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  • Cara Trent

How to Choose a Freelance Book Editor: Part 2

So you’ve found some editors that seem to meet your needs – how do you separate the good editors from the scammers?

In the previous blog post, many moons ago, we talked about whether or not you really need an editor (short answer: yes), how to know what kind of editing you want, and to go where editors hang out if you want to find one of us.

So now that you know how to find the editor you need, how do you choose the right editor for you? Because, like any other professional, it’s worth it to shop around a bit.

Without further ado, here are steps three and four to choosing your editor: doing research and first contact!

3. Do some research and watch for the signs

So, you’ve found some editors’ websites! Great. They’ve all got a lot of information and they all sound so… appealing! Their marketing is on POINT. So how do you make sure they’re not scammers?

Well, you go through their website and look for good and bad signs.

First, some good signs.

These traits are considered standard practice among many editors. If you see a bunch of these on their website, you’ve got yourself a legit editor:

  • Their writing/communication style is clear and professional.

  • They respond in a timely manner, usually within 24-48 hours of initial contact (or within a set time listed on their site).

  • They use contracts or letters of agreement. These might sound nerve-wracking at first blush, but they protect the rights and responsibilities of both parties and clarify both parties’ expectations.

  • They’re willing to reasonably negotiate. Some editors have set packages, and that’s okay. But many editors understand that authors aren’t usually flush with money. As a result, lots of editors are willing to do some trade-offs if you have a strict budget – and if you mention so politely.

  • They’re willing to do a sample edit or show you examples of their work from a portfolio.

  • Things vary when it comes to sample edits. Some editors don’t give them, some editors give them for free, some editors give them for a small fee. It never hurts to politely inquire, however.

  • They’re willing and able to provide references from writers they’ve worked with before.

  • They can give you referrals to other editors if your needs don’t match their skills set.

  • They belong to a professional organization of some kind. Not all editors can afford this, but professional organization membership shows that your editor is devoted to their craft. Professional organizations offer opportunities to network, classes and seminars for skill development, and a huge wealth of other resources. Examples of some very large and well-credentialed professional organizations are the EFA, CIEP (Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders, in the UK), and ACES (American Copy Editors Society). Keep in mind that there are many more.

Now, the flip side.

If an editor’s website has one or two, proceed with plenty of caution. If they have three or more… best move on.

  • They do not offer refunds of any kind, even if the project is terminated because of reasons outside of your (or their) control.

  • They request payment in full before starting the project, BUT they have very few or no credentials listed on their site.

  • They don’t have a website or web presence of some kind. It’s the digital age and an editor who doesn’t have a digital presence might be hard to contact… and could very easily go missing with your manuscript and money.

  • They are unwilling to reasonably negotiate.

  • They treat you rudely.

  • Their communication is not timely.

  • The editor refers you to a particular literary agent (this is VERY unethical).

If you’re worried about scam artists or whether or not your editor is legit, you can check SFWA’s Writer Beware blog. They even have a dedicated scam archive for fake publishers and agencies!

4. First contact

So the editor’s site is legit and you’re excited because they seem amazing – but don’t jump to signing a contract just yet. Your editor is someone who is going to have access to your story, something intensely personal and special to you. It’s always good practice to make sure that person is a good fit before committing to them.

I like to talk about shopping for editors like looking for a good therapist. You HAVE to find someone who jives with you and your work on many levels. YOU, as the writer, need to feel 100% comfortable with the editor you’ve chosen. And if you get a funny feeling or don’t feel 100% comfortable sharing everything with them, keep looking.

To find out if an editor is a good fit for you, you get to know them and how they do business: you contact them.

Contacting an editor isn’t a promise on your part – it’s not the same as a signed contract. Think of it like you’re looking for a general contractor to help with a renovation. You want to talk to them about your vision, what they can bring to the table, how fast, for how much money, etc. It’s the exact same with editors, just that the work being done is often more personal than a kitchen.

Here’s a few things you can ask for before signing an editor’s contract:

  • Interview (by phone or video conference)

  • Sample edit

  • List of references

If, after asking for some of these, you’re still not sure about this editor, then keep looking! Don’t settle just because you received a referral, or because their website looks nice.

Say you sign a contract with an editor, but you’re not sure if they’re a good fit. How do you know if it’s real or if it’s all in your head, you’re being too sensitive, etc.? Here’s a few examples of things you should NOT feel when you talk to your editor:

  • You don’t feel comfortable asking them questions about their work

  • You feel uncomfortable with your editor’s style of feedback; perhaps they’re too harsh – or maybe too indirect with criticism.

  • You feel like they’re CONSTANTLY talking to you, making you feel smothered.

  • Flip side: you feel like they’ve left you in the wind and you don’t know where to go from here.

If you’re not a good fit with your editor, don’t be afraid to let them know up-front. Sometimes they might be able to take some feedback and make some changes to their approach. But you or they might also decide to go your separate ways, and that’s okay. Just be open, direct, and polite about it!


And there you have it! That’s how to find a freelance editor for your next book, if you or your friends need one. If you have any questions about finding freelance editors, I’d love to hear from you.

So long; I’ll see you when next the curtain rises on The Midnight Blog!


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1 Comment

Dec 13, 2022

Love this advice! As someone who found their 'perfect' editor who then became flakey, I would add that if you're only partially through an edit and it isn't working out, then get out. Don't hold on to hoping the gut feeling is wrong. A good editor will accept you don't feel things are working out and will work with you. A bad editor will try gaslighting or guilt tripping you. Trust those gut feelings!

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