Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
RSS feed

Finding an editor

April 9, 2014

Tags: editors, book doctors, consulting editors, what editors do, line editing, copyediting

Need an editor but don't know how to find a good one? Before you hire, be clear what you need an editor for. Editors come in various flavors. There are
• Editors in book publishing houses, who "acquire" manuscripts (buy the rights to publish your manuscript)--who may or may not choose to publish your work
• Book doctors and consulting editors, who work freelance and can help you fix a book that needs critical care, especially with structural problems and voice and tone but also with spelling, grammar, and consistency of style.
• Editors who freelance and can edit your manuscript at various levels -- from helping shape or improve the structure or narrative arc (story editors, though they probably won't use that term), to line editing (doing critical care on pages, paragraphs, and sentences), to copy editing (checking for consistency, grammar, spelling, etc.), to proofreading (when your writing is fine but you mix up terms and can't spell reliably, etc. and you want a final check before the book goes to the printer--but most manuscripts need far more than proofreading). Few editors can do this all well, and the higher levels of editing will cost you more.

What do you want done? You may need to determine that first. Check these entries to help yourself figure out how to specify what you want:
• Finding Editors (Rich Adin, The Business of Editing, An American Editor 4-9-14)
• 5 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Book Editor (Stacy Ennis, on Jane Friedman's website about publishing in the digital age)
• What editors and copyeditors do
• What book doctors and consulting editors do .

The reader who most recently asked how to find a reputable editor was looking for an editor in New York City. There are good editors all over the country, but it is true that New York is full of excellent editors--most of whom have lost their day jobs in book and magazine publishing because of all the downsizing and consolidating that is going on. (And in my experience many of them are underpaid, especially in book publishing.) There is no end of talent available, but you need to find the right editor for your particular level of need. On this website (Writers and Editors) there's a section for editors called Where to find work. You might approach that same list from the client's viewpoint and figure out which group is most likely to list the kind of editor you want. What I would do is ask other writers I know if there is anyone they recommend. It is helpful to belong to an organization of writers who do your kind of work so you can develop connections that help you find skilled professionals of the type you are seeking.

If you are self-publishing a book and want your work to be professionally edited, your best bet is to hire someone who has done structural or story editing (seeing the big picture) or line editing. A copy editor may not have the skills to tell you that your structure is a mess and here is one way to fix it, or your characterization is skimpy, or your storyline is full of holes, or your protagonist is less sympathetic than your villain, or your voice and tone are wrong or inconsistent. Editing is not all about "making corrections." On the other hand, some great story editors may not be so good at checking details or achieving consistency of style.

Editors tend to specialize. As you look for an editor, make it clear whether your manuscript is fiction or nonfiction, academic or general, and whether you are going to submit to a traditional publisher or publish it yourself. If you are self-publishing and lo0king for an editor, you are doing the right thing. Don't be one of the sloppily produced self-published books that is ruining the reputation of an interesting new approach to publishing. It's generally easy to tell if a book is self-published by the number of errors and weaknesses that an unedited novice will allow to remain, and may even be unaware of.

Many clients ask editors to edit a sample. Editors find it annoying when clients simply want a freebie, so if you ask for a sample, offer to pay for the time it takes to edit a sample from your project.

You may benefit from reading these pieces:

• How to Find an Editor: Do Your Due Dilligence. Ask Erica (4-13-12) explains the process for finding an independent editor, listing some editing groups and saying what questions to ask when you are interviewing a prospective independent editor.

• Lives and Letters, an interview with Robert Gottlieb. This Salon.com interview with the legendary editor is ostensibly about writing but gives helpful insights into the editing process (and the writer-editor relationship) inside a good publishing house.

• 7 Common Myths About Hiring a Freelance Editor for Your Book by Nancy Peske. Explains well the various kinds of editing. "It’s a waste of time to bother proofreading or copyediting a manuscript that needs major structural changes and extensive line editing until that work is done."

• Every good ebook needs a good editor (Harriet Evans, The Guardian, 6-16-11)

• Choosing a freelance editor: What you need to know (Alan Rinzler, The Book Deal)

• Choosing an Editor (Cambridge Academic Editors Network)


  1. November 19, 2012 6:41 PM EST
    I think inevitably that first time authors will use multiple types of editors. They will probably use a freelance editor to start but will move on to a book consulting editor after their work gains traction. This situation often has to do with budget concerns. Great post!
    - Rob