Image: Matthew Loffhagen
The title of this article says it all: Not all editors are created equal.
Despite what you may think, editing is not an exact science, it’s an odd mixture of knowledge, skill, and intuition. Your work is very personal and you want to find an editorial partner who values not only your project, but your individual voice and style as well.
With so many independent editors and editorial services to choose from, that can seem like a daunting task. You might be tempted to just go with the first listing that pops up in your search engine, but that could turn out to be a big mistake. Let me walk you through the process of choosing an editor, and I think you’ll feel more empowered to make an informed decision.
Step 1: Make a list
It’s good to have options. If you have a list of editors with details about their services, pricing, and expertise, you’ll be better able to discern one that stands out above the rest. There are many places to find editors—search engines, publishing directories, referrals from other writers, blog posts, etc.—however you do it, make a list of editors and editorial companies along with their contact information.
Step 2: Gather information
Now it’s time to add to your list. Visit each editor’s and company’s website, research the following questions, and take notes:
- What services do they offer?
- Are their rates listed on the website? If so, how much do they charge for services? Do they have payment plans available?
- What is the estimated turnaround time for services?
- Do they mention their education and experience?
- What other projects have they worked on?
- What are other clients saying about them? Are there testimonials listed on the site?
Do your best to glean as much information as you can from an editor’s or service’s website. If you’re still left with essential questions unanswered, reach out to them via email or phone to get the information you need. Then go back to your list and compare your options.
Step 3: Narrow your options
What did you learn from your research? Are some of the companies on your list just absolutely out of your price range or don’t offer services you need? Do any of the editors seem to have inadequate education or experience?
Go ahead and cut those.
If they just absolutely seem like they won’t be a good fit, strike those off the list to help you pare down your options. Ideally what you should have left is a list of very good editors whose price range, turnaround time, service offerings, education and experience, and client testimonials meet your expectations. But don’t get ahead of yourself, the most important step is coming up.
Step 4: Request a sample
Finding an editor to suit you is about more than just getting a service you can afford. You are entrusting your work, your creative process to another person, you want to be confident in your choice before you move ahead. One great way to do that is to get a sample edit. Most editors will offer a free sample edit or consultation on a few pages. Take advantage of this opportunity, it’s risk free, no strings attached, and it’s the single best way to get a feel for what it will be like to work with a particular editor. The more samples you get, the more empowered you’ll be to choose the right person for the job.
Step 5: Evaluate quality
So, now do a comparison. Gather your sample edits and evaluate them. Here’s what you need to look for:
- Did the editor do a thorough job marking errors in punctuation, grammar, syntax, and word choice?
- Were there edits addressing issues of style and formatting (titles, margins, spacing, hyphens, en dashes, em dashes, numerals versus spelled-out numbers, treatment of dates/times, etc.)? A skillful editor must have mastery of the style guide, so make sure they’ve given proper attention to those elements in your manuscript.
- How was the editor’s tone—did his or her comments seem constructive or condescending?
- Did the editor respect your personal voice and style? If there were extensive changes made, do you still feel they represent your original intent?
The two main things you want to discern from a sample edit are quality and compatibility. You want a skillful editor who takes your manuscript and your creative process seriously. But you also want someone you can have a partnership with. This isn’t just about an end product—although that is very important—it’s also about the editorial process. An editor may know the style guide inside out, but if he/she changes your work so drastically that your voice is lost, will you be happy with the end result? If an editor is unwilling to dialog about your concerns, doubts, or disagreements, are you going to have a positive experience? A sample edit and a few exchanged emails can go a long way to helping you answer those questions.
Step 6: Hire your editor
So, what did you learn from evaluating the sample edits? There are bound to be similarities and differences when you compare the final product from several professionals. Did you find an editor from your pared down list who gave you a great markup, who respected your unique voice, who was enthusiastic about your work and seems like they might make a good collaborative partner for your project? If so, hire them! If not—if none of the editors really wowed you—don’t be afraid to try again. This is a financial investment; do not settle for mediocre quality.
Hopefully the process I’ve outlined above will give you the tools to find and evaluate editors. I want you to feel empowered to make the right choice, to hire an editor who will take good care of your manuscript, partner with you in your creative work, and spur you on to be the best writer you can be. Those are the principles that guide our editing services here at Standoutbooks.