Finding a good editor in 5 easy steps

Greer Glover

You’ve finished writing your novel and now you need an editor to look it over but if you’ve never used one, you may be wondering where to start.

First you need a list of names and then you need to decide which one to use.

To add to your headache, many editors are bookish creatures who are capable of spending hours poring over a manuscript, quietly getting on with it. You never seem to meet them in real life.

So where do you start? Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction. 

Use your network

If you can be recommended an editor, that’s a great start. It means they have earned approval by doing a great job.

Ask around; sound out your network. Maybe a friend or a colleague has used one or they know someone who has.

And even if who you’ve been recommended isn’t available – or doesn’t specialise in the editing you want – no doubt they’ll be able to recommend someone else.

Alternatively, search directories of professional editing and author organisations. Editors either ‘earn’ the opportunity to advertise themselves in a listing through a combination of membership and experience, or they pay to advertise.

Online agencies, where you can search for professionals, also give you the chance to see client reviews. Take your time to read them. There’ll be a common thread of an editor having been thorough and careful, or flexible to work with, for example.

You’ll start to whittle out those who meet your expectations.

Look for an expert specific to the job you need

The good news is there are a whole range of editors who are experts in different areas.

They can specialise in specific fiction genres or in non-fiction subjects. Some are experienced in developmental editing, manuscript evaluations, copyediting or line-editing, and proofreading.

There are also sub-editors in newsrooms, who are often editing to tight deadlines, and content editors working on online publications and websites.

In short, wherever there’s copy someone should be checking the text for accuracy or shaping it to meet its intended audience and use, such as in a book, a newsletter or on a website.

Many have the skills that can cover more than one type of work but there are those who prefer to work solely on one type.

Fiction book editing is a specialism but there are genre specialisms within that.

Website editing calls for particular attention to the visual aspect of presenting text that’s to be read online.

So it’s important to discuss with an editor the service you’re after and know their specialisms to ensure you’re a good match.

A good editor will ask questions to make sure you’re clear about what you want

Handing over a piece of writing with the instruction to edit it may seem simple enough, but a good editor will want to ask a few questions before running a red pen through any text.

Expect to discuss the level of intervention your require. Editing is a general term and a lot of people don’t realise the different options available. For a novel, for example, there are choices ranging from a developmental edit, which looks at the big-picture storytelling elements underlying the novel to see if they’re secure, to a manuscript evaluation, where general guidance is given on how well a story is working.

A copyedit examines accuracy and consistency of text, along with spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Clients often ask for a proofread when what they’re after is a ‘proof-edit’, where re-writing is expected alongside the traditional proofread.

Questions may be asked about intended audience, publishing expectations and deadlines – all showing that a good editor will be working in your interests from the outset.

A good editor will charge industry rates

What’s striking is the number of people who expect editing work completed for a very low rate.

Many editorial professionals will have had an entire career working in editorial roles. Often they’re writers as well so they’ll have a wealth of knowledge about the different ‘writing industries’, such traditional publishing, self-publishing, journalism or copywriting.

They’ll know how to approach copy in digital, on-screen or hardcopy formats. They’ll be skilled in commenting on your work in a sensitive manner.

Crucially, they’ll understand what a client wants to achieve from their text or copy.

They’re not ‘having a go’ as a side hustle. They’ve made editing and writing their life.

So you’ll need to pay the going rate if you want your work shaped and tidied properly and to meet industry standards.

A good editor won’t rush you into making a decision

Editing of any writing project requires careful thought, consideration and time, and so, too, does a decision surrounding who to choose – especially if you’ve spent hours, weeks or even months creating a story or series of articles.

This kind of work can be highly subjective and unless it’s a straightforward proofread, it’s likely that no two editors will make the same editing decisions. A good editor knows this and understands that where a client is happy with a sample edit from one editor, they may not be as satisfied with one from another.

So don’t be rushed into choosing a particular editor for the editor’s sake. Make sure you’re happy with his or her level of expertise as well as when your work is scheduled for completion. Both need to match. A good editor will understand.

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Greer Glover

Greer Glover

Fiction Editor I Mentor I Writer