Today on the Editing 101 series, we’re going to talk a little bit about how you, the author, should go about selecting a good editor. This is a hot button topic for us because a few months ago, we took on a new client. This client had a book professionally edited and then published. Right away, the client started receiving reviews that said the following (paraphrased):

Great story, but really needed an edit.

This was a fantastic book. Or would have been, had there not been so many editing mistakes.

The author really needs to have this work edited.

Yet, the client had hired an editor! What happened?

We love the Internet. Really, we do. It is full of strange and wonderful things. It brought us together, helped us create PageCurl, and it allows us to have writing careers in addition to everything else we do. But there’s one thing that’s not awesome about the Internet. Anyone can throw up a website and advertise as an editor (or cover designer, or marketing manager, or proofreader, or publisher).

Back in the day–the day where all publishing happened within the big publishing houses–an editor had to have qualifications. In order to be hired, you had to have a degree, certificates, or the like. You had to pass tests, generated by those with degrees, certificates, or the like. And in many cases, you had double-checks and triple-checks. Authors who signed with these publishing houses knew that their editors were vetted and capable.

Now, things are different. Anyone with a rudimentary ability to throw up a website (or the cash to pay someone to do it for them) can call themselves a professional. And authors, many of whom are overwhelmed with the business side of things and would prefer to simply write, find hundreds of editors when they search. How in the world is an author supposed to choose? And how can authors have any confidence that they’ve made a good choice?

We’ve put together a little checklist for you. It won’t guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re hiring the best editor you can, but it will help. We hope you find it useful. If you’d like to contact us for an editing sample and quote, we’d love to talk to you.

Vetting Your Potential Editor

You should always ask your potential editor how long they’ve been editing. There are very valid reasons for picking an editor who is just starting out. It’s entirely possible that you’ll get a good deal this way. A brand new editor can still be a very good editor. But, it’s something you should know before you make a decision. If you’re going with a brand new editor, it might be worth hiring a separate proofreader as a double-check. Or ensure that you have a higher than usual number of beta readers. One of the hardest parts of editing is knowing the nuances of the story that might need to change and that comes with experience. A brand new editor may be amazing at grammar, but not quite as good at story.

Ask your potential editor what tools they use. If they reply to your question with “Tools? What tools?” then you need to run. Quickly. Every editor should have an accepted style guide that they use. Chicago and AP are standard (Chicago is primarily for fiction and AP for non-fiction). You should also ensure that they use Microsoft Word and not Google Docs. Why? Because otherwise you may have issues seeing their changes. We’re huge fans of Google Docs here for a variety of functions. Editing is not one of them.

Ask for a sample. The best editor in the world may not be the editor for you. Personality and style should have a lot to do with your decision. Are you a nervous writer? Then maybe you should look for an editor who will make positive comments alongside the negative ones (not all editors do this). Asking for a sample also allows your potential editor to see your style and may result in a cheaper or more accurate quote. We’ve often revised our editing quotes down after seeing that a potential client’s writing is incredibly clean. This also allows for an accurate time estimate.

Check their pricing. You do not want to go with the cheapest rate unless you have verified that the potential editor in question is highly qualified. We see many ads for editors offering to do an entire book for $200 or up to 10,000 words for $25. No professional editor with a degree and experience is going to work for that cost. This is a little harsh, but what you’re getting for that price is a person who wants to be an editor. Not one who is. The last two ads we saw that offered prices like that weren’t even grammatically correct.

Check your editor’s work. Once you get that sample back, run it through a few tests. Did they properly format the dialog tags? Are the homonyms all spelled properly? If you have any concerns about the sample, ask questions. A good editor will cite rules when they change things. For example, the first time our editors change an ordinal to a text number (1 to one) in a manuscript, they cite the rule in the Chicago Manual of Style that references the change. An editor should not only fix what’s wrong with your story, they should also help you become a better writer.

We hope these tips help you select your next editor. The editor-author relationship is one of closest in publishing. You’re trusting your editor with your blood, sweat, and tears. Make sure they’re worth it.