How to Find an Editor as a Self-Published Author

A closeup of the tip of a red pencil by  suzumi3 via Flickr

by suzumi3 | via Flickr

In today’s guest post, indie author Teymour Shahabi explains how to find an editor for the draft of your self-published book and what to look for in an editing relationship.


In traditional publishing, submitting your draft to an editor is an inevitable step on the road to bookstore shelves. But how much editing is required for self-publishing? Does a self-published author need to find an editor? And if yes, when and where, and how?

First things first:

Do you need an editor?

The answer is yes.

The greatest benefit of an editor is that he or she is not the author. An editor is someone else. Some editors are professional writers, but every single one of them is a professional reader. As a writer, you’re probably a voracious reader, but you can never be a true reader for your book. By bringing forth a book into the world, you’re asking other people to read something you’ve never read. If you sincerely want the book to be the very best that it can be, then you must ask someone else to read it first. You owe it to your book, to yourself, and to your readers.

What an editor does is discover your characters, your situations, and your images without seeing any of the creative process that brought them to life. Where you might see all the crossings-out and labors, all the accidents and decisions, the editor sees only a page. This is the clarity you need, and you can never achieve it for your own writing, simply because you envisioned it first. The editor will tell you what an attentive, an educated, and, most importantly, a new reader will experience while reading your book.

When should you hand your manuscript over?

It’s difficult to answer this question without first addressing what an editor actually does. Editors can review the content of your writing (characterization, pacing, plot, etc.), which is often referred to as content editing; the form of your writing (the grammar, the punctuation, etc.), which is often referred to as copyediting; or both. (By the way, proofreading is indispensable, but it’s the final step of checking for typos and other glitches once the book is ready for print—any writer who thinks that proofreading is editing is in grave danger of getting ripped off.)

So when should you look for an editor? Logic indicates that content editing should come before copyediting, though what exactly you need might depend on the book. But in every situation, you need to hand over your manuscript at the point where there’s no improvement left for you to make on your own.

In other words, you should edit, tweak, and refine until you reach the point where the next change no longer enhances your book. Most likely, you’ll know the point when you reach it (you’ll start to feel that you’re running on a treadmill, as opposed to covering new ground).

But it might be helpful to ask non-professional readers (or “beta readers”) to take a look at your draft before turning to an editor. To use a painting analogy: paint as many coats as you have to before applying the varnish. (You could always paint over the varnish, but wouldn’t that be a waste?)

How do you find an editor?

There are about as many ways to find an editor in today’s world as there are to find love. Instead of casting a wide net through search engines and outsourcing databases, it’s usually better to focus your efforts by targeting specific communities, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Just as in dating, a seal of approval from someone trustworthy is ideal: you can ask for recommendations in places where authors get together (such as WritersCafe.org). One useful list is available here at JaneFriedman.com; Joanna Penn also has a list.

Don’t just reach out to one editor; contact several. When choosing the right person for the job, there are at least three considerations you should keep in mind: book, business, and (bedside) manner.

1. Book

The single most decisive factor should be the quality of the edit itself: Will this editor help improve your book? In order to assess this, nothing beats a sample edit (even if you have to pay for it). Testimonials and credentials (such as experience at a major NY publisher) can help you narrow your list, but you should submit the same sample to a variety of editors and compare their work side by side. Some editors will push too hard, and some won’t push hard enough; some will simply “get” your writing, while others will seem to speak another language entirely. In my experience, the editor’s résumé is far less revealing than the quality of the sample edit. In fact, the higher an editor’s pedigree, the more reluctant the editor might be to provide a sample edit. Don’t be afraid to insist: no one should expect you to invest in a car without a test drive!

2. Business

An edit is a business transaction. This means that money will exchange hands. Therefore, you need to approach the edit as both a writer and a businessperson (an increasingly common role in the age of self-publishing). Compare the deals you’re offered. Editors with brand-name backgrounds might offer less user-friendly terms (such as hourly rates, which are less predictable than fixed contracts), while less established professionals might offer discounts and extras (such as book formatting and publishing consulting). Don’t be afraid to ask. Hiring an editor is a professional investment. A sample edit will allow you to estimate the value of the service, but never forget about the price.

3. (Bedside) Manner

Technology may have changed the way books are produced and distributed, but ultimately the connection between reader and writer is one of the most enduringly personal in history. You need to pay close attention to an editor’s manner and decide if the relationship is likely to be pleasant, professional, and productive. Is the editor overly curt or slow to respond to your emails? If the comments in the sample edit are too harsh, how will you make it through hundreds of pages of red-inked barbs? Beyond the financial expense, editing can be an intensely emotional journey; make sure that your editor will be a good travel companion.

No matter how much the industry changes, authors will always need editors. But always remember that an editor is more like a therapist, rather than a surgeon. The editor doesn’t hold the scalpel, and you’re not lying helpless: as soon as you step out of the edit, the book’s life is entirely in your hands.


For more on editors:

Posted in Guest Post, Writing Advice and tagged , , , , , , .
Teymour Shahabi

Teymour Shahabi

Teymour Shahabi is an indie writer living in New York. He is currently working on the upcoming release of his first self-published novel, The Secret Billionaire. You can find him on www.teymourshahabi.com and follow his weekly adventures on YouTube.

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42 Comments on "How to Find an Editor as a Self-Published Author"

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[…] Indie author Teymour Shahabi explains how to find an editor for the draft of your self-published book and what to look for in a good editing relationship.  […]

Sophie Playle

This is such wonderful advice, Teymour. I’m struggling to pick out my favourite bit – it’s all gold!

I’d add that for UK writers, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Directory is the best place to search for editorial professionals. Each editor has been vetted for professional competence through the Society (you have to be assessed to become a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member), so it’s a pretty trustworthy source: http://www.sfep.org.uk/directory/directory.asp

A. J. Cosmo
Wonderful article! The difference between the types of editors can’t be emphasized enough, escpecially when it comes to price. I’ve seen too many new authors seek out a copywriter when they need a content editor. (Most bad reviews that say “they really need an editor!” reflect that.) This is a relationship and you need to be able to work with the person. If you disagree with all of their suggestions, or they can’t see your perspective, then the edit is worthless. Writers also need to be aware of the difference between an edit that’s going to help the story and… Read more »
Jean M. Cogdell

An editor is invaluable! I really lucked out when I reached out to Tom Blubaugh
Literary Strategist LLC through Linked In. Tom referred me to a great editor, Margaret Welwood, for my children’s book. One thing I learned was how very important it is to find an editor that specializes in the correct genre. A good editor catches things I would never have thought of.

eclecticscribe66

Great post! Thanks for sharing these resources.

Derek Murphy
As a book editor (PhD in Literature) who’s now writing fiction, I thought I’d add my comments, which are these: 1. You need an editor who is going to fix the story; the writing doesn’t matter all that much, the story dictates whether or not readers will be satisfied and ultimately how successful the book is going to be. For that reason, sample edits aren’t all that helpful – they tell you how editors can improve the line-by-line. Does the editor know how to plot a novel? Satisfy reader expectations, which differ for each genre? Read “StoryGrid” to better understand… Read more »
Jane Friedman

All points well taken, Derek. (To be fair, Teymour does address the different levels of editing.) I’d add that, as far as the surgeon analogy, even the best editor can’t fix a mediocre story. Some stories are dead on arrival and no amount of resuscitation is going to help. Also, an editor might be able to fix some things, but the “patient” also has a lot of work to do after the operation is done.

Ernie Zelinski

“The relationship of editor to author is knife to throat.”
—Unknown wise person

Will
I totally agree that you need an editor. I disagree that it has to be someone else. Editing is an entirely different skill than say writing, but it can be learnt (editing covers more than writing, at least in terms of publishing). Editing your own work is harder than editing someone else’s, but it can be done. Also, learning to edit is hard and takes some time, regardless if you are editing for others or yourself. And it is interesting that this apparent need for an editor happens within writing. Other creative disciplines, music, painting, photography, theater, etc, the idea… Read more »
Jacqueline

Thank you very much, this was very helpful.

Sangeeta Mehta
Great advice, especially the painting analogy (clever!). I also enjoy your YouTube videos, which I found out about through Publishing Perspectives ((nice!). http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/08/ready-for-your-close-up-what-youtube-can-do-for-writers/ I agree that most developmental editors are more like therapists than surgeons, but there are book doctors out there who will essentially rewrite your manuscript (they’re one step away from ghostwriters, I feel). Also, I don’t actually offer sample edits, but this has nothing to do with pedigree. It’s more that I’d rather not mark-up a manuscript unless I’ve read a good part of it (at least 50 pages). I believe that most copyeditors offer sample edits,… Read more »
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[…] How to Find an Editor as a Self-Published Author […]

Jessi Rita Hoffman
If “the greatest benefit of an editor is that he is she is not the author—the editor is someone else,” then an editor is no more than a beta reader, and all authors would need is friends to read their novel and give feedback. I recommend beta reads before a book is sent to me for editing, because casual readers, approaching the story fresh, can indeed find flaws in the book the author is too close to the story to see. But it’s after the beta reads that a professional editor steps in to do her magic. A skilled fiction… Read more »
teymourshahabi (@teymourshahabi)

Thanks Jessi: I read your blog article, which I found very helpful. Some of the questions you list for fiction were particularly resonant to me (for example, is there an essential dilemma? Are there forgotten set-ups or untied sub-plot threads?). These could serve as a checklist for any author who just finished a draft!

Thanks for your insights,

Teymour
For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28

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[…] via How to Find an Editor as a Self-Published Author | Jane Friedman […]

Jessi Rita Hoffman

And a word of warning. The Editorial Freelancers Association, mentioned in this article as a potential source for finding an editor, does not vet its applicants. Anyone, including “self-proclaimed” editors, can join. As stated in the membership guidelines: “Any full- or part-time freelancer may join EFA.” It is basically a listing of freelancers offering services online, and for a fee, members can have access to a job board. While some legitimate editors list themselves on the EFA, so do a lot of other people. Membership is by no means evidence of professional qualifications.

Jane Friedman

Thanks, Jessi. Everything you say is true, but for anyone reading this and feeling anxious about the EFA, I’d like to put in a good word for the organization. Established in 1970, they’ve been around for much longer than the current self-pub/e-book revolution (so: not a fly-by-night company), plus they exhibit at major events (BEA, AWP, etc), where you can meet some of the editors in person. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with their members and recommend them on my resources page.

Mary DeEditor
EFA has an excellent reputation in the field, and their high annual membership fee keeps out the riff-raff and newbies merely flirting with the profession. For writers, EFA also has a very useful rates survey for the different kinds of editing, helpful for anyone shopping around: (the-efa.org/res/rates.php) For those keen to find a fully vetted editor, try Editcetera (editcetera.com). This group not only tests every applicant, they also supervise for a full year. Of course, their rates are higher. Another highly regarded editorial organization is Bay Area Editors Forum (editorsforum.org), with a searchable database of editors. I’m a member there.… Read more »
teymourshahabi (@teymourshahabi)

Thanks Mary! I hadn’t come across Editcetera: will check them out!

Cheers,

Teymour
@teymourshahabi
This week on http://www.youtube.com/PageWingChannel: 3 Things Writers Can Learn from Poker

Sherrey Meyer

Teymour, this is what I’ve been searching for over the past few weeks. As a first-time writer nearing the point of beta readers and then searching for an editor, you have answered two questions I’ve puzzled over: when to engage an editor and what I should look for (answered in your three points). Thank you so much for this great advice.

Jane, thanks for hosting Teymour with such good advice for those of us looking for editors.

teymourshahabi (@teymourshahabi)

Hi Sherrey,

Thank you so much for your kind words: I’m delighted to hear that the article was helpful to you. In case you’re interested in other aspects of writing and (self-)publishing as a first-timer, please check out my journey on YouTube (updated weekly) at youtube.com/PageWingChannel

Best of luck on your writing adventure!

Teymour

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[…] Most fiction editors have heard writers ask the dreaded question: “Do I really need an editor?” Indie author Teymour Shahabi says yes, absolutely, and offers a great primer for authors on why editors are so important and how to find one. (Jane Friedman) […]

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[…] Kristen A. Kieffer lists 10 things to do before editing your first draft, Teymour Shahabi explains how to find an editor, and while you’re at it, please check your manuscript for these misspelled and misused foreign […]

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[…] Shahabi presents How to Find an Editor as a Self-Published Author posted at Jane […]

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[…] your book published and successful.  The market is flooded with quality self-publish platforms,  editors and  marketing ideas.  James Altuhcuer is making a living our of providing the type of advise […]

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[…] with violence, guns, drugs and prostitution. It has its own language, a glossary of terms, and with minimum to no editing. Bryant said, “As a writer, writing isn’t the problem, being punctually correct as a writer can […]

Pamela Yenser
I was recently directed to your excellent article from almost a year ago by a colleague at SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a freelance literary editor of memoir, poetry, and novels, I offer authors guidance and support similar what you describe, but of course I cannot handle editing every genre. I was gratified to know that I’m doing the right thing by sticking to my specialties. By coincidence, someone who reached out to me last week on LinkedIn was looking for a children’s book editor and one of your readers in this conversation recommended one. That reminds me… Read more »
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