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10 questions to ask before hiring an editor for your book manuscript

Hiring an editor feels like a daunting prospect to most aspiring authors. Choosing the right editorial professional can be a critical and costly step. Certain criteria come into play, as the writer evaluates potential candidates.

Consider these 10 key questions before picking an editor for your pre-published book.

Frequently, professional editors will present much of this information on their websites or in their own promotional materials. If not, these queries merit discussion.

1. What is the editor's educational background?

What degrees does the editor possess? In what fields? An archaeology degree might be useful, if you are offering a book on Roman ruins. But an academic background in journalism, literature, or writing is likely to apply more to hands-on editing.

2. What relevant experience does the editor possess?

Professional experience is critical.  On what sorts of projects has the editor worked? A fiction editor may not be ready to tackle a medical treatise. A technical editor might be less-than-equipped to polish poetry. And a textbook editor could be at a loss to evaluate a novel’s plotline, dialogue, scene descriptions, or character development.

3. Is the editor willing and able to provide samples?

Sample works are a must, including published works. Ideally, the editor is also able to provide actual mark-ups, so you can see what sorts of changes he or she is likely to make on a manuscript. Do the editorial changes focus on facts, grammar, typographical errors, or other concerns?

4. What services does the editor offer?

Editing services may include content correction, fact-checking, and preparation for production. Proofreading may be separate. Not every editor offers proofreading, and not all proofreaders edit. It pays to ask ahead of time.

5. Will the editor present client references?

An experienced editor ought to be willing to offer names and contact information of previous clients, who can attest to his or her abilities and quality of service.

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6. Who are the editor's existing clients?

Here’s another key concern. It’s a good idea to find out who an editor’s current clients are, even just to eliminate the possibility of a conflict of interest or confusion. If your book focuses on a specific topic (such as a current event, a how-to, or a pinpointed fiction niche), you will want to know your editor won’t juggling two very similar projects.

7. Will the editor agree to a written contract?

The days of the simple handshake or verbal agreement are long gone. A written contract should be a basic assumption for professional editorial services. You may want to be leery of any editor unwilling to take this step.

8. Does the editor agree to clear deadlines?

The calendar counts. Even if you’ve been working on your beloved manuscript for years, pinning down the editor to actual dates is a reasonable expectation. Exact dates for completing various steps of the editing process should go in the written contract.

9. Can the editor stick to confidentiality?

This should also be spelled out in the contact. Your pre-published book is your secret, and the editor must keep it so.

10. Does the editor's pricing seem legitimate and reasonable?

Exact pricing for manuscript editing may be hard to pinpoint. Some editors charge by the page, while others bill by the hour. Ask around, and do some online research to find current price ranges. A too-cheap editor is a red flag, but a too-costly one may be risky as well.

Where can you find a suitable editor?

Networking is essential. Ask other authors for referrals. Check with a respected literary agent. Inquire with any publishing contacts you might have. Then double-check details, researching each name you receive.

What about asking for free editing?

Asking a friend to read a manuscript for free could be somewhat helpful, particularly in the early stages. Begging a local creative writing teacher, literature professor, or journalist for a read-through can be useful too. (Warning: These options may be off-putting. Plenty of wordsmith types don’t actually welcome such time-consuming and possibly awkward requests.) But, if you find someone who is both good with words and willing to pore over your pages, it might be worthwhile.

Hey, an extra set of eyes usually can’t hurt, right?

Maybe not. However, plenty of authors can relate stories of receiving all manner of inappropriate content comments and suggestions from fellow writers, writing groups, and free readers. More than a few have been surprised to find actual editors undoing the specific changes these folks made, based on input from their own amateur friends and colleagues.

Plus, these freebie editing options usually cannot compare to the scrutiny, objectivity, and thoroughness a skilled and trained professional editor can provide. In many cases, the expenditure may be well worth it.

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