Your Book Needs An Editor. How Do You Find One?

Stymied for the right words? You need an editor.
Stymied for the right words? You need an editor.

Whether you’re going to self-publish your WIP, or you’re planning to publish traditionally, there’s one critical step you’ll need to take on your Path to Publishing.

Your book—like all books—deserves a professional edit. In fact, you may benefit from more than one, because editors can serve different functions depending on the state of your manuscript. I decided my novel, A Habit Of Hiding, deserved two editors: one for development, and thereafter, one for content, proofing and a copyedit.

Despite the input I’d had from my writers’ critique group—some of which was invaluable, some of which I discarded—I realized my novel needed eyes-on from some professionals in the book publishing biz. So I did the two-step with my manuscript: I chose an editor for Before, and one for After.

Step 1. Before

Working with a Development Editor

I chose to work first with a developmental editor, to go after the big picture, the character development and the plotting. Choosing someone for that job required that I have a high degree of trust and respect for her decision-making process. Luckily for me, I’d spent months watching the organizer of my critique group make sensible suggestions to our writers, who met biweekly. I’d become comfortable with her process. She had the credentials: she’d  been publishing her own literary magazine for a few years, and was also a senior reader for a highly-regarded literary magazine from a venerable institution. To me, that meant she had a wide range of experience with styles, voices and genres.

I realized that getting a developmental edit would entail changes, and I welcomed those. I built time for those into my writing schedule in order to meet my self-imposed deadline. Setting my own deadline, and meeting it, is a professional discipline that shows high regard for the process of transforming a WIP into a published novel. The process took about six-eight weeks; I filled the lull by planning vacation time then.

Once I’d completed the developmental changes she suggested—which was a collaborative process that involved writing some new scenes, reordering some chapters, making some characters more convincing, and cutting some of my darlings, I knew I’d need a professional copy edit for A Habit Of Hiding. And I didn’t know any copy editors. So that was where the hunting began . . . on to Step 2.

Jann Alexander's A Habit of Hiding_Book Cover

Coming soon: new fiction by Jann Alexander

A Habit Of Hiding

Read an excerpt

Step 2. After

Finding a Copy Editor

I went with the usual approaches—referrals, and searching within my own network—first:

  • Contact writers you know for recommendations.
  • Do a search on Twitter among your followers and those you follow. Ask them.
  • Seek out published authors in your city for suggestions.

For me, all of those avenues were dead ends, for one reason or another—availability, cost, experience in my genre—and not due to any fatal flaw with the concept. Just didn’t yield anyone I thought was a good fit. But starting there might work for you.

Where I struck gold was a suggestion from a self-published author to post my requirements for an editor at the EFA website.

Finding the editors at EFA was better than striking gold.

Where to start with the EFA—Editorial Freelancers Association? Once you read the overview on the home page, you’ll strike editing gold on its Editorial Rates page, listed under Resources. There you’ll find a rate chart showing guidelines for industry fees, along with the kinds of jobs EFA members can do. It’s more extensive than you’d imagine, from Basic Copyediting to Indexing to Permissions to Translations . . . and on and on it goes.

Once you’ve used the job descriptions to determine the scope of your project, you’re ready to do a Search under Employers: Find a freelancer. I quickly realized that wouldn’t get me the results I was after. My next step was to post my job, under Employers: Submit a Job Listing.

I began by posting my project as “Content Editing.” I was hoping to find an editor who had the eye for typos, grammar and stylistic choice, and who also appreciated my writing voice and could improve it without changing my style. Here’s what I said in my EFA job listing:

EFA Content Ed Ad

I created an email folder for the deluge of email replies that followed—and I’m using that description in a positive way. I was delighted at the range of responses. It was easy to sort the wheat from the chaff among dozens and dozens of replies I received, by establishing a few criteria.

My Criteria for a Content Editor

  • Did she send me a Word doc resume filled with unrelated job experiences? She’s out. Wrong format (this isn’t a job application) and wrong experience for my novel.
  • Did she send me the Word doc because she doesn’t have a website? Toss out her reply. I’m looking for a committed professional, and that requires a website.
  • Is her website organized, easy to navigate, and professional? If not, eliminate her. That’s how she’ll approach my novel.
  • Does she have an online presence—a blog or a Twitter account, or a Google+ presence? If not, she’s goes in the only if I’m desperate pile. I’m online, and I regard being there as a professional necessity for relevance in our field.
  • What does she have to say on Twitter or on her blog? Those are insights into how she’ll approach my project.
  • She’s not on LinkedIn? Gone. I want to know about her career. And that’s an essential part of doing business today.

No online footprint? No dice.

  • What authors has she worked with? Are they fiction writers, and in my genre? Are they listed on her site, so I can look up their books? If not, I doubted her experience level and deleted her reply.
  • Is she a dedicated editor, or does she edit on the side while she writes her own books? I tossed anyone who wasn’t dedicated to editing. I don’t want her authorial voice intruding on mine, and I want my book’s editing to be her priority.
  • Does her reply indicate she understands my project’s scope? Is she available, and does she offer an estimate with a schedule for her services? If not, she’s gone.
  • Does she offer to do a sample edit? If not, hit delete. If yes, her response floats right to the top.

You’d be surprised how few editors offered any real evidence of their experience with published authors. Or who were willing to offer a firm per-word quote, or to do a sample edit. Still, there were several who passed round one.

I was asked for part of my manuscript by editors I regarded as serious when I pressed for firm quotes. They wanted to read some pages to understand what they’d be bidding on. To me, that meant their quotes would be accurate. Their answers told me what was in line and what was out of range, and allowed me to feel comfortable with what I’d budgeted.

A sample edit is a key evaluator in choosing an editor. Tweet:

By far the most important evaluator I requested turned out to be the sample edit. I could see right away if the editor understood my style and voice, and if her edits made sense to me. The comments offered in the margins, explaining the logic of the edits, showed me how to evaluate their decision-making, and what I could learn from them.

EFA members can do it all, from soup to nuts
EFA members can do it all, from soup to nuts

My Final Decision Was Informed by Several Factors

  • She demonstrated professionalism and experience in each of our exchanges
  • I had a high degree of comfort with her approach, as evidenced in her sample edit
  • Her website was clean and clear, just like her sample edit, and she blogged about topics that offered me value
  • She inquired about my publishing route—indie or traditional—before estimating the job
  • Her quote was in line, and she could work with my schedule
  • Her package included edits conforming to Chicago style, and formatting my final manuscript to industry standards in Word
  • Her references—authors she worked with—checked out, and they gave me positive feedback
  • She shared interesting info on her blog, and was clever on Twitter—not a requirement, but certainly a bonus!

The process took about nearly a month, and the editor I chose was in demand, so she needed some lead time before taking on my project. That production schedule I’d made for A Habit Of Hiding came in handy, because I had planned ahead for all of this.

I prepared a short, kind reply to let each applicant know I’d made another choice, and wished each one well. That’s a courtesy I owed them, and some wrote me back to thank me—they were pleasantly surprised they’d gotten a response even if it was a rejection.

Stay tuned for a future post on what to expect from your edit(s), and how the process worked out for me. 

There’s more to read HERE from my series, Path to Publishing.

What’s your editing experience been like with your novel?

Jann Alexander's A Habit of Hiding_Book Cover

You can get a sneak peek of my upcoming novel: 

Read an excerpt from A Habit Of Hiding here

For more on the art of writing, look HERE.

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6 thoughts on “Your Book Needs An Editor. How Do You Find One?

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  1. I am not a writer but I enjoy reading Jann’s posts. This particular post is simply amazing. Jann has imparted some very valuable advice that you could spend hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on your own and probably not receive the education that you just read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congrats Jann! Looking forward to reading your novel. Valuable information here and great post!


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