Thursday, August 03, 2023

Behind the Red Pen: What to Look for When Vetting an Editor

By Jaire Sims, @JaireSims

Part of the Indie Authors Series

JH: Choosing the right editor for your manuscript is more than just picking the first name on a list or result page. Jaire Sims shares what you need to know when vetting an editor for your novel.

Jaire Sims lives, works, and writes where he was born and raised, Chicago. After spending years with social anxiety and undergoing counseling, he was eventually diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Still, he overcame the challenges before him, graduating from Monmouth College with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies. Off and on, he worked on and eventually published his debut novel, Getting By, named a finalist in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Jaire hopes to inspire and nurture aspiring authors and, through his work, champion marginalized voices facing similar struggles to him.

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Take it away Jaire…
Jaire Sims
So, you've finished your first round of revising your manuscript and made additional changes based on the feedback of your beta readers. Now it's time to seek professional guidance and have a book editor review and evaluate your manuscript.

But that doesn't mean you say "Yes" to the first editor in sight.

To help your book become as successful as possible, it's essential that you find the right editor for your particular story. You need to do your own research, review your options, and determine who can help take your manuscript to the next level before you publish it. So let's look at what vetting an editor entails.

The Role of an Editor in the Book Publishing Process

Many novice writers debate whether they should hire an editor for their first story, but I think the answer is clear: don't skip out on getting one! The role of a book editor is to thoroughly read a manuscript and determine what a story needs, then suggest and apply edits. Their work is critical to improving the quality of a novel and making it a top-notch product before it is published.

There are multiple types of editors, but the main ones are developmental, copy, and proofreaders.

Developmental editors look at a story from a larger scale and focus on a book's broad aspects, such as structure, plot, character arcs, pacing, action sequences, and dialogue.

Copy editors look to edit the text line-by-line, searching for details such as grammatical errors, punctuation, awkward phrasing, and inconsistent language.

Proofreaders carefully check for any errors in a text one final time before it is published.

(Here's more with Hiring an Editor - Yay or Nay?)

Identifying Your Editing Needs

Before you start vetting editors, you should establish your expectations. Your feedback from beta readers can help you narrow that down.

Are there any weak points in your manuscript you tried to change and improve? If so, you would want an editor to review those details. That can include technical aspects like grammar, punctuation, typos, structure, etc., or storytelling problems like plot holes, weak character development, gaps in your worldbuilding, and other issues.

Once you understand your editing goals, you'll know what kind of assistance you are looking for and what result you would like to see once your editor finishes reviewing your manuscript. Being specific will save you both time and money throughout this process.

(Here's more with Working with a Freelance Editor (Part One))

The Right Editor for You

There are certain qualities to look for in an editor before hiring one. First, you should know their expertise and experience. An editor has usually spent plenty of time with the literary or publishing industry and likely has a bachelor's or master's degree in English, communications, or journalism. Additionally, many book editors will have experience editing other writers' work, with the portfolio and resume to prove it. Equally important is an editor's familiarity with genres. Most book editors review multiple genres, but some may have a particular preference. It's important to know because if you're writing a Young Adult (YA) fantasy novel, you want to avoid hiring an editor specializing in mystery or crime thriller novels.

Compatibility is also important when choosing an editor; since you'll be spending a lot of time chatting and working together, you'll want someone you can get along with. A good book editor should understand your goals for your novel, your style of writing, and the needs of your target audience to ensure you create the best version of your story. While feedback and criticism are a necessary part of the process, an editor who doesn't try to compromise your book's vision will make the entire experience far more enjoyable.

You also want to partner with someone with excellent communication skills who can effectively provide useful feedback. During your research, consider contacting other authors from an editor's resume. Editors who communicate well will likely maintain good relationships with multiple writers.

It's also great to look for someone who carries themselves with a level of professionalism, which means providing timely responses. Each stage of editing has its own timeline, so working with someone who frequently falls behind or takes too long to respond to questions or concerns will only create further problems and delays.

Lastly, you should see if an editor has samples of their work. Some will provide examples upon the request of writers, while others showcase portfolios online. Check an editor's website to see if they have any testimonials or references from published writers to ensure their services are legitimate. Samples and word of mouth provide credibility and help you understand what to expect when working with them.

(Here's more with Finding Your Perfect Editor and Editing Level)

Conducting Your Research

Thanks to the internet, there are multiple ways to find potential book editors. You can use search engines to find marketplaces to hire experienced editors. One resource is Reedsy, which features some of the most experienced editors in the industry.

Next is asking for referrals in your network. That may include online writing communities, where someone can help you find an editor with a proven background of skills to edit books in your preferred genre.

You can also use Editorial Services and Organizations. The Editorial Freelancers Association is a resource I used to find my book editor. You can use the site's directory to match yourself with a professional freelance editor based on your editing needs.

(Here's more with Editorial Feedback: Friend or Foe?)

Evaluating and Interviewing Editors

If a book editor provides samples of their portfolio, see if their work aligns with what you would like to see with your manuscript. You should want someone with great attention to detail who offers thoughtful feedback. Their quality of editing, style, and consistency should be evident throughout their work.

Once you have a list of potential editors you would like to work with, you should prepare to interview them. If they agree to chat, prepare a few questions, such as:
  • Which genre do you prefer to edit?
  • What's your editing process?
  • When is your next availability?
Think of interviewing editors almost like a job interview, with you deciding who you want to work with. Hiring a book editor is an investment. It's best to ask multiple questions of each editor you interview to help you hire the right person who will fulfill your editing needs.

(Here's more with Red Ink In the Trenches: A Copyeditor’s Perspective)  

Discussing Rates, Contracts, and Deadlines

Each stage of editing typically has its own pay rate. An editor will charge a few cents per word for the total word count of a manuscript. For instance, an editor may charge $0.03 per word for a developmental edit but $0.01 per word for a copy edit, depending on the genre. So expect separate costs depending on what you ask them to do.

An editor should provide contracts/agreements for you to sign before working with them. That ensures that both the editor and client see eye-to-eye on scope, voice, price, and timeline. Having both parties sign contracts help prevent potential disputes down the road. With my editor, I signed a nondisclosure agreement, a developmental editing agreement, and a copy-editing agreement with my first book.

It's also important to know an editor's next availability. Book editors are busy, so they will unlikely be ready to review your manuscript immediately after hiring. I had to wait three weeks before my book editor was prepared to review my manuscript for Getting By. Before you sign anything, see if their availability aligns with your schedule and address specific deadlines for the editing process. Typically, the editor will reveal their turnaround time for each editing stage on their website or directly to you if asked. That will help estimate how much time you will spend with your editor and if it aligns with your own deadlines if you have any.

(Here's more with How to Save a Bundle on Editing Costs – Without Sacrificing Quality)  

Making the Final Selection

Once you have your list of editors you are considering hiring, it's time to make your decision. Ultimately, you will have to rely on your intuition and instincts to pick the right editor for you. Before choosing my editor, I recorded the information I learned on an Excel sheet, then compared each editor to see who would best serve my needs based on cost, qualifications, experience, availability, etc. However you decide to go about vetting editors, do enough research to determine the right editor to review your manuscript.

The more time and effort you put in, the more likely you will find an editor who will do wonders for your manuscript. If you're looking for a deeper dive, I provide more helpful tips on finding a book editor with my online self-publishing course. Feel free to reach out to me.

Carver Goodman dreams of becoming a photographer; but first he needs to graduate from high school. He spends his junior year worried about the same things that affect his peers--things like taking the ACT, bullying, and falling in love for the first time--but Carver's situation is a bit different, because he's beginning to suspect that he's gay. As he struggles to understand himself in terms of his sexuality and how he fits into the world, he learns a lot about who he is and finds the strength to overcome the challenges life throws his way.

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