Hiring an editor is a big leap for writers to take and one that can raise many questions. It’s natural to feel confused or overwhelmed by the process. So, here is everything you need to know before hiring an editor.
Why you need an editor
Many writers are on the fence about hiring an editor. There is a belief that beta readers or critique partners are a cheaper alternative. The truth is, while they are cheaper (or free), they aren’t editors. An editor is a trained professional. An industry professional. They have years of experience under their belt and a deeper storytelling knowledge. Editing is not cheap, and that is a hard pill to swallow, but if you want to be the best writer you can be - and you want to publish - you’ll need to take the leap and invest. You’re not just investing in your book, you’re investing in your future writing skills.
The different types of edits
OK, so you’ve decided to take the leap and look into editing. But how do you know which edit you need?
A developmental edit (also know as structural or substantive) is a first-stage edit. This looks at the big picture of your book - character, plot, structure, worldbuilding, pacing, viewpoint, narrative. Your editor will assess how well these elements work and what changes need to be made. They may also assess the marketability of your book if you’re pursuing publication. A developmental editor will make in-line comments in Word and also provide a report in which they will break down their feedback further to give you actionable steps towards strengthening your book.
Line editing looks at the nitty-gritty of your prose and is the next step in the editing process. The editor will assess word choice, sentence structure, dialogue, literary devices such as metaphors and similes, the pacing of your prose, “show” vs “tell”, and consistent tense. Line editors will use in-line comments in Word as well as Track Changes. Some editors will do small rewrites for the writer directly into the document, while others will make suggestions for rewrites in the comments. If you are concerned about which approach an editor will take or have a preference you can ask them about their method.
Copyediting comes after line editing and looks even deeper at the prose. In this edit, the editor will assess punctuation, grammar, spacing inconsistencies in the text, continuity and consistency within capitalising and spelling. Copyeditors often also include a style guide, which is a document breaking down their stylistic choices - such as British English or American English, hyphenation preferences, and so much more. This style guide is to ensure consistency and to give the writer a reference guide to stick to when making tweaks.
Proofreading is the last stage of the editing process and the last step before publication. A proofreader will not suggest new changes or make notes to the writer. Their job is to edit only what is on the page and give a final proof to ensure nothing is missed - like capitalisation or incorrect punctuation. The proofreader may also check for any formatting issues, such as indented text or double spaces. If you’re unsure if this is something your proofreader will check then it is best to ask them.
When to contact an editor
Most writers don’t have editing at the forefront of their mind while they’re revising. Often, editing doesn’t occur to the writer until their book is already revised and ready for fresh eyes. However, contacting an editor when you’re ready could mean you have to wait for a space in their schedule to become available, which could be a few months. Most editors book out well in advance. I recommend reaching out to editors at least three months before you think you might need them. Think carefully about when you can realistically have your book ready and then give yourself a little wiggle room just in case. If your editor says they can’t get you in until later, then you have plenty of time to finish off your edits. Don’t be disappointed if you do need to wait a little longer before starting your edit.
If you are concerned about getting in on time, you can always reach out to an editor when you’re starting your revisions and ask them about their schedule. They may be able to offer you an example start date or the next opening in their schedule. That will give you a good idea of your own timeline and if you can arrange a time with the editor. Editors are very understanding of the writer’s schedule so be open to having a conversation around finding the right start date.
How to find an editor
If you do a search of “developmental editors” or genre-specific editors in Google you’ll be flooded with more results than you know what to do with. So how can you possibly single out the right editor?
Do a Google search anyway. It doesn’t hurt to do a Google search and get a sense of who and what is out there. Assess their website. Does it look professional? Do they look like a nice, genuine person? Is their site easy to navigate? Do you get a good feeling about them?
Get on social media and check them out. Check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter - whichever is your preference - and lookup editors. Take a look at their content. Do they look professional and knowledgeable? Do they seem personable? Do they show their face?
Ask your writer friends. If you have writing friends who have worked with editors then ask them about their experience and if they would recommend that editor.
Ask for recommendations. If you’re part of a Facebook writing group or you’re engaged on the Instagram and Twitter writing communities then make a post asking for editor recommendations or announce that you’re looking for an editor to give editors the chance to reach out to you too.
Finding the right editor might take some time, so don’t be afraid to do your research and narrow down a list of potential editors you’d like to reach out to.
How to send the right enquiry
Sending that first enquiry can be nerve-racking. If you don’t know the editor before you reach out to them then there is the hesitancy about how they will reply. However, their reply will depend greatly on the enquiry you send them.
When reaching out to an editor, here is what to include in your first email:
Address them by name (and spell it correctly).
Tell them how you found them - such as through Google, Instagram, or a reference from a previous writer.
Tell them about which edit you are interested in. Or, if you aren’t sure what you want, tell them where you are in your writing (eg: I’ve just finished my second draft) and ask them which service they’d recommend. You can also mention when you’re hoping to book in with them so they know if your timeline fits theirs.
Give them the details of your book - audience, genre, word count and a short synopsis of what happens in the book/what the book is about. Eg: YA fantasy 80k words.
Thank them and sign off with your name.
What you should expect from them:
A friendly hello (like “thank you for getting in touch. It’s so exciting that you’re almost ready for editing”).
Further details about the edit. An estimated quote, start date, and timeline. An explanation of how the process works.
Your potential editor should seem knowledgeable, professional, friendly and easy to communicate with. It shouldn’t be just one-word replies or all about the money. They should genuinely care.
How much time and money to budget for your edit
Editing is an expensive investment, both in time and money. Here’s what you should know:
Editing takes a long time. Your editor has to read your manuscript, make comments, mull over their thoughts, and write a report. How long your edit takes will depend on a few things:
How busy the editor’s schedule is
How much work needs doing on the book
How many hours of editing they can do each day
How long your book is
Most editors will work somewhere between 3-6 hours a day on an edit. Any longer and they can risk losing focus. Generally, you should expect to wait between 4-8 weeks for your edit to be returned.
The cost of your edit will also depend on a few factors:
The experience of the editor
How much work needs doing on the book
The type of edit
How long your book is
If your book needs huge structural work, the edit is going to take longer and be more expensive. There may even need to be multiple rounds of developmental edits. This is something you should discuss with the editor.
Most editors only offer one pass of edits at a time, and will only charge you for one round. The cost and timeline of the edit will be greatly influenced by the word count. Many editors charge per word as it’s easier for both the writer and editor to calculate the cost. For an 80,000-word book you should expect to budget between £1,300-£1,600 for a developmental edit, and between £1,000-£1,300 for a line or copyedit.
There is always the risk of the writer receiving the edit and then ghosting the editor. This is incredibly illegal and unethical and can result in legal action being taken. To cover themselves, editors will often split the payment - 50% before the edit and 50% afterwards. If you have any queries about the payment schedule you should be open and honest with your editor.
Questions to ask potential editors
Understandably, you might have questions about what you can expect or how things are going to work.
What is your editorial style? Some editors will treat you like a friend they’ve known for years, others will be very to the point and no nonsense. If there is a style of feedback and communication you would prefer then it’s good to ask. Be sure whether they’ll be a good fit for you before you sign.
Could you do a sample edit? If you want to make extra sure that you know what to expect then ask for a free sample edit. A sample will usually be 1,000-2,000 words and will demonstrate their style of feedback to give you a feel for exactly how they’ll edit your book and what the edit will consist of.
Do you work in [your genre] a lot? Some editors specialise in a certain genre or field. Others have more varied tastes. It’s important that your editor is familiar with your genre or style of writing if you’re writing something that is particularly niche and quirky.
What can I expect once the edit is complete? Some editors will offer Zoom calls or follow-up emails after they return their feedback. If they haven’t already made this clear, then get clear on what to expect once the edit is returned. It’s important that you understand the full parameters of the work.
How to know if an editor is right for you
Knowing if an editor is right for you can be tricky. The most important thing is for you to be completely honest with your editor. If you’re scared of getting feedback tell them that. If your editor can reassure you and be understanding of your concerns then they are right for you. Every editor has a different approach. Some are very reserved and strictly professional. Others want to be your friend. If their approach is important to you, you should get a feel for this in how they communicate with you via email or via a sample edit. You might also ask for a video call if you’re particularly concerned or want to make sure they’re right for you.
The most important thing is that your editor makes you feel comfortable and safe. They should be answering your questions and making you feel confident. If they’re not, they may not be right for you.
Best practices for a successful writer-editor relationship
Fostering positive writer-editor relationships is important, especially for long-term editing relationships. You’re investing in the editor, but so too are they investing in you. So, here are my top tips:
Be prompt with your deadlines. Editors rely on you meeting deadlines, so if you push your date back that will likely impact their whole schedule.
Respect their boundaries. While your editor should strive to be prompt with their replies, understand that they are likely working on many projects with many other writers at once, as well as juggling general life. Be patient with them.
Be open and honest with them. If you have any concerns at all - either about their edit or something that has come up that impacts your work with them - be honest. It’s better to communicate with your editor about any issues so they can be resolved as soon as possible.
Be open-minded. Receiving feedback can be scary. While it should be encouraging, it may not all be positive. Your editor is making changes and suggestions with yours and your book’s best interests at heart. Tell them if there is anything about their feedback you want to discuss. Equally, trust that your editor knows what they’re talking about. If they are recommending a developmental edit instead of a line or copyedit then chances are you need it. It can be hard to hear that your book needs more work than you anticipated, but this is their job and they’re trying to do what is best by you.
The bottom line
Working with an editor should be a positive and empowering experience. You should come away from it feeling invigorated to write and clear on the steps you need to take to improve your book. Your editor should look professional, be personable, make you feel at ease, and be knowledgeable and qualified.
Meet Isobelle Lans
Isobelle Lans is a UK-based fiction writer, editor and book coach. At Inspired Creative Co., she works with writers at all stages of the writing journey to help them hone their storytelling skills and write their best books.Isobelle believes in nurturing a writer's talent and personalising her approach to editing and coaching to each individual. You can connect with her on Instagram where she shares writing advice and insights, or you can learn more about her on her website.