Finding a (Great) Editor—Or Not

My daughter is an English major. She also has specific editor and proofreader training at the University of Washington. (No, she’s not for hire, she’s a VP at a major PR firm). She was unhappy with my choice of editors so she found one she respected and twisted my arm to use her. I didn’t regret her choice after my arm stopped hurting. This article discusses why one needs to hire and editor at all.

The problem with hiring editors include price resistance. “Do I want to spend that much?” In my experience, you get what you pay for. Editors are expensive–the good ones are. I pay about $800-$1000 a book–it’s my biggest expense. Some charge by the word, the page, or work for a percentage of the profits. Some require a sample of your manuscript to see how much work they have to do. Think of it this way; if you hire a body shop to work on your car’s door ding, they’ll charge more if they have to reattach the door to a demolished car.

Another problem is hiring friends or relative (including daughters) to edit your book. Unfortunately, friends might not want to hurt your feelings by heavily editing your book. “Yes, it’s just fine. It should sell a million copies, dear.” Same with your mom–unless you have a mom like mine. She reviewed my first block of short stories I wrote in the months after having returned from Vietnam in the ’70s. My writing spirit was puffed out like a single birthday candle. I didn’t write another word of fiction for thirty years. She didn’t live long enough to read any of my books. I also found that I had a lot to learn about accepting criticism and giving it.

Another problem is being able to choose an editor by the sample edit on a chapter in your book. Unless you’re a skilled editor, you won’t know if he or she missed something or incorrectly inserted (or removed) commas everywhere. This means you have to depend on your daughter to choose one.   Perhaps getting referrals from successful mainstream authors might substitute. Find a book in your genre and see who edited it. Perhaps they’ll take you on.

Remember, writers can’t edit their own work. The human brain does not work like that. What you read from the screen is what you thought you wrote–not what’s there. Unless you lay your manuscript down and take a vacation in Alaska to flush the actual words from memory, you’ll be unable to find some pretty egregious mistakes.

Good editors are also strict disciplinarians. No not the kind who wears a lot of leather or make you crawl around on the floor, but the kind that insists you follow a regimen of handling the changes and not un-doing their work. If you find a good editor, promote them to other (good) authors.


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