How to Hire an Editor
In the first part of this two-parter about editing your book, we looked at what kind of editor you need, and also where to find one. We now dive into the hiring process and what I recommend you do. I’ve hired from the outsourcing sites, I’ve hired from recommendations and I’ve learned a few things along the way.
Since we know that not all editors are created equal, we know that hiring the right editor means hiring the right editor for you.
First Impressions Are Everything
We want to work with people we get along with, who are highly competent in their area. Don’t be fooled into thinking attitude doesn’t matter and that skills are everything.
If your values and approach don’t align with those of your editor, then your work won’t be treated with the care and respect it deserves. First impressions do indeed matter.
But let’s have a look at what that means so that your early dealings with a prospective hire will help you determine who is the perfect person for the job.
Do they ask questions?
You want someone who is interested and asks intelligent questions. Not just questions about the manuscript, the job, and the payment – that should go without saying. No, beyond that, a good editor wants to know something about you.
They’ll ask what you’re aiming for with this book. What drives you, what do you want in a finished product, and what do you want in an editor?
Are they realistic?
If your potential editor spends too much time complimenting you and your work, instead of offering thoughtful insights and constructive criticism, then chances are they have their minds on the money, not the work.
Your editor should be realistic about the quality of your work.
It’s better to get an honest assessment than someone who’s going to tell you that you have the next number one bestseller on your hands. Nice as it is to be flattered, look for brisk professionalism over empty compliments.
Are their interests your interests?
You and your editor don’t have to share a love for baking, tennis, and long-form poetry, but somewhere along the way your interests, passions and values have to align for you to get the best out of each other.
Make sure they have some kind of interest in, or knowledge of the topic you’re writing about. Otherwise it could be a huge chore for both of you. Your editor(s) don’t have to have in-depth knowledge into the causes of diabetes in pre-teens, but it will make for a better relationship, and a better book, if they have some health or medical editing experience, as well as a general interest in your subject.
Are They Reliable?
Oh so important when hiring anyone! You’re probably on a tight deadline and you want someone to be realistic about deadlines, and then stick to them.
When you communicate with your potential editor, check in with yourself that they seem reliable. Do they return your calls or emails promptly? Do they come back to you with the quote or the first few pages when they said they would?
You can’t expect someone to be waiting by the phone for your every call – a good editor is going to be a busy editor — but they do need to show a certain level of effective time management and prioritisation. If someone can’t return your call within a day, how are you going to trust them to return your manuscript before an important deadline?
Before You Hire
Now you’ve established that the initial relationship is likely to be good, the next step when you hire an editor is to test their technical skills.
The Sample Edit
A sample edit is the best way (the only way in my opinion) to test the waters with a new or potential editor — or in fact any freelancer you hire.
Some editors will offer to edit a couple of pages free of charge, or as part of the process of giving you a quote. And if they don’t then you should either ask, or be prepared to pay for him or her to edit a couple of pages for you.
This will be pretty inexpensive (around $25), and gives both of you the chance to see whether working together is a fit. Both from a professional stand point, and from a working relationship.
And if you’re short-listing or selecting between a couple of people, then it’s worth doing a sample edit with each of them to see who does the best (the right) job for you.
You want to look out for:
Timing – do they get it back to you within the agreed deadline?
Suggestions – are their suggestions original and in keeping with your vision for the work?
Reasoning – does the editor provide a reason for his or her suggestions that make sense so you can see their thought processes?
Flexibility – are they offering you suggestions or prescriptions? Ultimately it’s your book and you have creative control.
Consistency – are they working to a consistent set of editorial guidelines? You might not require Chicago Manual of Style, but you do want your editor to be internally consistent about capitalisation, punctuation, heading style, etc, etc. That, after all, is their job.
How Much Does It Cost?
Ah, the big question!
You’ll find there’s a huge range for editing services. It depends what kind of editing you need, their skill, reputation, and also whether they’re charging per word, per page, per hour, or according to a quoted fee.
I like to work on a fixed fee quote and that’s the one advantage of the sample edit — your editor gets to see the work and can give you a fixed quote or, at least, a fair estimate of hours, so that neither of you is surprised by the amount of work, how long it takes, and how much it costs.
You’d expect this to depend on the complexity of your book, its length, your proposed deadline, and the extent of edits required.
What to Pay an Editor
Given the variables between editors, all we can do is offer some guidelines.
Developmental editors cost between 2 and 6 cents per word, or between $40 and $70 per hour, working at approximately eight pages per hour. However, an experienced developmental editor, who’s going to be working with you throughout the book process, could cost you anything upwards of $3,000.
Copy editors charge between 2 and 4 cents per word, or $30 – $40 per hour at a similar page rate to developmental editors. You can expect a copy editor to do a sample edit and quote you a fee for the job. I much prefer this over paying an hourly rate and it helps the editor because she (or he) gets to see what’s involved before they start.
Proofreaders charge around .75 to 2 cents per word, or $25 to $35 per hour with an approximate page rate of 10 pages per hour. You’re more likely to be charged by the word or the page by a proofreader, just because it’s that final quality check. Your proofreader isn’t checking structure or flow, although you can combine the copyedit and the proofreading stages to get that in one person.
In my opinion, it’s best to ask for a single price for the whole job. This makes the editor complicit in your success or failure because he or she is part of a ‘project’ not just an hourly paid worker.
It gives you the comfort of knowing there shouldn’t be any unexpected price hikes, and deadlines are more likely to be met because you all know what’s involved.
And think value, not hours.
Your book will represent you and your business for years to come. What’s that worth?
And then there’s your expected earnings – both monetary and reputation. If you’re writing your book to position you and your business, remember that a well-structured book is more likely to win you that client, and help you secure that speaking opportunity.
However, be mindful of your budget and, starting out, be prepared to spend a bit more time looking for someone who’s also early in their career who might be prepared to quote a little less.
Your rule of thumb should be simple — if you’re comfortable with the editor’s skills and you’re comfortable with the price, then you’ve probably got the right person at a fair price.
Don’t over-think it.
There’s No Need to Rush
To make this work, spend as much time as you need looking for the right editor. This might be a relationship that lasts for years; it’s worth it.
Don’t rush into hiring the first (or the cheapest) person. Shop around. Get samples. Take the time to communicate, share your work, and have an actual conversation (phone or Skype is fine) to get a feel for how they work and whether they’re a fit for you.
Make sure you’re comfortable with your choice of editor and their proposed price before you sign up to anything.
It’s What’s Right For You
Finding the right editor for you and your book is one of the most important choices of your writing career. The right editor can make your content shine, whilst a bad one can make the whole experience painful and frustrating.
In saying that, the most important thing is that you do have an editor.
You can do the self-editing, make all the changes you want to but, in the end, an editor with a professional eye and a different skill set to you will make your book better, and save you from reviewers who criticise your spelling and grammar.
It’s Not A Democracy
You and your editor will never agree on everything. In fact, it wouldn’t be a true publishing experience if you didn’t have at least one altercation.
But remember: you are paying them to disagree with you. To correct you. To make you sound smarter, sleeker, and generally just better than you actually are.
Trust them, and trust yourself, and you will come out the other side with a fantastic book and – hopefully – a lifelong relationship with someone you trust and respect.
What’s your experience been with hiring editors? Have you found the right person? And what tips can you share with us?