Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Editor

Oh, hello there, friends. It’s been a while. I thought it was time for me to (finally) bring back my blog now that I have a whole new facet of publishing to talk about – editing!

To clarify, I am an independent editor who works directly with authors, not an editor who acquires for a publisher. This means that the way I find clients isn’t too different from when I used to receive query letters as an agent. I ask for sample pages, publishing goals, and ask some general questions up front to determine if the author and I are a good editorial match. More than just ensuring I have expertise in their genre, I try to learn more about the book itself and what the author’s vision for it might be.

This, I’ve noticed, is when I tend to lose authors. Some have ghosted me completely at the prospect of having to answer questions about their book and publishing goals. Others have replied in a vague way that reads as a cross between “how dare you?” and “omg what are you even saying to me right now?” This has become enough of a trend that I felt the need to dust off this blog and talk about what I wish more writers asked themselves before reaching out to professional editors.

Question 1 – “What do I want from a freelance editor?”

Knowing what you want from a freelance editor should be your first step in deciding to actually hire one. Knowing whether you need to hire one now is a different, but related, question. For instance, if you finally finished your first draft and you already know the exact chapters you need to go back and delete, or which plot holes you skipped while drafting, it is too soon to hire an editor. Do not spend money to be told what you already know. Beta readers and critique partners are excellent resources for early drafts. Use them.

Once you have a draft you’ve taken as far as you can take it yourself, think about your publication goals. If you are planning to self-publish, hiring a professional editor should absolutely be on your to-do list. Be aware that developmental editing (sometimes called content editing) and copyediting (sometimes called proofreading or line editing) are two different things, and may require you to hire two different people. Developmental edits should be completed before hiring a copyeditor. Basically, a developmental editor is going to get your manuscript looking like a novel, and a copyeditor is going to help you turn that novel into a polished, publishable book.

If you are planning to query agents and go the traditional route, hiring a professional editor is not always necessary, but you might still have plenty of reasons for wanting one. If you have not started querying agents, but you know you want to, a query critique or partial critique is likely the better option for you over a full manuscript edit. That said, I typically work with agented or querying authors on full manuscripts more often than I work with self-published authors, but in those cases, I am very rarely am I working on their first drafts.

Question 2 – “Do I know the average cost for hiring professional editors?”

This, perhaps unsurprisingly, is what leads to many writers to disappear from my inbox forever. And, folks, if I do say so myself, it is not because I overcharge. I’m very much in keeping with industry standards and am sometimes on the lower end for professionals with a similar experience level. So when I see a writer run away when they’re reminded they are hiring a professional, and not just teaming up with a beta reader, I get it, but also not really. This is a business relationship and there are plenty of resources online to prepare you for the general ballpark that can be expected for the services you’re requesting. (This blog post will be one of them.)

Freelance editors will base their fees on a variety of factors. Length of the novel is a major one, but not the only one. A 60K-word YA contemporary, for example, may not take as long to read as a 100K-word adult sci-fi, but the time I put into approaching complicated plot issues or the number of conversations I have with the author throughout the process could easily be the same for both novels. So, overall scope of the work and type of editorial service are absolutely kept in mind too. That said, size matters. (You heard me.) Longer novels will cost more than shorter ones, which I why stress the importance of reaching out to editors only after your own revisions are complete. It will save you money and ensure you are getting the most beneficial feedback for your money.

So, what dollar amount should you expect? Again, it depends, but I’ll give you a fairly wide ballpark figure for an average developmental edit for a novel: $1,800 – $4,000. If that made you reel back a little, better to get that out of the way now and not when an editor is expecting an answer from you. Could full manuscript services cost less? Of course. Could some cost more? Absolutely. The thing to keep in mind – so you don’t Kool-Aid Man out of an editor’s inbox and leave them hanging – is that it is far more likely a full manuscript service is going to be four-digits, not three. But the other thing to remember is that most fees aren’t due all at once, and payment splits can make an unexpected number feel far less scary.

Question 3 – “Am I prepared to receive professional feedback on my work?”

I went to a lot of writing conferences when I was an agent. Almost every author who’d sign up for a pitch session with me would say some version of “be brutal; I can take it!” I hear things like this from writers reaching out for editorial services too sometimes. Reassuring me that I don’t need to hold back. Writers, trust me, I never need that reassurance. If you are paying for my expertise, I am going to give it to you. That does not mean the same thing as “being brutal” though – not even a little bit – and I’ve noticed that the writers who do equate honesty with brutality are more often the ones unprepared for professional-level feedback.

Be honest with yourself about what you’re prepared to handle. Doing research on what editing is and what type of feedback to expect is a good start. Using beta readers and critique partners first is also a good way to prepare yourself. I take a gentle approach with new writers, and sometimes I still get replies that make me wonder if they understood what being edited would entail. Something else that can become very obvious very quickly is when a writer has no intention of revising, and therefore weren’t prepared to respond to actual feedback. Sometimes this is because writers convince themselves they should hire an editor just so they can say they hired one in their query letters. So as a former agent, let me say right now – this is a waste of everyone’s time, and you absolutely do not need to do this.

Hire an editor only if you are ready and willing to put in the work of revision. If you are looking for a quick “this is fine,” you are probably going to be disappointed in, or bewildered by, the editorial process. But if you are looking for a “this is fine, but this part isn’t yet, so let’s move some stuff around or approach it from a different angle so that it all makes sense the way you want it to,” then yes, please come aboard!

Some post-scripts (since it’s been a minute):

Please use proper channels to contact me for editorial services! See the Next Chapter Editorial website to connect professionally:

If you are a new reader and are curious about why I left agenting, you can read about it here: 2019: A Decade in Agenting. I am determined to bring this blog back at least semi-regularly, with a stronger focus on editing and craft, so please subscribe if you are not already so you don’t miss any of my (probably sporadic) posts.

One of the reasons blogging was the first thing to fall to the wayside during my career transition is that it can be just as time-consuming as writing an editorial letter, but not something I get paid for. I plan on keeping this old school and not turning it into a paid newsletter, but I added a “Buy Me Coffee” link in the sidebar and would appreciate the occasional show of encouragement. Thanks. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Editor

  1. I don’t remember how I got on your list, but I’m glad I got your recent post.

    Some day, some time, I may turn to you for editing help.

    I’m not sure who I should be asking for direction. I’ve done heavy revisions on a manuscript that had gotten half a dozen or so manuscript requests. I was told it needed a tweak, without being provided more details.
    After much careful thought and conversations with others, I came up with ideas for revamping a thriller that wasn’t ready to die.


  2. Great to see you back on the blog and with an excellent post! I also provide developmental editing services; I’ve had very similar experiences to those described here over the past few years. Research is important.

    Liked by 1 person

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s