What to Do Before Hiring an Editor

If you’re self-publishing, finding the right editor is crucial. But even writers looking to be traditionally published should consider getting someone to take a look at their manuscript. With so much competition, publishers want manuscripts that are as developed as possible, so they can save time and money on the titles they do choose. Getting a good edit can give your manuscript a huge advantage when it comes to submitting.

However, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into and what you should expect. Edits can cost a large amount of money, so it’s important to make sure that the editor you choose is right for you and your manuscript.

Finish & Understand Your Manuscript

The first step is to finish your manuscript as much as possible. Editors quote based on time required, so the more polished your manuscript is, the more money you will save. Leonardo da Vinci stated, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” This is true, of course, but write until you have confidence in your manuscript.

You also need to know your manuscript from a marketing perspective. What is the genre? Where would it sit in a bookstore? Who is the target audience? Which parts of the writing style or structure are non-negotiable? Which parts of the novel are you happy with, and which parts need work?

Write a synopsis—this is useful for you as a writer to ensure that you understand your manuscript, and it’s also great to pass on to a prospective so that they can see your vision for the novel.

Understand Different Kinds of Edits

Not all edits are created equal, and not all manuscripts need all kinds of editing before submission. There are three key kinds of edits:

  • structural or substantive edit is an edit that looks at your novel from a big-picture, structural point of view. This means looking at plot, character, voice, style, theme and each chapter/section to make sure they work in the book. This can include moving paragraphs or chapters around or making other changes to the structure of the book.
  • copy or line edit is a sentence-by-sentence edit that makes sure the writing flows. This is an edit for style and voice, as well as basic grammar and spelling.
  • proofread looks only at spelling, grammar and punctuation.

While all of these can be useful to do before submission, remember that if your work does get published by a traditional publisher, it will usually go through all of these stages again.

Other forms of editing include a continuity edit, which is when someone checks for continuity errors, to make sure that the sword mentioned in Chapter 3 doesn’t disappear. You can also look at getting a manuscript assessment, which is when a writing professional looks at your work and gives you a written feedback report, and is usually cheaper than an edit.

Know Your Budget

It’s usually good to have an idea of your budget before you approach an editor, and if you’re going through an organisation such as a writers centre to find an editor, this is going to be one of the first questions they ask.

The cost of an edit completely depends on the manuscript itself as well as the editor, and it’s difficult to give a ballpark number. An editor can charge anywhere from $60-200 an hour, but even that is up for debate.

  • What have they edited before? What is their experience?
  • How have they calculated their quote?
  • Will you be involved at all in the process? Can you meet the editor for coffee/chat on the phone before moving forward?

Find The Right Person

Now’s the time to think about the kind of editor that would be right for your manuscript and your budget. Editors have all different kinds of backgrounds; some work or have worked in commercial publishing houses or with other professional publications, some have lots of experience in academia, educational or corporate writing, and some are freelancers with a background in editing.

The best thing for your manuscript is to find an editor that is experience in the same kind of writing, whether that be in genre, form or market (or all three). Literary fiction editors may not approach a gory thriller in the way that you want them to, and someone who usually edits speculative fiction may not have the experience to edit a verse novel.

Of course, editors with commercial publishing experience may be more expensive than a local freelancer. This is the stage where you need to weigh your budget and your manuscript’s needs to determine what you’re after. If you’re unsure, you can always contact your state writers centre to see if they know someone who might be right for your manuscript.

Do Your Research & Understand The Process

Before you commit to an editor or hand any money over, ask about their past projects, or contact a writer they have worked with before to get an idea of the process and the quality of their work. Get in touch with your state society of editors or writers centre to find out if they’ve heard of or worked with the editor before.

Unless the editor has a set rate per word, it can be a red flag if they do not ask to see the full manuscript before quoting. Most editors need to see the full work to understand exactly how much time and work it will take. Take note on whether the quote is final or subject to change, and request that they consult with you before spending extra billable time on the manuscript.

You can totally ask the editor if they’d be willing to have a coffee with you or a chat over the phone during the quoting stage to get an idea of how they’d approach the manuscript, and to see whether you’d click together. Ask them whether they are likely to consult you during the process, how they envision the manuscript to look like in the end, and their timeline.

Finally, understand the mechanics of the process. When will you need to pay? When will you receive the manuscript? Will there be discussions throughout the process? (Note that it is not necessarily a bad thing if the answer is no here). Is there a third party like a writers centre handling the money to protect you? Does the editor have public liability insurance? These questions both protect you and the editor—and make sure that you’ll be prepared for the whole process.

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