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How to Know When You’re Ready to Hire an Editor

And How to Find One You Can Trust

You’ve poured your heart, blood, and soul into a book, a blog post, or an article. Now you want to be certain your work is solid before you publish. Are you ready to hire an editor?

The problem: You’ve never worked with an editor before. And you’re not familiar with the process. How do you know when it’s time to stop writing and self-editing and hand your work over to someone else?

An editor is different from a writer in that an editor improves something that already exists and a writer creates something from nothing. (Dave Schools, editor of Entrepreneur’s Handbook)

Follow these 5 steps when you think you may be ready to hire an editor:

One: Know yourself 

Writing can be an emotional process. You invest so much time, energy, and passion for your ideas into your work. Throughout the process, you may want to turn your project over to someone else just to get relief from the unknown of how it will turn out.

At the same time, you may be afraid of criticism. Sharing your work with a professional can be simultaneously anxiety producing and relieving.

The desire can also be part of what Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, calls “the resistance.” Editor Blake Atwood says,

I don’t blame authors who’d rather have the editor fight that battle [of resistance]. But that’s not our job. As the writer, this is your fight.

Two: Understand the different types of editing 

It’s possible to hire an editor for every stage of the writing process. Some will help you enhance the structure and overall message of your book. Others will help you tie up loose ends in the final draft.

The publishing industry offers no standardized definitions for the different stages of editing, so knowing who to hire and when can be confusing.

Editor Chantel Hamilton calls the editorial process “the four circles of book editing hell.” You want to find an editor who is willing—and happy—to take on the job of “walking through the fire” with you.

The 4 stages of book editing are:

(1) Developmental editing

Developmental editing is the first step—the initial outlining and planning of your project. It’s possible to engage an editor before you even start writing, if you want to make sure you have a good idea before you invest significant time.

(2) Substantive editing

The substantive editing stage is the “nerve-wracking” stage, “where big questions surface, challenges are made and met, and the book takes on a new, stronger form,” say authors Pamela Wilson and Jeff Goings, who interviewed Hamilton for their podcast Zero to Book.

Having someone in your corner at this point can help you feel confident about the direction of your work after you’ve written a draft or two.

This is the most important point at which to know your internal motivations for hiring someone. According to Atwood, avoid engaging an editor too soon. 

[An author] may fear they don’t have what it takes to be “a serious writer,” so they send their “goo” to an editor in the hopes that the editor can affirm their work and make it monumentally better.

(3) Copyediting

Once you’ve written your final draft—you’ve enlisted the help of beta readers and you’ve done everything you can to improve the structure, content, and integrity of your book—then it’s time to seek a copyeditor.

We “clean up” your book sentence-by-sentence, looking for errors in spelling, grammar, and usage, and for style inconsistencies.

We’ll also look for vague and unclear wording and help you make sure your written words says what you want them to say.

(4) Proofreading

Finally, the proofreading process takes your book through one last check for any spelling, grammar, and usage errors. No rewording is done at this stage. A proofreader is the last perfectionist gatekeeper before your work goes to your readers.

Three: Finish that final draft

The following advice on how to go from first to final draft comes from Brian Klems, a former Writer’s Digest online editor:

Put [your manuscript] away for three weeks and then reread, making notes on its strengths and weaknesses, asking yourself what’s missing, and flagging places where you find yourself skimming. Then rewrite the manuscript at least once—twice is better… Only when you’ve taken it as far as you can on your own will you get the most for your money in hiring a freelance editor.

Four: Find an editor who’s trustworthy 

Here you return full circle to step one: all trust begins with self-knowledge and self-trust.

By now, you’ve gotten clear on what your goals are with your writing project. You’re confident you’ve made all the improvements to your final draft that you can on your own or with the help of earlier readers and editors.

Go out and start engaging with editors to find one who will help you get your book over the finish line. Budget both the time and money for editing. You may even want to start looking a few months in advance.

When you’re ready to hire an editor, look for one who:

Shares your values

“These days I’m objecting to the term ‘self-publishing,’ because we all need a team to put a great book out into the world. This is not something you do by yourself,” says Jen Blood, owner of Adian Editing.

Ultimately, at any stage, you want someone who understands what you want to accomplish with your book, and one who enjoys reading the kind of book you’re writing.

If you’re looking for a manuscript critique, make sure your editor has that skill. A substantive editor may offer that service. A copyeditor may not have that skill, and a good one will be honest with you. 

Professional with their process

A friend you trust may offer to edit your book for you at a low cost or for free. They may be a writer themselves and have strong grammar and spelling skills. It’s unlikely they’ll have a strong working knowledge of the Chicago Manual of Style, however.

Ask your friends for editor recommendations, but don’t enlist them to edit. It could mean you end up having to go through the editorial process all over again. Find an editor who has experience, who follows a professional process, and answers each of your questions with confidence.

Five: Get a sample edit

Ask potential editors questions about how they work. Pay for a sample edit. An editor will usually offer one at low cost. You can then get a feel for how well you will work together.

Another good use case for a sample edit is if you want to edit your book yourself. If you want a starting point for improving your writing, or you can only afford to hire a proofreader, a sample edit can show where some of your weaknesses lie.

A good editor wants you to feel positive about your skills, your final product, and about your investment in their service.

Ready to reach out?

As a copyeditor, my goal is for you to feel empowered and excited to publish. Contact me and lets talk about your next writing project.

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