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So you want/need to work with an editor?

Here’s how to find one and what to expect from the process.

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Writing and editing are inseparable endeavors. As much as we all wish our first drafts were our best work, they’re usually not. Even our second and third drafts can miss the mark. We can self-edit ad infinitum; we can stalk critique groups; we can beg our besties to read our manuscripts and tell us what they think. Ultimately, though, many writers decide it’s time to hire a professional. 

Enter the independent editor.

Finding your ideal editor

An editor’s primary job is to make your words shine and to make you even more brilliantly you on the page. (An editor who wants to steal the spotlight would be better off writing, not editing.) In addition to finessing your prose, your ideal editor will also be your cheerleader. That’s not to say that editors should be “yes-people” – quite the contrary. Editors are paid to be nitpicky and corrective. But you’ll want to find an editor who resonates with your work and voice and who shares your passion about your project. Someone who gets you, who polishes your words because of a drive to help you put your best ideas forward. It’s quite possible that your editor will be the first person aside from you to lay eyeballs on your writing, and that can be a scary thing. (Or exhilarating.) Sharing your work with the intent of receiving sometimes-hard-to-hear feedback is an intimate proposition, and both trust and mutual interest are paramount. 

If you know any writers who have worked with editors they found to be invaluable, a word-of-mouth recommendation is your best bet.

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With all of this in mind, how do you find your ideal match? If you know any writers who have worked with editors they found to be invaluable, a word-of-mouth recommendation is your best bet. (Assuming their editor works with your genre.) Ask around at local writing groups and online groups. Writing conferences often feature editors as both attendees and speakers and provide opportunities to connect, or you can sift through reviews on platforms like Reedsy, Fiverr, Upwork, etc. Many editorial professionals – editors, graphic designers, indexers, cover artists – hang their shingles on those virtual marketplaces. Some also have their own websites that detail their services and work experience.

Get a rough idea of what kinds of genres individual editors focus on and contact those whose interests match yours. What have they worked on in the past? Do they have life experiences or scholarly expertise that you feel would help them connect with your project? Maybe they’ve written about a topic similar to yours, or they belong to organizations or community groups that align with what you’re writing about. Perhaps you feel strongly about hiring an editor who has worked for a large publisher or one who is a traditionally published author. Looking for an editor is kind of like looking for a date – you want to have some things in common right off the bat. You also want to get some fresh perspectives from your relationship, so choose an editor who makes you feel comfortable when you communicate and ask questions.

Once you’ve contacted a prospective editor and the editor has conveyed a clear interest in your project, feel free to ask for a paid sample edit. This will give you a chance to see how the editor goes about communicating in the margins. Does the editor have thoughtful suggestions and feedback? If any clarifications are needed, does the editor ask for them in a respectful and professional manner? Bear in mind that a sample is typically only a few pages (five at most), so a sample edit cannot possibly represent the full value that an editor brings to the table. If you want to get a richer idea of how an editor works and how well your styles and personality mesh, you might want to pay for a relatively short amount of your work to be edited – say, the first 10,000 words rather than the full manuscript. This is a lower-cost way to vet the experience of working with a given editor thoroughly. 

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