How to Evaluate Freelance Book Editors: Introduction

Thousands of freelancers offer book editing services. This is mostly a good thing, right?

After all, many thousands of writers, both traditionally and self-published, rely on professional editing as part of their book’s journey to successful publication.

But how does a writer choose which editor to work with on their book?

As a writer and a book editor, I’ve been on both sides of the editorial exchange. I’ve heard stories from my clients that would curl your hair. Sometimes I’m the second or third editor they’ve worked with, and it has taken them a lot of courage and faith in their manuscript to get back into what can seem like a crap shoot.

Why Hiring a Freelance Book Editor Can be Perilous

Why would it be this way? Well, there are a few barriers to finding the right editor:

  • There is no industry-wide standard for certification.
  • The gutting and shrinking of editorial staff in traditional publishing means there are editors hanging out their shingles who don’t actually know how to run a business.
  • And the fact that there are no barriers to calling oneself an editor means that there are people offering editorial services who don’t know any more than you do about writing a book–sometimes they know a lot less.

These people are not scam artists or monsters–they are usually acting in good faith. They want to help writers!

But writers don’t have endless amounts of time and money to spend on editorial help that doesn’t achieve their goals.

So…What do you Look for in a Book Editor?

You want to find the right person within a few days or weeks of when you start looking. You want the working process to be clear, smooth, and professional, and most of all, you want the RIGHT editor for your book.

It’s important to get a good fit with your editor so you will trust their feedback and be able to distinguish between advice that resonates with your vision for the book and advice that doesn’t.

Here are some more factors to consider when looking for a book editor. You will want to work with someone who:

  • has solid technical skills
  • does the right level of editing for your project (e.g., developmental, substantive, line editing, copyediting…)
  • has knowledge of the publishing world, and
  • brings a relevant educational background, experience, or both.

You might also want to work with someone with expertise in a particular subject matter–for example:

  • a geographical area
  • a period in history
  • a scientific discipline
  • a particular type of work.

To expand on the last point: If I’m writing a novel about a physician, wouldn’t it be great to work with an editor who knows what a physician’s job entails and can point out anything that doesn’t ring true?

Working with an editor who has specific subject-matter knowledge doesn’t excuse the writer from researching everything themselves while they write, but if you’re trying to decide between two editors who are otherwise equal in terms of skill set and experience, and one of them has the extra knowledge, it makes sense to go with that person.

Your Strengths and Weaknesses Also Matter

You might also want to find an editor who balances your strengths and weaknesses with their own. Let’s say you’re writing fiction and you’re fantastic at, say, plotting and telling stories. In that case, you might want to work with a good line editor to up your prose.

Or, if your prose is gorgeous but your story engines tend to sputter out, you’ll need a good developmental or content editor.

[BTW, if those types of editing don’t mean anything to you, worry not–all will be explained in Step 1!]

You Don’t Need ANY Editor. You Need the RIGHT Editor for your Book.

These are some of the surface attributes you’ll be looking for when you start looking for a book editor. But there’s a lot more under the surface.

So let’s say you have a book manuscript. You can find out an editor’s surface attributes–their experience, training, and (to a degree) technical knowledge–through their website or their profiles on editorial association membership sites or places like LinkedIn.

But the intangibles are just as important as the stuff you can verify by reading an online profile or a website. Before you spend your hard-earned money on a book editor, you will also want to know:

  • if you can trust this person to support your vision for the book
  • if their feedback will be delivered in such a way that it lets you enter into the revision process with confidence, no matter how much work the editor is suggesting your manuscript needs
  • if the editor will deliver the manuscript and editorial letter back to you on time and on budget, and
  • if they will be available and accessible as you revise.

If this is not going to be your only book, you might also want to up your game on the craft of writing and apply those lessons to future books. In that case, you will want a “teaching” editor, someone who will show you how to raise every aspect of your work to a higher level without compromising its soul.

How Do You Find the Right Book Editor?

How you assess and evaluate the tangibles and the intangibles a freelance editor offers is a process, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

This multi-part blog post is your answer.

I suggest going through these 7 steps before you pick someone to edit your book.

Step 1 is to know why you are considering hiring an editor now. It looks at why and when other writers work with freelance editors, lets you assess where you’re at, and introduces some things to consider before you start looking for a book editor.

Step 2 shows you how to evaluate and define your manuscript’s scope of work, so that when you start talking to editors, you are informed and educated on the terms they will use. This will reduce confusion and manage expectations on both ends.

Step 3 addresses how to research and create a longlist of potential editors.

Step 4 goes over how to winnow down your longlist into a shortlist.

Step 5 covers the sample edit–what it is, why you should always ask for one, and what it will tell you.

Step 6 examines how to evaluate the sample edits you receive to assess your “fit”.

Step 7 brings you to the point where you can choose an editor with confidence.