Why, When, & How to Hire an Editor

NaNoWriMo ends this week and whether you participated and passed with flying colors (as I did not) or if you’ve written a book and are asking, “What now?” you might be wondering if you should hire an editor. There are multiple types of editors with different skillsets who can assist you in all stages of the writing process. This article will cover the why, when, and how of hiring an editor.

Why You (Might) Need an Editor

Different editors do different levels of edits from the macro global kind to the micro small-picture kind.

Different editors do different levels of edits from the macro global kind to the micro small-picture kind.

  • You’re finished writing your book. This means you’ve done all you can do to it without a second set of eyes. The kind of editor you’re in the market for depends on what level of work your book needs.
    •  Developmental editors do big-picture, global edits. They look at overall focus, structure, flow, content, etc. and make suggestions for changes. Not every manuscript needs a DE. Note a developmental edit could also be called a substantive edit (more typical for fiction). In nonfiction, some DEs organize an MS before it's written.
    • Line editors examine wording, word choice, style, consistency, tone, some content, etc.
    • Copyeditors get into the grammar, style, punctuation, mechanics, etc. of your writing.
    • Proofreaders usually look for final errors prior to typesetting the content. Note different freelance editors define these roles differently, so you'll want to be clear about services you want performed.
  • You’re just really jazzed to do NaNoEdMo (seriously, this is a thing).
  • You plan to indie publish (AKA: self-publish). Traditional publishers usually work with freelance editors or have them in house and will clean up a manuscript if / as needed prior to publication (or they’ll ask you to handle it). 
  • You want to try to get your manuscript in the hands of an agent, but you know it has technical or other issues, and you want to put your best draft forward (a great idea, if you ask me).

When You Need an Editor

"Just get this thing out of my hair and make it sing."

"Just get this thing out of my hair and make it sing."

Ultimately, you need an editor when you’re finished writing and tweaking the manuscript and you're ready for a second set of eyes to look over the work and to detect plot holes, weak spots, poor wording, grammar issues, etc.

I can’t tell you how many editors have reported starting on a manuscript only to have the writer pop up with a new draft they’d prefer the editor to use.  Unless you want to pay for those double-hours the editor has to put in to look over a second, slightly prettier draft after having just edited part of the first draft, make sure you’re ready for the document to be out of your hands. 

Mind you, every writer is different. Some writers like to tweak their manuscript several times over and get it as good as they can get it before sending it to an editor. Alternately, some writers like to send their rough and raw beauty of a first-draft to editors and see what happens.

Neither of these tactics is wrong. You need to do what’s best for you and your writing. 

How to Hire an Editor

So, you're ready to get an editor. The first time a person does anything, it’s weird. Hiring an editor is no different. First, where the heck do you look? There are many reliable sites for finding real people. Those include:

  • The Editorial Freelancer’s Association – Members pay dues to be in the organization. We are not a company. We receive e-mails from individuals seeking editors and reply at our discretion for jobs that fit our wheelhouses. It’s free for writers seeking editors to use. EFA has the best stable of editors I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with.
  • Reedsy – Reedsy is a big site with lots of great resources for writers. I also have a Reedsy profile, but I don’t push my business there. Reedsy takes a percent of editor’s earnings as a commission for facilitating the match.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – Another member site for editors, Publisher’s Marketplace is a legit source for writers to find editors.
Find someone with the tools and the experience to work with your style of writing.

Find someone with the tools and the experience to work with your style of writing.

I recommend working with an editor who you communicate with directly. A lot of your self / indie publishing sources will offer “editorial services”.  The same is true of vanity presses.  I worked with a client who’d used a vanity press (you know, a company that promises to market, edit, promote, etc. your book for you). I was furious to find out that they claimed to have “edited” his writing because I found multiple copyediting mistakes in his otherwise awesome story. 

Find an editor whose rates fit your budget and whose expertise fit your needs. Different editors have different rates. EFA has a chart of “typical” industry rates, but take these with a grain of salt. You have some editors who’ve been in the biz for decades, have worked with major publishers, and who have the authority to charge more than their counterparts who are transitioning into a different type of editing, getting started as editors, editing part time, etc.

When hiring an editor, feel free to ask for sample edits.  A few pages to 1,000 words is an appropriate length for a sample edit as it gives you and the editor an idea of how well you’ll work together.

You should also be honest with the editor about what you want.  I had a potential client say he wanted line and copy edits.  In the sample edit, I worked on tightening the language, reducing wordiness and redundant content, fixing grammar and punctuation errors, etc.  As it turns out, the client wasn’t looking for something that involved. He wanted more of a copyedit; to him, wordiness equaled style, and that’s okay. In fiction and certain types of nonfiction, style, voice, and tone supersede the rules.  Had our communications better clarified what he really wanted, I could’ve adjusted the intensity of my edits while also sparing him any discomfort of getting such a thoroughly revised sample edit.

Communication is the main thing writers say was missing in their relationship with a former editor.

Communication is the main thing writers say was missing in their relationship with a former editor.

Talk business. You and your editor should have a letter of agreement or contract for the services provided. This will include the rate for the work and any specifics such as Skype calls or Internet chats that are included as part of the service. Note that most editors prefer to bill hourly, so you might not get a flat rate quoted in the agreement; however, you can stipulate terms, max budgets, etc. as is necessary.

I actually prefer to bill for an agreed-upon fixed rate, so my clients know exactly what they’re getting. I’ve been doing this long enough to know how long it takes to do a copyedit or a DE or whatever and can easily ballpark the rate and provide a “cost will not exceed” amount. As a writer who’s been on both sides of this fence, I find it comforting to know that I won’t get charged an excessive amount for edits (and I assume my clients feel the same).

The right editor—if you need an editor—is someone who gets you, your writing, your communication style, and what you hope to accomplish. I know there are a lot of editors out there, so you’ll be able to find someone who fits your budget.


If you are a new author who writes memoir or contemporary, mystery, or romance fiction, click here to contact me. Let me know what you’re working on, how I can help, and ask for a free sample edit.

If I’m not the editor for you, I’ll help you find the right person for your personality and your writing because like most editors, I genuinely care about you having a polished and perfected book that will make you proud to call yourself a published author.