Questions to ask a Potential Editor

It is truly essential for an author and an editor to have a good working relationship or the manuscript will suffer. Remember that an editor is part of the author’s team, and a good editor wants to make a manuscript better and ready it for publication. You should talk with potential editors on the phone or via Skype if you can before hiring someone; don’t rely solely on email communication before hiring your editor. You need to know if your personalities are a good fit or the process will be painful for both of you, as you will be working closely with the editor on your manuscript. Think about how much hard work you have put into your writing; you want to make sure your editor is someone with whom you can trust your manuscript and are comfortable.

Here are some good questions to ask a potential editor before hiring him or her or signing a contract:

What does the process look like? Every editor works differently, but generally editors of nonfiction books want a completed manuscript before they’ll start any type of editing (developmental editing, copy editing, or proofreading). The actual process will vary, as all editors have their own working style, but generally an editor will review the manuscript and return it to you with queries and comments. The editor may do a second (or even a third) pass on the manuscript; you’ll negotiate that before editing begins.

Do you have references I can speak with? If an editor won’t share any names, this is a major red flag. You want to work with someone who has past clients singing his or her praises!

What is your editing background? This is an important piece of info: The United States does not have a formal certification program for book editing. Anyone can say they are a book editor. It’s important, then, that you do your homework. Does the editor have a website? Does the editor have references to provide, or a list of books he or she has worked on? (Don’t rely simply on that, as often editors aren’t allowed to disclose book titles.) What is the editor’s experience? How long has the editor been practicing this craft? Trust your gut. You are looking for a professional editor, not someone who “was good at English” in school. (That said, I bet your editor did, in fact, get good English grades.) Editing is about more than just understanding the rules of the English language.

How much will it cost? This depends on several factors, among them what type of editing you need (and can afford), how clean the manuscript is, and if it is a rush project. For a typical nonfiction book (and I emphasize the word range here, because these books can be as few as 30,000 words up to 100,000 words and more; obviously your word count will factor in here in a major way), you can expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars for a copy edit. A developmental edit would cost more than that and is often charged by the hour rather than by the page or word; a proofread will be on the low end of that range.

What makes you a good editor for my manuscript? Ask the editor what he or she sees in the manuscript that makes for a good fit. Maybe your manuscript is about heart disease prevention and the editor’s father has heart disease; that would be a good subject matter fit, as the editor probably has more basic, everyday knowledge about heart disease than most people and can, perhaps, ask you more in-depth questions about areas you can expand upon. Or maybe your book has a lot of issues with punctuation and your potential editor is a grammar guru (even more so than other editors!). The more you know up front, the smoother the process will be.

How long will editing take? A good editor won’t propose a schedule without looking at your manuscript (or at least part of it). Without seeing the text, there’s no way to know how clean the text is to know how long it will take him or her. If you want to reduce editing time, take a look at the self-editing tips in last week’s blog post

Have you edited a book like mine before? This may or may not be important to you. Some editors specialize in a certain genre of book (say, business books or cookbooks); others are generalists. If your content is quite specific, it might benefit you to work with someone who’s edited books similar to yours.

Are you willing to provide an editing sample? You’ll have to weigh whether this is a make-or-break issue for you. Many editors provide a sample edit; many don’t. Some will provide a sample for a fee.

What other questions would you have for a potential editor? Let me know in the comments below!