Since starting my editing business, I have worked on more than seventy projects. I feel very honoured and very privileged that these writers have trusted me with their work. As a writer myself, I understand how fellow writers feel about their work, and also how difficult it can be to hand that manuscript over to someone else, often someone you don’t know, and trusting them to do a good job. Choosing an editor is a minefield – there are so many out there now, so what should you expect from an editor? And what should you look for when choosing one?
Look for testimonials from previous clients. If an editor can’t provide testimonials find out why. When I began my business, I provided free edits in return for honest testimonials. This way I began to build a reputation and a client base (most of those clients that I provided free edits for came back to me with their next projects) and could also provide new clients with evidence that I could actually do the job. I’m happy to say that since then I have had testimonials from many clients and that now most of my work comes from happy clients who come back to me.
An editor should offer to provide you with a free sample edit. This way you can see how they work and see if it is right for you.
An editor should provide you with a contract setting out exactly what you should expect and what the editor also expects from you. This contract should include dates, fees and a summary of what’s included in your edit.
I have worked with clients who have lost money to unscrupulous editors including one client whose ‘editor’ asked her to pay up front and then didn’t deliver. OK, you might think she was naïve to pay out, but this was new territory for her and she was unsure how things should work.
I know all editors work differently and that some charge according to word count and some charge according to the time it takes to edit. I prefer to charge per thousand words. I do understand why some editors charge an hourly rate. However, I think charging this way makes it quite difficult for the client. How do you know what to set aside for editing costs? In online discussions I’ve heard editors make the point that if you have two manuscripts of the same length, one might take twice as long as the other to edit. If you charge by the hour then you are compensated for the work you put in. If you charge by word count, as I do, then you earn slightly less for the manuscript that takes longer. Fair enough. But I personally think that this is a cost to be borne by the editor, not the client. It’s just how it goes. Also, I know I have some days when the work just flows and I’m really in the zone, and other days when it’s like wading through treacle. And that’s not always because of the manuscript. Sometimes it’s because of me. Why then, if I’m having an off day and it’s taking me longer to edit, should the client have to pay for that? An upfront fee, made clear and agreed to at the start, means everyone knows where they stand.
A reasonable timescale
Your editor should give you a date when your edit will be done and back to you. If they can’t commit to a date – ask yourself why. I’ve worked with clients whose previous editor hasn’t delivered when promised, has made excuse after excuse or has refused to give a firm date in the first place. Where does this leave a writer with a publication date in mind? And don’t let the process go on for months and months. If I have an editing project then that is what I work on – it takes priority. I plan my schedule so that projects – paid for writing projects or editing projects – take priority over everything else. I give a client a firm date – usually five working days for an edit of a manuscript of up to 100,000 words. I have seen editors who will take up to six weeks to do the same amount of work. That’s fine if that works for you – but make sure it does work for you and that the deadline is agreed by both of you.
Sometimes this is a hard one to take. It’s not very nice having someone tell you about all the faults in your work, all those things that don’t work. But an editor should do this. What’s the point otherwise? I know that I have built a bit of a reputation for my honesty – and that some people don’t see that as a good thing. They usually don’t ask me to edit their full manuscripts. Which is probably a good thing. If you’re paying money to someone to edit your work then you must realise that the editor isn’t there to pat you on the back and tell you what a great writer you are. They are there to offer a professional, unbiased, honest critique of your work and to show you how to improve it and get it to a publishable standard. Yes, I do compliment a writer on things they have done well, things that really work. But what’s the point of me glossing over something that isn’t right? Something that doesn’t work? That will mean you’ve wasted your money. As one of my clients says:
‘Alison will pull no punches, but then, why would you want her to? You want your book to be the best it can be, right? You want your readers to get the best possible story you can produce, right? You want five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, right?’
So when you’re looking for an editor, do make sure that you are very careful, make sure you both know what’s involved and what everyone’s expectations are. And do be ready to listen to and take advice. That’s what your editor is there for.