Publishing as Business: Working with Independent Editors (part 1)

Last week, our series on “Publishing as a Business” looked at how authors work with editors at a traditional publishing house. As always, the series now flips to the independent side of the publishing coin – but with an unusual twist.

Both traditionally-published and independent authors can work with independent editors, and many do, regardless of the manner in which their novels are published.

For purposes of this post, an “independent editor” is a person who offers editorial services on a “payment for services” basis.

Friends, critique partners and others often act as formal or informal editors of an author’s work, and many are worthy of the editor’s title, but in the interest of focusing on publishing as a business I’m focusing today on professional editors-for-hire. Everything said here can be applied equally well to friends and professional associates who fulfill the editor’s role, however.

Generally speaking, an author hires an editor for professional review and assistance with preparing a work for publication. Sometimes authors decide to hire an editor on the advice of literary agents or editors at a publisher interested in the work. In other cases, the author knows the work needs help and wants outside assistance for one of many reasons – from a lack of friends with necessary skills to a desire to work with someone emotionally separate from the work – and many other valid reasons too.

A word of caution: Do not hire an editor just because an agent or editor responds to your query with a rejection that says the work needs revision.

Multiple form rejections are often an indication a manuscript needs help, but rejections or an agent/editor’s suggestion shouldn’t be the only reason an author hires an editor.

When hiring independent editors, always check references, review the editor’s other work and pay attention to pricing.

Choosing an editor is a serious and often expensive decision. Professionals often charge thousands of dollars for editing and review of a manuscript – whether we’re talking novels, screenplays or non-fiction works. Before you drop $2000 or more on editing services, consider the following:

1. All professional editors should have references beyond the testimonials on their websites. Ask for references – and follow through with personal contact. Ask about the editor’s professionalism, pacing, ability to schedule and meet deadlines, and whether the author noticed measurable improvement in the work. (Note: this means quantifiable differences, like “I obtained much better blurbs,” or “I signed with an agent” – although the author’s personal impressions are important too.) If an editor won’t give you references, you should probably find another.

2. Editors’ fees should be comparable to industry standards. Translation: author, do your research. Know what editing services cost before you make a decision. And as with anything else, you should get at least 2-3 estimates before hiring someone to do the job.

3. Read other works the editor has worked on. An author who writes paranormal suspense is a mismatch with an editor who works only on romance novels. Pacing and voice are important too. A good editor will not change the author’s voice, and no two author are identical, but it’s helpful to find an editor familiar with similar works. (And for those of you saying “I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE” – you absolutely are unique and different. Just like everyone else.)

4. Talk to the editor in person or by telephone. Text disguises tone and often hampers communication. Even if most of your interaction with the editor will take place in e-mail format, it’s important to have at least one conversation by telephone (or in person) before the editor is hired. Even a brief conversation will reveal whether the author and editor’s styles are a match or a miss – and when you’re investing this kind of time and money, you REALLY want a match!

Next week, we’ll continue the series and talk more about the process of working with an independent editor.

Have additional tips for choosing an independent editor? Hop into the comments and share!

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