authors include their editor (and it’s not generally a requirement), but it can be a good place to start.

There are a few things that will show how serious an editor takes their business. These things aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but they should be taken into consideration.

  • Most independent editors have a website that can give insight to the editor’s personality and process.
  • Check to see if they’re members of a professional organization.
  • Are there reviews or testimonials on their website? I hesitate to include this because *I* don’t have many testimonials. It’s awkward to ask someone to tell you how great you are.

Finally, there are a couple of things you should watch for in the editorial proposal or contract. These are things that are deal breakers.

  • Make sure there is an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) to protect your privacy.
  • Copyright must stay with the author. No reputable editor will want to share copyright.
  • Payment should be explicitly explained—how much and how many payments, as well as when they are due and how to make them.
    • Be cautious of editors who ask for full payment upfront. As with many contractor relationships, a deposit at the beginning and full payment before delivery is very common. If you can verify an editor’s reputation for delivery, it’s probably fine, but be aware this is an area where scams can happen.
  • There should be a clear cancellation policy. What happens if you need to cancel the project? What if the editor needs to cancel?

Hiring an editor is a leap of faith, just like hiring a contractor to remodel your bathroom. You can do your due diligence for weeks or months or even years, but eventually you just have to trust someone to do the job you’re hiring them to do.

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