Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tips When Hiring an Editor

By Donnell Ann Bell

With the publishing doors bursting wide open these days, I, like everyone else, am curious about self-publishing. To that end, I’ve been researching DIY topics, including hiring of an editor. Still, just as anyone can self-publish, anyone can hang up a shingle these days and say, “I’m an editor and I’m open for business.” Never has caveat emptor been so important to an author.   

If you’re considering self-publishing, following are some interview questions you might consider when choosing an editor: 

1)      How long have you been an editor and what is your educational and professional background?

Here I must remind you that while length of time in the business and education are important, this is a foundation question and merely the grout to your first layer before you add bricks to your decision-making. 

Ten years, and a Masters in English Literature may sound impressive, but where have they put their editing skills to work? Have they worked in the publishing industry or have they worked in the field of journalism? Have they edited fiction or have they edited newspapers and magazines? There is a difference, you know. (Note:  I came from a journalism background—thought it would be a breeze when I turned to fiction. Wrong. In journalism, we’re taught to not editorialize. Fiction is all about emotion and how your characters feel.)

2)      After you’ve become impressed with an editor’s initial background, your second question might be: What genres do you specialize in and what genres do you enjoy reading?

Editing is editing, right? Au, contraire! If you’re writing fantasy and your editor specializes in historical fiction, she might be an excellent editor, just not the right editor for you. The second part of this question is important, also. If the genre you’re writing isn’t in your potential editor’s stable of nightstand material, my suggestion is to run, do not walk away from this person, and continue your search. 

3)      My goal is to submit to Publisher XX.  If I hire you, are you familiar with that publisher’s style sheet and guidelines? If not, are you willing to familiarize yourself with its guidelines before I hire you?

The fact that an editor might not be familiar with a publishing house’s guidelines should not be your foremost concern. Whether or not they are willing to do their homework and give your manuscript the best chance of succeeding should entirely be of interest to you.

4)      When editing, what do you focus on?

     a)      Grammar and punctuation
     b)      Author follow-through, e.g. threads to the story to ensure continuity
     c)       Logic and fact checking. (Is what I’m writing logical in the world I’ve created and will you note passages and text that leave you in doubt?)
     d)      Pacing, redundancy and repetition
     e)      Awkward phrasing 

5)       How busy are you? When I give you my work, how soon may I expect to see edits?

Careful here. Just as you want to give your editor polished material to work with, (and you never want to give your editor anything less than what you consider your best ) you want your editor to return an even more polished edit. Just as writers miss deadlines, editors do, also. They have emergencies and life can get in the way. This is a great question to ask their references (No. 7 below).   

6)      Will we sign a contract?

This may seem overcautious, but writers and editors need to protect themselves in the event that one or both fail to meet any or all of the specified agreement(s). However, just as some agents refuse to sign contracts, some editors do as well. What should you do in that event? (No. 7 below. Check their references.)

7)      Do you provide references?  How many of your references are return clients?

I think the first part of this question speaks for itself, and my advice—don’t do it.   

As for Part two, if an author uses an editor once, but has numerous other work out since that particular release date, I’d want to know why, wouldn’t you? Could be something as innocent as the editor had too many clients at the time of author’s release or maybe he was taking a sabbatical. Still, repeat clients speak volumes.

8)       Do you offer examples of the editing you will provide?

Some editors provide a sample of their services, e.g. the first 30 to 60 pages, (paid of course—you don’t want to give away your writing for free; an editor doesn’t either). A sample edit gives clues to both the author and the editor that they’re likely entering into a compatible working relationship. 

9)      What are your fees?

Shocked that I asked this question last? It’s up to you, of course. You may ask it whenever you wish.  But if money is the end-all as to whether you hire this person, you’re in the wrong business. Of course you have a budget and the editor might be out of your reach. You’re free to walk away and look elsewhere at that point. But you truly get what you pay for—particularly in this highly competitive business.

About the Author: Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart® finalist who previously worked for a weekly business newspaper and a parenting magazine. Her debut novel The Past Came Hunting became an Amazon bestseller, reaching as high as #6 on the paid overall list. Her second book, Deadly Recall, brought to you by Bell Bridge Books, reached #1 on Amazon. Learn more about Donnell at