Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Finding a Good Editor

Yesterday, I blogged about how to work with an editor. Today, I'm blogging about how to look for - and find - a good editor. Perhaps I went about that backwards.

As a note of explanation, yesterday's post was applicable to every author, whether they are self-published or traditionally published. Today's post will be most beneficial to authors who either self-publish or are looking for a freelance editor to help them prepare to submit traditionally - once you sign with a publishing company, they will assign an editor to you, so you will not need to search for one.

So, let us begin. You've finished your manuscript and you've sent it through some trusted readers. You've incorporated their feedback, and you are ready to send it to an editor. How should you go about this? What should you avoid?

There are some fantastic editors out there, some pretty good editors out there, and some (quite frankly) frightening editors out there. About ten of my clients were badly burned by their editors, came hunting for help in desperation, found me (makes it sound like they had to be desperate to end up choosing me ...) and sent me the manuscript after their editor had worked it over. In each of these cases, I have been appalled at the kinds of mistakes left in the manuscript. No editor worthy of the title would ever have left a manuscript in that condition. So it is with that in mind that  I write this blog today - to help you avoid that kind of frustration.

How do you find an editor?

You can go on Google and do a search for freelance editors, but word of mouth always has been and always will be the best way to find a good or a service. People love to talk about their good experiences and their bad. Ask your author friends who they use and recommend. Ask them who they do not recommend. And after they have given you a name or two, ask them the following things:

1. Did the editor treat them well?

2. Did the editor charge them a fair price?

3. Did the editor turn the job around when promised?

4. Did they deliver the kind of edit they promised?

5. Did the editor make any mistakes in the edit, and if so, were they apologetic, or did they get defensive about it?

6. Did the editor explain things clearly? Were they open to questions, and did they answer them respectfully?

7.  If they could change one thing about their editor, what would they change?

After you've spoken with your friend and you feel good about the answers they gave, visit that editor's website and find out the following things:

1. Have they posted a list of books they edited? Are you familiar with any of their previous work? Note - some brand-new editors are awesome, so if they don't have a huge list of titles, that's not necessarily a bad sign.

2. Are their rates compatible with what you can afford, and are they reasonable? (Reasonable: $1.00 a page is not unheard of for a new editor, while $3.00 is pretty typical for a seasoned editor. The amount of work that will go into the edit also comes into play - some editors charge a little more if the edit will be complex.)

3. Do they offer a sample of their work? Many editors will do a few pages for free, or will do twenty pages for a reasonable fee. This gives you the chance to see if you like their style, but it also gives them the chance to see if they like working with you.

4. Do they work with your genre? This is key - don't waste your time querying an editor who doesn't even work with the genre you write, or who doesn't do the type of edit you need. 

If you still like what you see, contact that editor and ask them any other questions that might have risen to the surface. These might include:

1. How long does an edit usually take?

2. Do you ask for money down?

3. How long do I have to pay my bill? What methods of payment do you accept?

4. What system do you have in place just in case one of us is unhappy with the arrangement? (The author should be happy with the editor, but the editor should also be happy with the author.)

5. When is your next available slot?

6. What format should I use when sending my manuscript?

Some of these questions might be answered on the editor's website, but feel free to ask any others that might be important to you.

You may find the most awesome editor right off the bat and fall madly in love with them and never leave them, or you may find that search to be a little more tricky. To help weed out the editors who will not be as beneficial to you, I suggest:

1. Take them up on that free sample, if offered. If they don't offer one, be gutsy and ask. Say, "My friend (insert friend's name here) recommended you, and I'd like to see if our styles are compatible. Would you do a three-page free sample for me?" If they give you lip, they probably aren't the editor for you anyway. If you don't care for their style from those three pages, you can thank them for their time and be under no obligation to hire them.

2. If you get a sample back and it just doesn't seem right to you, ask another editor for a sample, and send in the same segment. Then compare the two. Of course they'll each point out different things when it comes to the subjective parts of editing, but they should both find the same typos, etc. If you find that the first sample doesn't match the second and is missing several important corrections (or the second sample doesn't match the first), that will tell you who is going to be the more thorough editor.

3. Google the name of the editor and see who might have posted positive or negative comments about them online.

4. Make sure you have an out if the editor didn't come with enough recommendations to make you feel comfortable. Start with a fifty-page edit, and if you like what you see, finish it out. Any time you have doubt, start with a partial. You don't want to get halfway through an edit, decide you can't stand each other, still have money owing on one side or work owed on the other, and create a really awkward parting of the ways.

This needs to go two ways. If the author can't work with the editor, or if the editor can't work with the author, either one of them should have the option to pull out. But discuss this before you begin any work. Know what the parameters are for that type of situation.

Now, I'm probably making this all sound a lot more complicated than it really has to be. Most authors get referrals from their friends, they trust that editor, they work well together, and they don't have any issues whatsoever. But we don't all have author friends with great editors, or maybe that editor is booked and we need to find someone else. These tips will hopefully help you to narrow down what you need and aid in the search for that editor you will love to work with for years to come.

7 comments:

Donna K. Weaver said...

Good, good stuff here, Tristi! Anybody can call herself an editor, so it's definitely a 'buyer beware' world.

Christy said...

Great advice Tristi. Not all editors are created equal.

Ricki said...

Wonderful post! I have been freelancing for a while now, but it has all been word-of-mouth, so I have been thinking of setting up a page on my blog or something, and your questions here have given me an idea of what info I should include.

Jennifer Jensen (@jenjensen2) said...

Great list of questions to ask, and great list of ways to avoid problems. I'm filing this away for later!

Britney Gulbrandsen said...

Wow! What an awesome, in-depth post. Thanks!

Sarah Dunster said...

I needed this. Thank you.

I love my critique group. I think you could evaluate a critique group with a few of those questions, too... and I think they are just as vital as a good editor :)

Karlene said...

Great post! As an editor, I completely agree with all of this. Not all good editors are a good fit for every author. For example, I'm great at non-fiction, YA, speculative, general.

But you're probably not going to love me if you write romances. Ask Julie Bellon. We're good friends and thought we could work together, but I just don't like her genre enough. I made way too many changes and she wasn't happy with them. That's not a black mark against her or me. We just aren't a good fit.

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