Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Choosing the Right Editor

Is the pen mightier than the sword? In some cases, perhaps, but when preparing a manuscript for publication, the pen and the sword form an alliance: the author who pens the work and the editor who wields the sword — trimming, shaping, and sharpening the piece into a work of art. Together they form a powerful team that can sculpt a mediocre manuscript into a masterpiece.

Not all editors are equally competent. Neither are all competent editors equally qualified in all genres. Yet, all writers require a good editor. The guidelines below will help match you, the writer, with the right editor.

To begin the selection process, ask questions. In what genres does the editor work? How long has he/she been editing? What educational or background experience qualifies the person as a professional editor? How have edited manuscripts been received by agents, publishers, and/or reviewers? Have any edited works won awards or other recognition?

Request references. A good editor will be glad to share names of clients or letters of recommendation. Be sure to contact the writers whose names you are given. Ask what kind of feedback they received from readers and professionals in the publishing field. Inquire about how the editor was to work with. Did he/she explain the reasons for suggested changes? Did the author’s writing skills improve from working with the editor?

Talk to others in your writers group. Have any of them used an editor? If so, were they satisfied with the performance? Did the editor help the writer place the manuscript or offer alternative publishing suggestions?

Ask for a work sample. Submit two or three pages of your manuscript for a free sample edit. Compare the edited pages to your original, checking hook, development, flow, readability, dialogue, grammar, etc. If you aren’t sure about the grammar, ask a qualified friend or an English teacher at a local high school or college. No edit is perfect, but grammatical errors should be minimal, even in a sample.

Evaluate compatibility. Talk with the editor. Share your writing concerns and your goals. Listen to the responses. Discuss the editor’s approach and accessibility. Your manuscript deserves a great edit. If you have a personality conflict with the editor – or you don’t see eye to eye in any area – you won’t maximize the potential of your book.

Editing is an essential part of preparing your manuscript for publication, but it also represents a significant financial investment. A typical edit will cost hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of dollars. Make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

As a writer, you put heart and soul into your manuscript. Validate your hard work by having it edited. But make sure the editor you choose is competent, qualified, and the right person to do your job.
Linda Lane is a writer, editor, and publisher. Two manuscripts she edited have won national awards. She offers writing and editing workshops with the goal of encouraging excellence in the publishing field. Her latest novel, Treacherous Tango, will be released this summer.


  1. Thank you for some excellent information! I never thought about asking some of those questions and will remember to do so when I'm ready!

  2. Very good points, Linda. I am happy to discuss all those issues with potential clients and think that freelance editors should.

    When working with an editor at a publisher we have less choices, but asking some questions and building a rapport does help with the editing process.

  3. I like how you've blended the pen and the sword.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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