Anyone can call themselves an editor, which means the first hurdle in choosing one to work with might be finding someone who does actually know what they’re doing. The second hurdle is making sure they’re the right fit for you. Editing – like writing – is a subjective, creative craft. All editors will approach an edit slightly differently, and all have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Here’s some advice on how to find an editor and how to make sure they’re the right one for you.
1. Start searching
Where to look? A good place to start is by searching the directory of your country’s professional editing organisation. For example, in the USA that’s the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA): their directory can be found here.
In the UK, it’s the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP): their directory is here. Editors are only able to advertise in this directory if they are Professional or Advanced Professional members of the CIEP, which means they have at least 500 hours of experience and a significant amount of training.
However, many good editors don’t belong to these organisations (and many editors belonging to these organisations won’t be right for you!). Other places to look include:
Reedsy. This is a vetted online marketplace of book editors and designers.
Writers’ conferences and online forums. A personal recommendation from another writer is always reassuring, but remember that this will carry more weight if you’re looking for a similar type of edit on a similar genre. (An editor that did an amazing job developing your friend’s memoir might not be best suited to copyediting your sci-fi novel.)
Books that you like. Authors will often thank their editor in the acknowledgements. If you’ve got favourite books in the same genre as yours, try hunting their editors down online and seeing if they’re available for hire.
2. Narrow it down
What’s the best way to narrow down your search when sifting through editors’ websites or profiles on Reedsy? Start by making sure an editor covers your genre and the type of editing you’re after.
The right genre
Most editors specialise in a particular genre, such as academia or self-help or YA fiction. They’ll know the conventions of this genre and what its readers expect. Most of the time you’ll be better off finding an editor who has solid experience of editing the type of book you’ve written. So if you’ve written a fiction book, make sure you find an editor comfortable with fiction – and ideally with the genre you’ve written, such as science fiction or romance.
The right type of editing
Most editors also specialise in one or two types of editing. (See my post here for more on the different types of editing.) So if you know you need help with the overall arc of your story, find an editor experienced in development editing. If you’re happy with the story but want someone to tighten up your writing, look for a copyeditor (or line editor/stylistic editor).
3. Work out who’s right for you
Beyond making sure an editor knows your genre and does the type of editing you want, consider the following areas.
Training and experience
In general, the more training and experience an editor has, the more likely you’ll be in a safe pair of hands. So find out how much experience your prospective editor has. How many years have they been editing? (And is that full-time editing, or on-the-side moonlighting?) Roughly how many books have they worked on (and as a bonus, are those books in the same genre as yours)?
Have they completed any formal training? For example, courses provided by a professional organisation like the CIEP, PTC or EFA? (Just to note that there are many very good editors out there who haven’t had any formal training – they’ve simply learnt on the job, often in-house. But any editor who is serious about their work will likely engage in some form of professional development.)
As a side-note: when it comes to editing nonfiction, there are both pros and cons to your editor being a specialist on the subject you’ve written about. Say you’ve written a book on investment for beginners. An editor with an Economics degree will be more likely to pick up on any factual errors. An editor who struggles with the difference between stocks and bonds is the ‘beginner’ you’re writing for, so will be more able to put themselves in your audience’s shoes.
I’ve successfully edited GCSE textbooks on subjects I know very little about, and have come to realise that the editor’s toolbox of skills is largely transferable. Having said that, I’d draw the line at taking on an A-level Biology textbook. Your editor doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert on your chosen topic – if you’re writing for a lay audience then this can sometimes even be a hindrance. But a good editor will turn your book down if they feel too out of their depth.
Testimonials and reviews
Most editors will have an online presence with testimonials from previous clients. These testimonials can provide some reassurance that previous authors have worked with this editor and come away happy. Some editors may also be able to point you to reviews of books they’ve worked on.
Price and schedule
As is true with most things, you tend to get what you pay for when it comes to hiring an editor. A professional freelance editor makes their living from editing – they’ve got to cover business overheads as well as pay the mortgage – and if they’re experienced then they’re unlikely to be cheap.
Most freelance editors will ask to see part or all of your manuscript – and agree on what type of editing you want – before quoting a price. Many don’t post generic rates online because providing an accurate quote is so specific to each project. It very much depends on what sort of state the manuscript is in and how complex the edit will be, and an editor can only tell that with any accuracy by first looking at the manuscript itself.
But to give you a very rough idea, let’s say an editor in the UK charges £30 per hour for copyediting (based on the CIEP’s suggested minimum rates, found here). She copyedits a well-written YA novel and can get through it at the speedy rate of 2,500 words per hour. That’s £900 for a 60,000-word book. The next book she copyedits is an 80,000-word fantasy novel that needs more work and she slows down to 1,500 words per hour. That’s £1,600. She then does a development edit on a 60,000-word self-help book, at a rate of 1,000 words and £35 per hour (charging more and going slower because it’s a development edit). That’s £2,100.
So you can see that the price of an edit mainly depends on two things – the complexity of the edit, plus the size of the project – and that an edit of a full-length book may cost a thousand pounds or more. If this is way out of your budget then don’t despair – there are editors out there who charge lower fees than this (just as there are editors who charge more). Another way to save costs is to plump for a manuscript critique or even a sample edit of the first few chapters. This is a cheaper way to get some professional direction on how to revise the manuscript yourself.
It’s also worth noting that more experienced editors may be booked up months in advance, so if you need a quick edit then you might have to pay a premium or be more selective in who you work with.
Some editors will be happy to do a short sample edit of your work (say 1,000 words) to help you decide if you want to work with them. Some editors will offer this for free; others will require you to pay for their time. Some won’t offer sample edits at all. It largely depends on whether the editor finds it a useful step in acquiring the right clients for them.
Two caveats: A sample edit is more helpful for copyediting than development editing. A development editor is mainly concerned with the overall content and structure of your book, so can’t really get very far with 1,000 words. You also need to be confident that you can assess a sample edit. An author who is quite new to the process of being edited may struggle to tell just how good or not a sample edit really is.
What I think is most important is making sure you’re getting the right type of edit – both for you and your book. This means the right level of involvement, with the right amount of hand-holding, focused on the right areas to really help your writing and ideas shine. Most good editors will request to see part or all of your manuscript and will take a look at it to make sure they can genuinely add value. They’ll suggest how they can help and the type of editing they think you need. This is what author and editor both need to agree on. If you feel unsure about working with an editor at the end of this conversation then either you're not in the right headspace to work with an editor yet – it can undoubtedly be a daunting step to take – or your writing needs a bit more work first, or they’re not the right editor for you. Either way, going forwards with this editor is probably not the right step to take at this moment in time.
Finally: do you get on?
You want to work with someone who is enthusiastic about your book, who comes across as professional and knowledgeable, and who you feel you can trust. An editor doesn’t need to be your new best friend, but if you don’t think you’d be comfortable working with them then walk away and look for someone else.
Good luck in your search!