In Ask Erika, Editing, For Writers

How to Find an Editor

Today I’m answering another reader question. This one came up in response to yesterday’s post, “Developmental Editors: Should I Work With One?“. Here’s the question…

Can you tell us how you found your editor, Marlene? Was that process?

Great question! And yes, it was a process. Here are the steps I went through…

When searching for an independent editor, it’s hard to know who to trust. I started with a resource that I’ve always found to be credible and helpful: Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary AgentsI discovered that there are professional alliances made up of independent editors who have a wealth of experience (and some pretty fierce publishing credentials) behind them. Here are the four organizations I explored:

I’m sure new alliances have formed in the past few years since I was looking, but those are the ones I investigated.

After scouring each site and researching the editors’ credentials, I was able to get a feel for the ones who specialized in projects like mine. I made a list of the editors I wanted to know more about and I sent each one an e-mail, detailing my project (word count, genre, log line, etc.) and requesting a time to speak so I could get a feel for his or her process and pricing.

Some responded and said that they were too busy to take on new projects or that their next available opening was several months out, a few declined because they only work with referrals, but most responded positively and were willing to speak with me.

I treated these phone calls like interviews and covered the following questions:

1. Can you tell me about your editing process? What do you expect from me? What can I expect from you?

2. What is your experience in the industry?

3. Tell me about a recent client success.

4. How does your pricing structure work? What would you charge me for my specific project?

5. What are your payment terms? (50% upfront and 50% upon completion? Payment in thirds?)

6. Is there a waiting list for your services? If so, when is the next available opening?

7. If we end up working together, can you provide a letter of agreement that will outline the terms of our relationship? If not, are you willing to sign one that I create so we are both clear on the terms of our agreement?

8. Can you provide 3 references that I can contact to discuss your work?

If I hung up the phone with a good feeling about the person AND they were willing to provide me with references, they made it to my shortlist. (One editor claimed she could not provide me with any references because of “client confidentiality”; that didn’t smell right to me, so I crossed her off my list).

The next step is to follow up with the references. It’s important that you take the time do this because you’ll get a truer sense of what it was like to work the person in question. My general rule of thumb is to e-mail them a brief introduction, let them know that I’d like speak with them about their experience with Editor X, and request a few minutes to speak on the phone. Though e-mail is so much easier for everyone involved, I like vetting people over the phone because I can pick up on the subtle nuances…an extra long pause, a sigh, irritation. Dishonesty. Plus, it allows me to ask clarifying questions and dig deeper into their answers.

Here are the questions I posed to each editor’s references:

1. What type of project did you hire Editor X for and what services were provided (line edit? big picture edit?)?

2. Why did you choose to work with Editor X over other editors?

3. Do you feel Editor X’s feedback was worth the price you paid?

4. What do you feel was the biggest benefit to working with Editor X?

5. What was the biggest drawback?

I always try to throw in a question like #5 to give them an opportunity to air any dirty laundry.

After I interviewed all of the references, my list was narrowed down to three editors who seemed like a good fit for my project. Their prices varied pretty significantly, but I tried not to let that be the deciding factor. Ultimately, it was my gut that led me to pick Marlene. She soared through my process with flying colors, but more than that, it just felt right.

In hindsight, she was the perfect choice.

Do you have a question about my writing process?
E-mail me and I’ll answer it on my blog:

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Showing 18 comments
  • Jim

    Thank you for answering my question so quickly and thoroughly! I appreciate it!!!!

    • Erika

      You’re very welcome, Jim. Thanks for asking!

  • Ashley Prince

    Wow. That is quite a process. I will be bookmarking this and coming back to it so I know what to do. 🙂

    Thanks, Erika.

    • Erika

      Glad that my process will helpful to you, Ashley!

  • Brianna

    Thanks for sharing this, Erika. Hiring an editor for my novel has been nibbling at the back of my mind for a while now. I know I need to do it, even though I’m pretty sure I want to self publish. You’ve given a good jumping off point here.

    • Erika

      You’re welcome, Brianna. I think working with an editor is a very important step for all writers, self-published or not. Good luck finding yours!

  • Lauren @ Pure Text

    Bam, this post isn’t kidding around, and I love that.

    The funny this is, though, that I’m an editor and I hardly get asked any of these questions! People just seem to trust me. Sometimes I’m the one to put on the brakes and suggest a free sample before getting started–I want to be sure they’ll like my work just as much as they do; it’s a two-way street.

    Speaking of free samples–perhaps that’s the thing that’s missing from this post. Actually seeing what an editor can do is so much more important than experience and previous successes–that may sound off, but a writer won’t get far with an editor whose reasoning they don’t trust no matter how great their credentials.

    • Erika

      That’s a great point, Lauren. What better to see if an editor is the right fit for you than through a free sample. Can you tell us: what does a free sample entail?

      • Lauren @ Pure Text

        Hey, Erika. Just seeing this now. A free sample is pretty straight forward.

        I take the manuscript and edit a few pages so the author can see my editing style, and be able to better decide whether they want to move forward. (They always do! 🙂

  • mr.Lou

    Thank you for this specific and well written guidance. I really appreciate the help you have given here.

    • Erika

      You’re welcome, mr.Lou. Glad you found it helpful!

  • richard

    I have just finished a semi fictional novel 104 thousand words I originally meant it to be for my children as there are things that happened in the early part of my life that I never speak of. The book is in two parts /childhood et manhood (is there ever such a thing?) the second part is semi fictional but based on actualities) in the Middle East and during the civil war in Cyprus 1063/64. As I have stated in the frontispiece “this is not another hairy arsed war story” but more of a reflection of the facts and feelings by the people on the ground. I Have been advised (warned) that telling the truth through the eyes of a young and very junior special forces soldier could be dangerous. Do I need an editor?

    • Erika

      Hi Richard,
      While I can’t tell you what’s right for you, I will say that hiring a developmental editor was critical step for me in the publication of my first novel, Empty Arms. My editor not only helped me reorganize how I told the story but she identified some sub-plots that didn’t move the story forward and needed to be eliminated. As writers, sometimes we get too close to our work to clearly see what’s working and what’s not. That’s where the value of an editor comes into play.

      Best of luck to you,

  • Marivi Bassabe

    Hi Erika:

    I am so happy to find your blog, I am writing a cake decorating book. I have been a cake decorating teacher for 29 years and I would like to publish a book of classic cake decorating techniques and how to use the modern techniques with a classic flair. I did not have an Idea how expensive it could be to self publish. And worse, the can of worms I found. How can I find a serious publisher to tell me if my book is worth to be published and not cost me an arm and a leg?

    • Erika

      Hi Marivi,
      Your cake decorating book sounds delightful. I’m sorry to hear you’re encountering some frustration. I’m concerned by what you said about finding a “serious” publisher to tell you if your book is worth publishing. If you are talking with “serious” publishers, it should cost YOU nothing to publish your book. In fact, a “serious” publisher should be offering you an advance in exchange for the right to publish your book. This is known as “traditional publishing” or “legacy publishing” — the publisher pays you for the rights to publish your book. If a publishing company is telling you that you have to pay THEM to publish your book, then they are not a traditional publisher but rather a vanity press. People use vanity presses when they want to print a small quantity of books to hand out to family friends, not if they want to sell books and establish themselves an author. It doesn’t sound like you’re in the market for a vanity press.

      If you want to go the self-publishing route, that is different story. Self-publishing does require an upfront investment from you (for an editor, a cover designer, interior formatting, etc.), plus you have to do all the legwork as far as marketing and PR, but the upside is that you get to keep a larger percentage of your royalties and you retain all of your rights.

      You have to take a good hard look at what you want to get out of this book, and this experience, and decide which publishing option is going to be the best fit for you. Both have their pros and cons. Once you pick a path, let me know and I can direct you to some additional resources that will help you figure out next steps.

      Good luck!

  • Esther Tanyi

    Hi Erika, am glad to be a part of your blog. As an aspiring writer and still searching for what it takes to get my first book(s)published and all, I got to read about others who want to self-publish, different types of publishers and so on. The ideas I have to write is neither fiction nor non-fiction. It has to do with our spirituality. It has to do with sharing Enlightenment with others, and so I ask if I need an Editor to work with. I write from deep within me and the words actually flow as I sit down and get ready to write. What do you suggest , Erika?

pingbacks / trackbacks
  • […] How to Find an Editor Great questions to ask an editor when you are looking for one. I also have this link to an editor that I am positive someone recommended but I can’t remember who, Powder River Editing that has very reasonable rates for new authors. […]

  • […] How to Find an Editor Great questions to ask an editor when you are looking for one. I also have this link to an editor that I am positive someone recommended but I can’t remember who, Powder River Editing that has very reasonable rates for new authors. […]

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