James G. asks: I'm ready to find an editor for my completed novel. How do I go about it? How do I know what to look for? Are there questions I should ask? What if I'm not satisfied?
I'd love to say, "Just hire me and all your problems will be solved," but the truth of the matter is, finding the right editor for your manuscript is like finding the right doctor for your health. We all have different needs, different personalities, and different expectations.
Let me tell you a story.
A while back, I was shopping for an editor for my first indie-pubbed work. I did some online research, contacted writer friends for referrals and started with a list of ten options. Three of those were out of my price range. Down to seven. Three couldn't meet my time requirements. Four left. One felt a conflict of interest since she was currently working with a manuscript with a similar theme as mine and backed out of the project. With three left, I opted to go with the editor referred by one of my closest writer friends because I really respected her opinion. When I hired this editor, I explained that I prided myself on writing an uber-clean manuscript so I wasn't overly concerned with line edits (though she should definitely correct any sporadic typos or errors she found) and I wanted her to focus more on structure (did I leave any loose ends? Is the story credible? Could she see the character arc clearly?). She assured me she was up to the challenge.
A few weeks later, I got the manuscript back, and I was major league disappointed. She had amended words from correct to incorrect usage (I used "sloe-eyed"; she changed it to "slow-eyed." Really? I mean, REALLY?!) Instances where I'd intentionally repeated a phrase or statement for emphasis, she deleted with the comment, "repetitive." (Duh.) There was absolutely no feedback regarding my structural concerns. I sent an email, thanking the editor for her work, but asking (again!) about my structural concerns. No reply. A week later, I sent a follow-up email and wound up with a, "Oh, yeah. It's fine" reply. The experience not only left a bad taste in my mouth, it made me think that this editor was more interested in my payment than in my manuscript. I wound up sending the manuscript to someone else to fix the edit mistakes she'd created.
My unsatisfactory results with this editor ultimately led to my launching Excellence in Editing. No writer should pay for shoddy service! And an editor should deliver on what (s)he promises!
So...how do you know? Here are a few tips:
1. Get references and check them out. Ask for book titles, buy, and read! Remember, this is someone who will polish your work. If you see lots of errors or weaknesses in the stories previously edited, beware!
2. What experience does the editor have with your personal goal (contests, NY publishers, small press, or indie publishing)?
3. Ask for a sample! Some editors (like me) will edit a few sample pages for a flat fee. The good thing about a sample is, it gives each of you a chance to feel each other out.
4. Understand what you need and stress those needs to your prospective editor. Line edits are about punctuation, typos, grammar, and spelling. Structural edits are about the story.
5. Discuss payment and refund options.
6. Be sure the editor offers you at least one follow-up.
7. Have a contract! Editing is a business and shouldn't be handled fly-by-night.
Have any questions or concerns, contact me, whether you plan to hire me or not.