4 Tips on Hiring an Editor

Sunday, October 30, 2011
Finding the Perfect Editor$ or How to Hire an Editor
A potential client phoned the other day. I was excited when she told me she had several hundred pages for me to edit. We started to do the new-client dance and she was forthright about asking how much would I charge for editing her work. My response: it depends on your work and how much editing your writing may need or how much you want.

Unfortunately, she seemed to become frustrated as the conversation continued. The problem?

She knew that she wanted the draft edited quickly, but she didn't know what she wanted from me, the editor. Because I wasn't familiar with her writing, I wasn't able to propose what her writing needed. She knew she wanted to hire an editor.

Before we ended the discussion, I asked her to forward me several pages of her work so I could read her writing and then we could discuss what I could do for her.

That was four days ago and I'm still waiting.

So, based on my conversation with this potential client.... For writers who want to hire an editor, here are a few tips to consider when approaching a person to edit your writing:

  1. Know your writing. When you write, what areas do you avoid writing--dialogue? description? These clues suggest areas that might be considered weak in a draft. If you know what areas you may show some weaknesses, re-read those areas and determine if, indeed, those are areas that need work. If you suggest areas you don't feel comfortable with, your editor could help your writing by focusing and giving feedback on those areas.
  2. Know your timeline. If you need the edits back in a week, there may be enough time to respect your request. But your editor won't be able to answer the turn-around question before she has had a chance to look at (in the very least) a sample of the manuscript...if not the entire manuscript. She also needs to have an idea of the level of edit you need.
  3. Suggest what level of edit you are considering. When you bring a car to a mechanic, you have some idea what issue you would like addressed. (Substitute "mechanic" with dentist, grocer, lawyer, heart surgeon, counselor and so forth and you can see that if you consult a professional, you know why you are there.) If you're not sure, but know you need an editor from what readers mentioned, let the editor know. Have they provided comments? If so, are they commenting on problems of plot structure or punctuation problems? Do you know your weaknesses? Is this the fifth time someone has reviewed it or is is the first time the manuscript has been touched by other hands.
  4. Do you have a budget? Have you asked for a proposal? My mechanic repairs items we've discussed and he gives me an estimate before he starts the work. He consults me before making any additional (read: more expensive repairs). Discuss dollar amounts upfront with your potential editor and ask for an estimate that spells out the work agreed upon. One client explained that she knew that her piece had other issues, but she only wanted me to address the punctuation and grammar issues.While I made a couple suggestions outside of that realm, I only charged for the work for which I estimated (punctuation and grammar).
Can you think of other tips writers (and editors) should be aware of when entering into their working relationship? What has worked for you--as an editor or writer?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. In November, while folks are blazing through NaNoWriMo, Elizabeth will be completing her editing certification with the University of Chicago, Graham School.


    Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

    Your tips make so much sense. I think the first one is the most important - to KNOW your own writing. Then you will know what areas you want the editor to focus on. I think people also confuse "critique" with "edit" - often! So writers should also know which (maybe both, but maybe not!) they are looking for. You presented your points really well - I think you must be an excellent editor! :-)

    Margo Dill said...

    This is perfect advice. I also think people need to take time to REVISE after they receive our critiques back. I think a number of people feel like we edit, and then they are ready to submit. They forget that they will have some work to do once the manuscript is returned to them.


    Victoria said...

    But if "she knew her writing had other issues" why was she not interested in having them addressed? As much as I love to get a new gig, I'd avoid this person. If she's feeling defensive about her work, then it's going to be an unpleasant experience. She's not ready for prime time, and you don't need the heartache of doing less than you know needs to be done.

    Writers who are afraid of editors will not succeed. We both want the same thing--for their book to be its best. If they don't understand that, then the relationship isn't going to work. It's like going to a therapist and saying, "Oh, but don't ask me about my childhood/marriage/depression/addiction/(fill in the blank). You're going to a pro, so let her do her job!

    Elizabeth Gaucher said...

    Wonderful post! I am an editor and this represents a typical struggle on a regular basis. Thank you!

    Anonymous said...

    Hello, I would like to know how to choose a good editor and where to find one.

    Anonymous said...

    Nice post on an important topic! I'd also suggest asking for references from the editor. Who has he or she worked with before? Email or call them to learn of their experiences. A fantastic editor is a huge blessing you'll learn from...Unfortunately, I've heard of writers getting involved with shams.

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