I Need an Editor. Now What?

Finding a skilled, reliable, affordable freelance book editor isn’t impossible, but the range of options out there makes it confusing. I’ll share my experiences and see if it helps.

With my first novel, I went with word of mouth from people I knew. I went for cheap. I ended up with a series of editors who said they’d do the work, and months later admitted that it just wasn’t going to happen. They weren’t bad people, just people with good intentions and busy lives.

So in the three years since then I have saved my money, and now I’m ready to pay someone a reasonable amount to edit my book. But what’s reasonable? How do I find them? And what can I expect?

'1951 Buick' photo (c) 2010, JOHN LLOYD - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here’s what I learned from my own experience:

First, you’re going to be asked to judge price, schedule (how fast they can get to your work and return it to you), and quality based on just a little bit of information. Shop around. No, really, please shop around. Quotes ranged from $0.05 a word to $2 a page ($3,500-$650 for my 70,000 words). Some people could work immediately, and others had a four month wait. Time estimates ranged from 10 hours to 3-weeks to get the work done.

Second, get samples so you have something concrete to judge. Editors are happy to edit a sample, usually the opening five pages, and return it to you so they can give you an accurate estimate. This sounds like it would be great—hey, I get my opening edited over and over!—but it is quite crushing to get well-meaning edits from people whose opinions are different but whose job is to pick your work apart. Frankly, I came to hate the opening of my book and had to step back to regain perspective.

I didn’t edit my opening between editors so that I could get an honest comparison. The editors didn’t have a lot of gimme’s, since I’ve mastered basic grammar and punctuation, so it was interesting to see where they felt the story was vague, or which sentences needed to be clearer. I found little or no consensus from one editor to the next. I had to judge based on whether I agreed with the items they chose to point out.

Third, choose someone you trust or who has a good reputation. I saw editors whose samples weren’t up to par. That made my selection easier. Other than that, it is hard to judge the quality of edits based on a 5-page sample. Their methods also vary, including two who do not use track changes. Track changes will make your life easier, so keep that in the equation. I preferred editors who came recommended by people I know.

Last, you may be wondering how I found editors to even get samples from? I searched for the items I’ve tagged this post with, such as Independent Editor or Freelance Editor. There are even websites out there that contact numerous editors on your behalf. The one I tried started at $.02 a word, but had some amazing editors in their roster (others had less impressive editors, so check their credits). I also asked other self-published authors who they’d used and whether they were happy with the result (Remember to check Amazon comments on books they’ve edited. No comments about the editing is ideal). Finally, I contacted people I’d gotten to know through social media. Yup, twitter was actually useful. Can you believe it?

In all, I got five competent quotes. Am I completely satisfied? Well, no. But I feel that I gave it the best shot I could and made an educated choice.

Note: I didn’t post websites, names, or quotes because I’m not endorsing anyone. If you want specific information, however, I’m happy to share. Just contact me here or on twitter @hroulo.

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