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9 Ways to Vet an Independent Book Editor

How to find the independent editor that’s right for you

Even the best authors in the world have editors. If you’re serious about turning your manuscript into a bonafide book, you’ll need an editor too.

For self-publishers, hiring a professional editor can be expensive, so it’s wise to get the manuscript into the best possible shape before bringing in an outside pair of eyes. Part of that preparation may involve consulting a friend who is able to offer unbiased feedback and constructive criticism. Or you could work with a writing group (both online and in the real world).

Once you feel like you’ve done everything you can to prepare your manuscript, it’s time to get an editor involved. But where do you start?

Victoria Strauss has written an excellent article on how to vet independent editors. I recommend you read the full piece on the blog Writer Beware, but she’s also been kind enough to let me paraphrase her advice below.

3 things to remember about book editing

1) Editing is subjective– Every editor will have different tastes when it comes to style, plot, character, mood, theme, etc.

2) There is no magic cure for bad writing- An editor can only be as good as the manuscript they’re given.

3) You should beware amateur editors- You don’t just have to look out for scammers; you also have to avoid inexperienced editors (well-intentioned as they may be). If you’re going to spend good money on this process, you want to hire someone who has a proven track record of improving books.

How to avoid unqualified or dishonest editors

Investigate the qualifications of the editor or editing service to find someone with professional industry experience (worked for reputable publisher, writing credentials, etc.). Their website should display a resume/CV, bio of the editor, and a list of the notable books they’ve edited.

Individual editors should be a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association (US), the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK), the Institute of Professional Editors (Australia), or the Editors’ Association of Canada.

Pick the right editor for the job. Have they worked on similar books before? What is their specialty? Choose someone that is genre-appropriate.

 Take a close look at their client list. Then check out those books to assess the quality of the editor’s work.

Ask for references. Contact a few authors who have worked with this editor before. How was their experience? What’d they think about the process, the rapport, the value, etc?

Look for a sample critique on the editor’s website. This will give you some insight into the process and what you can expect. If there is no sample critique on the website, ask for one.

Get everything in writing upfront. Set goals, cost, time expenditure, and expectations (for you and the editor) beforehand. Also, make sure the person you THINK will be editing your book IS the person editing your book– no interns!

Beware of editors if…

1. … if you’re referred to them by an agent or publisher after getting a rejection letter. As Victoria warns in her original article, these aren’t necessarily all scams, but occasionally agents and publishers will get a kick-back from such referrals. So if you get an editing referral, just do your homework first.

2. … if a publisher or agent recommends their own editing service. You can’t be sure that this recommendation is in your best interest since the publisher/agents stands to earn money from the service. It’s a conflict of interest.

3. … if purchasing editing services is a prerequisite to publishing, submitting, representation, etc. A reputable agent or publisher will invest in your book because they believe in it, not because they can squeeze some dollars out of you first. Beware these scammers!

4. … if you can’t find verifiable credentials on their site (resume, testimonials, etc.) Beware vague or missing info. What are they hiding? They’re either scammers or not very good at representing themselves. Either way, move along!

5. … if the service will not provide the name of the person who will edit your work. Again, what are they hiding? And how can you verify their credentials?

6. … if they edit absolutely anything that comes to them. You want to enlist someone who has specific editing skills, not someone who is desperate for any and all projects that cross their desk.

7. … if they tell you publishers/agents prefer professionally edited manuscripts. Agents and publishers know that an editing job won’t turn a turd into a diamond; they’ll be able to see the merit in an unedited book just the same as a polished one. They also may want to have some say into the editing of your book if they choose to work with you.

8. … if they keep any part of the agreement vague or secretive. Price, timeline, expectations– they should all be crystal clear upfront. That is one way you can hold each other accountable throughout the editing process and know that you’re mutually working towards the best outcome.

9. … if they are reluctant or refuse to give you further information. Editing is an important and potentially expensive part of the process. Editors should understand that you want to be thorough and cautious before your money comes out of your wallet. If they’re not understanding before you pay them, imagine how awful they’ll be once the check is cashed.

Hopefully Victoria’s advice will help you navigate through the world of independent editors. Thanks to her for letting me paraphrase the advice here. Be sure to check out her original article at Writer Beware.

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[Red pen picture from Shutterstock.]

Chris Robley

About Chris Robley

Chris Robley has written 576 posts in this blog.

is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

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