Choosing the Right Editor Is Like Dating


If you've gone through the self-editing check list after completing your novel, then it's time to (deep breath) *gently* hand over your manuscript to a professional editor. Listen. I know this is rough; your book is your baby.

You probably have a few misconceptions about editors. They're pretentious, snarky, scary monsters who will murder your manuscript with red ink, killing all of your darlings, judging every misplaced comma, and cackling at their computer screens when they get to write rejection letters (if you're submitting to a traditional publisher).

This description couldn't be further from the truth. Caring, professional editors want to edit your words, not your voice. We value your story and applaud your commitment to completing it. We also value your readers and strive to make sure your words connect with those who will love and cherish your story. And for the record, we dread sending rejections.

Writing (Editing) Is Hard Work

At the same time, we will push your story and read through it with a fine-tooth comb. Your book deserves that kind of attention! Editing is not a bed of roses. Writing is hard work, and so is editing.

Maxwell Perkins—editor of Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Hemingway, and more—once said, "If you are not discouraged about your writing on a regular basis, you may not be trying hard enough. Any challenging pursuit will encounter frequent patches of frustration. Writing is nothing if not challenging."

. . . Like Falling in Love

After all, most rewarding things in life don’t simply fall in our laps, right? But how do you choose the right editor? Children’s book editor and author, Cheryl Klein, wrote that the submissions process is like dating—“an intensely personal endeavor where everyone is looking for the right match.” I think the same is true for independent authors seeking freelance editors to self-publish—or to polish their manuscripts before submitting to a publisher. “Editors are looking to find books they love. Writers are looking to find editors who can help their books be their best,” she said. “There is a giant pool of all of us out there. And when it doesn’t work out, it can be the most depressing thing in the world.”

But hey, just because you have to endure the “there’s always more fish in the sea” talk doesn’t mean you won’t find someone who’s right for you. And as Cheryl reiterates, there is nothing better than finding that match and watching an author-editor relationship flourish.

To find the right editor for you, consider the following:

How would you describe your manuscript?

Would you classify your manuscript as commercial? Literary? What kind of readers do you envision for your book? The more you know about your manuscript’s strengths, what kind of readers it will appeal to, and what you hope to accomplish, the easier it will be to identify the right editor. Just like in the dating world, you want your manuscript to be “comfortable in its own skin.” Why? Because communication is truly the most important part of any author-editor relationship. The more you can articulate your editing needs or your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses, the better.

Look for an editor who provides a free sample edit.

The editor you’re “talking” to won’t carve out the time to provide a complimentary sample edit? RED FLAG. Don’t waste your time on this one, folks. If you’re casually dating someone who doesn’t pay any attention to you from the get-go, why move forward? A sample edit is an essential ingredient to finding a good match; it’s also a window into the editor’s skills and editing style. The right editor welcomes the opportunity to demonstrate his or her editing skills. Supplying a complimentary edit is also beneficial for editors: it provides insight into what, specifically, the project entails. Often, authors are unaware of what kind of editing they really need. By editing a few pages or a chapter of a manuscript, the editor will have a better understanding of what an author needs, and whether he or she is the right person for the job.

Look for an editor who values deadlines and upfront communication.

The right freelance editor will provide all payment requirements, contracts, and a basic outline of the editorial process (deadlines included), before you “sign on the dotted line.” You don’t want to work with someone who surprises you with unwanted fees halfway through or at the end of the project. Just like in a relationship, you want to know what you’re getting into before you start dating. Editors don’t want to work with authors who are MIA after an editing project, and authors want to know what to expect—in case they send over their precious manuscript and only hear crickets for months. Authors are typically less stressed when editors have a plan of action and an editorial process. Sure, some projects can expand overtime, transform, or lead to other separate editing projects (this isn’t a marriage, right?), but overall, you don’t want to be in the dark about deadlines, payment, and general editing practices.

Look for an editor who refers to the CMOS often.

The Chicago Manual of Style is—in the dating world—the equivalent of good ol’ family values. You know, quality. Top-notch. A keeper. The kind of boy who respects his mother and throws passion and hard work into everything he does. You know what I’m saying. The CMOS is the moral code that ultimately allows you to entrust your vulnerable little heart (and manuscript) into the hands of your editor. Check your sample edit and make sure your potential editor refers to the Chicago Manual of Style often. They need to be well-versed in it—drenched in it. The Chicago Manual is the SPARK, people. It’s either there, or it’s not.

Look for an editor who wants you to grow.

Let’s face it: the best people in our lives are the ones who push us to be better versions of ourselves. Of course, when I say this, I realize it’s all in the delivery. Look for an editor with a gentle but firm approach to help you grow as a writer. You don’t want an editor who doesn’t care enough to tell you if you’re making the same errors over and over. The most rewarding part of being an editor, in my opinion, is teaching writers how to improve their craft. I strive to correct common errors, sure, but I love to help authors understand why I’m correcting errors in the first place. Not all editors do this. Make sure you find someone who inspires you to be a better writer!

I could go on and on about the importance of finding the right editor and perhaps I will expand on this topic later in the New Year. I’d love to hear from you, authors. What do you look for in an editor? In the mean time, write (and edit) with courage, friends! ;)