How To Hire A Professional Editor

In last week’s blog, Susan shared her advice for how to find a professional editor, this week you’ll learn how to hire a professional editor. 

Almost all freelance book editors offer a sample edit of your material so you can see what kinds of edits they will make to your work. They may not offer a free sample, but that doesn’t really matter—except to your pocketbook. And if you’re not willing (or can’t afford) to spend $25–50 bucks to see how the editor performs, you’re going to be shell-shocked when you get the estimate.

If they don’t offer a sample edit at all, walk away. There’s simply no telling what you’re getting into. Even if they provide examples of editing they’ve done on other material, it does not indicate what they’ll do to yours.

If possible, send the same material to your top two or three picks. You will get to see who does what, who catches what, and whom you connect with.

A large part of editing is the personal relationship. If every comment the potential editor inserts in your sample makes you grit your teeth, move on. Can you imagine having to wade through 200 such comments? Even if they’re the best and cheapest editor you find, don’t do it unless you can set your personal feelings aside 100 percent and just focus on the edits objectively. Most writers would find this difficult to do.

A professional demeanor is important in your first communications with them, as well as a reasonably quick response to your initial contact. And this works both ways! You are being evaluated as much as you are evaluating. Quality editors will not take just any job that appears in their inbox. Be polite and friendly, ask intelligent questions (not the ones already answered on their website’s FAQ page), and allow time for them to respond.

Now that your sample has been returned, you can go forward with additional scoring on your potential editors:

  • Did they respond to you in a friendly, professional manner within a reasonable time (not within 12 hours on a holiday weekend…)? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Did they get the sample back to you when they said they would? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Did they offer to answer questions about the sample? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Did they insert comments in the sample that explained at least some of the edits? (Yes, 10 pts; a couple, 5 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Do you think their response style is compatible with your temperament? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Have they given you an estimate on the full project (provided you gave them the information they need to create an estimate—word count, page count, etc.)? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Did they tell you when they would be able to start editing? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Did they mention a contract of any sort? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 5 pts) Not all editors use a formal contract, so don’t be excessively worried if they don’t have one. A simple email or document explaining who will do what, when, and for how much can be sufficient and considered a “contract.”
  • Did they offer any options as to what kind of editing they will agree do on your material? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Did they explain (either personally or through their website) what you get with your edit? Number of submissions, level of editing, etc.? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Did they insist you need their highest-priced package but the sample edit doesn’t contain enough edits to back up the need? (Yes, 0 pts; no, 10 pts)
  • Did they offer to help you with Track Changes if you’re not familiar with it? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)
  • Will they provide names of references you can contact (in addition to what is on their website)? (Yes, 10 pts; no, 0 pts)

If the editor you choose is not available right away, a smart author will take the edits and comments in all the samples under careful review and apply them to their manuscript while waiting! If you think you learned a lot from the samples and believe you have improved your manuscript enough to move down to a lower level of editing, or a lower rate, you could ask to submit another short sample for the editor to reevaluate.

Next week blog covers How To Work With A Professional Editor.   

  • Kathie York

    Susan, I would like to use some of this in a course I’m creating for those responsible for written materials. How do I go about getting the permissions set up?