Articles / On Editing

What to Ask a Freelance Editor…

Before You Hire Them

Hiring the right editor to work on your book can be daunting. How do you know you’ve hired someone who has experience, shares your vision, and is just the right match? Some authors resort to the trial and error method, but that seems like a cumbersome way to get the job done.

Many authors get a recommendation for an editor from a fellow writer because a personal testimony from someone you admire or trust is a great place to start. But just because an editor is a great fit for your friend, doesn’t mean they’ll be a great fit for you, too.

So what’s an author to do? While there are no guarantees, you increase you chances by asking potential editors a few questions to find someone who’s a better fit for your project.

Are they knowledgeable?

How well do they know their stuff? Do they have a blog with writing advice? Do they offer writers tools to improve their craft? Good editors don’t simply correct errors. They can tell you why something is an error, why you should fix it and, for deeper edits, offer suggestions on how to fix those issues. They should know how to explain it and help authors them become better writers.

Will they provide referrals?

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether it’s a testimonial page, bragging rights or a list of authors they’ve worked with, editors should be able to provide you with a list of referrals and writers who have worked with that editor before. But not all editors will have a ready list, so give them time to get the permission to hand out the contact information of a few of their clients. If the editor is just starting out, she might not have referrals yet. This doesn’t mean that she’s a bad editor, just new to the game, so this next point is a good alternative for those new editors and a great practice for all.

Will they provide you with a sample edit?

A sample edit is a wonderful way to determine if a potential editor can, well… edit, and if their editing style is one you like and can work with. You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, so why not ask for a sample edit. One or two pages from you manuscript for a sample edit is the norm and is usually done for free. If you ask for more or would like to have the first chapter or couple of chapters edited, the editor may ask you to pay for the sample edit because this takes time and editors have to earn a paycheck, too. Pay close attention to the editor’s changes and comments and what she says in those comments. Decide if you like her style and her changes. Finding someone you feel is going to help your book go from okay to great is important. So find someone whose editing style you like.

Do they use a style guide, and if so, which one?

Style guides are like the design specs of editing. The Chicago Manual of Style is one that helps authors and editors produce consistent work by defining rules for different aspects of writing and publishing. Be wary of editors who don’t know what a style guide is or think there isn’t a need for one. Without a style guide, it can be difficult to produce consistent work and remember all the little guidelines.

Does the editor offer a style sheet?

A style sheet is a road map of your edit. It’s basically a list of words and terms the editor checked in your manuscript and what they changed. It’s also a tool the editor can use to keep track of elements from the book for consistency. It will save you the embarrassment of the ever changing eye color or the car that morphs into a truck by the end of the scene. Don’t be afraid to ask for a copy of the completed style sheet, and don’t be alarmed if your editor doesn’t have a style sheet. Not all editors use them by name, but a good editor should have a system of tracking elements for consistency and making sure the spelling of names and terms are the same throughout the manuscript.

Are they available to you for questions after the edit is complete?

Ask if they are willing to discuss the edit when it’s over. This doesn’t mean that they’re going to hold your hand through the revision process, but they should be able to discuss any questions you might have about the edit and the suggestions made. Not every editor is going to want to give out their personal phone number or their skype name, but they should be willing to address your questions, even if it’s through email. Ask for a follow-up in case you have questions.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Are the prices fair and what are the payment options?

As an author, you have to determine how much they can afford. Just keep in mind that editors have to eat, too. For many, editing is their livelihood, so expecting to pay next to nothing for a quality edit is unreasonable. One the flipside, taking out a second mortgage on the house to pay for editing is rarely a good idea either.

Don’t be afraid to ask for payment options or to negotiate a modified edit to fit your budget. Whether they take credit cards, use only PayPal or prefer a check, most editors are willing to work something out to make both parties happy.

So, the next time you’re in the market for an editor, please consider some of these tips to help you find the editor that’s right for you. What methods have you employed in the past to find a great freelance editor? Please share them in the comments below!

Now… go write something.


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