How to Pick an Editor: The Basics

Finding the right editor for your stories can take time and needs to be treated like the serious decision it is. It’s a lot like buying a house – the pictures might look great, the price might be a little higher than you’d like although seems like it’s worth it, but you really don’t know anything until you walk around it a few times and take the time to open all the cabinets.

First and foremost, a good editor knows what they’re selling.

When it comes to grammar and punctuation, they’re selling their expertise and training. When it comes to characterization, tone, plot critique, and marketability, they are selling an informed opinion curated in their years of experience.

Finding the “right” editor depends on what kind of writer you are.

At the end of the day, editors offer insight and actionable commentary, but the final decision on how a story should be handled always comes from its writer. When choosing an editor, it’s important to keep in mind that you do not have to listen to them, but if you find yourself wanting to do more ignoring than listening you’ve probably chosen the wrong editor to work with.

The difference between a good editor and a great one is their ability to recognize when to take a black and white approach versus needing to operate in shades of grey.

Every editor – just like every writer – has a different approach, and some might work for you while others might not. Always get a sample edit before you commit to hiring them for a story project.

Before contacting an editor, make sure you know:

  • Word count of the project you want to hire them for
  • What genre its in
  • What you want them to focus on
    • Dialogue? Fight scenes? Love scenes?
    • Grammar and punctuation – are you confident in your writing, or does it need extra attention?
    • Is there a character who’s place in the story makes you wonder if they need to be cut?
    • Length – is your story too long or too short?
  • Who is the target audience
  • What you intend to do with the story after the edit
    • Self-publishing?
    • Find an agent?
    • Other?

Before you commit to hiring them, editors should:

  • Offer sample edits
    • Writers should choose a sample story – not the project you want to pay the editor for – that is a good representation of writing style and ability
    • Sample edits can be just a few pages, or perhaps an hour or two of work from an editor, but mostly should give you a feel for what kind of comments they will offer, and a little insight into how their mind works
  • Have a general idea how long it will take them to complete your story project
    • Does the editor track how many words per hour they’re able to edit?
    • Do they know how long it takes them to do a basic read-through versus an in depth edit that requires more attention?
  • Have a list of contacts/writers who have made use of their services
    • Are they in your genre?
    • Is their writing style less or more developed than yours?
    • Can you contact them to ask about their experience with the editor?

This is just a very basic list to start from, but if you are serious about hiring an editor, talk to other people who have been through the process. Most of them will have at least one horror-story to tell, as well as what they learned to do differently, and this can be a huge help as you navigate through the process.

Have you ever hired an editor before? What advice would you give to your past writer-self? The comments are always open.


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