Finding an Editor You Connect With
Finding an editor that you love isn't easy. Many of the writers I come into contact with have hired an editor they've not connected with (for a myriad of reasons). Working with an editor you haven’t connected with can spell disaster for your professional relationship and your work. It’s likely you won’t get what you need, or what you want.
Editing should be a conversation. It's two people who come together to make a work the best it can be. Each client–editor relationship will be different because each client, and each piece, is unique. In some cases, finding the right editor can be a lifetime relationship. Editing isn’t cheap because it’s a very skilled profession but it’s worth the money, as long as you find the right editor.
So how can you find an editor that works for you? This list is not me trying to sell you something. There are people out there who will charge you the world, and give you the equivalent nothing. Many of my clients come to me after having already had their work edited.
This is list is for you -- of things to look for, and things to avoid.
1. Your editor should be approachable.
While you don't need to be friends, having a positive and constructive relationship is imperative to a great editing experience. This can come in two forms: a mutual friendship of sorts, or a relationship of professionalism.
2. Your editor should be flexible.
Your editor's timetable may not always be flexible; often we juggle multiple clients at a time or we have clients booked in over the course of the year. Your editor's approach and editing process should be flexible. You should get what you need from a great edit. If there's something you don't like, you should be able to tell your editor. They should not take it personally. Largely this flexibility comes down to your editor's approachability. Can you talk to your editor honestly, tell them what's not working, and work out a plan? If you can't then there's an issue and it needs to be sorted out.
Outside of this your editor should know the industry standards. They should know writing conventions and ‘rules’. More importantly they should know when to break them, and when not to.
3. Your editor should be helpful.
Good editors don't bite (I promise). Your editor should give you constructive feedback. While not all feedback needs to be positive it should always be helpful. Comments and feedback should never act to tear a writer down. No interaction should leave either party feeling horrible. Some editors will go the extra mile, providing their clients with information (sometimes links) that will assist the writer in developing their skills. Some editors provide ongoing support for their clients after an edit is completed. Some editors don’t.
4. Qualifications vs knowledge and experience.
Your editor should be knowledgeable about your genre.
It's important that your editor knows what they're doing. A professional editor will include a list of resources that they use to edit. This is likely to include industry dictionaries such as Macquarie (AU), Oxford (UK), and Merriam Webster (UK), as well as a list of style guides, such as The Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers (AU), The Chicago Manual of Style (US) or New Hart’s Rules (aka Oxford Guide to Style, UK). Your editor should know how to edit hard copy, as well as how to use Track Changes within Microsoft Word.
If your editor specialises in a particular genre, it's probably because they enjoy it. This has all kinds of benefits for both writer and editor. When both enjoy what they're working on, the process is more fun and often more productive. An editor who specialises in your genre can bring more to the proverbial table with their in-depth knowledge.
Your editor should have experience.
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an editor and crafted my educational experience around it but not all editors have diplomas and degrees. Some people fall into the profession, some come to it, drawn like a moth to the word-flame. There's nothing wrong with any of these approaches – what you need from an editor is not a piece of paper that says they have completed a course. You, as a writer, need an editor's passion, their professionalism and their drive.
From a writer's perspective finding an unproven editor can be dangerous but this is not always the case.
In the past, editors primarily worked for corporate publishing houses. With the advent of self-publishing (hard copy and ebook), publishing houses make less money. They hire fewer editors and, as a result, there are many editors entering the profession who have never worked in-house. This is simply a flow-on of working in the digital age. Having experience working in-house or for a corporate publisher is great but it’s important to note that this is becoming increasingly rare. Such editors charge accordingly and are usually booked solid.
Some editors who lack experience are simply new to the profession, this doesn’t make them bad editors. If you choose to go with a new editor, keep in contact with them, make sure they have the drive and desire to make your work the best it can be. Their rates should align with their experience and again, both parties will need to have realistic expectations. A good way to define the terms of the edit is to speak about what you need, what you want, and how it will be done. If you’re not happy with something, bring it up. Again, your editor should be approachable and flexible in their practices.
5. Your editor should be realistic and honest.
What can your editor do and what can’t they do? If your editor isn’t sure how to go about editing a particular piece (say, a self-help book), then they should be up-front about it. There’s nothing wrong with hiring an editor that isn’t sure as long as they have the drive to do it well. Both parties need to have realistic expectations when it comes to such an arrangement.
6. Your editor should have self-respect.
A professional editor expects to be treated as a professional. In turn we treat our clients with respect and professionalism. This does not preclude a friendly relationship, quite the opposite. It simply means that we won’t accept being berated or insulted. As a writer, you shouldn't accept being treated in such a way, either.
Not all editors have a membership to their local editorial society. It is the mark of a good editor though; it shows that the editor is involved in their profession. The more involved in the publishing world your editor is, the better. This can include writing groups, association memberships, as well as active involvement in such groups.
An editor that is confident in their abilities and knowledge will charge accordingly. An honest editor will weigh a number of things to form their rates.
- Their knowledge of recommended editing rates globally from SfEP and the EFA
- Their skills, knowledge, specialised expertise
- Their portfolio (client base) and experience
- Their professional rank (in Australia, are they an Accredited Editor?)
Based on this it stands to reason that a new editor would charge less than an accredited one. But how do you know what the standard rate is? You don’t, and therein lies the difficulty. Editing rates vary from editor to editor and locating a standard is almost impossible. This is why it is important to be knowledgeable on the recommended editing rates – regardless of whether you are the writer or the editor.
7. There should be no red flags.
There are a number of red flags that can provide advance warning that an editor may not be right for you.
While it’s fairly common, an editor should not ‘ghost’. Ghosting is where an author contacts an editor and the editor ignores the email or message. This may occur on first contact, or it may occur after a few queries. Authors do it, too. It’s bad form (on both sides of the spectrum) as it can cause confusion. Doing so can cause resent. It can cause issues with schedule development (for the author this could be publishing, for the editor this could be client bookings) and lead to ongoing requests for more information. An editor should reply to your contact within a few days to a week, if your editor doesn’t reply, it may help you to find a new one. If you feel the editor you’ve contacted isn’t right for you, tell them. You shouldn’t have to explain yourself (though it can help), it’s enough that we can move on to other clients.
Mistakes on their professional website and poor design:
Is the editor’s professional site riddled with mistakes? Sometimes these mistakes are barely noticeable. Some examples to look for are ‘proofreading’, which is one word in the UK, US and AU. In some cases, the spelling of a word is regionally based. An example of this is ‘copyeditor’ which is one word in AU and two (copy editor) in the US while 'copyediting' is one word in AU but two in the US and UK; in some places it is hyphenated. Your editor should know this (and much more). Is the website well designed? This may not seem important, editors aren’t designers, we work with words. The design and care put into an editor’s website can speak to how much they value their business, how keen an eye they have, and what they’re willing to share with you.
Promises and Guarantees:
If the editor is guaranteeing their clients publishing success based on their editing prowess, or a 100% error-free edit, move on. Editors cannot guarantee publishing success or a publishing deal (excluding acquisition editors, who may offer a deal but rarely do the editing itself). A 5% error rate is seen as acceptable in the industry. No manuscript goes to publication error free – as much as we’d like it to. Editing is subjective, too -- one editor’s error might be another’s style decision.
8. Is it a red flag or not?
An editor that has immediate availability can be a red flag – why don’t they have any work? It’s also possible that the editor had a client shift their delivery date, the editor may have finished with a scheduled client earlier than expected, or they may simply have a flexible schedule.
Refusal to provide a phone number:
With more and more editors working in the freelance market, and in most cases from home, there are fewer editors giving out their home number or personal mobile. If you want to speak to them over the phone, try making a time during the editor’s business hours to call. Stick to it.
Lack of published client works:
Editors frequently work for self-publishing clients. If the client chooses to delay publishing (for whatever reason), there will be no record of the book and no ISBN to reference. There’s nothing wrong with this but it’s important that there are a variety of testimonials for you to look at. These can be found on the editor’s website but increasingly such testimonials can be found on the editor’s Facebook page. The advantage of Facebook reviews and ratings is that editors cannot cherrypick the testimonials they display. They also cannot edit them, so expect typos!
Good luck finding that special someone, it's not an easy task but it's worth careful consideration before you jump in.