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January 9, 2023
By Jami Carpenter
Hiring an editor is a crucial step in the writing process.

So you’ve finished your great American novel and you can’t wait to get it in the hands of readers. What’s next?

Well, whether you plan to submit it to an agent, seek out a hybrid press, or self-publish, you need an editor. Even though you got straight As in English in school, even though your mom (who was an English teacher) checked it, you still need a professional editor. Sorry, Mom.

Why? If you are attempting to publish traditionally, the answer is pretty apparent. Agents will often decide whether to take on a manuscript based on the amount of work it needs. Agents understand that while publishers love a good story, their bottom line is profit. If your manuscript needs too much work (time equals money), they may pass. If you’re submitting your book to a hybrid press, the goal is the same. It’s like staging your house to sell; you put in some time and money to spruce up the place (painting, replacing old carpet, swapping fixtures) to get interest. Will buyers fix up the place even more? Sure, but you showed them the potential. If you’re self-publishing, hiring an editor is especially crucial. There’s a lot of competition for readers out there; your book needs to be in top-notch shape.

"Recommendations from others is a good place to start, though an editor who was great for someone in your writing group may not be the best fit for you. "
Finding an editor is easy—you can google editors who specialize in just about anything—but choosing an editor is a different story.

Recommendations from others is a good place to start, though an editor who was great for someone in your writing group may not be the best fit for you. A good working relationship is key; an editor should be responsive and accessible to you, whether by phone, email, Zoom, or in person. I have never met most of the writers I’ve worked with face-to-face, but I am available to answer their questions and concerns via whatever platform works best for them, and more importantly I make sure to respond to those questions and concerns in a timely manner. There’s nothing worse than sending off your “baby” to an editor and not hearing a peep for ages!

There are two basic types of editors: those who look at your story (conflict, character development, character arc, etc.), and those who look at your writing (grammar, sentence structure, word usage, etc.) as well as issues with consistency—blue eyes in chapter one and green eyes in chapter two. Developmental editors focus on the story, copy editors (aka line-by-line editors) focus on writing mechanics, and proofreaders focus on removing typos and formatting errors from the final, laid-out version of a text.

Presumably, you’ll want an editor who has experience in your genre. You may need an editor who is familiar with medical or technical or scientific terms. However, if you feel comfortable with the editor—if you have trust in the editor—genre expertise does not have to be the only requirement. I’m not a specialist in sci-fi material, but I can still help make the story cleaner and sharper.

With that, you should be given an expected timeframe for when your edited manuscript will be completed and returned to you with comments and tracked changes to review and send to your editor again for a second and/or third round, until you have a clean version that makes you happy.

Speaking of time, please be wary of editors (or editing “houses”) that promise a quick turnaround. A good editor will (or should) read every single word, which simply can’t be done in a weekend. Spellcheck and a Word edit program is not editing.

Editors should also provide you with a free sample edit of a few pages of your book so you can get a feel for how they work, what they do with your writing, and, certainly, how they maintain your voice, your style, your personality. (If they don’t offer a sample, you can ask! If they won’t do it, move on!)

And, finally, cost may help determine which editor you choose. You don’t want to have to mortgage your house to finance editing, but you also don’t want to cut corners for the best deal. Remember, the goal is to offer agents, hybrid presses, and readers  the best version of your story that you can the first time. You may not get a second chance.

Editors charge in several ways, and the costs can vary considerably. Some editors charge a flat fee per page (250–300 words). Others charge by the hour; that is, they look at the entire manuscript and estimate how many pages they will edit in an hour and how many hours the project will take. There is often a “fast-paced” rate (maybe seven to 10 pages an hour) and a “slower” pace (five to seven pages an hour).

A third option, which is what I do, is charge by word count. That is, X dollars per 10,000 words for just proofreading, XX per 10,000 words for copyediting, XXX for developmental editing. I don’t have to worry about how to charge a client for a page that has fewer than 250–300 words, and I don’t have to keep track of my hours if I stop for a glass of wine... I mean, a cup of coffee.

There are also additional charges for editing extras—an index, captions for illustrations, and footnotes and endnotes, among other things—and additional charges should be discussed before an editor and writer agree to work together.     

You’ve spent days, weeks, months, maybe years writing your book—so take your time choosing the best editor.    

Jami Carpenter is a professional editor and coauthor of three nonfiction works about Las Vegas.