How to Choose an Editor

by Audrey Owen (Guest Writer)

Before I tell you how to choose an editor, let me be clear about why you need an editor in the first place.

Even before the world tried to throw itself off the cliff economically, competition in publishing had been eroding budgets. As companies fought to stay in business, they cut, cut, cut, and then they cut some more. And one of the services they cut was editing.

For you, the writer, this means that companies can no longer afford to accept manuscripts that are less than pristine.

Don't get me wrong. Content is still king. Your ideas are most important.

The problem is that an acquisitions editor is unlikely to continue reading a submission that falls short in technical areas.

Think of your first submission to a publisher as your job interview. Your writing is your physical presence. Imagine going into a job interview with ketchup on your face and wearing your gardening clothes. If your text contains errors, that is what the person reading your work will see. Too many of those, and your work heads straight to the round file.

There is good news when you hire an editor.

Only 10% of submissions get more than a passing glance, and it's the first physical impression that makes the big difference at that stage. Give your work a chance for full consideration by presenting work without errors.

When you are ready to choose an editor�

Start by using the spell and grammar check features on your computer. But be aware of there limitations. (Yes, I made the spelling mistake in the last sentence to show you how a human editor can help you.)

The first rule is to choose a human editor. Only a person has the knowledge to find and correct mistakes software misses.

Rule number two is to search for an editor on-line. There is a big world out there full of editors. There is no reason to restrict yourself to the editor next door. Do your research on editors who show up in your on-line search. Here are seven things to consider:
  1. Who, exactly, will do the editing on your text? Many on-line editing services have stables of editors. Those editors are paid only a fraction, often less than 50%, of what you pay for editing services. This means that often editors in such stables are of lower quality. Be sure you have some say in which person will edit your work.
  2. Does the editor you are considering belong to a professional organization? There is no standard for editors like there is for doctors or hair stylists or welders. Anyone can put up a Web site and claim to be an editor. Professional organizations provide some assurance for clients that the person they are about to hire cares about standards and puts herself under the authority of other editors. Some professional organizations offer mediation services if there is a dispute about the job an editor has done.
  3. Can you determine the price ahead of time? Editors can charge in three ways:
    • By volume (per word or per page)
    • By time (per hour)
    • By contract (based on a sample edit)
  4. Beware of a set fee given without seeing your work. No one works for nothing. If it turns out that your work has some intricate issues, what will the one-fee-fits-all editor do when he hits a tough spot in your writing? If the fee is too low, he will be forced to choose between giving you full service or moving on to another job so he can feed his family and pay the mortgage.
  5. Get a sample edit. Reputable editors give a free or low-cost sample edit. This allows the editor to evaluate your writing and allows her to set a realistic fee for your work. It also allows you to see what it's like to work with that particular editor. You will work together on your manuscript, so you want someone you feel comfortable with, someone who makes you feel good even while telling you tough things about your work.
  6. Get references. These are often posted on-line. If they are not, ask for some. Editors guard their clients' confidentiality, but often writers are willing to speak up for an editor who has been helpful. If there are published books the editor has worked on, these can do as references.
  7. Be sure the editor gives you something in writing before you hand over any cash. It is common for an editor to ask for at least 50% of the fee up front. If you pay up front, you want something in writing that explains what you will get for what you are paying.
  8. This last consideration is for you only if you want to continue writing. Ask if the editor does an educative edit. This edit is a tutorial based on your writing. An educative edit is not only about the text in front of the editor, but about you as a writer. The editor identifies writing habits that need changing and works with you to replace those habits with habits that are more helpful.
If you have done your homework, you can rest assured that your edited text will get your writing past the first round in the selection process.

�2010 Audrey Owen. Used with permission. Audrey Owen, author of Get Your Writing Fighting Fit, edits for self-publishing and other authors. She specializes in writing for children.

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