Hiring an Editor: Where to Start

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As a professional editor, I routinely receive requests to edit all sorts of materials. However, what these prospective clients mean by “edit” may vary. Do they want me to find the weaknesses of the argument or narrative, or do they simply need someone to correct the grammar? So I often find myself helping them figure out just what type of editing is needed. Here’s a quick breakdown of various types of editing and some tips on working with editors. Keep in mind that not all projects always require every level of edit, and sometimes multiple rounds of edits may be done by the same person.

Alpha and beta reads: Fiction writers often use this method to get reactions to their writing, working with revised drafts that still feel a bit rough. It is usually done on a volunteer or reciprocal basis with fellow writers, generally members of writing groups.

Developmental editing: If you’re serious about producing a commercially successful book, this step can be helpful. At this stage the editor will help you consider the content of your work from a big-picture point of view: Who will find this interesting? What subgenre does it fit into? How can the work be useful to its readers?

Line editing: If you’re clear on the audience and purpose for your work but need help getting your message across, this is where line editing (also called substantive editing) comes into play. A line editor looks at the work line by line, examining the linguistic and stylistic aspects as well as coherence and clarity.

Copy editing: More focused on expression than content, copy editing focuses on clarity, consistency, conciseness, and correctness. Usually, copy editing happens after a higher level of review that focuses on the content, so the copy editor is free to focus on the delivery of the content.

Proofreading: If your work feels complete and the content has been reviewed, proofreading is the step just before publication where the goal is to catch errors in grammar, usage, style (are you using Oxford commas or not?), layout, and typography (are you hyphenating long words as the text wraps?). Even for relatively small, simple projects, proofreading is essential if you don’t want to be surprised by embarrassing typos.

Hiring a professional editor: Having your friends edit your work may be cost effective, but you’ll generally get higher quality work and more honest feedback from a pro. It helps to find an editor who specializes in the field or genre that you want to publish in. Anyone can claim to be an editor, so look for professional credentials, testimonials, and memberships in professional groups. Also, most editors are open to doing brief sample edits (usually for a small fee) to verify their skill and to demonstrate their editing style.

Costs: The next question many will have is how much these services should cost. This will vary widely based on the experience and qualifications of the editor, but in general I would say it will cost more than you think. Don’t let sticker shock turn you away. You probably don’t pick a doctor, dentist, plumber, or electrician based solely on cost because you value your body and your home; shouldn’t you afford your writing the same respect? For a rough guideline, the Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a handy rates chart.

With these tips in mind you should be better prepared when the time comes to start looking for an editor. Finding the right editor can make a huge difference in the quality and reception of your work, so choose wisely.

 – Thomas Sullivan

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