• Rachael Bell-Irving

Publishing 101: Working with Editors

You've finished your manuscript (congrats!) and you are embarking on the process to independently publish it (woohoo!). Now is the time to build your publishing team, and find the service providers who are going to help put your masterpiece together. Where should you start?


With the most important part of creating a professional book - editing.


Getting Started


Before you find an editor, you need to decide what kind of editing you need. Generally, there are four key levels of editing to consider, though their titles may differ slightly between sources.


1. Developmental Editing, which is the big picture editing for plot and pacing


2. Line/Stylistic Editing looks at the sentence and paragraph structure for their effectiveness and meaning, rather than the mechanics of a sentence.


2. Copy Editing, is very similar to line editing, and looks at sentence and paragraph structure for mechanical errors and sees that it follows the rules of language.


4. Proofreading looks at the manuscript on a word-level and catches the last nitty-gritty errors, like punctuation and spelling mistakes.


The rule of thumb is that you proceed through the edits in the order indicated above. Start big, then work towards refining. For example, you shouldn't be seeking out a proofreader unless you've done steps 1 through 3, whether you're hiring professionals for each type of edits or not.


TOP TIP: Many editors will define the types of edits they offer on their websites, giving you a clear idea of their services and also what you might need. If you're ever not sure, ASK in your inquiry.


Finding Your Editor


Once you know what kind of editor you are hiring for, it is time to make a list of possible professionals to hire. Start inquiring no less than 3 months in advance (or earlier if you can).

A great place to start is looking at the acknowledgments section in your favourite books, in the genre you write. Most authors thank their editors. I recommend looking at independently published books specifically because editors credited on traditionally published books are often tied to specific publishing houses and may not take freelance contracts. That being said, some agents are also editors on the side, so check out their credentials as well.


The other place to look is on accredited organization websites, such as Editor's Associations. Being Canadian, I started with Editors Canada, where I was lucky enough to find one of my editors.


Lastly, word of mouth. If you have a friend who's published a book, ask them about their experience with their editor. I've also found that when an editor I've reached out to is unavailable, they have been open to providing recommendations for other freelancers. You may also find editors through twitter, specifically contests like Revise and Resubmit.


TOP TIP: As you are researching, be sure to keep a spreadsheet or list to track the potential editors. This can also help you to compare services and narrow down your choices before you query them.

Choosing an Editor


You have your list of editors, great! Now it's time to reach out. Before you reach out to them, be sure that you are clear and concise on what you are looking for. In your initial inquiry you should provide:

  • Which service you are interested in hiring them for

  • The age/genre of your project

  • How many words it is (approx)

  • The proposed start date

  • And how flexible you are with your proposed timeline

I generally end an inquiry with: If this project and timeline suit your interest and availability, I would appreciate a quote and a sample edit. Thank you for your consideration.


TOP TIP: Do not reach out to editors who do not edit in your age category or genre. It's a waste of time for both of you, and I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't bother replying.


TOP TIP: No editor should charge a fee for a sample edit. An artist will show off their portfolio before you commission them to create something, so too should an editor demonstrate their abilities before you pay them. Sample edits are also a way for the editor to see what they'd be getting into, and they may pass on your project if it's not within their wheelhouse.

For initial inquiries, some editors use email while others use an online form through their website. If they are interested in and/or available for the project, they will ask you to send a small section of your project so that they can provide a sample edit. A 1000 word sample is fairly common. Some editors may also ask you to fill out a questionnaire about your project and you as an author, so they can get a better sense of what it would be like to work with you.


No two editors were created equal and though they may be offering the same service, they can have completely different styles. Choosing an editor is not an easy task, but it is important to communicate with all editors you have received a sample edit from. Be kind and be honest - if you don't think you're going to choose an editor, don't string them along. Go with your gut and don't waste their time. If you have found your editor while you're still waiting on writing samples from others, let those editors know immediately! Their time is valuable, so be sure you are respecting it.


Finalizing the Agreement


Firstly, ensure both you and the editor are on the same page in terms of the deliverables of the agreement. Expectations such as the schedule and payment are important to clarify before signing the contract - and you absolutely should be signing a contract! It protects you, your work, and the editor as well. If the editor doesn't have one they use already, you can get templates online. Editors Canada has a template, for example. If an editor is refusing to sign a contract for any reason, that is a red flag.


The payment process will differ too. Normally the author will pay a deposit when they sign the contract to secure services, which is often 30-50% of the overall cost. Once the work is completed by the editor, the author will then pay the remaining amount based on either the final word count or the number of hours it took to complete the edit.


TOP TIP: If an editor charges by the hour, they will give you an estimate of how much they think it will take them to complete the work. If you have a limited budget, tell the editor upfront what your cap on cost is, and ask if they can work within that limit. If they can't, kindly pass on their services and find someone in your budget.


TOP TIP: It is best to have some flexibility within your budget, as the length of your project may change between signing the contract and when you actually send them the document, and this will change the final cost.


It is important to communicate with your editor if any of your agreed-upon conditions change. Things like schedule changes or major word count changes should be communicated with as much advance notice as possible.


Once the agreement is completed, you've paid the final bill, and you now have your manuscript full of recommended edits to make, don't be afraid to ask additional questions. Keep in mind, the editor won't be going back into the manuscript to re-do a chapter, but if you have a question about a comment they've left you or a specific word choice they made, then you can ask them why. Remember that ultimately it is your decision, as the author, which changes keep.


TOP TIP: There are no refunds once the work is complete. If you don't like what the editor has said, too bad. You've paid them to do the work, and they've done just that - whether you agree with their comments or not. Reviewing those sample edits and reading through the contract clearly before signing should help you find the editor that's best for you. But if you're turning your nose up at every single suggestion that they've made, that's not because of a problem with the editor. Being able to healthily accept constructive feedback is an essential part of being an author.


Other Fun Facts (from personal experience)


You may need to hire different editors for different stages of editing. For example, a copy editor may encourage you to find a different proofreader, even if they offer the same service, as fresh eyes are keener to catch mistakes.


Specify if you are using Canadian/British vs. American English. If you do not specify, the default is American English.


Copy/Line/Stylistic Editors will create a Style Sheet, which is a comprehensive document they use to ensure they are consistent with their editing. For example, when I signed on to work with my first editor, I had to decide on whether I preferred TV to T.V. to Television, if I wanted t-shirt or tee shirt, and if we were going to capitalize species names like vampire or elves. And yes, as an author, you will forget what you originally decided.


Working with an editor is a great learning opportunity. Through the edits you will learn what quirks you have as an author. It can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, which is important to know as you continue to grow your craft.



That is my brief walkthrough of the process of working with editors. Editing is one of the most crucial parts of publishing a book, and having a good editor makes all the difference. It's the difference between a mediocre book, and a novel you can be proud to hold in your hands.

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