Choosing an Editor

Why do people hire editors?  This is a bit like asking why people travel to California; there are as many answers are there are tourists.  However, it’s fair to say they have a common destination. Your destination, if you’ve found your way to this page, is likely an easy answer to the question of choosing an editor.

My clients hire me to be an expert partner in their writing projects.  I believe that my obligation is to not change a thing until I understand the writer’s strengths, and then use them to nudge the book to its next level.  Yet editors are different; I may focus on bringing the manuscript’s elements in line with a coherent vision, but the next editor may work only with the artistry of your language, and the next may focus only on improving your novel’s twists and turns.  How can you really compare?

The only truly common experience between editor-client relationships is that money is being exchanged for services.  For this reason, the most important consideration is that the editor is a professional and has a professional’s integrity.  Once you establish trust, only then do you consider who is best for your work.

The goal is not only to find the right pair of eyes for your manuscript, but to find someone with whom you have a positive working relationship.  Selecting the best editor for your work is a significant undertaking if you take time to consider more than two or three of them for the job.  Ideally, you are reviewing several editors’ opinions about the same sample of your work, assessing the editing quality, weighing it against cost and determining your level of rapport with each editor.

Many people hire editors.  Few people hire editors often.  If you’ve never worked with an editor before, what’s the best way to choose one?  These questions are a good starting place:

  1. Does the editor have a smooth communication process? When you first make contact, see if the editor has a prompt, easy flow between reviewing your work, making an estimate and initiating the project.  An editor should be experienced enough to handle these most basic elements of client communication well.
  2. Is the editor willing to do a sample edit? Most editors do a free sample edit on a few pages of your work so that you can assess the chemistry between editing and writing styles.  Some perfectly reputable ones do not.  In any case, ask.  Even if the editor doesn’t provide a free sample, you should never be made to feel silly for wanting more information.  And if you do get a sample edit, it’s an excellent opportunity to see exactly what you’ll be getting.
  3. Who are the editor’s clients? Ask for references or testimonials, a list of successes (acceptances by agents or publishers, brisk sales of self-published works), and what kinds of projects the editor usually handles.  You’ll start to get an idea of whether his or her experience is a good fit for your manuscript.
  4. Who is the editor? Ask about the editor’s education, credentials, association memberships and business experience.  You want to feel that you’re working with someone who has devoted time to becoming a good editor.
  5. How does the editor charge? I’ve read oddly strong opinions about charging per hour over per page, or per word over per hour – but in the end, it should all work out to about the same.  A good rubric is the Editorial Freelancers Association sample rates (
  6. Does the editor use a contract? Editors never meet most of their clients, and many projects are handled entirely over e-mail.  Besides being a common sense legal recourse, a contract sets a standard for communication and professionalism between parties who may never get to shake hands.
  7. Do you like the editor? OK, not a popularity contest, I know.  But rapport is important.  Some editors pride themselves on being gruff and authoritarian, and they have no shortage of clients.  But Michael Kandel’s article on being an editor suggests that the gift of good editing is bestowed liberally upon the book-loving population.  Once you have found yourself a handful of good editors, then you might as well pick one you like.

Good editors are subtle, insightful and above all, helpful.  We can do wonders for a book in progress.  And we agree that the best projects are ones where the writer revises to the best of his or her ability, and then hires us to develop the work into something even better.  We’re freelance, so we have the time and desire to look at a variety of projects and tinker until we know exactly what you need to do to make the book clearer, more coherent and more tightly written.  We have the patience that an agent or publisher does not, because our purpose is not to make a once-and-final judgment on the quality of a manuscript.

We work with writers because we love books, and we love the craft, and it’s an honor to do it for a living.  When you choose an editor, don’t settle for someone to whom the work is anything less.

Curious about my editing? Ask me to do a sample edit of your work.

Want to read more articles on this topic?

Here are a few written by other editors:

…and two by writers:

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