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The proof is in the pudding - 5 steps to choosing the perfect editor

Editing a book isn’t an exact science, there are no set rules and regulations, it can depend on the experience, specialist subjects, and personal preferences of your editor. So getting the right one for both you and your book is critical. Here’s how.

The industry is populated by so many independent editors and services, with prices to suit all budgets that it’s difficult to know where to start to make sure you get the best bang for your buck. You could go with the cheapest, but does that mean you would get a cheap service. You could go with the most expensive but you could be spending more money than you need to. What about the one with the flashiest website, the one that your friend’s cousin used, the one that has three dogs and lives in the Cotswolds. It’s a minefield.

Whether you’re looking for a development editor, copy editor, or a simple proofreader, here are some tips about how to choose the best one suited for you and your book.

Where to start?

Although your first step will inevitably be google, it is not the best place to find someone and make a decision on. Those that rank highly or advertise on Google will not necessarily be the best, they’re just the best marketed. Google will, however, give you some ideas on what to expect.

You will want to look up editors who are part of organisations like the Editorial Freelancers Association http://the-efa.org or partners of the Alliance of Independent Authors http://allianceindependentauthors.org. Editors through these places are obviously going to be more regarded than those found through things like Fiverr or Upwork.

You could also ask for recommendations from fellow authors through communities like writerscafe.org, Goodreads forums, or even subreddits like /r/writing or /r/selfpublish.

An endorsement or recommendation is better than a swanky website. First of all it means they have experience, as well as producing work that someone is happy with.

Investigate

Once you’ve found the haunts of editor contacts, it’s time to make a list of potentials and do some investigation.

Find their websites and note things like what editorial services do they offer, just copy editing or a full development service. How much they cost, this could be an hourly rate, or a rate based on words or pages. Convert them all to the same metric so you can compare like for like.

Choose a budget and stick to it. Have a range, what you’d ideally like to spend, and the most you’d be prepared to spend if you found the perfect editor.

Do not base your decision solely on price. Getting the cheapest editor could be a false economy. If they don’t do a good job you could very well have to pay another editor to go over it again, or if you publish you could lose sales.

You’d also want to look at things like estimated time to do the work, their experience and what other books they’ve worked on, or if they specialise in specific genres.

If you can’t find all these details on their website, don’t hesitate to send them an email or phone them up to get the information you need.

You will also want to find out what other people are saying about them, they should have testimonials on their site, but also scour the various writing communities and forums for real examples of their work. You could post questions asking if anyone else has had any experiences with them and willing to give them references.

You also want to find out what their editing style is like, they could be the best structural editor in their field but if you don’t get on with them or share the same vision, their work will be useless to you because you will always be at odds with them.

Make the cut

By now you should have an extensive list of potential editors, and it’s time to cull it.

Knock off those that are too expensive, or won’t be able to offer you the type of service you’ll need - some editors will offer a full editing package including developmental, copy editing, and proof reading. Clear any that don’t have any glowing recommendations, don’t have any experience, or can’t deliver within a desirable turnaround time. Get rid of any that didn’t seem a good fit for you, or were tardy with their responses to your queries.

You should be left with a handful of editors that are affordable, can do the job you require, and who have done it before for people who were happy with their work.

Get a sample

You still can’t hire off the back of that investigation, you need to find out if they’re really up to the job. They may well have done great work with other people, but your book is unique and they might not be able to do it justice. If they don’t see your work, how will you know if they’re a good fit?

That’s were the sample comes in.

Nearly all editors will be able to offer a example of their skills by offering a sample edit. If they don’t, ditch them. You definitely do not want to commit to an editor if they haven’t seen your work and you haven’t seen theirs.

A sample edit can vary from a handful of pages, a few thousand words, or a couple of chapters, but it should be enough for you to see how good they are.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that a sample should automatically be free, depending on the length of the excerpt it may well not be, but you could negotiate a discounted rate.

Working with an editor on a sample will give you a decent feel for what it would be like working together on your whole book.

Assess

So, now you’ve got a handful of samples of your edited book and it’s time to decide which is the best fit for your work. You need to look out for various things:

  • First things first, the basics. Did they pick up on the simple thinks like grammar, punctuation, syntax and word choice?
  • Did they implement a style guide? They should be making notes regarding your formatting, like titles, spacing, margins, numbers, dates, etc. All these things should be consistent.
  • How did they come across? Were they professional, friendly, constructive, critical, condescending?
  • Did they get it? Did they get you? Did they understand your personal style? Were any changes they made in keeping with your tone?

You’re looking for not only someone who is competent enough to do the job, but also someone who you can craft a relationship with, someone who understands you and your work, and won’t change your voice in the process. It’s not just about getting the job done but also about how it’s done.

Don’t pick the editor that makes you feel good about yourself, or obviously, makes you feel bad. Choose the editor that makes you feel that they can help make you the best you can be.

Let us know what you think about choosing an editor below, and be sure to sign up to our newsletter which includes tips and tricks, and special offers for our services, including ready-made book covers and designs, eBook formatting, and promotional tools.

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