Finding an editor you can trust is vital for a smooth relationship, particularly when you come to check your edits. But trusting your editor is also an important part of the relationship for both of you. Editors don’t want clients who don’t trust their judgement – it’s a recipe for frustration.
Your editor needs to be someone you can relate to well, someone who seems to be on the same wavelength as you. They need to be someone who always remembers that it’s your book, who can work to your aims for the book, rather than what they think it should be, but they also need to be able to make the changes necessary to fix issues with your book and make it shine.
Finding an editor
Finding an editor is easy, but finding the right editor for you, once you can trust, can take time. Some authors write and have edited several books before they find an editor they feel they can trust implicitly, so be prepared to shop around.
Here are my suggestions for finding an editor you can trust:
- Do you know other authors? If you’ve read their book and thought it was well written, ask them who edited it.
- Join the Alliance of Independent Authors so you can take a look at their list of approved services and join their forums where you can ask questions on all topics related to writing, editing and publishing. Because partner members (like me) have a code of ethics and have been vetted for quality, you can trust anyone you find in their directory.
- Make a short list of potential candidates, then visit their websites. Do they edit your genre? Do they edit to the conventions your writing follows – UK style or Chicago Manual of Style for US authors? Does what they say about who they are and how they work appeal to you? Read their blog posts. Do you find what they say helpful? If they have a video posted, watch it and see if you feel a connection to them and their values.
- What are their qualifications? They should have some editing qualification, even if it’s just an online course. Being an award-winning author or having a degree in creative writing doesn’t make them an editor – but it does help, of course. Have they worked for a publishing house? How many years have they been editing? You learn a great deal through experience. Being a member of an editors association looks good, but it isn’t a necessity; in practice, since they have to pay to be a member, it may only mean that they charge top rates.
- Do they say they teach their authors how to be better writers? Or that authors who pass through their editing process learn to be better writers as a consequence. Editors who are conscious of educating their authors will be better value in the long run. You may have to pay a lot for editing for your first book – after all they intend to educate you, which will take more of their time – but if you make the effort to learn, your next book should be cheaper to edit.
- If you want your writing improved such that it competes against the very best prose, then you need an editor who knows the difference between line editing and copy editing and who does both. Someone who does developmental, line and copyediting is your best bet. I think it’s good to have a different editor for the proofread, but sometimes editors, like me, arrange for other editors to do the proofreading for their clients.
- Have they written a book and had it published? Someone who has written fiction is likely to be a better editor for a fiction writer, than someone who hasn’t. If they’ve written a book, read enough of it to see if you like their style. If you like how they write, you can trust them with your manuscript.
- Have they written a book on writing? If so, read it.
- How do their prices stack up against others? It’s best not to choose the cheapest editors because they are likely not to be fully professional, have no real qualifications or have limited experience. The most expensive editors should be the most qualified and have the most years of experience, but that doesn’t mean they are the right editor for you. Your best bet is to choose editors who charge in the middle range.
- Once you’ve chosen a potential candidate, ask them for a manuscript appraisal. Appraisals should be relatively cheap, and after you’ve read what they say about your book, you’ll know if this is someone you want to continue to work with or not. If you feel they’ve completly missed the mark on your book, get another appraisal from another editor. The more professional feedback you get the better, and if you’re planning to write more than one book, it’s worth the time, effort and money to find an editor you can truly trust. And if the second editor backs up what the first one said about your book, then you should accept that they’re probably right, and perhaps look at your first choice again.
- Only after a manuscript appraisal should you ask for a sample edit.
Developing trust in your editor – the sample edit
When finding an editor, if you find an editor’s assessment of your manuscript helpful, and you seem to be on the same wavelength, then the next step in learning to trust them is a sample edit. Revise your manuscript in light of the manuscript appraisal (developmental edit) and then present it to your chosen editor and ask for a sample edit and quote.
Not all editors do a free sample edit, but I do because I need to do some editing on the book to work out how much time it’s likely to take me to edit the book anyway. I can’t give a realistic quote without doing that. Though some editors, don’t work this way, I feel that it’s an important part of finding an editor an author can trust.
Looking at that sample edit will show you how the editor will improve your book. If you don’t like what they’ve done in terms of line editing (for example, altering sentence structure), then it’s best not to go ahead with that editor, but do be aware that you may not recognise the improvements they’ve made. After all, if you knew what your editor knows, they wouldn’t have to change anything! You do need to trust that they know more about good writing than you do.
That doesn’t mean you have to accept every change in sentence structure or deletion of excess words that they make, of course. If something doesn’t read well to you, then it can still be improved. The important thing is not to just put it back to how it was because the editor wouldn’t have made a change if the original didn’t have a problem. I suggest running your suggestion for the fix by your editor to make sure that you have fixed the issue. But I hope that won’t happen too often, or the process will get very messy for both you and the editor. Another reason to make sure you’re happy with the sample edit.
Often, I alter something because the original is clunky or not clearly expressed, and if my suggested fix isn’t something the author likes, rather than return to the original, it’s best they write an alternative to my fix. That way the result of the process will still be better than the original. There is often more than one way to solve line-editing issues, not so much with copy editing, however.
You should feel free to query anything in the sample. Best be clear before you take the next step. If the editor has given explanatory comments, that’s a good sign that you’ll learn from working with them.
If you find punctuation that you think is incorrect, be careful. If you reject their punctuation and grammatical changes, then you might as well not bother with an edit. Why? Because the whole reason you employ an editor is because they are an expert in the areas of grammar, punctuation and spelling and word usage. They likely know more than you. You have to trust that they know their stuff.
I find it helpful if my clients have read my book The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine. If they’ve read that book, they know the principles behind my edits. And if they apply the tips to their manuscript before sending it to me for a quote, their editing costs will be cheaper.
Objective and Subjective edits
If you’re having a line edit as well as a copy edit (usually done together) there are two kinds of edits your editor will make, and you need to know the difference when evaluating the edits, be they in a sample edit or the final manuscript:
- Objective – the copy edit. These are edits to correct grammar, punctuation and spelling/word use. Don’t reject these. They are consistent with whatever conventions the editor is following— usually either The Chicago Manual of Style (for US authors) or UK style for the UK and Commonwealth countries.
- Subjective – the line edit. These edits are ones where good line editors will recognise there’s a problem, but they may solve the problem in different ways. It’s important to understand that even if you don’t like the editor’s solution, the original still has a problem that you need to solve. Line edits are such things as:
- Deletions due to overwriting, repetition, diversions, or lack of forward movement in the scene or overall plot;
- Shifting the order of sentences and paragraphs to keep a logical flow of ideas;
- Restructuring or rewriting sentences for better prose, clearer communication or consistency with the way a character would talk.
The big benefit of finding an editor you can trust
Having full trust in your editor saves you both time and energy. It’s great to be able to hand over your manuscript confident that it will come back better. And it’s a great time saver when you’re reviewing the edits to be able to press the ‘Accept all’ button in the track changes function in Word, rather than go through the book edit by edit.
But to get that benefit, you need to not only trust the editor but also be able to let go of it; you need to be able to say to yourself, ‘It’s done. I’m finished. It’s in the editor’s hands now.’
One of the worst things an author can do is to want to change the book after editing. At some point, you have to let it go, and the moment you hand it to the editor is that time. If you’re not ready to declare it finished, (apart from anything the editor might need you to do), then let it sit for a few months and look at it again later before giving it to your editor.
I suggest to my authors that they read their edited manuscript through without looking at the edits (Simple Markup in track changes) and only look to see what I’ve done (switch to All Markup in track changes) if something doesn’t read well to them. After all, if it reads well and says what you want it to say, then does it matter what the original was?
I hope this article helps you with finding an editor you can trust.
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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Peter Fortunato says
Thanks for this thoughtful and extensive consideration of the issues, Tahlia. Your appraisal of the book ms. I sent you last year launched me on a major rewrite, followed by revising in response to the editor I’m working with in Ithaca, close to my home. My book, Desert Wind: My Life in Qatar is due from Cayuga Lake Books in early 2023.
Mrs Tahlia Newland says
Thanks for your comment. I’m really glad you worked in the book more. Though some authors don’t know when to stop working on a book, too mamy authors don’t do enough work on it before they self-publish or try to get a publisher.
The answer to the question of How do I know when my book is finished? Is when it goes to the proofreader – apart from any little fixes the proofreader might require, of course.