While a great editor can bring your fiction to its highest level and teach you priceless writing skills in the process, other editors can leave you in worse shape than you started—frustrated, confused, and out a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. I don’t want that to happen to you, writers! In this post, I’ll walk you through the 10 essential questions to ask an editor before you hire them, so you can make sure you end up with a winner.
Although we tend to use the catchall word “editing” to describe all work done by an editor, not all editing services are the same… and not all editors are created equal. Just like writers, they’re individuals with strengths and weaknesses. Because each book or story requires different abilities, it’s important to prepare yourself before and during the process of hiring an editor to make sure you’re getting what you need.
Here’s a list of 10 questions to ask a editor to find out if they’re right for you and your writing… before you hire them.
(Note: Some of this information might be included on the editor’s website, so you may not need to ask. But if you have any uncertainties, double-check with them! Remember, this is their job. If they’re not willing to give you the information you need, consider it a red flag and look for someone else.)
1. What editing services do you offer?
There are lots of different kinds of editing! Manuscript critiques, developmental editing (also called content or structural editing), line editing (also called stylistic editing), copyediting, and proofreading… just to name a few. Each one has a specific purpose and skill set. Don’t assume that every editor offers every kind of editing. For example, here at The Literary Architect, I offer manuscript critiques and developmental editing, but not copyediting or proofreading. Meanwhile I know other editors who provide only copyediting and nothing else. (Don’t know what kind of editing you need? Check out this post.)
2. Do you have a specialty?
Just as you can’t assume that every editor provides every kind of editing, don’t assume that they are equally skilled in all genres and forms. Hiring an editor can be a big investment. Try to find someone who has experience with your kind of writing. You wouldn’t want a textbook proofreader to critique your novel, or an editor who specializes in mysteries to edit your memoir!
Even if the editor appears to offer all services for all kinds of writing, ask them anyway. Most editors are more experienced with one genre, editing type, or style than another, even if they don’t say that upfront.
3. Can I see a sample of your work?
Many editors don’t offer free sample edits for clients, and that’s totally understandable. However, they should have some samples of work with previous clients that they’re willing to share. Reading these samples will give you a sense of their editorial style and help you decide whether you two would be a good fit. For example, some editors are more reserved in their changes, whereas others like to dig in deep. Some editors are soft and polite with their suggestions, whereas others are more direct and forceful.
4. Do you have testimonials or references from previous clients?
Most editors should be able to provide testimonials from previous clients. If they don’t have them on their website, ask them to send you a few.
5. What do you charge?
Does the editor charge per page, per word, or by the hour? If it’s by the hour, how many hours do they estimate the project will take? Editing can range between .005-.10/word or $40-120/hour, depending on if it’s a light proofread or a serious developmental edit.
6. Can you meet my deadline?
If you don’t have a deadline for your project you should still ask, What’s your turnaround? You don’t want to get into a situation where the editor hangs onto your work forever. And if you do have a deadline, don’t wait until you’ve paid your deposit to find out that the editor is all booked for the week you need your edits returned!
7. How will you deliver my edits?
Some editors still use paper manuscripts and snail mail. Others use track changes in Word or Googledocs. Check to see if their style works for you.
8. How and when will I pay you?
Some editors take the full fee upfront, others want a 50% deposit and the rest on delivery. Some older editors only take checks, while you can pay others with a credit card on PayPal.
9. What is your cancellation policy?
What if you pay a deposit to book them for the month of August… but when July rolls around you no longer need their services? Is the deposit refundable? Before you fork over any of your hard-earned cash, find out the editor’s cancellation policy. While it’s totally understandable for an editor to have a non-refundable deposit or even a completely non-refundable fee, you want to know this in advance so you don’t get unpleasantly surprised if you have to cancel.
10. Will you available for follow-up questions?
What happens if you have questions about their suggestions? Can you email them? Call? How about revisions? Will they read a revision after you’ve implemented their suggested changes? And at what point will they charge for follow up questions?
Most editors have a clear policy about this. For example, I offer follow-up support where I will answer brief questions via email. As long as I can address the questions in about 15 minutes, I don’t charge. But if a client wants me to read a revision, or has the need for more intensive follow-up support, I charge for my time.
Hope this helps!