What questions to ask an editor before hiring? How to find a good editor is a matter of the writer asking questions related to experience, process, work ethic, costs, schedule, and sometimes it really can come down to personalities.
Knowledge is gained by asking how long the editor has worked as an editor. If the editor has repeat business and longevity, there is value for the writer. Also, check out social media to see if there is a presence and are there positive reviews on their page. If that doesn’t provide credibility, ask for references. You may get this answer in different forms. Don’t expect to get client phone numbers. Maybe an email address. I never give references unless I speak to the client to ask for permission before giving out contact information, for several reasons, confidentiality is number one. Second, if the client is busy or traveling and can’t respond in a timely manner, that doesn’t reflect well on me and might cost me a client.
Ask what kind of books the editor specializes in editing. For instance, I’m a specialist in nonfiction. I mainly edit business expert’s (industry specific) books, memoirs/autobiographies, and how to books, for example. I can and have edited science fiction, historical fiction, and mysteries, but these are not my specialty. If the writer is creating a whole world set in a specific time period or specific geographic location, look for someone who edits books that take place in that time period, in that country, or in that genre.
Ask what kind of editing work they do and how they do it. If they can’t be specific about what kind of editor they are (content and continuity versus line editor or don’t know the difference), run away. Prepare to pay a continuity editor more than a line editor and someone who has experience and a process to do both will charge more, too.
Speaking of editing process, ask how many reads the editor does of your work. If they tell you they can read for continuity and line edit in one read through, be skeptical. Based on my process, I do a minimum of three reads. The first is to get familiar with the manuscript, concept, and goals. I make notes during that read and make spelling corrections while I have the word in view, but this is an overall read. Second, I edit for content and continuity. One of my unique skills is I also edit for marketability. This means, do I get a clear understanding of who is supposed to care about the book, who is going to buy it, and who will hire the writer as a result of reading the book?
Sometimes, as a marketing editor, I find the writer offends the target market by telling too much truth. I help the author tell the story in a way that doesn’t offend, but rather holds a mirror up to the target market’s face to see for themselves the need for this expert’s help.
The final read is a line-by-line edit for spelling, punctuation, and grammar including tense and voice.
My process includes a lot of back and forth communication with the author between each of these readings. If there are major changes, I might do an extra read through.
A writer should ask the editor for a time line for getting work completed and returned. The answer may weigh into the consideration for hiring one experienced editor over another. There are times I’m booked for two or three months out and can’t take on a new client right away. I’m honest and say so. Most of the time the writer is appreciative of the honesty and pays to hold a space in my schedule anyway.
My last comment is about personalities. A lot can be determined through the words writers and editors use to communicate. Sometimes a writer should turn away an editor if it doesn’t sound or feel like a good fit.
A few red flag scenario examples:
- An editor asks a lot of questions, but doesn’t wait for an answer.
- The writer asks the editor a question, but the editor never really answers the question.
- The editor doesn’t have a contract that spells out terms of agreement, especially a confidentiality clause.
Good things an editor may say: “I’ll recommend changes, but you have the final say in what changes are accepted.”
Writers, don’t expect an editor to do the work and then get paid. Expect to pay at least half up front.