Hello Writer, and welcome back to my life.
Today’s question comes to us from patron Kristen Stevens, who asks: “How do you find an editor that you trust?”
Simple question, not the simplest answer in the universe.
Finding an editor is maybe the most important decision in your career. It’s just vital. It’s like choosing a business partner or a spouse. And, as with decisions of similar importance, you should not rush into it.
Start by looking for recommendations. You are, or you should be, part of a community of writers, either IRL or online. One of their editors can be yours.
The wonderful thing about editing is that it doesn’t have to happen in person. You send them a Word document, and they send it back. Lovely.
So start out by talking to authors, finding the biggest and the best authors you can find. You want to talk to somebody who’s been doing this a while, who’s preferably published many books, and who’s used the same editor for several of those books, if not all of them.
Get their recommendations, find out who they work with, and then find out how fast those editors generally work and how much they charge for their work.
Obviously, you should never skimp on editing. Never go for the cheapest or the most cut-rate editor, because you’ll get cut-rate work.
The first editor I ever worked with charged around $400 per book. The edits were…let’s go with “not good.” I had to go and re-edit them all—paying the RIGHT price the second time. So just keep things like that in mind.
BUT, at the same time, you likely won’t start out with giant budgets of thousands of dollars to edit your books. So find what you can afford—but don’t settle on quality.
If an editor doesn’t do good work, it’s easy to find out. You can talk to others who may have worked with that person and find out what they’re like to work with, or you can get examples of their previous work.
If somebody is offering to edit your books for four or five hundred dollars, and you get a previous book they’ve edited, and it’s filled with mistakes, don’t hire that editor. Duh.
An editor like that might EVEN catch some of your grammar and spelling errors, but if you’re going to have to re-edit it anyway, why not just do it right the first time? Readers don’t care if you’ve got 3 errors per page vs. 5 per page—they’ll think you didn’t edit at all.
Side note: it’s important to specify what KIND of editor you’re looking for. Your first hire should be a copy editor, the person who finds your spelling, your grammar, your wrong words. (Mine is Karen Conlin, who goes by
@GramrgednAngel on Twitter).
If you ask around for an editor and get a developmental editor—who helps you with structure and broad-level story changes—you might still publish with spelling and grammar errors, and that’s just not good. So prioritize, and be very clear about what type of editor you are looking for.
So after searching awhile and getting a list of prospects, it’s time to see if you can actually work with one of these editors.
Any editor worth their salt will do an “audition” editing chapter for you. They’ll take the first chapter of your book—provided it’s not one of these, like, ten thousand word chapters—and they will edit it for free.
You can look at what they’ve changed and see if you agree with it, if it makes your writing better. (That’s your only criteria).
If you want to be super sneaky, you can also install, purposefully, little mistakes that you already KNOW you often do, writing tics and so on, especially if they’re very subtle mistakes, and see if the editor catches them.
I didn’t do that, but I’ve heard of people who have, and it could be effective at finding somebody who can deal with YOUR writing.
Anyway, I suggest you do “audition chapters” with multiple editors before choosing one. Evaluate whose work seems the best, the turnaround timeframe, and who communicates the best about what needs to be fixed.
And Antoine spoke with me during the editing process. He had found an editor through recommendations and had hired him for a very, very low rate.
And the editor took…quite a lot of time. Antoine wanted to know if that was sort of normal? I happened to know the editor, so I said, “No, it is not normal, and, if you want my opinion, don’t work with this person.”
And he didn’t. He found another editor and sampled his work with them. The communication was fast, it was professional, and deadlines were hit.
That’s what you want, even if you find a good editor for cheap.
If you’re gonna be stressed out, if the editor takes too long or misses their deadlines, if they’re not emailing you and letting you know what’s going on, it’s bad.
Don’t work with people like that. There’s plenty of professionals out there who want your money.
So we’ve mentioned budget, but I just want to stress, again, you don’t want to get cut-rate editing.
A good copy editor is gonna charge you, at a minimum, at least a cent per word, probably two cents per word, and up to five cents per word.
I know that that sounds expensive. And it kind of is. But you have to think about this in terms of a career.
If you’re starting a delivery service business, you have to buy a van. You have to fill it up with gas. Otherwise, you can’t deliver the product your business is supposed to deliver.
At two cents a word, an average novel costs around $1,600 to edit.
If your book doesn’t make at least five grand short-term and way more than that in your lifetime, how do you think you’re gonna build a business model?
Two grand seems like a whole lot when you’re first starting out—and it is!—but that book is going to exist forever. And it should earn, if you’re putting together a good business, quite a bit more than that.
So keep that perspective in mind when you’re looking at editing prices, and just don’t skimp!
There’s one more thing I want to highlight here.
You’ve shopped around. You found some editors, you’ve sampled their work, you found The One. You can afford them, they seem to work well with you, and they’ve been recommended by other authors.
It is now your duty as an author to remain as professional in your relationship with your editor, as your editor is with you.
Yes, you are hiring them. Yes, you are “the boss”.
But don’t be a douchebag.
Stay in contact with your editor. Let them know when projects are coming up, let them know as fast as you possibly can. Let them know when things change.
And do not—DO NOT!—do the thing that far too many indie authors do, of expecting your editor to do more work than you are actually hiring them for.
Some authors get their manuscript out and send it to the editor, the editor makes their edits and sends it back, the author makes their changes. So far so good.
But then some authors REWRITE whole sections of the book and send it back, saying, “Oh, can you check these, too, for free?”
To which the correct response is, “No. Pay me.”
There’s often SOME back and forth. But this is just egregious and exploitative.
Which brings up a good point: yes, you should contract out this work. You should make an exact agreement. This many words, this price, etc.
Once that agreement has been made, don’t expect more extra work for free.
Editors are amazing people. They are the foundations of our careers. Don’t mistreat them. Just don’t be an asshole.
If you’re a professional, if you treat them well, your editor will the springboard for you to reach your potential as an author.
You can’t do it without them, so it’s well worth the time and money investment finding and using the right editor for you.
Thanks to Kristen for this week’s question. It was a fun one to answer, and I hope everyone else found the answers helpful, as well.
Kristen and my other $5 patrons on Patreon get these videos two weeks in advance, and they’re the only ones who can request future topics.
Pitch in: https://www.patreon.com/garrettbrobinson
Thank you so much. I will see you next time. Byyye!