5 Things Authors Need to Know Before Hiring a Book Editor
I always tell authors, if there is one thing you’re going to invest in when it comes to writing your book, it’s to hire a great editor.
There’s a misconception that editors are there just to catch typos and grammatical errors, but they offer so much more than that. As the author of your book, you are in the thick of it - you are deep into the story and know the ins and outs of what you’re trying to communicate. But it doesn’t always come across on the page.
An editor is that critical voice that can tell you what you’re missing, how to tie everything together, what should be taken out and what should be reworked to give you the absolute best book possible. They help bring out the best in you and your story.
I reached out to my friend and editor extraordinaire, Staci Frenes, who has been a writer, educator, and freelance editor for over two decades and has a full array of high quality and affordable services for independent authors called Grammar Boss.
I asked Stacie five questions that I most often get from authors about why they should hire an editor, and she very graciously shared her expertise and wisdom with us.
1. What are the benefits of hiring an editor? What do they bring to the table?
Great question. Most authors are already great writers! They revise and rewrite their manuscript so often they've lost count by the time it’s ready to be published. But the truth is, they’ve probably passed over the same comma error, the same plot hole, the same misused word—every single time they read through their book. It’s the nature of the beast; the closer you get to your own writing the less objectively you see it. That’s because you’re either making the necessary corrections and connections in your head as you read, or you’ve simply got some blind spots. An experienced, trained editor will catch those blind spots and make sure they get addressed.
2. What should an author look for in an editor?
First and foremost, experience. An experienced editor is generally going to be more efficient and thorough than someone just starting out, and that will save you time and money in the long run. Do a little research online before you hand over your manuscript to an editor, and if they don’t have a website, make sure you ask about their experience up front.
Another important factor is genre familiarity: if you’re writing romance or drama and an editor’s only experience is with technical nonfiction, you might want to keep looking. Though most editors are proficient at proofreading for punctuation and grammar errors, most of the time there are other aspects of the manuscript they’re paying attention to as well. The more editing they’ve done in your genre, the better they’ll be at addressing those particulars.
Transparency and clarity about fees and other logistics is crucial as well. An editor should disclose what you’ll be paying for their services, what kind of editing you’ll be getting, and approximately how long the process will take from start to finish. You don’t want an editor to hang on to your manuscript for months on end, and then keep asking for more money to finish it! Get the terms up front.
Also, you might want to see if they offer any additional services, such as book blurb summaries (most authors hate those) or Amazon page book descriptions, or any other promotional copy related to the book. Your editor will know your book inside and out after they’ve worked on it, and will have the advantage of being objective but also intimately familiar with it.
3. What are some questions you would suggest authors ask an editor to make sure they are a good fit?
How long have you been editing, and do you have a website where I can find out more about you?
What are the last three books/projects you edited? (or: Can you share the names and emails of 2-3 authors you’ve worked with?)
Would you be willing to edit a few pages at no cost so I can see a sample of your work?
What kinds of editing do you offer and what are your fees for each?
How long will the whole process take, start to finish?
How many rounds of edits will I get with this service?
Do you offer any additional services, such as writing book jacket copy or Amazon book descriptions?
4. I know many self-published authors see the added cost of hiring an editor and think, “I’ll save some money and edit it myself.” Or “I’ll have my friend or mom edit my book." Why do you think it’s worth the investment to hire an editor?
Your mom or your friend, or even beta readers, are great for noticing some things you might overlook. But think about the difference between a mechanic and a friend who borrows your car and points out a rattle you didn’t hear or were ignoring. Your friend isn’t a trained professional who knows how to go under the hood and diagnose, fine-tune or fix what’s wrong. A good editor is a specialist who looks for weak spots in your manuscript and knows how to fix them—from common issues like verb tense inconsistencies or improper dialogue formatting to more foundational problems like an underdeveloped storyline or character.
Your readers are smart! When they pick up your book, they’re expecting the same engaging, readable experience they get from a book by a major publisher. The difference is those books have gone through multiple rounds of edits by professional editors, while self-published authors often skip that process altogether. It makes a big difference in the quality and overall readability of your book. One bad Amazon review (due to mistakes and typos) can discourage lots of potential readers. After all the work you’ve put into writing the book, you owe it to yourself to put out the best possible version of it for others to read!
5. When an author hires an editor, what are they getting? Does that include copyediting, spellchecking, grammar, etc? Or do they need to hire a separate company for those or pay extra?
Some editors specialize in just one type of editing, particularly if they work for a major publisher, but most freelance book editors I know offer various kinds of editing. The three common types are as follows, starting with the most time-intensive (and expensive).
Developmental Editing – This is a comprehensive manuscript review that addresses everything from the structure of your book to characterization, plot, pacing, style and conflict. Also called content or substantive editing, it’s often needed in the beginning stages of a book or when a writer is unsure or ‘stuck’ about how to finish. This service can often involve heavily cutting, moving and re-shaping the material. It’s the most in-depth of the three services, and usually doesn’t include proofreading.
Copy Editing – Once your manuscript has a solid backbone of storyline, character development and plot structure, it’s ready for copy editing. This service will perfect your text, strengthen your prose and ensure consistency of style. Also called line editing, this kind of editing checks for things like word choice, sentence structure, consistency in style, verb tense and any other issues related to the overall readability. Some editors will also provide an additional round of proofreading with this service.
Proofreading - The final stage, this is a thorough check of small errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. A proofread will not provide feedback on topics such as structure or other larger editorial issues, but will put the final polish on your work.
One last tip:
It can be overwhelming to find an editor who’s professional, affordable and a good fit for you. Look for someone who will edit a few sample pages for free in order to assess your manuscript, and provide you with a quote for the whole project. That’s a win/win—you’ll be able to see what kind of editing they do and they’ll have a sense of what your manuscript needs right from the start. You can do this as many times as you'd like. After all, it's your book, and you should have complete trust for the person who's going to edit it.
As you can see from Staci’s answers, an editor plays a vital role in the overall success for your book. Think of hiring an editor as an investment that will help you sell more books and set your writing career up for success.
Be sure to visit Staci’s website to check out her services - I highly recommend her!