How do you know if an editor is any good?
After pouring yourself into the writing of a book, revising it, showing it to your critique partners, revising it, sending it out to beta readers, revising it again, reading it aloud and revising yet again, you are finally at the stage where you need a copy editor. But how do you decide which editor is best for you and your book?
Many writers go no further than cost. "I need my book edited, but I don't have any money for it." "I need an editor, but I'm a poor writer/college student/unemployed." "Editors are so expensive! I just can't afford one."
I've heard many of the better self-published authors say they certainly aren't in it for the money. Let's not confuse that with whether they want to make money or not. Of course they do. But the authors who are determined to excel at their craft realize there's a good chance they may never recoup the money or hours they've put into a book—and yet, they still want to produce the best product possible, from writing to editing to cover choice.
Let's talk cost, then. Does cost always equal quality? Not always, although I've looked through the blogs of the "nothing over $60" types and have found them lacking more often than not. Let's face it, when someone advertises editing/proofreading services, the copy on their own blog should be error-free. If their home page says, "YOUR GOING TO LOVE US! WERE BETTER THEN THE REST!" then you should run the other way. Run hard and run fast.
Cost is a relative term. I know people who shudder at paying more than $10 for a meal, and others who think $40 for a decent entrée is no big deal. Is a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes worth the $600-1300 asking price? I'd probably be afraid to wear them outside my house. And yet there are celebrities who own several pairs. It all boils down to your priorities. A friend of mine who is a notorious penny-saver will plunk down big bucks for a good book without batting an eye. Her reasoning? "It's a book," she says, as if that explains everything.
Back to the editing angle of it: I've had people tell me I charge half the cost per word they were paying elsewhere. I've had others look at those same prices and tell me they'd never anticipated it would cost "so much" to have their manuscript edited. Part of it is perspective—sticker shock, if you will—in not looking around and comparing prices well in advance of finishing the writing. Part of it is in direct correlation to their own work: if your manuscript needs more work, your cost will be higher. For "basic" copy editing, the Editorial Freelancers Association suggests $30-40 per hour (assuming 5-10 ms pages/up to 2500 words per hour). Assuming those figures, it would take me 20 hours to lightly edit a 50k-word novel, and that should earn me $600-800 for just the first run-through. I can tell you right now, I'm not making $30-40 per hour.
And those people who are offering edits (any number of words, light edit, heavy edit, or complete overhaul to the point of ghostwriting) for under $100 . . . they've got to be making under $3 per hour or they're skipping every other page to finish faster. If the price sounds too good to be true, you're probably going to end up with exactly what you pay for.
A simple way to find an editor is to ask around. If an author is happy with his editor, he'll let you know. A service provider will always paint himself in the best light possible. Who wouldn't? We want to sell ourselves so you hire us. The real test is to ask others who they recommend. There are a lot of freelancers out there, and a lot of agencies. Gems and clunkers abound in both arenas, but there is someone out there for every writer. Someone might like his editor because she gives helpful suggestions. Another person might not appreciate the suggestions and wishes the editor would simply do her job and fix the typos.
Think of what you're looking for. If you know you need a lot of help, seek out an editor who gives a lot of help. I recently saw a post on Goodreads where the writer was looking for an editor specifically to help with verb tense. Another was looking for someone who deals with UK writing, rather than US. Another needed someone who grasped Aussie slang and dialogue style. Not every editor can fit those needs.
REFERENCES AND SAMPLES
Any editor you're considering should be able to show you what he or she has done. This has been made easy with the current availability of ebooks and sample chapters. In my "Links" tab here on my blog, I list the authors I've worked with and the books I've edited for them. I encourage potential clients to contact those authors to ask about me. I don't want to know which ones they contact, and I won't warn the authors ahead of time (or give them a script of wonderful things to say about me), because I want honesty in their answers.
A word of warning: this is an essential step. Don't skip it. It costs you nothing to contact people, and it costs you nothing to download a free sample of an ebook, or to ask the author for a sample. I stress this for a very good reason. One of the authors I've worked with hired me to re-edit books that were done by an "editor" who did a horrible job, actually making the novel worse, not better. This so-called editor continues to list that author's books on her website as her editing credentials, and yet her name is no longer anywhere on the books, due to extensive rewrites. If someone were thinking of hiring this person, there would be no reason for him to assume she didn't do the final edits of the books, and would only find out the truth if he checked a sample (which would have my name) and contacted the author (who would be quick to tell him the truth about the other editor's lack of skills).
I have worked with every author I have in my links. I've edited the books listed and am doing edits for their soon-to-be-released works. Having repeat clients should speak for itself. But as LeVar Burton used to say at the end of each episode of Reading Rainbow, "But you don't have to take my word for it." And you shouldn't. This is the Internet. I can tell you anything I want to about myself, whether it's true or not.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I DO?
Shopping for prices, asking others, getting references and seeing samples all add up to a good start when looking for an editor. Next post, I'll go into detail about the other things to look for and why they're important, including personality.