Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Choosing An Editor: A Guest Post By Dahlia Adler October 28, 2013


I think one of the most difficult things about navigating the world of publishing is trying to decide whether or not you need to hire an editor. More and more these days agents are looking for a highly polished manuscript, and there is nothing worse that getting a full request and wondering if your manuscript is ready to go.


The issue of hiring an editor is complicated. Do you hire someone to look at your query so you can gain agent interest? Should you pay for a submission package so you can get critical feedback on your query and first pages? Is it worth it to pay for a comprehensive overview of your entire manuscript?


My own personal experiences with editors have varied. Some have been very professional and spot on with their advice. Others have come highly recommended and then seriously disappointed me.


It’s impossible to tell you the right thing to do. Each writer has their own instincts about where they need help. What is possible is to give you some key points to consider before you hand over your money to an editor.


I honestly could not think of anyone else better to handle this topic than Dahlia Adler. A copy editor herself, Dahlia has great insight into this subject and helps provide solid information on what a writer should consider before hiring an editor.









I’ve been working in publishing in one capacity or another since 2002, and obviously, a lot about the industry has changed since then. The rise of digital publishing – and self-publishing – has changed massive amounts about the landscape of publishing, and both authors and professionals have been forced to change with it. As a result, small independent presses have been popping up all over the place, and it seems everyone and her mother is now a freelance editor as well.


So how do you know who’s legitimately a good freelance editor and who’s just taking your money? Here are some ways to help you figure it out:


Experience: Everyone needs to start somewhere, but as with an agent, you have no responsibility to be anyone’s guinea pig. You have a right to know that someone has a proven track record before you hire him or her; otherwise, why assume (s)he knows what he or she is doing for you? Additionally, if an editor has no prior clients, that means (s)he likely has no references, which brings us to…



References: It’s a fact – there are some things you can’t know about how someone operates until you deal with him or her yourself… or talk to someone who has. Someone may have excellent credentials and experience, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about things like turnaround time, responsiveness to emails, or the depth with which he or she edits. These are the kinds of things other clients can tell you better than anyone else.


And, of course, if you’re considering hiring an editor, read a book or two the editor has worked on. Do so with a grain of salt – remember that authors don’t always follow suggestions, or have a second round of editing (or proofreading) done after they’ve made numerous changes – but the overall impression of a book should definitely help you figure out what you need to know. (A good sign one of these exceptions is the case – a generally clean book with brief sections that are outstandingly typo-riddled.)



Success: Success isn’t always an easy thing to measure; if an author doesn’t self-promote well, or isn’t a skilled writer to begin with, there’s only so much editing can do. Additionally, success as an author doesn’t necessarily mean that said author is skilled as an editor. That said, there are a lot of people advertising services with which they themselves have not found success – authors who have not successfully landed agents but charge for query critiques, for example. Now, this doesn’t mean these people are automatically bad at critiquing queries – of course not. But given the choice between someone who’s proven this skill and someone who hasn’t, why go with the person who hasn’t when you’re trying to navigate through this minefield?



Test: This is the number one most important thing to do when hiring an editor, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that not only is it something you can ask for, but it’s something you should. Any editor who refuses to take a test before being hired is not an editor you should hire. I’ve had three longterm copyediting contracts as well as a Production internship at a Big Five, and you know what all of them had in common? Making me take a test first.


So what’s an appropriate test, and what are you looking for? Ideally, a sample chapter should do it, and what you’re keeping an eye out for is a combination of skill and style – Do the editor’s ideas for revisions mesh with yours, and fix the sorts of things you’re looking for? Do they maintain your voice? (This one is huge, and a big thing to keep an eye out for when selecting a Copy Editorno one should be rewriting your voice, and anything that skirts the line should be done as a suggestion, not an edit.)



(For a Copy Editor) Style Guide: All Copy Editors should be able to tell you which style guide they use (Chicago Manual of Style is standard for traditionally published books in the US) and, of course, they should have access. A CMoS subscription is relatively inexpensive, but it’s not free. No one who is not in possession of access to your preferred style guide should be your Copy Editor, period. Similarly, a CE should be willing to make adjustments according to your stated preferences.



And, of course, The basics: Is the price right? (These are the rates established by the Editorial Freelancers Association. There are certainly cheaper editors, but no one who’s not an extremely established professional should be pricier.) Is the offered turnaround time what you’re looking for? Are e-mails responded to promptly? Are you comfortable with the payment plan? How will the edits be done – are both you and the editor comfortable with the method (hard copy, tracked changes in Word, etc.)?



One more huge caveat I would give – do not take an editor’s connections to an agent or publisher as any guarantee of an offer to said agent or publisher. This would be a huge conflict of interest, and is not an implicit part of any freelance editor’s contract. If you’re considering hiring an editor because of his or her connections, just…don’t.



So where do you find a good editor? Well, you can’t go wrong by simply checking acknowledgments of books you think were well done and starting from there. In talking to the author, you may find out the editor has little to do with why the book was so solid, but in my experience, it’s a far safer starting point than simply putting a call out for recommendations.


Good luck to all authors going through the process, and happy hunting!






Dahlia Adler is an  Assistant Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor at Ellora’s Cave and Spencer Hill Press by night, and a writer of YA and  blogger at The Daily Dahlia and YA Misfits at every spare moment in between. Her debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES, releases from Spencer Hill Contemporary on June 24, 2014. You can find her on Twitter at @MissDahlELama.


10 Responses to “Choosing An Editor: A Guest Post By Dahlia Adler”

  1. Thank you for this informative article. I am looking into having my novella edited before sending it to agents, and this was helpful to me in knowing what to look for in an editor.

  2. […] – go over here:  Dahlia makes some damn good points, and a lot nicer than I […]

  3. […] Choosing An Editor: A Guest Post By Dahlia Adler ( […]

  4. Thanks for this great article with lots of helpful tips. I’m especially glad you mentioned that authors often “fix” their manuscripts after editing, which can add new problems back into the manuscript–and not just with typos. Often they don’t realize that “just adding another paragraph” can change the flow or even create a plot hole.

    I’m also a huge proponent of sample edits, which I offer to anyone who approaches me about editing. I can’t imagine hiring an editor without one.

    • Dahlia Adler Says:

      Ha, I had to mention that, and I know other editors definitely empathize! It kills me when I work on a book and see typos introduced that never went through me and of course I look terrible for it. But I’ve also noticed as a Copy Editor that I’ll see it in books that have gone through rounds with a Content Editor at the publisher and it’s in such obvious chunks that you *know* it was done later.

      I really think people just don’t know sample edits are something they can and SHOULD ask for, but hopefully they do now!

  5. Too bad you cannot see me standing and giving loud applause. As an editor myself, I tell all of my clients they must ask ALL of these questions first 🙂 Although, I really would LOVE to charge $60/hr … so not happening. I work mostly with the very new to writing and DIY publishing. Many aren’t able to afford $1500 – $2k.

    I am so sharing this post … awesome. Just … awesome.

    • Dahlia Adler Says:

      Aw, yay! And yeah, I charge way below the freelance rates; I just can’t begin to imagine charging that much for new authors just trying to get their work out there, though obviously to each his/her own! Thanks so much for loving and sharing the post!

  6. Alex Hurst Says:

    Great post! My writers community was just having a discussion about this. Love all of the extra tidbits, like being able to know which style guide the copy editor uses… As I’m planning on building up my own copy editor CV next year, this was really helpful. 🙂

    Just as an aside, where would you recommend a newbie editor start?

    • Dahlia Adler Says:

      Thanks! The style guide is pretty key, because if you work for a publisher, it’ll become your bible, but if you work for someone who’s self-publishing for the first time, he or she might be completely reliant on you to know this kind of info. And, as an editor, it *is* your responsibility.

      As for starting, there are a ton of small, mainly (if not strictly) digital publishers popping up all the time, looking for Copy Editors. I’d go ahead and start there, once you’re confident you know how to copyedit well enough to pass a test! Alternatively, you can try to find a self-pubbing author or two who are happy to be guinea pigs in exchange for a reduced price and a reference, but it pains me to even suggest that, even if I know it works 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s