In this post, I discuss the process of vetting editors. At the end of my previous series on saving money on editing, I mentioned cheap editing and why I am against it. One of the reasons is that self-published authors often get scammed by people who claim that they are editors, even though they have no training or education in editing.
As Cheryl of Ink Slinger Editorial Services puts it, “The hardest thing about finding an editor is that anyone can hang a shingle. Especially someone that says they made As in high school English and loves to read. Editing is a skill. Accept that it’s a skill, and you’ll find a proper editor. And remember that being a writer does not qualify you to be an editor, either.”
So, as a follow-up to my previous series, I want to give you some information on how you can vet your freelance/independent editor and make sure that you get what you pay for and that you get an editor who is a good match for you. If you produce more than one book, this could be a relationship that lasts for years.
Keep in mind that when you are vetting editors, not every editor will hit every point on this list. However, if you examine them all, you will get a good feel for just how professional and experienced your editor is. In many cases, she will already have most of this information available for you on her website or resume.
Alternately, an editor who is lacking in many of these areas might not be your best choice.
Before You Start Vetting
- Is the editor available when you need her to be? Many freelance editors are booked months (sometimes years) in advance. As editor Averill Buchanan says, there is not much point in spending valuable time vetting someone who won’t be available on your schedule. For a good editor, however, you might find yourself willing to accept a spot on their editorial calendar that is months away.
- Is this person the right kind of editor? There are seemingly a million jobs out there with the title editor, all with different job descriptions. Check the editor’s website or ask her straight out what kind of editor she is and what kind of work she does.
Simply put, if your story needs structural work, you need a developmental editor. If it needs the grammar checked, you need a copyeditor or line editor. If you need someone to check your final, formatted pages for errors, you need a proofreader.
Some editors do provide all of these services plus others, such as consulting or cover design. Diversification can be a savvy business practice in today’s market.
- Degree or Certificate: Does the editor have a relevant degree or certificate in publishing or editing? This shows you that the person has spent some time learning the craft. However, many editors do not have an editing degree or a certificate because they got their start in publishing houses, where they received on-the-job training.
- Continuing Education: There are many courses available to editors through the Editorial Freelancers Association, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and Copyediting.com and from other sources. Has your prospective editor taken advantage of one or more of these courses to keep her skills up to date or perhaps to expand her editing skill set into a new area?
Relevant experience not only complements education but is probably even more important.
As Susan Wenger of Cover to Cover says, “Ask your prospective editor about relevant experience. If the only thing they tell you is that they have an English degree, or they teach English/literature, run. These things can be helpful, but they’re not sufficient.”
- General Editing Experience: How long has the editor been working professionally? Has she worked in house for a legitimate publisher? How much time per week does she spend editing?
- Specific Editing Experience: Does the editor have experience working in your field? This can be as broad as fiction versus nonfiction but can reach all the way down to a specific genre, such as paranormal romance. Ask for a list of books in your area that she has worked on.
You might also ask about the editor’s favorite books in your genre. A love of a certain type of book obviously doesn’t stand in for editing skill. However, when an editor brings years of editing experience to the table plus a deep knowledge of your genre, she will be able help you create a more marketable manuscript.
If the editor does not have a lot of experience in your genre or niche but has a lot of general experience and you feel good about your communication so far, look to her continuing education, author testimonials, and sample edit to determine her competence.
Find out how the editor works and how she likes to communicate. Finding someone compatible can save you lots of frustration down the line.
- Does she edit in a program that is compatible with your own (usually Word)?
- Does she use Track Changes or an equivalent tool that makes it easy for you to see edits?
- How many passes does each round of editing entail?
- Does your prospective editor prefer Skype, phone, or email to communicate?
- Does she include in her fee a reasonable amount of time for you to respond or ask questions about the editing after it is complete?
Through your initial communication and research, find out if the editor behaves in a professional manner.
- Does she respond to you in a timely manner?
- Does she respond professionally to a reasonable number of questions?
- Is she respectful? She should treat you like a professional as well.
- Does she offer a written contract for her services? If she doesn’t, move on. A contract protects you both.
- Is she a member of a relevant professional organization such as the Editorial Freelancers Association, Society for Editors and Proofreaders, or Association of Independent Publishing Professionals?
Internet/Social Media Presence
In the process of vetting editors, it is a good idea to check out each editor’s web presence. If an editor is a professional, it is likely that she has established herself on the Internet to increase her discoverability, just as authors should. Check out her various footprints to get an idea about who she is and what services she offers. If you find an editor in a Goodreads forum but nowhere else on the web, there’s a good chance that she hasn’t been editing for long or at all.
- Does she have a website? Is it professional in appearance, and does it give you answers to many of the questions listed in this post?
- Is she on social media in a professional capacity (e.g., is her business on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn)? You can get some idea of an editor’s professional interactions through how she presents herself on social media.
When you’re vetting editors for your book, perhaps the most important step is to find out what their previous clients have to say.
- Look for testimonials: Like all people, editors like to share when they have received praise for a job well done and will often have testimonials printed on their websites. See if it is possible for you to speak to past clients so you can get an idea of how each editor works and how satisfied her clients have been.
- Ask your author friends for recommendations: You may find that your fellow authors can tell you about the good, the bad, and the ugly with respect to editors that they have worked with. Take it all with a grain of salt, but don’t dismiss it. If an author has glowing praise for her editor, take a closer look.
Sample the Service
Most editors will offer a free sample edit of some length. Mine is 1250 words, and other editors offer more or less. The sample edit allows both you and the editor to learn a bit about each other’s styles and see if you are a good fit. The editor can also use the sample edit to determine how much work is needed on the manuscript so that she can come up with a proper estimate.
Take advantage of this. When you find a few editors that are serious contenders, get sample edits and estimates from each one. It will be extremely helpful not only for vetting the editors but also for choosing the one that you want to work with most.
A Note About Upfront Payments When Vetting Editors
In this age of constant scams, authors aren’t the only ones who are wary. Editors must also be careful about putting in weeks’ worth of work on a manuscript only to be left high and dry when the work is done. Thus, many editors ask for a deposit up front and the rest of the payment on their services before you get your edited manuscript back.
So, do your research and vet your editors appropriately. Talk to their past clients and make sure that they are legitimate. Keep in mind that no one with experience and an established Internet presence can scam her clients for long without getting numerous public responses. Let the editor’s reputation speak for itself. If it doesn’t, you have to decide if it’s a risk you are willing to take. (Again, this is a great topic to speak with past clients about.)
I had some help from fellow editors so that I could provide you with a thorough list of steps for vetting editors. In that capacity, I’d like to thank Susan Wenger, Averill Buchanan, Cheryl Murphy Lowrance, Janet MacMillan, Julia Ganis, and Dorothy Zemach for their input and insights.
Note: I have used the pronouns she and her to refer to single authors or editors throughout this post. However, this is just for simplicity. There are many fine authors and editors out there who are not female.