With hundreds of books launching every day, competition for readers is tougher than ever. Your book must stand out on the digital shelf, and the quality of your writing is a key element that will make your book shine. 

What’s the most critical element of good writing? Good editing. 

Behind every successful author stands a team of editors who help ensure the book’s success. But in these days of AI spellcheckers and beta readers, do you still need to find a good editor? 

Yes! Yes, you do.

You probably already know you need an editor, but knowing you need an editor and finding a good editor are two different things.  

Tens of thousands of professional editors offer their services online and in person. 

  • Where do you find the good ones? 
  • How do you pick one? 
  • What kind of editor should you even look for?

In this article, you’ll find a simple three-step process for finding a good editor who will improve your book and help it to stand out.  

Step 1: Figure Out What Kind of Editor You Need

To find the right kind of editor for your book, you need to know the four types of editors. Each editor provides a different level of defense against poor writing. 

satellite in space representing the big picture edits an AI tool will provide.

AI Editor (Spaceforce)

An AI editor helps you improve the quality of your writing as you write. 

AI editors can also give you a big-picture view of whether your manuscript is ready. For example, a tool like Authors.ai (Affiliate Link) will tell you the average number of words you use per sentence throughout your manuscript. That’s a helpful metric because, in general, shorter sentences mean better sales. Authors.ai checks for dozens of similar factors.

Getting a satellite view of your sentence length is like seeing a picture of an enemy formation. Once you can see the big picture, you’ll know where to invest your time to defeat poor writing. 

AI copy editors like Grammarly (Affiliate Link) and ProWritingAid (Affiliate Link) help you improve your grammar, usage, and spelling as you write. These tools combine a super spell checker and a grammar tutor. Every author should use an AI copywriter to help improve their writing. 

Warning: An AI copyeditor does not replace a human editor. Neither do AI copyediting tools excuse you from learning grammar. You need to understand grammar rules and why they exist so that you’ll know when to break them.  

Air force jets representing the good developmental editor you find

Developmental Editor (Airforce)

A developmental edit, sometimes called a content edit, is an edit of the ideas in your book or an edit of your story. To use a military metaphor, the developmental editor is the Airforce that scouts the territory and drops bombs on enemy bunkers. 

Developmental editors usually insert comments into your document and send you a long email with their general thoughts. Expect hundreds or even thousands of comments and very few typo corrections.

Good developmental editors are expensive, so many indie authors skip hiring one. Instead, they ask a copywriter to give them developmental feedback, and that is a mistake. 

Most books that fail to connect with readers fail because of developmental issues. Readers will forgive the occasional typo if the book answers their question or meets their expectations. 

A developmental editor helps you turn your book into the kind of book that really scratches the reader’s itch. Copy editors are rarely good at developmental editing. They may think they are, but they often don’t know what they don’t know about making a book appeal to readers. 

Warning: Beta readers do not replace a developmental editor. Beta readers are great at pointing out problems but terrible at proposing solutions. Don’t skimp on developmental editing!

What to Look for in a Developmental Editor

Any good developmental editor you find will have an intake form that asks questions about your target reader and your goals for the book. If a developmental editor doesn’t ask questions about your reader, run! They are a copyeditor in disguise.  

Find a good developmental editor who is familiar with your genre and genre expectations. In most micro-genres, bestselling books share the same few developmental editors. 

A good developmental editor can be the path to the bestseller list, not because their name sells the book, but because they know what makes a book sell. 

Marines representing the combat your editor does with typos

Copy Editor (Marines) 

The copy edit, also known as a line edit, is an edit of the words. In this round of revisions, your editor will correct grammar mistakes, address usage issues like passive voice, and fix typos. They will also suggest ways to shorten your sentences. The copy editor uses Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature to make specific changes to your words and sentences. When people talk about editors, they usually have the copy editor in mind. 

Returning to our military metaphor, the copy editor is like the Marines who land on the beach and get face-to-face with the typos. 

Genre familiarity is not as important for copyediting as it is in the previous stages of editing. A misspelled word is a misspelled word, no matter what genre you’re writing.

What to Look for in a Copy Editor

A good copy editor will help you develop a style guide for your book and potentially a glossary as well. For example, if you write epic fantasy, the copy editor will want a list of the correct spellings of all your characters and place names. They’ll want to know what rules you purposefully break and why. For example, are you purposefully capitalizing (or not capitalizing) certain words? Why did you make those stylistic choices?

Ask which style guide the editor follows. Most use the Chicago Manual of Style, but if they use one of the others, you’ll want to know that upfront. 

You want to find a good copy editor who can bring out your voice rather than edit your voice out of your copy. They need to “get” you and your writing. 

Hold a tryout for potential copy editors to see who catches the most issues and who gives the most useful suggestions.

Proofreading (Army)

Your final editor is the proofreader. When your book is typeset, the words are laid out on the pages exactly as they will appear on the pages of your book. But the typesetting process can introduce new errors. Additionally, as the words are laid out differently on the page, you and the proofreaders may see errors you previously missed.

In our military metaphor, the proofreader is like the Army defending against new typos that may sneak in. 

Proofreaders edit the final PDF of your book before it goes to the printer. Since they are working with a PDF, they don’t use comments or the Track Changes feature. Instead, they create a list of typos and where to find them. 

The proofreader’s edits say things like, “The third paragraph on page six is missing a comma before the word ‘but.'” It is a hassle to identify and fix typos at this stage. If the copy editor does a good job, the proofreader’s job is much easier. 

Step 2: Recruit Editors 

Where do you find good editors? 

Acknowledgments

You will find the best editors in the acknowledgments of the best books. Most authors thank their editors by name in the acknowledgments section of their books. Once you have a list of names, Google each one to learn more. You may also find them on LinkedIn.  

The best editors can be found listed in the acknowledgments, but they are not the only editors available.

AuthorMedia.social

We have a job board on AuthorMedia.social where you can post editing jobs and services. Many listeners of the Novel Marketing podcast have connected with their editors through our job board. It’s a free service, and the job board is my gift to the AuthorMedia.social community. 

Writers Conferences

Writers Conferences tend to be packed with editors looking for clients. Most conference faculty members also edit on the side to supplement their incomes. Many authors also moonlight as freelance editors. 

When you attend writers conferences, you’ll make friends with other authors, who can make recommendations and introductions to editors. 

Matchmaking Websites

Editor-author matchmaking websites such as Reedsy and Fiverr are like a cross between online dating and online job board for authors.

Some of the most well-known sites are:

Guilds

The following guilds and guides are great places to find good editors, proofreaders, and other professionals who offer a broad range of editing skills.

Market Guides

Step 3: Hold a Tryout

When you have a handful of candidates, you’ll want to hold a tryout. 

A tryout will give you more insight than conducting interviews. Interviews are a notoriously terrible method for deciding who to hire. If you depend on interviews, you will likely hire someone similar to you because you connect emotionally. While that might feel like a good match, remember you’re not starting a marriage. You’re hiring an editor. 

Hold a tryout and hire the most talented editor, not the one with the silver tongue. 

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.

Some editors will offer to edit a few pages for free, and others will require a small fee for the first few pages. I think it is a good practice to offer to pay all the editors in the tryout. It may cost a bit more, but it’s worth it. Paying the candidates who audition will help you choose the right one.

Make sure all your candidates edit the same chapter or selection of pages. That way, you can compare the edits to each other. Also, be clear about whether you want a developmental or copy edit.

As you look over the sample edits, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who spotted issues that everyone else missed? 
  • Which editor gave you the most useful feedback?
  • Who gets you best? 
  • Who gets your story best? 
  • Who found the most areas for improvement? 

How much do editors cost?

The tryout is also an opportunity for the editor to see how much work they will have to do when editing your book. If your initial draft is clean, their bid will likely be lower. If your writing is a hot mess, editors will charge more to help you clean it up. 

Very few editors charge by the hour. Instead, they charge by the word or provide a custom bid based on your writing sample. 

Editing fees vary greatly. Expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $10,000. The cost of editing will depend on how popular the editor is, what kind of edit you want, and the quality of your manuscript. Developmental edits cost more than copyedits, both of which cost more than proofreading. 

If you want to save money on finding a good human editor, spend $150 on AI editors like Grammarly (Affiliate Link) if you write nonfiction and ProWritingAid (Affiliate Link) if you write fiction. These tools will help resolve many spelling and grammatical issues, which will save you money on the copy edit. The fewer things the human must fix, the less you have to pay. 

To learn more about AI tools that will improve your writing, check out my episode about AI Tools for Authors.

Common Mistakes Authors Make When Hiring an Editor

Hiring the First Editor You Find

When authors start out, they know few people in the industry. With so few industry contacts, it’s easy to make the mistake of hiring the first editor you find.  

Even if the first editor you meet is the one, you still need to talk with other editors to be sure the first one is the one. Before you hire someone, work with multiple editors on smaller pieces so that you have something to compare. 

Hiring Your Friend 

Don’t hire your friend with an English degree to edit your book. Hiring your English major friend is like hiring a handyman to build you a new home. Professional authors maintain professional relationships with the professionals they work with. 

If you hire a friend who doesn’t do a good job, you’ll need to fire them. Do you really want to do that? Don’t complicate your friendships or business relationships by mixing friends with work.

My great-grandfather has a strict rule about not being friends with his employees. Each generation since his has softened the boundaries between the employer and employee. Each generation also has fewer total friends. Let your friends be your friends and your colleagues be your colleagues. 

Not Holding a Tryout

Some authors convince themselves that they don’t need to hold a tryout, but that is a mistake. 

If a tryout seems awkward, remember that editors don’t mind doing a few sample pages because it gives them a feel for your writing. After they’re done, some of them will back out because they’re not the right fit. 

When a professional editor backs out, they’ll typically recommend another editor who might be a better fit. 

Tryouts are unnecessary only when you use the same winning team you assembled for a previous book. In that case, no tryout is needed. But if you are recruiting a new player for your team, make sure they try out first. 

Hiring the Cheapest Editor You Can Find

You’ve invested years of your life into your book. It deserves a good editor, not the cheapest one you can find. The cheapest editors usually aren’t native English speakers and can’t provide the level of editing your book needs. 

Native English speakers from a different country may be helpful, but only if they’re very familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style.

Not Listening

You make a tragic mistake when you hire a publishing professional but ignore their professional advice. Ignoring a paid professional’s advice is worse than not hiring a professional because you’re out the money you paid, and your manuscript is not improved.

Listening Blindly 

On the flip side, you can listen to your editor too much. Even a good editor you found is not God. If you accept all changes in your document in one fell swoop, you’ll accept a few changes that make your book worse. 

Go through each suggested change individually. If you don’t understand why an editor suggested a change, ask about it. Understanding the reason behind the change will help you know whether you want to implement it. 

Hiring an editor is not a replacement for mastering the fundamentals of writing. If you don’t know what your editor means by “passive protagonist,” “show, don’t tell,” or “Resist the urge to explain,” keep reading books on craft until you do. 

Honing your writing skills will make your editorial experience more productive.

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.

Not Hiring an Editor

To reiterate, You. Need. An. Editor. Every author must find a good editor.

James Patterson has an editor. J.K. Rawling has an editor. Dave Ramsey has an editor. Malcolm Gladwell has an editor. Jerry Jenkins has an editor. These authors have sold billions of books and still need human editors to clean up, improve, and clarify their writing. 

You are not the exception. 

If you want to compete with bestselling authors, you need to do what the bestselling authors do, and that means hiring and working with professional editors. 

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