5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Editor

Editing someone else’s work is a huge responsibility. Editors are often the first people that authors trust to even read their work other than close friends and family and on top of this need to not only break down all of the elements that are working and need attention, but also need to help the author to come up with solutions without inserting themselves too deeply into someone else’s work. It is a delicate art form unto itself. This is why writers should consider several things before deciding that an editor is right for them and their book.

1. What Type of Edits Does Your Manuscript Need?

Before you can start looking for the right editor for your project, you need to first decide what you are looking to get out of this process. Does your manuscript need a substantive or story edit, paying special attention to big picture issues like plot, conflict, structure, characters, descriptions, and style or do you need an editor that is going to get into the nitty-gritty task of copyediting and looking for issues in syntax, grammar and spelling errors or typos?

There are 4 different stages of editing that your book should go through before it is published:

         Big Picture Edits

There is a very small percentage of people who can write a first draft with no major issues to the plot, characters, conflict, style, point of view, dialogue, pacing or overall structure. This first stage of editing is meant to help writers “problem solve” and create the best story possible.

This phase of editing can be called Substantive, Structural, Developmental, Content or Comprehensive Editing.

         Paragraph-Level Edits

Frequently called Line or Stylistic Editing, this is where editors start working with the words and sentences written on the page and try to make them best represent your story and you as an author. Depending on the level of editing that you’re looking for, they might only adjust wording to improve consistency, flow, understanding and accuracy or could help you to amp up your language to better suit the market and your desired readers’ tastes.

         Word-Level Edits

Copyeditors do the work that most people first think of when picturing the job of editing. They make sure there are no typos, spelling or grammatical errors or issues involving syntax. They are also going to make sure your manuscript follows the stylistic guidelines of your publishing house, should you have one.


This is the last line of defence against errors before a manuscript is sent to the printers. Proofreaders are there to have one more keen set of eyes on your work before it enters the point of no return. They also help to format books when published with a publishing house.

If you would like more detailed descriptions of the four stages of editing, check out this post.

2. What Are You Writing?

Editors are as diverse in their skills, styles and preferences as authors. You will find that while there are some who work with all kinds of different books, there are others that specialize in certain genres and writing styles. Before choosing an editor, make sure they have worked with manuscripts like yours before. While some will have a diverse background that has allowed them to work on everything from non-fiction, to literary works, to books for children, others might work within a niche of one genre of book.

3. What Editing Style Works for You?

There is not one way to properly edit a book, especially at the substantive and stylistic stages. Some editors are going to go deep into everything that needs to be fixed with your manuscript and will leave it completely up to you to work our solutions. Others will be more like a coach and fellow problem-solver, working with you to find the best answers for all of your questions.

The best way to find a writing with an editing style that will work for you is just to converse with them about your project and see if you have a similar communication style. Read their samples and think of how you would feel about getting similar notes about your book. If you’re looking for a stylistic editor, absolutely ask them to do a small sample of your work so that you can see if you’re on the same page and if you agree with the sort of notes that they give. There is nothing worse than paying for someone to edit 70,000 words and then realizing that they are the wrong editor for you after reading the first 1000 words of what they send back.

The right editor should listen to your requests, needs and feelings. Showing someone your writing is always going to involve some emotion – as it really is giving over a piece of yourself. You should wholeheartedly trust your work in your editor’s hands.

4. What Is Your Timeline?

Naturally, the best editors are also going to be those in the highest demand. This means that if you have a deadline that you’re following – perhaps because you’re entering a contest with you’re book or you’re on a production schedule – this might limit the editors who are able to take on your project. It is not unheard of for editors to have a waiting list of six months or longer when taking on new clients.

Make sure you are realistic in your expectations of how long your project should take. Editing a whole manuscript is likely to at least a few weeks, even with an editor who currently has an open schedule. Know that with most editors, if you need to rush the job, this is going to cost you.

5. What Is Your Budget?

Once you have answered all of the above questions, the last thing that you need to decide is how much you’re able to spend on an editor. With this, you need to remember that it is true that you usually get what you pay for. There is a huge range of editors out there, with varying levels of skill, experience and pricing. Remember that the best editors are commonly those that are doing this as a primary source of income – this means that they will need to charge enough that they are able to support themselves.

Newer editors will usually charge between $20-$30/hour. The most skilled and seasoned editors (those that work on prize-winning and best-selling novels) can charge well over $100/hour.  If you’re looking for an edit of an entire manuscript – no matter what stage of the editing process you are at – the work is going to take at least 10 to 20 hours to complete. Full substantive, stylistic or copy edits can take 50+ hours. Fixing a manuscript is as skilled a trade as fixing a car or the plumbing in your home and you should be prepared to pay fairly for the work being done.

If you’re on a strict budget that doesn’t allow for you to get a full edit, look into contests that offer a feedback component or into editor services that are below a complete 3-read edit. Be honest with potential editors about your budget and some might come back with a service that fits your finances and needs.

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