All authors need a good book editor to look over their novels—it is a fact that no one is perfect, no manuscript is impeccable, and a well-trained editor will always find errors. So how can you be sure you’ve found the right editor, with the right skills, at the right price? Well, you can start out by asking the editor these 8 questions.
1. What genre do you usually edit?
Most book editors specialize in genres. If your editor doesn’t usually edit books in your genre, then they are not a good fit.
2. How many books have you edited, and what are they?
This gives you a chance to see the editor’s past work and to take a look at the books they’ve edited. Are those books in a the same genre from yours? Does the writing seem clean (well edited)? Do the books have good reviews?
3. What editorial training have you received?
Not just anyone can be an editor, despite the popular belief that a love of reading makes you an editor. Real editors should have some kind of training: that can be formal training in college or night classes, or on-the-job training under a supervisor in a publishing house. A reader may find a few typos, but they are not going to find as many grammar issues or typos as someone who has training.
4. What kind of editing do you do?
There are three main types of editors, and they are known by a variety of labels. We call them developmental editors (these help you write the book), substantive editors (they check plot line, characters, story flow, etc.) and copy editors (they check grammar, punctuation, word choice, and sentence structure). You want to make sure you get the right type of editor that your book needs. We suggest at least getting a substantive editor and a copy editor—check out our blog post here for more information on types of editors.
5. How much do you charge and how will you charge me?
Some book editors charge by word, others by hour. Even if they charge by word, it’s usually a price range because they don’t know how much editing your book needs. Most editors will ask to see a sample of your book to determine how much to charge you. Authors differ vastly in how much polishing they need. Some editors will have a contract they send you with terms and conditions: this is actually a good thing because it keeps you both safe and establishes ground rules.
6. How will you do your edits?
Most editors edit in Microsoft Word using Track Changes. Make sure you’re both on the same page about what software is required.
7. Can I see a sample of your work?
All editors should have a portfolio of their work and are able to send you samples. If you want, you can ask them to edit the first couple chapters of your book to see if their editing is satisfactory to you (and for them to see if they like your style!). One author I know recently gave a sample to a new copy editor she was trying out, and this person came back with only two typos in the first five chapters. Another editor found several dozen things that needed fixing within the same five chapters. Needless to say, she was happy she didn’t agree to have the entire book edited by this person. (Good copy editors should be finding 80+ percent of the errors in a book. No one will ever find them all, but generally three separate editors will find almost everything.)
8. Will you send me some references?
Just like any other potential employee, editors should be able to provide references of authors whose manuscripts they have edited. Feel free to call or email the other author and ask them about their experience with that editor.
What questions do you ask a book editor before deciding to hire them? We’d love to hear in the comments below.