How to Choose a Freelance Book Editor, Part 1
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Finding a book editor can feel overwhelming, especially if you're at the beginning of your journey and (like many beginning writers) haven't learned much about the publishing industry or how a novel can evolve over time.
This is a companion article to Sarah Maree’s blog post, Hiring an Editor – Gone Right. While reading her article, I realized that my unique angle as a freelancer gave me some additional information that might help authors. Many guides out there are written by authors who have found their dream editors - but I haven't seen many written by editors themselves. I think that's a shame, since we have unique knowledge about how YOU can find the right person to help you grow your story.
This article is two months in the making and because it's a bit hefty, I’ve decided to divide it into two parts: part one is about knowing what you want for your story AND from your editor, then going to find your editor. Part two, published next month, will be about evaluating those editors against each other to sift out the scammers, then to find your best fit.
Well, then. Let's get going, shall we?
You’ve done it! You’ve written a book! Holy SHIT, you badass! Let's take a second and celebrate that!
... Now what?
I think we both know what comes next.
Self-editing is crucial, of course. But there comes a point where many writers get sick of looking at their brainchild after reworking it for ten thousand hours. After that point, a professional editor can help.
Do I really need an editor, though?
Short answer: yes. VERY few stories have gone straight from the author’s brain to paper to the publishing press. I’d say “no stories,” but only the Sith deal in absolutes.
The fact that stories need edits isn’t an insult to anyone’s talent, skill, or level of craft. Damn near every story you might see on shelves at Barnes and Noble, and a good portion of the self-published titles on Amazon and Bookbub and beyond, has been worked on by editors. Sometimes multiple editors. Heck, bestselling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has a team of editors and beta-readers around him that help him guide his stories.
Think about that a bit: Brando Sando, who turns out multiple books per year and writes four books in his DOWN TIME over a single year, still relies on editors despite his vast knowledge of craft and reader expectations.
So don’t worry – needing an editor doesn’t mean you’re a “newbie” or inexperienced or anything like that. It means you’re like pretty much every other author out there.
To boot, an editor isn’t just some person who loves telling you everything “wrong” with your story. A good editor is a voracious reader who loves stories just as much as you do – they want to bring more good stories into the world to other readers like themselves. They will help you see new opportunities, find unconventional solutions, and give you a framework to help you guide your own revisions. They may also become a cheerleader or a mentor of sorts, depending on the editor.
Unfortunately, not every editor is a good editor. There’s no bar exam or MCAT to become an editor in the USA. So, how do you sift the wheat from the chaff?
Excellent question – and there’s a good amount that goes into the answer. It depends both on what you want for your story, what you value, and how the editor presents themselves.
1. Know what KIND of editing you want – and know what to ask for
One of the hardest things about editing is that the terms are… fuzzy, to say the least. There’s not a ton of standardization in the editing world, which allows for different editors to talk about their services differently. As a result, almost every editor has their own way of defining their work and editing in general. For authors, that lack of standardization can make it REALLY hard to know what the story needs and what to look for.
However, there are some common terms that editors use for their services. By using these skill names when searching Google and professional directories, you’ll get that much closer to an editor that knows their stuff.
Developmental editing (also called “substantive editing”)
You can find definitions for these terms (and more) on the Editorial Freelancer’s Association’s Member Skills page.
In addition, consider what you want from an editor and balance it with your limitations, such as deadlines or budget.
Veteran status (do you want someone super-seasoned or are you willing to work with someone who might be very skilled, but is new to editing?)
Genre specializations (do you want someone who knows your genre inside and out, or someone who reads widely and can bring all of that unique knowledge to bear for you?)
Skill specializations (do you want a jack-of-all-trades or someone who focuses on one or two types of editing?)
Type of publishing experience (do you want someone who works frequently with traditional publishers or someone who works with indie authors and self-publishing?)
Your budget (how much are you willing to spend on this professional evaluation of your story?)
Keep in mind that the more specialized and seasoned the editor, generally the higher their rates will be.
2. Find editors in places where editors hang out
Great, you know what you want – now it’s time to find someone who can fulfill those needs. A Google search can turn up a looooot of results - and probably a bunch of editors who don't fit your needs. So you can narrow your search by going to places where editors hang out.
Nowadays, it’s quite easy to meet editors online. There are lots of groups on Facebook, such as I Need a Book Editor (run by Ruth Thaler-Carter, an editing industry veteran), that are designed to help put book editors and writers in contact. You can also find book editors on any social media platform, including Instagram (#bookstagram) and TikTok (#booktok).
Many professional organizations also have directories where editors can list their information. In the EFA’s member directory, you can search by what kind of service you want and by genre and come up with a list of relevant editors. (I’m on that list, by the way!). There are also many writer’s organizations (like NAIWE), genre-specific organizations (like SFWA), and more that feature directories of professionals.
If you’d prefer to meet editors in-person, you can go to writing conventions or conventions for professional organizations (like the ones listed above) and do some networking. If you have a writing group at your local library, you can also ask some writers there if they’ve worked with any editors and would be willing to give referrals.
I think that’s everything for this month. Time for a month-long intermission; so grab some popcorn and I’ll see you when next the curtain rises on The Midnight Blog!