“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” – William Foster
As a book club we are often contacted by authors and publishers for advice about editing and suggestions for quality editors. In the hopes of providing useful, helpful, practical and accurate information as a reference guide, we’ve decided to offer a series of Open Mic pieces where we go straight to the “horse’s mouth,” so to speak. For this second guide, we’ve reached out to a few editors for their tips and advice to those looking for an editor to ensure the quality of their books. Collectively, this group has over 30 years of experience and a wealth of knowledge.
Each editor was simply asked one question - What advice or tips would you give to someone looking for an editor to edit a book?
School is in session…
Shonell Bacon: I've written about this very question a few times in various commentaries and articles. We talk a lot about how diligent a writer should be in his/her quest to find a good, reputable literary agent or to find a publisher; we need to talk just as much about the importance of finding an editor that fits for your needs.
1- Think about what you WANT and NEED in an editor. Are you looking to build a relationship with your editor? Are you looking to learn and become a better writer through your editor-writer experience? Are you looking for a quick, drive-thru like service with your editor? Do you need someone who is going to contact you throughout the editing process? It is important to think about the type of relationship you need with an editor, what you hope to receive from the editor besides an edited manuscript. Knowing what you WANT in the beginning of this process will help you more effectively find someone who fits those needs and wants.
2- Understand what your book needs. There are different types of editing, and it's important for you to have a general sense of what your book needs done so that you can match those needs with the right editor.
3- To actually FIND an editor, check out the acknowledgments of some of your favorite books. And especially those books that fit in your genre. Most authors give shout outs to their editors. Jot those names down and do searches for them online. Many of us today have a cyber home and various ways to contact us.
4- Get references. Ultimately, you are paying this person for a job. It's perfectly fine to ask for a few references so that you can learn from other writers how well (or not so well) the editor performed his/her duties.
5- Ask about editor's editing process and see if editor provides sample edits. Before spending money for services, it's a good idea to ask potential editors of your book if they provide sample edits. This way, you can see their work in action on your story and ask questions if necessary. Also, asking about the editing process beforehand allows you to see if the editor's process meshes with your needs.
In the end, whether you are looking to self-publish or to go the traditional publishing route, having a well-edited manuscript is vital to the process. These works are your literary babies, so you want them cared for by the best people. Your editor should be one of those "best people". Just like you would learn about the person taking care of your bundle of joy to ensure the person had your baby's best interests at heart, you should do the same for the stories you have birthed.
Shonell Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, educator–everywoman. She has published both creatively and academically. Shonell is an editor (12+ years in the trenches) who loves helping writers hone their literary craft. She is an educator, having taught English and mass communication courses in addition to fiction writing. Shonell also finds the time to pursue her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University .
Michelle S. Chester: There are plenty of expert freelance/independent editors. However, there are also many who go into business with inadequate experience and few qualifications. These individuals may be entirely well meaning, sincerely believing that a love of reading or a career as a teacher or some technical writing experience is enough to qualify them to edit others’ work. But such people rarely possess the specialized skills, not to mention the industry knowledge, that are essential for a professional-quality line or content edit.
Still, other freelance/independent editors and editing services are outright frauds. How to avoid editors like this? Below are five things to be cautious of when selecting an editor:
No Experience in Your Genre - Be sure the editor’s experience is appropriate to your work. Most editors specialize in certain genres. Someone whose main experience involves nonfiction may not be the ideal choice to edit your sci-fi novel.
Inefficient Website - Be wary of an editor’s website where the text is hard to read or the page is littered with errors. If the editor won’t take the time to maintain a professional website, that editor may not be the best choice. Also, if the website lacks information, that may be a red flag. Any site that says “I edit stuff, send me your manuscript” may not be the best choice!
Not Willing to Show Examples of Work - If an editor is not willing to show examples, how will you know you can trust him/her? Be wary of editors who hesitate to show samples of their work. Editors should also provide a free sample edit of your work so you will get an idea of what you’ll be getting for your money.
Not Willing to Provide References - Also, it’s important to get references and check them. Other than a recommendation from someone you trust, it’s probably your best way to judge an editor’s professionalism and effectiveness.
Not Willing to Provide a Contract - You should know exactly what you’ll be paying for, including the scope of the work to be done, the charges you’ll incur, the approximate time period involved, and who will be doing the editing. Obtain a contract or a letter of agreement that covers all these areas.
Bonus Tip #1 — Never trust an editor who ensures publication
Good editing may improve your manuscript, but finding publication depends on more than just the quality of your work. Effective targeting of your submissions, editors’ judgment of readers’ taste, the perceived marketability of your book, and what the publisher is already publishing all play a part. An excellent, polished manuscript is essential, but it’s just one piece of the total picture. There are no guarantees. Any editor that can promise publication is not trustworthy.
Bonus Tip #2 — Know what an editor does
Do you know the difference between a content edit and a copyedit? What is substantive editing? Line editing? It’s important that you know what these types of edits involve so you can have a good understanding of the service you will receive. Each editor may have his/her own definition of the type of edits offered, so it’s important that you ask probing questions so there are no misunderstandings.
In summary, editing is a worthwhile step in the road to publication. Even a piece of work you consider near perfect can benefit from the attention of the right editor. One of the most important things you can do when selecting an editor is to get educated and ask the right questions. That will make the difference between receiving superior editing or being disappointed — or worse, getting scammed.
Find a reputable editor or editorial service that meets your needs. Getting referrals is great, but if your referral comes from an author who wrote a non-fiction, self-help book and you wrote a sci-fi novel, that editor may not be the one for you. Research and investigate an editorial service like you would any other professional and you’ll greatly improve your chances of getting great service. Most importantly, make sure you trust your editor. If you don’t trust the editor, you will not trust the changes the editor makes.
Michelle S. Chester is the owner of EBM Professional Service, a full-service firm specializing in copy editing, content editing, and proofreading. She has more than 15 years experience as a Technical Writer/Editor in the corporate world. Michelle has done freelance editing for a number of publishers and numerous published authors. Alongside working on freelance projects, Michelle serves as Editorial Assistant for Written magazine in Atlanta , GA ; Contributing Editor for Sophisticated Groom magazine in Atlanta , GA ; and worked as a proofreader for Caye Publishing Group in Keller, Texas, working on the Society Life, Society Kids, and Parker County Maverick magazines.
Monique Mensah: The author/editor relationship is probably the most important one for the completion and success of an author’s work. Acknowledging this fact means that an author should take the process of finding the right editor very seriously and understand that cutting corners during this process is not a viable option. Working as an author and an editor, I’ve grown to understand this process from both sides of the coin. Following a few key steps could mean the difference between a well-crafted book and literary failure.
Set proper expectations. Do research to find out what a copy editor does. Google it, ask fellow authors, read reference books, and most importantly, ask the editor that you’re considering, “What services do you offer?” You must know what these services are, and determine your needs accordingly. Do you need developmental editing, line editing, proofreading, fact checking, a critique, coaching? Learn the ins and outs of the different services copy editors provide and determine your needs. Also, you must know the average going rate for these services. Again, do your research. Ask around. This is a sizable investment for your project, and you don’t want to go into this relationship blind and unprepared.
Set a budget. Editing is the second most important step in the publishing process behind writing the book, and it’s going to cost you. Set enough money aside to invest in an editor for your manuscript. If you do not have enough money to hire an editor for your work, then you should wait until you can save enough to do so; otherwise, you are NOT ready to publish. This budget should be based on reasonable expectations. You’ve already done your research, so you know how much an editor should charge for the services you are seeking for your project. Setting a budget based on reasonable expectations will also prevent a so-called editor from taking advantage of you naiveté.
How to find an editor. Ask around. As an author, chances are, you have a network of other authors who are able to give you some valuable resources and information. Have you read any of their books? Did you think the editing was done well? Ask them who edited their books. If you’re unable to ask the authors directly, look at the acknowledgements in the front matter of their books. More than likely, you will find a nice one-liner, thanking the editor for her excellent services. Once you have a couple of names. Google them, visit their websites, or look them up on Facebook or other social networking sites to find out more information about them: what other books they have edited, how much do they charge, what kind of reputation do they have, and what do they specialize in?
Contact potential editors. Be prepared to query more than one editor to find the one that fits you. For my second project, I sent emails to 13 different editors, soliciting their services. As a client, communication and customer service are imperative, and I feel the same way as an editor. When emailing potential editors, they should get back to you in a timely manner (my standard is 24 hours). This is the first indication of what kind you could be getting into when working with this person. Ask them to do a sample edit of your work. Evaluate that sample edit and compare it to others you’ve received. Ask for references (other authors they’ve worked with). Ask if you can contact their references for testimonials. Ask for a resume/bio of other books they’ve edited, tell them exactly what you’re looking for, and ask for more detailed information about their services. Find out how long they usually take to provide the services that you seek. The theme here: ASK QUESTIONS—a lot of questions.
Does your editor fit? If your editor does not believe in the potential of your work, then she is not the editor for you. The sample edit is for both the client and the editor. The client gets to see what the editor may be able to do for him/her, and the editor gets to see what level of work needs to be done for the project. You both must feel that the project is a good fit, or this relationship will not work. Talk to your editor in depth about your project, and get a feel for how you two will connect and work together to improve your work. Do not expect the editor to be your friend. That is not what you are paying her to do. Expect her to be tactful and professional, but honest and thorough. Your editor should understand that although she is offering her expertise as a trained professional, this is the author’s baby, and the author gets the last say. And although the author gets the final word, he should be open to honest criticism and change.
Sign a contract! Expect to sign a contract, outlining services provided, the fee for services, the time line, cancellation requirements, additional charges, payment and payment schedule, etc. The contract protects both the editor and the author, and you should not work with any editor who is unwilling to provide a contract. Hold the editor accountable to this contract. That’s what it’s there for.
Communicate. Communication is the key to any successful relationship, and the author/editor partnership is no different. Decide on a call schedule or settle on appropriate times to call and speak to each other. If email is your preferred method of contact, settle on a reasonable response time. If you can’t get in touch with your editor, then you need a new editor. If your editor can’t get in touch with you, don’t be surprised if she questions your level of commitment to your own project. If you expect her to take your project seriously, you must do so as well. Both the author and the editor should be professional.
Monique D. Mensah is the principal and founder of Make Your Mark Editing Services, a boutique copyediting service founded in 2007 that assists authors in turning their manuscripts into masterpieces. Make Your Mark specializes in developmental editing and critiques for fiction manuscripts.
Class is over. See you in two weeks with the next Open Mic!
Disclaimer: OOSA Online Book Club does not endorse the work/services offered by the editors that provided tips/advice. We, however, recommend that authors and publishers use their advice and find qualified professionals for their editing needs.