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Last updated on Mar 29, 2021

How to Find an Editor: 6 Easy Steps for New Writers

Even the most accomplished writers need help turning their scribblings into finished products. But as a new writer, knowing how to find an editor you’re compatible with isn’t always obvious.

Reedsy specializes in finding editors for new writers, and we’re here to show you how straightforward it is — as long as you clarify your priorities and clearly communicate your expectations. With that in mind, let’s talk about how you can find an editor for your book.

1. Know what kind of editor(s) you need

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“Editor” is a broad term for several different types of experts, each of whom does something different for your manuscript. These edits should be actioned in a particular order, going from the bigger picture to the minute details to avoid any edits being overwritten.

For more in-depth definitions of our editors’ services, we suggest you turn to our guide on the various types of editing, or the pages linked below. But here's a quick overview of services offered by professional editors (though you won’t necessarily require all of these).

  • Editorial assessment: An overview of your manuscript to give broad-stroke feedback on your structure and narrative elements. An editorial assessment determines if you need further editing, and if so, what kind.
  • Developmental editing: This stage also focuses on the big-picture elements of your story, but comments will be much more detailed, given in the manuscript itself, and may include substantial rewrites.
  • Query letter review: This edit looks at the query letter you'd send to a literary agent, commenting on its structure, content, and tone.
  • Copy editing: This is a bit more zoomed-in and refines your work with regards to grammatical correctness, consistency, and coherence.
  • Proofreading: This is the final major round of editing and checks for any spelling or grammar errors, as well as layout and formatting issues.
  • Fact checking (listed under “copy editing” on our marketplace): For nonfiction books that contain a lot of niche information, to ensure that this information is correct and consistent with external sources.
How to find an editor | Jo March developmental edit
Little Women's Jo March, getting a heavy-handed round of developmental editing. (Sony Pictures)

Now that you’ve got a handle on the types of editing available, you need to figure out your publishing route and exactly what stage your manuscript is at before you can start your search.

Choose your publishing route

If you plan to traditionally publish, you’ll first need a literary agent. For this, you’ll research relevant literary agents, then send out query letters and your manuscript sample.

To prepare for this, you should invest in an initial round of developmental editing. Next, you should get your query letter reviewed to make sure it’s effective and adherent to industry conventions. Finally, you may want to have your manuscript sample copy edited as well. As a new writer, you’ll need to wow agents by making a strong first impression!

Now, if you plan to self-publish, you’ll need to do a bit more. You’ll want to have a developmental edit (possibly a few rounds), a thorough copy edit, and a final proofread. If you’ve written a detailed nonfiction book, you may want to get it fact-checked as well.

Basically, if you hope to publish traditionally, you mainly need to win over agents with your query letter and sample — further edits will be handled by your eventual publisher. If you’re self-publishing, however, you need to get your book through the entire editing process yourself.

Self-edit to save yourself money

The good news, especially for those who are self-publishing, is that you can progress your manuscript significantly by self-editing first. We know it can be arduous, but editing yourself is a crucial step to making sure you get the most for your money when you go on to hire a professional editor!

If you’ve already taken care of all the problems you can fix, your editor can spend their valuable time helping you with things that really matter. For example, fixing basic copy errors in your manuscript will make it much easier for your developmental editor to focus on the big-picture issues of your story — and if you do the same before sending it to a copy editor, you could cut their work (and their hours billed to you) in half!

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2. Calculate a realistic budget and timeline

A good editor can cost a pretty penny and, depending on the nature of your project, a lot of time too. So before you start hunting for an editor, you need to crunch some serious numbers.

First, consider how much you can afford to spend on an editor, and over what period of time (in case you need to save some money). This is vital to your decision process, as you will need to eliminate potential editors that are outside your budget. A bit of context to help you out:

  • Developmental editing typically costs about $7/page;
  • Copy editing costs about $5/page;
  • And proofreading costs about $3/page.

Find out more about editing costs right here.

You’ll also need to think about a timeline for your project. This will allow you to make clear proposals to your potential editors and prevent any undue stress as they rush to meet your rapidly approaching deadline. Busier editors might not be able to take on projects right away or focus only on yours, so the more flexible your timeline, the more choices you will have. 

3. Understand your ideal feedback style

Editors’ feedback isn't always going to be glowingly complimentary — in fact, the most useful feedback usually isn’t. But there can be a fine line between useful and disheartening, and the last thing you want is to be thrown off your game by too-harsh criticism.  

How to find an editor | Gordon Ramsay feedback
While no editor will ever be this mean, you should know that some editors will be blunter than others. (Fox)

Here are a few questions to help you understand your ideal feedback style:

  • How have you responded to feedback in the past (both positive and negative)?
  • If you tend to take feedback personally, are you willing to work to change that, or do you feel it’s an innate part of your process?
  • If you disagree with an editor’s feedback, could you express your disagreement to them respectfully and/or work toward a compromise?
  • Do you want an editor who will give you detailed suggestions on how to fix problems in your work, or who identifies the problems but allows you to fix them yourself?

There are no right or wrong answers here, but you do want your editor's feedback to be valuable. Sussing out what feedback style works for you means that you can collaborate in a constructive way to elevate your work — and possibly build a relationship to last through many projects. 

4. Explore freelancer marketplaces

The great thing about looking for editors online is that there’s so much choice! But all this choice means you need clear metrics by which to evaluate and differentiate profiles. Here are a few tips to that end.

Employ stringent quality control

The internet is crowded with inexperienced editors with fancy-looking websites, but remember that all that glitters is not gold. You’re looking for the best editor for your project, not the editor with the shiniest website.

To ensure you’re not sucked in by showy but insubstantial profiles, try to verify any potential editors’ past experience. If their portfolio titles look suspicious or they don’t have any past works to cite, that’s a red flag.

Here at Reedsy, we’ve done the hard work for you, employing rigorous quality control and selection criteria to choose our professionals! Our marketplace features some of the most experienced editors in the industry (think Big 5 publishers). You can even filter by editing service or genre to find the perfect editor for you. Why not sign up and give it a go? 

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Learn how Reedsy can help you craft a beautiful book.

Make sure their experience is relevant

But it’s not so simple as just finding editors with glowing credentials and impressive work histories — you also want to whittle it down to editors with experience that's relevant to your project.

A fantasy editor may be excellent at editing fantasy, but they’re unlikely to be as fantastic (pun intended) editing a memoir or a nonfiction book. Read editors’ profiles carefully and make sure you only contact people who have worked in your genre, or at least state an interest in your subject.

Relevant experience will always be more important than amount of experience — though of course, in a perfect world (i.e. on Reedsy), you'd find someone in that sweet spot of lots of relevant experience.

Remember that personality matters too! 

Keep in mind that editing is a highly collaborative and sometimes emotional experience. Impressive track record and accolades aside, your editor should also be someone you’d actually like to work with.

An editor’s personality will shine through in their bio and description of their experience. If you respond well to their voice, you should definitely contact them! You can often tell just from an editor’s profile whether the two of you will get along, and you’ll get an even better idea when you reach out to them, before you seal the deal.

5. Impress potential editors with your pitch

How to find an editor | Dwight Schrute - sell yourself
How to sell yourself, courtesy of Dwight Schrute. (NBC)

Now that you have your shortlist of favorites, it’s time to contact potential editors with your book to see a) if they’re interested, and b) whether they’re really a good fit. Here are some essentials to include in your pitch:

  • A synopsis of your project and a short excerpt (usually the first chapter)
  • The kind of editing you are looking for (e.g. “developmental editing for structure and pacing”)
  • Your working title and genre 
  • The length of your manuscript 
  • An estimated timescale for the project
  • Optional: additional information about your intended target market

On Reedsy, we offer a fill-in-the-blank brief to send potential editors, so you know you're not missing anything important.

Sell yourself as a writer

Though you’re in the hiring seat, most editors will want to take on projects that genuinely excite them, so you have to do a bit selling on your part too! Let editors know why your idea is special, why you’re so passionate about it, and why (if applicable) you're particularly qualified to write it.

If you’re a lawyer writing a court drama, for example, that’s absolutely something you should bring up — personal experience makes a great sell! When in doubt, you can always emphasize your love for the genre; explain, for instance, that as a lifelong fantasy reader, you realized that there’s a gap in the market which your project would fill.

Ask the right questions 

The pitch is also your chance to get more details about working with each potential editor. So don’t hold back on questions like:

  • How much will it cost?
  • When would they be able to start?
  • Do they prefer to edit electronically or on hard copies?
  • Are they willing to talk through the edits on the phone or video chat?

However, make sure to review their profile first so you’re not asking about information they’ve already provided.

You should also ask if an editor offers sample edits. This is the best way to get an idea of how they work and whether their feedback style will suit you. Not all editors have time to provide sample edits; if this is the case, perhaps you can ask them for testimonials from previous clients instead. (On Reedsy, you can find these on their profile pages under “Reviews.”)

6. Figure out which candidates excite you

Once you’ve heard back from your shortlist and have a good sense of what each editor has to offer, it’s time to finally narrow it down to that perfect match. Here are a few more things you should look for.

Understanding your vision 

Having received a synopsis and excerpt of your work, the editors you've contacted should be able to give specific thoughts on what they’ve read, even if they don't provide a sample edit. You will immediately be able to tell from their response whether they are enthused by your project, and see your vision in what you are trying to achieve.

This shared understanding is vital to avoiding edits that derail your book! That said, it’s important to be open-minded to changing things to get the most out of the editing process. If an editor gives thoughtful suggestions, even if they’re not what you had in mind, try to at least consider them.

Striking the right tone

A common joke in the writing community is that an editor is really an author’s writing “therapist.” An ideal editor should believe in you and your project, but be honest and open enough to offer reasonable critique.

So when you first hear back from editors, assess their tone and approach. The response itself can give you a good idea of their communication style: if they’re curt in an email, they’re likely to be so in their edits.

If someone leaves you feeling insecure or negative about your project, they may not be a good match. The perfect editor should inspire you to improve your project, even if it’s going to take some time and effort.

How to find an editor | Amy and Rosa (Brooklyn 99)
Editing professionals can have vastly different work styles. Choose someone whose unique approach to feedback best suits you(Fox)

Being sufficiently available

Some editors may not be available to devote enough time to your project right now. They may already be juggling many projects, or simply be on hiatus. If your favorite editor isn’t available when you would need them, you will have to choose another.

Fitting your budget

You'll likely receive similar quotes among editors, but if your budget is restricted, you may have to factor in small price differences.

That said, if you’re really eager to work with a particular editor, talk to them about alternatives. As Reedsy co-founder Ricardo Fayet advises: “Ask if you can make the payments in installments, or if there’s room to adjust the scope of work to lower the price. Someone you really want to work with usually really wants to work with you too.”

Remember, editors are incredibly valuable collaborators for both experienced and new writers, so choose yours carefully! Do your research and you’ll find someone you'll love working with — someone who will help shape your stories into books that will touch the lives of many readers.

– Originally published on Jul 15, 2020