How do you find a good editor?

If you plan to independently publish your book, you must find a good editor. Many self-published authors don’t know how to find one, and it’s such a common problem that self-published books have gained a reputation for being poorly written. 

In truth, they’re not always poorly written, but they are often poorly edited. Many indie authors fail to run their books through the same rigorous editorial process that traditionally published books endure. 

When indie authors do find an editor, they often fail to connect with the right kinds of editors for their books.

Finding the right editor for your genre, book, writing style, and personality is essential for creating a book readers will enjoy. Publishing well-edited work is also critical to improving the reputation of independently published books and authors.

What does finding an editor have to do with marketing?

The best marketing tool you have, the one that will make every other marketing effort easier, is a well-edited book.

The best thing you can do to sell more books is to write one great book after another. Readers who love your last book will be far more likely to buy your next one. A well-written, wonderfully edited book will sell your next book better than any Facebook or Amazon ad. 

Good Marketing Helps a Bad Book Fail Faster

If your book is boring and people don’t like it, good marketing will only cause one-star reviews to pile up on your Amazon sales page.

If you’re going to write a book, you might as well write a good one. But here’s the secret: no one writes a good book alone. 

Even the writers of the New Testament required a writing assistant. The apostle Paul wrote his letters via an amanuensis who helped write the letters. In some of Paul’s letters, his amanuensis is listed by name.

If Saint Paul needed an editor, you do too.

New York Times bestselling authors still work with an entire team of editors even when publishing their fortieth book.

What are the different types of editors I can work with?

Developmental Editor 

Your developmental editor does a macro edit. They look at your story from the 50,000-foot view and make big-picture recommendations for improving your story. 

They might recommend changing a character, rearranging plot events, increasing the severity of the conflict, or deleting unnecessary scenes.

Most indie authors skip the developmental edit and jump to one of the later editing phases. Sadly, those authors waste time laboring over grammar and sentence structure in a chapter they should have cut.

A developmental editor can improve your book and save you time.

It could be argued that the developmental edit is the most important one. A great story with great writing is ideal, but average writing can be overcome by a fantastic, riveting story. If your book is grammatically immaculate but boring, it will not sell. If the story doesn’t work, no amount of proofreading can fix it.

Beta Reader Editors

Voracious readers who love your genre and know how to give feedback make great beta readers

They read early versions of your story and expect to find character inconsistencies, plot holes, or underdeveloped characters. Their feedback will help you correct errors or rewrite boring scenes. They can point out confusing sections. Really good beta readers can give suggestions on how to correct the problems.

Beta readers are not professional editors, but they are great at recognizing what is and isn’t working in a story. 

Some authors get feedback from beta readers before sending the manuscript to the developmental editor. Others receive feedback from both at the same time. Depending on when you invite beta readers into the editing process, you can send them the whole rough manuscript, or you can ask them to read each chapter as you finish it. 

It’s easier for nonfiction beta readers to offer feedback on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Fiction beta readers need to have the whole manuscript in order to offer sound advice.

Interacting with my beta readers was my favorite part of editing my book. I enjoyed the back and forth with readers I trusted and respected. Plus, they were nice. We discussed potential objections to the content and theological inconsistencies. Their feedback helped me write a better book.

Line Editors

Your line editor will help you clarify each sentence, paragraph, page, and chapter. They may suggest breaking up a long sentence, rewriting a confusing paragraph, or rearranging the dialog. They may also point out words you overuse or misuse.

Copy Editor (The Grammar Nazi)

When people think of an editor, they usually think of the copy editor, who corrects grammar, usage, subject-verb agreement, and more. Copy editors know where to place the commas, how to rewrite your passive voice sentences, and when to implement all the grammar rules you’ve forgotten since high school English.

Some indie authors skip the previous three editing phases and only hire a copy editor, which is a mistake we’ve discussed.

Proofreaders (Details Person)

After your book has been copyedited, it will be typeset and laid out on the page exactly as it will appear in your printed book. During the typesetting process, errors are always accidentally introduced into the manuscript. The careful eye of the proofreader will catch those errors. 

A proofreader will edit your book on the final PDF pages of your manuscript. They will look for issues like line spacing, typos, and repeated lines at the top and bottom of the page.

Traditionally published books go through all five stages of editing. As an indie author, you may need to increase your editing budget to ensure you publish a high-quality book that can compete with traditionally published works.

Pro Tip: Spend your money on a good book cover and good editing. They are worth every penny and will make the rest of your marketing easier.

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.

How do you find an editor?

A Writers’ Conference 

When you see editors at conferences, watch how they interact with people. Observe whether their personality will work with your writing style. Does the editor seem like a person you could work with?

If you can see yourself working with that editor, find out more about them. 

Some conferences offer free 15-minute consults with freelance editors. Those meetings are a great way to get feedback on your manuscript and discover which editors make the most useful comments. 

Many editors who attend writers’ conferences are acquisitions editors who acquire books but don’t do much of the actual editing. However, you can ask them to recommend a great freelance editor.

If you’re planning to publish independently, you’ll want to meet freelance editors rather than acquisitions editors. Editors who work for big publishers can’t usually take freelance jobs because of the terms of their contract or their lack of available time.

Recommendation from a Successful Author

An author’s recommendation is even better than a recommendation from an acquisitions editor. The author has first-hand experience with the editor’s style and feedback.

Ask for recommendations from authors in your genre who write similar books. An excellent romance editor may not be the right choice for your science fiction work. Savvy editors tend to specialize in one or two genres.

Acknowledgments of a Comparable Book

If you find an especially well-edited book, flip to the back matter and look for the editor’s name.

Editor Marketplace like ChristianEditor.com

If you’re writing a Christin book, you can find a carefully vetted editor at ChristianEditor.com. You can send a selection from your book and receive a sample edit on that selection from a list of qualified editors.

If you want to choose from several editors, send them all the same selection to edit. When you receive their feedback, compare your options. You’ll see who caught which mistakes, and the comparison will help you choose the most useful editor.

What do you look for in an editor?

Level of Editing Experience

By their fruits you will know them. Look for their track record of commercial success. How many of the books they’ve edited have sold well?

Just like authors, editors are in various stages of their careers.

Level 0: Just Starting Out 

They’ve never edited a book before. They have no track record, and working with them presents a high risk. 

Every editor starts here, and beginning editors are generally your least expensive option. However, if you’re a first-time author, you probably don’t want a Level 0 editor. If neither of you knows how to help the other, you’ll be in a blind-leading-the-blind situation.

You want to work with someone who has edited a book you can buy on Amazon.

Level 1: Only Edited Self-Published Books 

These authors may be able to provide a long list of books they’ve edited, but not all of them will be available on Amazon. Sometimes the books aren’t available because the author gave up and didn’t pursue publication, and other times the quality wasn’t good enough to publish.

Level 2: Freelance Editor for Traditional Publishers

These editors have a history of editing as freelancers and occasionally pick up jobs for traditional publishers. Publishing houses are starting to use more freelancers and fewer full-time, on-site editors. 

Level 3: Used to Work Full-Time for a Traditional Publisher

When traditional publishers get sold or go out of business, their editors still need work. These editors have tons of experience editing books every day, all day long. They know what they’re talking about when they offer you feedback.

Level 3 editors have likely worked on hundreds of books. They might be slammed with work for three months, but they sometimes have openings when an author misses their manuscript deadline. 

Level 2 and Level 3 editors typically give you the most value for the cost. 

Level 4: Edited a New York Times Bestselling Book

People who have edited a New York Times bestseller are in high demand. Their prices are much higher, and they’re usually booked far in advance. Most independent authors won’t be able to afford them or wait for their schedules to open.

Level 5: Edited Multiple New York Times Bestsellers

These editors have proven that their first bestselling edit wasn’t a fluke, and they’ve reproduced their high-quality editing on multiple occasions. For every 100 New York Times bestselling authors, there are probably only 75 New York Times bestselling editors. That small group of editors knows what it takes to create a successful book.

If you can get an editor who’s worked on multiple NYT bestsellers, your marketing will become much easier.

Compatibility

Do your research to determine whether the editor matches your personality style. Do you prefer a blunt straight shooter who gets straight to the matter? Or do you need an editor who will point out the good along with the bad?

Make sure their editing style matches your writing style. Will the editor improve your voice while still allowing your voice to come through, or will they force you to rewrite the entire manuscript and eliminate your voice?

One bestselling author I know wrote a book for women but was assigned a male editor. He wanted to scrap the whole book and do a rewrite, but she knew her book was better than he thought it was. She appealed to her traditional publisher and asked for a female editor. The editing was a breeze from then on because the female understood the author’s perspective and intent.

The male editor was a good editor with a great editing history. He just wasn’t the right match for this book for women.

Do NOT Hire These Editors

English Major Friend

Do not hire your friend from college or church who has an English degree. You probably don’t have time to teach your friend about the publishing industry. When you hire based on friendship rather than competency, you risk losing your friendship over a difficult editing process.

The Hungry, Hungry Editor

People who are constantly searching for work or heavily marketing themselves may not be excellent editors. Most professional editors are booked and don’t need to drum up work.

If they’re begging to edit your book, they’re probably inexperienced or don’t get many referrals.

The Opinionated Reader

Someone who loves to read and has always wanted to break into editing to give authors a piece of their minds may offer to edit your book for free. But you need an editor with experience who can guide you through the process.

If you have a friend begging to read and edit your book, invite them to be a beta reader.

You wouldn’t want someone to deliver your baby if they’d never done it before, so why would you want less for your book-baby?

Final Tips

Find a happy client before hiring an editor and talk to the author about the editor’s style.

Ask for a sample edit before you hire. Be willing to pay multiple editors to “test” each one so you can be sure you’ve found the right person for your project. You may discover one editor has an eye for developmental changes while another is more attuned to grammar.

Whoever you hire, consider including their name in the credits section of your book. They’ll do better work if their name is associated with the book, and you’ll be able to properly acknowledge their work on your project.

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