Hiring an editor can be a daunting task, especially for a first-time author. Aside from finding someone with solid technical skills, you also need a person whose personality meshes with yours, as a good editing relationship requires plenty of give and take.
Here are a few things to consider before contracting with an editor:
1. What kind of editing do you need? Not all books require the same kind of editing, as noted in our article about the types of editing a self publishing author might choose. And different types of editing require different skill sets. If you are looking for someone to simply check your spelling, punctuation and grammar, for example, you need someone who is extremely detail-oriented and able to focus on the minutiae of your book (commas, periods, footnotes, etc.). On the other hand, if you’re looking for feedback about your ideas and the structure of your book, you need someone who can see the book as a whole, think analytically and communicate his/her ideas to you in a way that you can understand. These are often two very different sorts of people. Ask for referrals; then question an editor’s previous customers as to what type of editing that person did best. In addition, ask the editor what type of editing they prefer. Most often, people are best at the challenges they feel most comfortable with.
2. Do you need someone who can write? Many self-publishing authors are not only looking for an editor, they are also looking for someone who can help rewrite some of the rough patches in the manuscript. But not all great editors are great writers. (Similarly, not all great writers are great editors!) Ask to see some samples of an editor’s writing, if you think you may need that kind of help.
3. What kinds of things does this prospective editor like to read? If the person you’re considering doesn’t read science fiction, he’s probably not the best person to edit your futuristic novel. And if he loves science fiction novels but never reads nonfiction, perhaps he’s not the best editor to work on your academic treatise. Editors who are most familiar with your genre will be in the best position to tell you if you have met that genre’s standards, as well as written something fresh that will interest fans of that genre.
4. How does this person charge? Some editors charge on an hourly basis, some on a project basis and some per page. Each method has its own hidden drawbacks. If an editor is working on an hourly basis, for example, he can try to give you an idea of how long the project might take — thus, you can have some idea of what the overall cost will be — but this may change once he gets into the manuscript and realizes the problems are bigger than anticipated. On the flip side, those who offer a flat project fee or charge by the page might feel tempted to let more difficult issues in your manuscript slide, once they realize it’s going to take far more time to address those problems than they had anticipated. Choose a pricing structure you’re most comfortable with, but realize that editing is an art as much as a science. Locking in a fee may also be locking out some important feedback.
5. How does the editor’s manner mesh with your personality? If you’re looking for honest feedback (and we hope that you are — otherwise, we suggest you save your money and don’t hire an editor!), you need someone who can give you that feedback in a way you can best accept. Consider your personality style before choosing an editor. If you prefer someone who is straightforward and frank, let’s face it: you aren’t going to be happy with an editor who tiptoes around your feelings. Likewise, if you’re fairly sensitive about your work, you don’t want an editor so brutal that you will feel like crawling into a fetal position once they’re finished telling you what they think! Meet the person for coffee. Get a feel for who they are and their style of interaction before signing on the dotted line.