How to Pick an Editor

The editor / author relationship like a marriage. This is the case for a couple of reasons. One is that when you, author, find an editor who gets the voices in your head as though they were their own, you want to commit to spending a long time –possibly a lifetime—together. Another reason is that your editor will annoy the stew of out of you because they will ultimately, 99% of the time, be right when giving you advice; however, they will always have your best interests at heart. Like your spouse, they will likely be the reason you drink. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Finding an Editor

“But where do I find an editor?” you may ask. You find an editor the same places you find a potential future spouse.

  • Find editors online. Search Publishers Marketplace, the Editorial Freelancers Association site, the American Copy Editors Society site, etc. You can scan editor profiles and see who you think might be a good fit before you give them a shout.
  • Let a friend set you up. If you’re an author with author friends and one of your pals happens to write in your genre or has a fabulous editor who does multiple types of edits in multiple genres, then you might find an agent through a set-up.
  • You meet by happenstance. You are online reading about editors and you happen to stumble on the social media profile or website of an editor who does exactly what you need and who seems like the kind of editor you want to show your book to.  Aaaand kiss. End scene.

Vetting an Editor

You may also find that you meet multiple potential editors and have to vet them. Even if you’ve only found one you’re kind of interested in, vet before you commit. Vetting is like dating; you want to get to know the other person, find out about their style, who have they been with before, what did they do with those other authors, what were those relationships like, etc.? Any excess baggage? Okay, that last one might be pushing it, but when vetting an editor you should:

  • Skulk around their website and social media sites to get a sense of who they are, what their interests and expertise are, the details of their professional background, their sign, whether or not your chakras align, etc.
  • Once you begin communication, ask the editor to edit a sample of 5-10 pages of your manuscript. This will enable you to see how well they ‘get’ your protagonist’s voice, the overall tone of your story, the concept, etc.
  • Ask the editor any other questions you feel are necessary to work with them. Get a sense of their communication style. If you prefer to Skype chat and they would rather e-mail or instant message, you might have a problem in the communication department, which is a big deal.
    • In fact, at #RWA17, I met a writer who was seeking an editor because her current (soon to be former) editor was someone she felt she couldn’t communicate with. I wasn’t able to discern what the precise problem was, but I knew that an author wasn’t comfortable with the communication with her editor and that this author was otherwise satisfied with the quality of the edits.

While vetting, you should also gauge the editor’s integrity and interest in your manuscript (or series if you are writing a series). Full disclosure, but to some editors, editing is just a job; they want to turn and burn copy, but for most editors, it’s a passion (thankfully).

  • If you’re seeking services beyond copyedits or proofreads, find someone who reads your earlier work (if applicable). I was with two other (amazingly talented) editors at the EFA booth at the #RWA17 expo last weekend, and one author had gotten a new editor for a subsequent story in a series. This can be incredibly dangerous because a new editor can change the tone of the whole story. The author was delighted and blown away with her new editor because the editor –on her own volition—read the author’s first work to really understand the second piece. My peers and I agreed that we’d do the same and that anyone seeking an editor for line editing, substantive editing, or developmental editing should expect nothing less if they are writing a series.
  • A good editor tells you like it is. If you’re a thin-skinned author, it’s time to leather up. The kind of editor you want to commit to will not take your money for a copyedit or a proofread or some other light editing gig when your manuscript has structural, organizational, focal, etc. issues. Jane Friedlander said it best when she said there’s no point painting a wall that you’re going to tear down anyway. It’s true. You may not like to hear such feedback, but believe me when I say you’d rather hear that the manuscript has some structural issues you need to address from an editor versus a reviewer. If your editor isn’t willing to tear down your walls as needed and to be honest with you, then you’re basically the schmuck buying the editor pretty things and you won’t get anything (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) in return. 

Lastly, when vetting an editor, make sure they have time for you. You don’t want to be some job that’s squeezed in between a mountain of other projects. If the editor is truly good, they will tell you the truth; they will admit being too busy or if your work is not their style. This situation arose last weekend as well. An author of romantic erotica said she had a great editor for her first book…until (after editing the book) the editor said she could not work with her level of erotica anymore.

While it was great that the editor was honest, it puts the author in a bind to find an editor for her subsequent manuscripts and to find one who can keep the tone and editorial style of the first manuscript. It’s best to never commit as opposed to spending all of those nights together, thinking things are going places only to find out that they aren’t. That editor should have known that; as an author, make sure the editor is comfortable with your content (especially if it gets really raw) before the word ‘go’ (or whatever your safety word is).

Committing to an Editor

If you are one of the lucky ones, you will find an editor who gets you, who gets your writing, and who you want to spend many years of your career with. There are authors who have left publishing houses to stay with trusty editors because authors whose works have been blessed by a talented editor know just how much a really good editor can elevate a manuscript’s quality.

Just like in a healthy marriage, your editor is there to help you succeed. They’re there to listen to your ideas, to make suggestions, to hold your hand during the tough times, and to help give you a road map to succeed in your profession. Your editor needs to be someone you trust and to be someone with whom you communicate well.

Note the editor’s vow:

A good editor is patient, a good editor is kind. A good editor does not envy (for you, author, will get all of the glory once all is said and done), a good editor does not boast (an editor shalt never steal thy author’s thunder by mentioning what awesome thing she did to page 36), a good editor is not proud. A good editor does not dishonor others, a good editor is not self-seeking, a good editor is not easily angered (even when thy gentle author art in a temper of disagreement), a good editor keeps no record of wrongs. A good editor does not delight in evil (grammatical mistakes) but rejoices with truth (perfect, finished manuscript). A good editor always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. A good editor never fails.


If you are looking a fun, quirky editor who loves perfect grammar, punctuation, and the like, and who wants to see your manuscript at its most flawless in terms of organization, style, content, mechanics, etc. contact me, Vonnie York, and let’s see if we’re a good match. If we aren’t, I will happily help you find an editor for you to love and cherish until the end of your writing days (or until your contract expires, whichever occurs first).