Updated April 2023
Agents and publishers are receiving more manuscripts than ever, and a writer needs every advantage to get noticed. A professionally formatted, well-polished manuscript has a much better chance of discovery than a manuscript riddled with grammatical problems and typos. It goes without saying that a writer should only submit work that has been carefully edited and proofed. The following tips and hints will help you find the right freelance editor to critique your fiction or nonfiction writing.
When should I hire an editor?
• Self-published books are not edited or proofed in-house unless you pay for the service. If you’re having a book edited by the book production company’s editors, you will likely have a choice between different levels of editing—from a line by line review (copy edit) to a more extensive edit (content edit). You can also hire your own freelance editor outside of your production company.
• A literary agent will tell you if your work needs revision before shopping it around. Many times these revisions are something you can take care of yourself. Other times the scope of the revision may require an editor’s helping hand.
• If a publisher requires revisions that are beyond your ability, a freelance editor may be able to help.
What type of editor should I hire?
Copy Editor. If you’re simply looking for someone to clean up your grammar and spelling, a good copy editor will not only go through your work line by line, correcting punctuation and grammatical errors, they will also flag inappropriate word choice, confusing sentences, redundancies, and other stylistic issues. Copy editors will standardize a manuscript, verifying that your characters’ names and location references are spelled consistently. They will perform fact-checks and alert you if there are any inconsistencies in the manuscript, such as faulty time lines.
Content Editor. For a more complete overhaul, you’ll need a content editor (often referred to as a book doctor). A content editor specializes in analyzing the work overall, making larger revisions and suggesting more sweeping changes. This may include a review of consistency of style, mood, or presentation of content; consistency of point of view and tense; clarity and effectiveness of content or story sequence, including support and resolution. A content editor will also examine the flow and transition (the continuous pace and progress) of the story and evaluate sentences for clarity, flow, and readability.
Substantive Editor. If you’re simply looking for an evaluation of your book to determine its marketability and general appeal, a substantive editor can help. Former acquisition editors at publishing houses and literary agents are well-qualified for this job.
Tips for choosing the right editor.
Match your genre. Editors specialize in many different areas—academic writing, magazine article writing, nonfiction, and fiction, for example—and in the general fiction category, editors tend to specialize in specific genres. If you’ve got a mystery, look for an editor who has experience in this style.
Ask for references. When you’re considering an editor, check his or her track record. Good editors will have editing experience in your genre or category and should have a list of published books they’ve edited under their belt. Take a look at the quality of these books and judge for yourself. Also, take a look at the editor’s qualifications: education, previous experience, etc. If you find an editor who has worked at a large publishing house, all the better.
Recommendations. Ask colleagues, members of your writers’ group, members of university writing programs, or published authors for the names of well-qualified editors.
Look it up. The Literary Marketplace has a listing of editors, updated annually, and The Editorial Freelancers Association maintains a website of freelancers who are generally well-screened. You can also take your chances on a general Google search, but keep an eye out for less-than-qualified freelancers and scam artists. No editor should ever promise they can get you a publishing contract, and make sure you are comfortable with their credentials and the quality of their work (with a sample edit, for example) before you send a check. (Most editors will ask for a certain percentage up front, with the balance due once the project is completed.)
Get specific information up front. Make sure you and your prospective editor are clear about what is expected. Do you want a line edit or an overall edit? What would each entail? What exactly will the editor be looking for, and what will they not take on? One way to make sure you’re on the same page is to ask for a sample edit. Most editors will edit a small section at no charge, say 5-15 pages, which you can then review. It’s important that the editor is able to follow your particular style and improve your writing without changing your voice.
If you do engage the services of an editor, take the time to study their changes and learn from them. Not only will it help your future writing, but you may have the confidence to make the edits yourself on the next go-round. READ MORE: Editors 101.
REMEMBER TO CHECK OUT OUR LIST OF WRITING CONTESTS and ANTHOLOGIES! You won’t find a better list anywhere (AND IT’S FREE!) of book editors, anthologies, journals, and writing contests. Find a freelance editor for your book or novel today!