Finding the Right Editor

It’s common for people on forums and Facebook groups that cater to writers to post here that they’re looking for an editor — and many raise their hands to offer their services. That’s great… if they are the right editor for you and your book.

There’s a saying that being badly published is worse than not being published at all. The same is true of editing. There are no industry or legal requirements that control the knowledge and experience someone must have to call themselves an editor. This means there are “editors” soliciting you who have absolutely no qualifications. None.

Therefore, the onus is on YOU to determine if the person you’re considering hiring is actually capable of doing what you’re hiring them to do. When you reach out to an editor, you need to know what you’re looking for, and you need to know the questions to ask to determine if this is the right editor for you.

Know what you’re looking for

First, know what type of editing you’re looking for — developmental (story, not writing), line (writing style/choices), or copy (mistakes, proof reading).

  • Not all editors do every type.
  • Each type costs a different amount.
  • If your book is a mess, expect to pay a lot more.
  • Expect them to want to see a chapter from the book, so they can evaluate the amount of work to be done.
  • “Bargain” prices are usually offered by people who are new to editing. Do you really want your book to be their learning experience?

Ask the right questions

Here are some questions to ask the potential editor:

  • What’s your experience editing books in THIS genre?
  • When could you start? (Good editors often have a waiting list of several months.)
  • How long do you anticipate the job will take?
  • Are you a native speaker of the language this book is written in?
  • How did you learn to edit?
  • Have you worked for any traditional publishers? If so, which ones?
  • Which stylebook do you use?

Get a spec edit and references

Ask for a “spec edit” of a couple of pages or chapter to see their style. Also, ask for references in YOUR book’s genre:

  • Published references. Check out the books on Amazon.
  • “In your genre” is critical for dev edits especially. Different genres have different requirements, and if your editor doesn’t know that, they can do more harm than good.
  • Follow up with the writers of those books. Confirm that the editor you’re considering is indeed the editor who worked on the book.
  • Can’t get in touch with those writers? Big red flag!
  • No books edited by them on Amazon? Big red flag!

All editing and all editors are NOT created equal. Do your due diligence.

My personal recommendation?

I’m pursuing traditional publishing, so I haven’t hired a freelance publisher. I did, however, pay for an editorial assessment of the novel I’m currently querying. My choice was an editor at Reedsy. They are high-end, qualified professionals, many with experience in the traditional publishing industry. 

the right editor

Traditional Publishing — What happens after my manuscript sells?

You have signed your contract. Congratulations! You have a book deal. But what happens after the manuscript sells?

As of the publication date, I have not had a novel published. I am traditionally published in nonfiction, however. This post is based in my personal experience and conversations with other published authors. This is just a high-level overview!


Editing is a long, in-depth process:

  • The first step is developmental editing. Yes, more rewriting. Your editor will send you her changes and suggestions, and you’ll be given a period of time in which to do them. (Welcome to a schedule!)
  • After developmental edits come line edits. This is the pass where individual sentences and word choices are examined in depth. This is really your last chance to make changes.
  • Then comes a round of copy editing to finalize your manuscript. Want to drive your editor crazy? Keep making changes.

Many new writers are terrified of the editing process. They’re afraid the editor will ask for changes they don’t want or will strip their voice out of their story. Let’s put these fears to rest.

First, editors do ask for changes, but they don’t ask for blind obedience. From personal experience, I can tell you these changes nearly always make for a better story. But what if you don’t want to make a change? Then talk to the editor. Discuss their ideas and your reasoning. Find a compromise. Or don’t. Something you get to say no! Sometimes it may be a deal-breaker to say no, but that’s not true of everything. Approach every conversation with an open heart!

One thing new writers don’t always understand is that the editor won’t be making the changes. YOU will do all the work. So your ideas aren’t going to be changed in a way you don’t like, and your words and style won’t be bastardized. It will always be your work!

When you get to the line edits, again keep an open mind. Read the suggestions. Taste them. Consider them. Sleep on them. If you don’t like the suggestion, don’t make the change. Use comments to explain why. This is a discussion, a back-and-forth, a collaborative process. Learn from it. The editing process will make you a much better process!

Layout and cover

After the manuscript is copy edited, it is sent to people who will do the layout for print or ebook. The former is a much more involved process.

When the layout is complete, you’ll get a chance to review the text “on the page.” This is strictly a chance to correct mistakes. As tempted as you are to tinker and make changes, the time for that has passed.

Next they design the cover. Some publishers will give you a chance to offer ideas or to select from several possibilities. Don’t expect to have more input than that, however. You won’t get to design your own cover, and you may not have any say at all.

Pre-launch marketing

A few months before the planned release date, the marketing push begins. This can be huge or practically non-existent. The more money the publisher has invested in your book, the bigger push you’re likely to get. You’ll be expected to participate and to come to the table with marketing ideas.

Release day arrives, and you become a published author! The marketing work will continue for several weeks.

The entire process, from the sale to release takes 12-18 months. You won’t get to choose your release date. The publisher will consider all of the books they’re releasing and choose the day they think is best.

after the manuscript sells