How do I find a reputable editor?
So, you’ve completed your draft manuscript, and you’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in a professional editor. Congratulations! But how do you know who’s legitimate and who isn’t? It’s an unregulated industry, after all, so anyone can set up shop and claim to be an editor. And sadly, not everyone is reputable.
Here are a few tips to help you find the best editor for you, and a few pitfalls to look out for.
What research can I do online?
It’s certainly not obligatory, but many editors are members of professional organisations: for example, the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) and ACES in the US, the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI) in Ireland, Editors Canada, and the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) in the UK. I’m a member of more than one of these, but I’m particularly proud to be an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, which, thanks to their tiered membership structure, means that I’ve jumped through a lot of hoops and have had to demonstrate my skills and experience in order to be approved. With this comes a sense of security for all potential clients because, like all CIEP members, I abide by their Code of Conduct. Many of these organisations have active forums and supportive communities, so if you see a prospective editor is a member of one or more of these groups, the chances are they’re active within the editing community, and that will have numerous benefits for you too.
Many editors have their own websites, and you can often get a feel for their personality this way. Professional organisations such as the CIEP also have directories, and really, you can’t go wrong if you choose someone who’s listed there. If you’re planning to self-publish, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is another good source. Their partner members, of which I’m one, are all vetted. There are also several Facebook groups, such as Ask A Book Editor, where you can interact with different editors and get advice on various topics.
A word of warning: be extra vigilant of websites such as Upwork and Fivrr. Quality control is lacking, and often it’s a race to the bottom. If you see a rate that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone can advertise on these sites, so again, check their training and credentials before committing. And while Reedsy offer a lot of free and helpful resources to attract new clients, they take a hefty percentage from both author and editor. Another little-known fact is that editors who work primarily for self-publishers are not accepted to advertise on Reedsy, whereas those with traditional publishing experience are allowed to advertise regardless of experience in a particular area, so be sure to double-check whatever aspects are important to you. These platforms also filter communication between the author and editor, which is why you will only find me here or via the CIEP, ALLi and ACES directories.
Why is training important?
Maybe your mother was an English teacher and has said she’ll take a look at your manuscript for you? Or there’s that friend at work who’s great at spotting typos or simply happens to be English? Well, there’s no way around it; editing and proofreading are skills that require training. It’s very much a question of you don’t know what you don’t know … until you know (if you know what I mean). A keen eye is a wonderful thing, as is enthusiasm, but if you’ve ever had to pick up the pieces after an enthusiastic amateur – dodgy DIY, for example – you’ll know how much work that can result in. Friends and family are generally nice people and well meaning, too, but while praise is always confidence boosting, it isn’t likely to help you to take your work to the next level. Training is essential, as is an impartial viewpoint.
Recognised training organisations include the CIEP and Publishing Training Centre (PTC) (UK), EFA, ACES and UC San Diego (US), and Queen’s University (Canada). Basic training in proofreading or copyediting is often built upon with specialist training in areas such as academic, legal or fiction editing. Check out potential editors’ websites or directory entries, and have a look at their training and qualifications. A professional editor takes continuing professional development seriously too, because we’re always learning. CPD is vital to staying at the top of your game. Language is in a constant state of flux and evolution, and attending conferences and webinars enables editors to stay up to date with current trends.
Editing and proofreading is a profession, not a hobby, in the same way that plumbing or teaching or numerous other services are. So why would you not expect the same level of professionalism and skill?
How can I check an editor's previous work?
You may have been told you should ask to see editing samples of previous works, but if so, you’ve been ill-advised. Very few editors will do this. Client confidentiality is of the utmost importance, and it would be unethical of me to share the ‘before and after’ of editing. This is where testimonials come into play. Many editors also have a portfolio of the various books they’ve worked on. However, many, myself included, don’t indicate the particular level of editing as often the lines can be blurred, and bear in mind there may have been subsequent editorial input.
There are numerous reasons why using the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, or even purchasing a book, is not a good judgement of an editor’s skills. An author is under no obligation to accept any changes advised by the editor; the manuscript may not have had the number of editing passes that it ideally needed; the book may not have been professionally proofread … and so on. And of course it’s impossible to know what shape the original manuscript was in.
Testimonials and repeat clients are reliable indicators. Also, most editors have their niches and areas of interest and expertise (usually mentioned on their website or directory entry), so see if these align with your manuscript or if you have some common ground that you can build on. If something sparks a connection, no matter how small, that can be the foundation of a great working relationship. I know that many random things – such as my years of music industry experience and subsequent living aboard a sailing yacht in various European countries – have resulted in rewarding and enduring working relationships with authors, who have since become not only repeat clients but friends.
Should an editor offer a free sample edit?
When it comes to sample edits, there’s a lot of difference of opinion. Certain types of editing, such as developmental or heavy line editing, are highly involved and require familiarity with the whole manuscript in order to provide a representative sample, which clearly isn’t feasible. Also, it’s up to the individual editor if they want to charge for a sample edit or offer one for free. Some advice in writers’ groups is to send the same sample to numerous editors, or – and please don’t ever do this if you’re reading – add in some errors as a test. Often, for a variety of reasons, editors prefer to choose the sample themselves, and they may have differing limits on the sample size. There is no right or wrong way, but it certainly shouldn’t be assumed that an editor has to do a sample edit, or that it will be free.
A sample edit can be useful – if you’re looking for a copy editor, for example – but it isn’t the only way to gauge whether an editor is going to be the best fit for you. It can be an intimate and lengthy working relationship, and you will likely end up going with your gut instinct. It’s a two-way street, and I want to be sure I’m going to enjoy working with you as well. We all know we get a vibe from initial email correspondence, and that’s especially true here.
What else should I ask?
There are a few questions you can ask yourself first, which may help to streamline your enquiries.
- Do you know what type of editing you’re looking for? If you’re not sure, you may find this guide helpful. Most editors will be happy to advise, but remember, not everyone offers each stage of editing, so be sure to check before enquiring about a particular service.
- Do you plan to self-publish, or approach agents and follow the traditional route? Some editors offer additional services or have experience that you may find beneficial further down the line.
- What do you hope to gain from working with an editor? If you want to learn and improve your writing craft, for example, then your search is likely to be different from that of someone looking primarily for grammar and spelling correction.
- How flexible is your timescale? Many editors are booked up several months in advance, and editing is not something that can be rushed. If speed is your priority or you have a fixed deadline, then you will need to find an editor who can accommodate this.
- Does the editor or proofreader have experience in your particular genre? It’s important that they are familiar with reader expectations and genre conventions.
- If your content is specialist, you may be more comfortable with an editor who has some knowledge of the subject matter.
- Do they work in your regional variation of English? Does your manuscript include some highly localised content that requires a certain understanding of geographical knowledge or idioms, for example?
- How many passes are included? How much subsequent feedback or communication is available? Do they have terms and conditions that you can see in advance?
- Do you have any concerns? If you haven’t worked with an editor before, you may have all sorts of questions, and now’s a great time to ask.
It’s a big decision and it’s important that you make the right one, so take your time. And out of courtesy, please let those you’ve contacted know if you decide to go with someone else. Good luck!
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