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9 Questions to Ask an Editor Before Hiring Them

Editing your novel is one of the most important tasks you can do prior to submitting it to potential publishers or literary agents. I hear a lot of “don’t worry about it, your publisher will handle editing your book,” but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. If you are lucky enough to acquire a publisher for your book, whether through a literary agent or directly, by not editing your novel first you’re projecting to the potential publisher/agent that you aren’t professional. That you don’t take your writing project seriously.

Now, I’m not saying you have to hire an editor for your book—you don’t. Some writers have been writing so long and have advanced degrees in writing, that they’re self-aware enough that they can edit their own work, at least to the point where their work is polished enough to submit. But that doesn’t hold true for a lot of beginning writers, including a lot of self-published authors. If you’re relatively new to the game (and even if you’re not), it may help to pay an editor to review your work prior to sending it out into the world.

But understand, not all editors are the same. Not all editors are going to work for you in terms of their skill level, their method(s) of communication, how they edit (meaning do they track changes, write detailed feedback, communicate with you on the phone/via email, etc.), and so on.

There are also different types of editing, including substantive editing (SE)/developmental editing (DE), line editing, structural editing (often considered part of SE/DE), copy editing, proofreading, and mechanical editing.

Here are 9 questions to ask an editor prior to hiring them to edit your book:

1. What type of editor are you?

a. If you’re looking for someone to tell you if your story is working, meaning the plot, the characters, the dialogue, and the other elements of fiction necessary to tell a good story, you’ll need a substantive/developmental editor (the terms once meant different things but have become synonymous). If you’re looking for someone to help with spelling, grammar, syntax, tone, style, etc., then you’ll need a copy editor. These editors utilize and are expert at different skills, and so you’ll want to know what you’re trying to achieve.

2. What are your qualifications?

a. Do you have any editing experience in the type of novel/genre I’ve written? Do you have advanced degrees in writing/editing? Do you hold any certifications in editing?

3. Can you provide examples of the books you’ve edited? Many editors will be able to either provide you with a list of books or links to them if they’ve been published/self- published.

4. How much do you charge? Do you charge per word, and if so, how much? Do you charge per project? Make sure you’re clear on what you’ll be paying for the editor to edit your work.

5. What is your communication style?

a. Will you be communicating strictly via email? Or can we jump on a call/video chat?

b. Are the expectations clear between you and the editor regarding what they’ll be doing?

c. You may want to ask the editor for a sample of their work. Will they review 1,000 words or so of yours and provide feedback to see if it’s a good match?

6. What will I get in terms of feedback?

a. Will you provide a summary letter of everything you recommend/have done?

b. Will you track changes in the document?

c. Will you embed notes directly into the manuscript?

d. Will you provide recommendations in terms of plot? Dialogue? Setting? Scene? Etc.?

e. Will you walk me through your feedback after I’ve had a chance to review it?

7. Are you a writer yourself? If so, what have you published?

a. Writers that are editors are not necessarily the same thing as editors who aren’t writers. Editors may be fantastic at what they do, but some don’t “get it” from a writer’s perspective. As in any profession, there are good editors and less-than- stellar editors. This is why it’s important to ask all the questions you have about an editor and their experience prior to hiring them to edit your work.

8. Can you share any referrals with me?

a. Most likely you’ll find references/blurbs on the editor’s website that will attest to the experiences that other writers/authors have had with the editor. It’s good to know that the editor’s clients were happy with the work the editor provided them, especially if the books they edited were published.

9. Can you share a proposal that will include all the areas that you’ll cover in detail?

a. Like any contract between a vendor (the editor) and a client (you), you’ll want to know exactly what you’re paying for. That means the editor should list out precisely what they’re going to provide you during and after the editing process. Some SEs and DEs provide some line editing and copy editing, while others stick to the larger picture of the manuscript. Just make sure all of your questions are answered in the proposal.

You need to know what stage you’re at in your manuscript, but also where you are writing-wise when considering hiring an editor. If you’re a beginner and this is your first manuscript, a developmental/substantive editor is probably the way to go. You won’t need a copy editor or proofreader this early on, because your book isn’t at the point where that’s necessary.

If you’re a seasoned writer, you’ll have a better understanding of what type of editor you need. Before you dismiss the need for an editor because of cost, or because you believe you’re editing chops are good enough, think again. Even the most prolific, best-selling authors out there leverage editors. And there’s a reason for that: editing is a skill acquired over time that improves a writer’s work. They catch things the writers don’t. They see things from an outside perspective that allows them to pinpoint what’s working and what’s not working, because oftentimes writers are “too close” to the writing. And they identify problems/issues/errors with the works, such as grammar, factual inconsistencies, overwriting, overuse of “pet words,” and much more.

If you’re thinking about hiring an editor, don’t forget to ask yourself if you’re at the stage where you’ll benefit from one. And if so, what type of editor might be best for you at this stage? Knowing what you need in terms of an editor and how to best evaluate them is key to ensuring your manuscript gets the treatment it deserves. Do your due diligence. Consider price, but don’t chase the cheapest editor. Quality editors cost money. But your manuscript deserves the best you can afford, doesn’t it?

If you’re interested in learning more, or have a manuscript completed and would like to discuss editing options, email us at

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