Saturday, October 18, 2008

Editor Selection: Emerging Authors Want To Know!

Dear Exalted Editors,

So I've taken a look at my grammar and my formatting. I'm even (a little) less scared of editors than I used to be. Now I'd like to know how I go about finding the right editor for me!

There are so many choices out there. I can pay for a one-on-one session with an editor at a conference I'm attending, or search the internet, or even get in touch with one of you! Can you suggest any resources for locating good editors?

Next question: once I've found an editor (and I've met some great ones through this site already), how do I know if he or she is right for me? Some of these editing services can get kind of pricey, and I'm always worried about shady dealings on the Internet. Also, should I use different editors for different projects?

Signed, Desperately Seeking Revision

Maryann: First of all, you should know that there are differences in editors. The ones you might meet at a conference are usually acquisition editors. They are the ones that will hopefully buy your wonderful book once it is ready to go out into the marketplace. You pay a fee for the right to pitch your book to them. Some conferences charge an extra fee for the session with the editor, other cons have that fee built in to the overall conference fee. Before you get to that point, however, your book should go through an edit for content and then another one for copy editing, which is primarily proofing the manuscript for typos, grammar and spelling errors. Some editors are better at one than the other. My suggestion in deciding on one to work with is to ask for references. Most editors have them, and some of my clients have given me written references that are on my website.

Fees vary, and some editors are awfully proud of their work. In some cases, that is justified because of a wide range of experience, but there are always the few out there ready to take advantage of an eager writer. I suggest you have conversations with a prospective editor to determine his or her qualifications, approach to the editing process, and to see if you click on a personal level. Going through the editing process can get emotional at times, and you need to work with someone who understands that and can be responsive to you.

Lillie: As Maryann suggested, checking editors' references and asking for referrals from other writers are two good ways to find editors. However, just because an editor was right for another writer doesn't mean she's right for you and your book. I recommend you talk (in person or by phone) with two or three prospective editors. You want to know that the editor has the technical skills you need, that she is familiar with your genre, that she will provide the kind and level of editing you want, and that her price is affordable for you. Most importantly, though, you want to be sure that you and the editor are comfortable with each other and that she will improve your writing without destroying your voice. I've covered these points in more detail in Working with a Professional Editor.

Many editors offer a free sample edit. I will edit the first few pages of a manuscript at no charge. You can make sure I'm doing what you expect, and I can determine how much work is involved to quote you a price. Ask editors you are considering whether they will give a sample of their work.

The right editor will make your work sound like you—only better.

Emma Larkins has a dream: to make a living as a published author. Her publication credits include a story titled Midsummer Disc Dreams in the outdoor literary magazine, In the Mist, and an article called The Writer's Passion on the Feminine Aspects website. For more information, check out her blog and her website.


  1. In summary, it's a 4-step process:
    1. Review the editor's resume.
    2. Get a reference or two from clients.
    3. Speak with the editor about your expectations.
    4. Get your first few pages edited as a sample.

    I look forward to working with you.

  2. Great questions, Emma! Most of the editing I do is either business-related or for creative non-fiction. One thing I see too frequently in business is that editors obliterate the writer's voice. Because I've seen so much of that, I also want to know that an editor I select is going to understand and help me preserve my own voice.

    I really enjoy your "Emerging Authors Want To Know!" posts.

  3. My credentials are simple: I'm the ultimate persnickety fan who better not find any typos, and writhes in disgust if the plot doesn't hold together. I'll edit only my favorite reads: cozy mysteries. In short, I now charge my favorite author pals a bargain rate to help them polish their final product before publication. Because I like doing it. And I really am the ultimate fan. And I'm not too terribly hung-up on sentence fragments. ;)


  4. This is a good post idea/subject, and I appreciate all the ideas/tips/input here in the comments gallery also. Like any other profession, treat your selection like you would hiring a contractor to remodel your house or an attorney to represent you in court. I like the idea of a sample edit, LJ.

  5. One of the steps to making sure an editor is right for you is to know what you're wanting done to your manuscript. If it's a line edit, then look for an editor who specializes in that.

    If you're looking for someone who goes beyond that and works on character development, continuity, structure, pacing, and other "involved" aspects of the book, then look for those things when you talk to editors.

    The editor's ability is an essential, but it's also important to consider compatibility.


  6. Wow. I should just put all these comments in the post - great info!

    L.J., I think I'll have to print out that list and hang it up somewhere. But are you glad you told me? Now I know how to put you through your paces when I'm finally ready to hire you :)

    Jesaka, glad you like the posts, but I can't claim much credit. Sometimes I feel like that nerdy kid who sits in the front row and always asks the teacher annoyingly tricky questions.

    I don't doubt your credentials, Dani. I just wonder if I could survive being beaten to a pulp by your red pencil!

    Marvin, I'm the kind of person who would hire the first person who vaguely has anything 'contractory' about them. "You work at Home Depot? Want to lay tiles in my bathroom?"

    But Helen, that means putting more thought into the process :whiiiiiiine: Alright, alright. I'll do it.

    Thanks for the awesome comments! I'm at Caplcave (Sci-Fi Lit conference) today, but I might stop back here late tonight. I wrote a 10 minute short story in a workshop and now an editor wants to see a finished piece eek!!!

  7. If you need an acquisitions editor, conferences are one of the best places to find one. Some won't even take on an author unless they meet them in person at conferences or are referred by another author.

    Morgan Mandel

  8. A variation on hiring an editor is to go for a peer critique where you are getting advice writer to writer. This is ideal for a first draft, because you want the actual editor later on when you're ready to conform to the publisher's requirements. Early on, you need another writer to be able to help you get your story construction and characterisation in order. (Although some editors are also writers, which helps, and certainly some of the editors here are excellent writers who can give advice from both sides of the fence.)

    Doing a crit swap with another writer is okay, but you have to bear in mind that he or she will be "nice" to you so that you will be nice back. Depending on where you are in the process, it is worth paying someone to be completely honest and for their expertise in identifying elements for improvement in a manuscript.

  9. On looking for an editor with whom you feel comfy...Find books by authors you respect and ask them about their editor. Nothing succeeds like success. Get straight to the source, cut out the Internet and such by asking the author questions important to you. Open ended is best.
    Good luck.

  10. I agree, Morgan. Just got back from Capclave (Science Fiction lit. convention) and an editor expressed interest in a story of mine! Gotta wait and see what happens, but it's great to have that connection.

    Elsa, I think you just need meaner friends! Just kidding, I agree that writers' groups are excellent for a first read. I've found them invaluable.

    I love your technique Rita! I get nervous talking to authors in real life, but it's definitely worth overcoming.


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