Five Steps To Hiring a Manuscript Editor

Benjamin Reay, Flickr Creative Commons

Editing is an imperative step in the writing process. Most writers know this–but it can be daunting to choose an editor.


There’s no official licensing for freelance editors, and the skill level varies appallingly. There are some fantastic editors out there, and there are some real shams. There are outright scammers looking to prey on an author’s vulnerability and desperation to get published.

Follow these steps to choose the best editor for your project:


  1. Compile a list of possible choices. Ask your writer friends for references, but don’t stop there. Search online, attend a writers conference and chat with editors, look in the acknowledgments of your favorite books (especially indie books that you admire) and see if they thank their editor. Look for local editor associations, and search the database for the American Copy Editors Society (but note that editors simply have to pay for a membership and isn’t a licensure board or anything like that).
  2. Contact your top 10 choices. Ask them for references via email and schedule a phone call with them. If you don’t click with them over the phone, cross them off the list. You’re going to be working with this person a lot over the next few months and it’s important that you “get” each other. Eliminate anyone who doesn’t seem excited about your topic. Ask them questions about their experience in your genre. For example, I can help you write a damn good memoir or middle-market fiction, but if you came to me with your sci-fi trilogy, I’d be honest with you that I don’t read the genre often and wouldn’t be the best fit for you.
  3. Ask for quotes from your top five.
    Be wary of anyone too cheap. You get what you pay for. On the flip side, be aware of the going rate for editors and unless your editor in question is a serious hot-shot, you shouldn’t pay more than $100 an hour for editing. The typical rate is $60-$80 an hour (although most editors charge by the project).
  4. Send them a very short sample of your writing to see their editing style.
    This one might be a little controversial in the editing profession, but I personally have no problem spending a small amount of time showing a potential client what type of work I can do for them. That way if they choose me, they know what they are getting into, and I know they chose me because they liked my editing style best. Editing–especially line editing–is a huge investment on the author and is often a professional relationship that lasts months. It’s important that we both know we can work together.
  5. Go with your gut.
    If you’ve gone through all these steps and have a couple strong choices, great! At this point, you probably can’t go wrong, so just go with your gut. If there’s one editor that feels right to you, choose that one. And then bust out the champagne. You’re on your way to a better book! 




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