Note: This post is written in the context of copy editing/proofreading specifically, but some of the principles should be applicable to all types of editing.
Finding a good editor is something that many authors struggle with. There are no shortage of editors out there, but how do you find a good one? Or more accurately, how can you tell the good editors from the bad?
How do you find a good editor?
A surprisingly large portion of the books in my portfolio were previously published and “edited”. That is, the author paid someone to edit it already.
Why then, did they need to hire me? Because they were still absolutely filled with errors, to the point where reviewers would comment on the poor editing. Grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, confusing sentences, continuity/consistency errors – you name it.
In the freelance editing world, there seems to be no shortage of people who will take authors’ money but do a bad job. Typically, these are random people on Fiverr and similar sites.
How can you avoid this? One way is to hire editors that come recommended by other authors you trust.
What if you’re not friends with any authors? In that case, do you recall reading any books that were particularly clean and error-free? For instance, one of the books I’ve done had multiple reviews praise the editing, even going so far as to say:
I must congratulate the author on this being one of the best edited independent novels I have read. Nothing ruins immersion in a story than typos, grammatical errors, and sentences that don’t make sense. After two books i have not seen a single error.
If you do, contact the author and ask them who they hired to edit their book. They may not reply, but there is a good chance that they will in order to help out a fellow author and help their editor get more business.
If that still isn’t practical, and you have to hire someone that isn’t vouched for, then you should at least get the editor to do a sample edit (of 1000-2000 words). This is probably a good idea even if they are recommended by people you trust, as then you can get an idea of their editing style.
If your writing is clean enough that there may not be any errors in the sample, consider throwing in some errors on purpose. Perhaps something more subtle than a typo, like a continuity error. Say the main character meets a group of three people, and then later it says something like “the group of five people left the room”. If they don’t catch that error, then they’re not paying attention. This of course assumes that you’re hiring someone specifically to catch all kinds of errors, and not just grammatical mistakes/typos (which is usually cheaper).
If they catch the errors you added, or even ones you didn’t put in deliberately, then they’re good. If they miss one, they may still be ok. If they miss multiple, then think twice about hiring them.
What questions should a writer ask an editor they are considering hiring?
You’ll obviously want to ask about logistics: how long will it take them to edit your book, when they will be available to edit it, price, how they will edit it (most people use Microsoft Word docs, in my experience), what their editing process looks like (i.e. the things that they are looking for and are likely to flag), how they want to handle payment (PayPal is most common, and 50% up front/50% after completion is common as well).
Like a normal job interview, you should also consider how they act when you are talking to them. Are their emails professional and well-written, with proper grammar? That’s a good sign. Do their emails look like they could have been lifted from YouTube comments? Do they seem to get irritated or annoyed by you asking reasonable questions? Not a good sign.
Do they reply in a relatively prompt manner? Or do they take days to reply? If they have a poor response time when you’re still in the “interview process” (and therefore they are trying to convince you to hire them), don’t expect it to get better after you’ve already hired and paid them.
What should I do before sending my book to the editor?
Ideally, you’ll want the book to be relatively clean before sending it off. It obviously won’t be perfect or you wouldn’t need a copy editor, but cleaner is better.
This will take some work, but it’s in your best interests. Some editors may charge more if your book has tons of errors and thus takes them longer to do. Others who charge a flat rate might choose to drop you as a client, or not take on you to begin with. Or it may be more of a “carrot” situation, rather than a stick. For instance, I have one client whose work is exceptionally clean (though not error-free), and I bend over backwards to make him happy and keep his business.
What does relatively clean look like? It’s hard to codify this in explicit terms—for me, it’s more like “I know it when I see it”. At the minimum, basic grammatical rules should be adhered to. For instance, dialogue should be written properly (i.e. when to use commas, when to use periods, when to capitalize or not). The editor should mostly be catching accidental errors that slipped through, rather than fixing mistakes that you were making throughout the book because you didn’t know they were mistakes.