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  • Lyndsey Smith

Choosing the Right Editor for You, Not Just Your Manuscript

I recently had two separate clients mention that finding an editor was very similar to finding the right hairdresser. This gave me pause. How could finding a hairdresser be anything like finding the right editor? Surely finding an editor is a much more lengthy and crucial process, isn't it? Yes, the wrong hairdresser can be dangerous, but hair is just hair; it grows back out.


Right?


Not exactly.


When you move a few towns over and are looking for a new hairdresser, you may ask the people you work with or local Facebook groups for recommendations. You choose one and make an appointment, but on the day of, you hesitatingly and awkwardly climb onto the chair. I'm fairly short, 5'2, so I literally climb into it, much to my hairdresser's amusement, I assure you. The rest of you may just straddle the footrest and sink back into the plastic, but you understand the imagery. The hairdresser wraps the cape around your neck, pulls it snug, and asks what style you're going with that day.


The spotlight is on you. It's up to you to convey your wants, your needs, and your truth. Anything less and you'll be walking out of that salon disappointed, dejected, and uninspired. But when you find the hairdresser that gets you, that connects with you, you float, a new you ready to tackle whatever's thrown your way.


The right editor is like that.


But how do you find them?


The Real Deal


Go to any Facebook author's group and post, "Looking for an Editor <insert smiley face emoji>." Watch just how many responses you get. It's not much different from throwing a bucket of chum into shark-infested waters. The very sad part is that the majority of responses a new author gets are actual sharks - editorial "companies", vanity presses, or unqualified individuals. Let me give you a few examples.


One gentleman posted that he hired an editor from Fiverr, paid only $100 for a full-novel edit. He thought that the individual having five orders in queue meant they were in demand, well-known in the industry, good at what they did. He proudly posted a screenshot of the front of his novel and a random page from the middle in an author's group. Sounds like a great deal, right? Except it wasn't. That page he proudly posted had multiple glaring errors. That was only one page out of 170+.


Another gentleman posted a frantic S.O.S. in another author's group. An "editor" he hired to edit and format his novel had actually published his novel under their Amazon KDP account using his name but a different book title. They demanded a ransom of over $600 for the work they had done between editing, cover art, and publication. The cover they supplied was a generic pre-designed cover from Canva, free for use. The only editing that had been done to the novel was a title change. This gentleman had to accrue additional legal fees and multiple hours spent with KDP to regain control of the rights to his own work.


So how do you avoid this?


1. Avoid platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. Though I personally know a couple of legitimate editors who list their services on these platforms, I still advise authors to avoid them. Neither verifies the credentials of those offering their services. I have even had a representative from Fiverr tell me that they do not hold their service providers to any standard, quality of services rendered not guaranteed. That should be a red flag. What do these service providers have to lose from offering you a subpar edit?


If you're only comfortable using a platform service, I would recommend Reedsy. Their approval process is quite stringent. However, note that they do frequently turn away qualified editors because of the sheer number of editors already listed on their platform. Also, multiple editors, like myself, choose to exclusively freelance instead of listing themselves with Reedsy because the platform takes 20% of the editing fee. That $800 edit you just paid for cost your editor $160, plus taxes.


2. If your potential editor is speaking negatively about the other editors in the group, run. I cannot stress this enough. I'm part of an editors alliance group where we often joke, encourage, support, and advise each other. It's a community, a fellowship. They're my coworkers. I look to them for assistance and to recommend clients to if I cannot take on an edit during an author's preferred timeframe.


In an author group, I saw an editor claim to have a masters and doctorate in English. She specifically said she was more qualified than any other editor in the forum, stated any editor who charged industry standard prices was a scam, not to be trusted, did not have the author's best interests at heart. All very damning, wouldn't you agree? However, this editor was also an author.


A quick peek at the books she published showed reviews riddled with concerns about the grammar quality, pleas for the author to hire a developmental editor because her narrative arc was inconsistent and underdeveloped. This editor may have a substantial English background, but she did not have the expertise to work with and advise authors. To compensate for this, she priced herself well below the standard to tempt new authors and deflected her own quality issues onto the other editors in the group by attempting to discredit them.


A business that promoted itself as a publishing company asked an author for $1400 for editing and publishing services. The author asked in an author's group if that price was fair. Multiple people in the group told the author that the publishing company was obviously a vanity press. A representative of the company replied to the thread, stating that anyone speaking disparagingly about the business had obviously never worked with them before, simply did not understand the publishing process. I looked up the representative, who claimed to be an author with books published under this company. The author had two books out, published in 2019 and 2020, with zero reviews on each yet was advertising book marketing services as part of the publishing package. He claimed to have a nationwide book tour scheduled with Barnes & Noble, could get this same sort of deal for any author who worked with his company, yet his book listed on Barnes & Nobles' platform also had no reviews and was not physically available in any of their stores. He preyed on the author's hopes, made unattainable promises based on an author's dreams, in order to make a profit.


These individuals and businesses gaslight you into believing that the true professionals in the industry only charge what they do in order to scam you. They claim to provide a full publishing package, much like what you'd find with a traditional publisher, for the low, low price of a few thousand dollars.


A professional editor attempting to warn you about a potential scam is not the same thing as speaking badly about others in the profession. If an editor is telling you that you are being scammed and is offering to show you why or is providing you with evidence, listen to them. It just might save you time, money, and your reputation.


3. If they offer to edit your novel for a price much lower than industry standard without justification for doing so, run.


I feel I should elaborate more on this. There are some instances where someone charging a low price is not indicative of quality concerns. If an editor is new to the industry and is charging minimal prices to build their portfolio, this might be a great deal! If an editor is looking to gain more genre exposure, which I have done a few times myself, they might offer a promotional price or even a free edit.


When someone offers a low quote for editing, check that there are no red flags in any other areas. Do they have a website? Do they offer a contract? Do they have testimonials? Do they have a list of published works and authors they edited for? Do they offer a sample edit? Are they forthcoming about their experience? Do they have credentials? Look at the entire package, not just the price tag. An editor who is the real deal will check most, if not all, of these boxes.

Portfolio


An editor's portfolio is important to research; however, you have to know what you're really looking for.


Does the editor have best-selling books or novels on their portfolio? That's great! But it often has nothing to do with the editor. I recently came across someone who claimed to be a best-selling author. And she was! Her self-help book on surviving domestic violence was a best seller - in the construction law category. She had placed her book in a category that had very limited use and audience so that the number of novels she sold, no matter how minimal, would carry a heavier weight. Not a very ethical way of climbing the charts, but I digress.


Many editors have their portfolios displayed on their websites. When you go to those individual books or novels on Amazon, read the reviews. Do the reviews mention a storyline that meets genre expectations, appropriate hooks and endings? This might be indicative of a fantastic developmental edit. Do the reviews mention word flow and syntax that keeps the reader engaged? This might be indicative of a knowledgable line or copy editor.


If a novel's reviews have one comment discussing editing issues, there may be a possibility that the reviewer was not knowledgeable themselves. It does happen! In that case, look at the Look Inside and judge for yourself. On the other hand, if there are multiple reviews to that regard, editing genuinely may have been an issue.


Ask the editor what services they provided for any of the books on the portfolio that interest you. The level of the editing service provided by the editor is indicative of how much of a role the editor had in the finished product.


How a novel sells or how it ranks in the charts is only indicative of that particular author's marketing efforts. If that author did not have a marketing strategy targeting the appropriate reader audience, no matter how wonderful of a job the editor did, that novel would not sell well. Do not discredit an editor for an author's responsibility, and likewise, do not give the editor credit for it. Samples


Though I mentioned sample edits as one factor that will help you determine a legitimate editor from one who is not, it is important to also discuss the different nuances of sample edits, especially since you'll see a lot of well-meaning but erroneous advice on author forums. For instance, some editors who have an established client base with minimal scheduling time available for new clients may not provide sample edits. Others may charge a fee comparable to their per-word editing rate. Often, they will subtract this fee from the overall project rate.


Some editors provide sample lengths of 500, 1,000, to 1,500 words. Others provide entire chapter edits. There are editors who request that the words be taken from the beginning of the novel, while others ask that the sample comes from the middle or the end.


I have seen the advice given in many author forums that you can demand a specific length of edit at no charge to you. If the editor refuses, then that editor is not someone you want to work with. Though I am sure those who give this advice have the best intentions, it often does not play out like this. There are not many professional editors with experience and expertise willing to do a complete chapter edit (average 2500+ words) for free because of the amount of time that this thorough of an edit on this length of sample would take.


Be willing to compromise with your editor, especially if the editor meets many of the other items in the checklist. If the editor has outstanding testimonials and their portfolio has consistent positive reviews, but they are unwilling to do more than a 500-1,000 word edit at no cost, it might be a concession worth making.


Also, be armed with the information that there are some levels of editing where an accurate sample is not possible. For instance, asking for a developmental edit sample for your manuscript, or a few chapters of it, will not give you the full perspective of how that editor will be able to elevate your work. The suggestions will not be in-depth for your narrative arc, and often the assumptions made by the editor concerning character development will be incorrect because they aren't privy to how the storylines unfold.


If you would like to have a developmental edit for your novel but are hesitant because of the projected costs, instead ask for a manuscript evaluation. This will not cover as much of the developmental issues in detail, but it will give you an average of three to five pages, maybe more, of material to work from. Plus, this will help give you a better developmental edit sample. Personally, I charge between $100-$300 for a manuscript evaluation, depending on the length of the novel, and deduct this cost from the developmental edit if the client chooses to move forward.


Investment


I understand budgetary concerns. I've been a first-time self-publishing author. I know the lump that catches in your throat when you start to add up the cover art, the marketing, and the editing costs.


I have heard some authors give the advice to avoid editors because you won't make back the costs, especially if you are self-publishing. I'm going to assume you want my honest opinion on this since you've read this far.


I agree.


For your first novel, you may not make back the money you spend on the cover or the professional edit.


Maybe not even for the second or third novel.


But as you build your reader base, work on collaborative newsletter promotions, and learn your way through marketing modules, your reputation as a self-publishing author with a fantastic story and seamless editing will mean that you have a greater possibility of converting those readers into loyal fans. As you build a reputation for a quality product, those readers will trust your pre-orders and your recommendations. Name recognition will build, which means you'll be asked to more anthologies and collaborations.


Readers can be brutal, and if your grammar or developmental issues were enough to disrupt the story, they will leave a review concerning it, often very negative. Enough of those alert other readers of potential issues, essentially losing future sales. This is not a chance that many new authors can afford to take if their intentions are to make writing a career.


My advice to authors is to gauge your novel's need for editing based on your goals for writing. Are you doing it for fun? Or are you doing it because you want to make a career of it? If the answer is the latter, if you see this as your business, can you afford to skip such a crucial protective step in the process? Yes, beta readers can catch a number of things. An experienced beta reader is phenomenal for finding narrative inconsistencies or character development holes. However, unless your beta reader is a trained editor who has offered to go above the expectation, beta readers are not an adequate replacement for a line or copy editor.


Also, please be wary of paying the entire amount of the edit upfront. I always advise my clients to pay half upfront and half upon completion. This protects both you and the editor until trust can be established.


Many editors are now even offering payment plans to help with the upfront costs of editing. We understand the unique struggles of the self-publishing community and are committed to doing our part to make sure you produce the best novel possible.


Make Sure the Editor is a Good Fit for You


Above all else, make sure the communication between you and your editor is such that you're comfortable discussing your manuscript and handling a difference of opinion. Though I will be discussing this in a future blog post because it does merit considerable discussion, I do want to mention it here as well.


When you hire an editor, that person is on your team. Your success is in fact their success. An editor should nourish that relationship with genuine, constructive feedback and provide the reasons behind their suggestions. If you meet a combative editor who is unwilling to explain their changes when you disagree with them, that editor is not a member of your team, and it is okay to walk away.


Also, be sure to look for an editor who is willing to do what is best for you as an author. It does not cost anything to be a good person.


I hope this helps! Look for more posts this week on the levels of editing and what to expect from each, as well as how to avoid friction when working with your editor.






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