Whether you’re pursuing traditional publishing or self-publishing, it’s crucial to enter the process with the best novel or proposal you can possibly write. Here’s how to find a book editor and what to do once you’ve found one.
What is a book editor?
The book editing landscape can be a bit confusing for beginning writers because there are several different types of editors out there.
Here’s how to tell them apart:
- Book editor at a traditional publishing house – Once you have a book deal, you’ll work with a book editor at a publishing house. The editor will manage your book throughout the publishing process, including editing your work. But before you find a literary agent or submit to publishers directly, this isn’t the editor you need to be looking for.
- Freelance book editor – This is someone who will work with you on your manuscript in advance of pursuing traditional or self-publishing to improve the structure and content of your novel or book proposal. Freelance book editors’ credentials vary widely, but many of them are past publishing professionals.
- Copyeditor – This is a magical grammar nerd who will help you spot typos and inconsistencies. You should definitely engage a copyeditor before you self-publish, but if you are pursuing traditional publishing you do not need one. It’s totally fine to submit to literary agents and publishers with some typos in your manuscript (within reason).
There are many different ways of working with a freelance book editor, everything from general coaching and brainstorming to comprehensive book editing.
Book edits will largely fall into two broad categories (terminology varies throughout the business).
- Manuscript critique – An editor will read the manuscript and write you a 2-6 page editorial letter with their thoughts on areas of improvements. This is a more high level edit and is useful if you want to gut check your book.
- Comprehensive edit – In addition to an editorial letter, a comprehensive edit will also include line edits and margin notes, so you’ll get feedback on both a macro and micro level. This is useful if you want a very thorough edit and/or to improve your craft.
Because they take significantly more time to complete, a comprehensive edit will cost more than a critique.
Once they’ve completed your edit, freelance editors will often hop on a call to discuss the feedback and answer your questions.
Do you need a book editor?
If you are pursuing either traditional publishing or self-publishing, it is absolutely crucial to get feedback on your work.
While some literary agents will work with authors on revisions prior to submission, your book must be as good as possible to even reach that stage. You can’t rely on an agent seeing the diamond in the rough. You need good feedback to revise your book to make it as good as possible before you submit.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a paid editor.
Good feedback can come from many sources, whether that’s a friend, a fellow writer, or a critique group. That said, there are some definite advantages to working with a paid editor.
- A paid editor is more likely to give your book a thorough read – When someone is reading your book for free, they may have a tendency to skim or not give you a fully fledged edit. Assuming you’ve chosen an editor well, you’ll get what you pay for.
- It’s helpful to have a pro’s view – Particularly if your editor has past publishing industry experience, they will be able to see things that can only come with that kind of experience. It’s extremely helpful to have a sense of how a literary agent or book editor will view your work.
- The feedback is more likely to be objective – No matter how well-intentioned your friends and family may be, their view will inevitably be shaded by the fact that they know you and may want to spare your feelings. A professional editor will have some helpful distance for more objective feedback.
How to find a book editor
There are tons and tons of editors out there and many of them, frankly, don’t know what they’re doing. Here’s how to find a book editor.
The most important thing to do as you’re searching should be obvious: do your research.
Check an editor’s credentials and vet them thoroughly. There are many wonderful freelance editors out there who have worked for major publishing houses/literary agencies and have a wealth of experience.
Here are some places I do and don’t recommend searching for editors:
- Reach out to me! – I’m a former literary agent and a published author, I’ve worked with bestselling authors, and I really love helping writers improve their work. I’m happy to help edit your work or point you in the right direction.
- New York Book Editors – This is a service run by a friend of mine that connects authors with editors who have a minimum level of previous publishing experience at major publishers and/or literary agencies. You will definitely find someone reputable, and they care about quality control.
- Reedsy – DO NOT RECOMMEND. This is a database of freelance professionals. I can no longer recommend this site as I don’t believe their policies work in the best interests of authors as well as the freelance professionals on their platform.
An important consideration as you’re searching is cost. As with everything in life, you will largely get what you pay for. Depending on the length of your manuscript, expect a good comprehensive edit of a full novel to cost north of $1,500 or more.
Don’t spend any money you can’t afford to lose (working with a paid editor is no guarantee by any means of finding publication), but also don’t just look for a bargain basement edit. Try to strike a balance between an editor’s cost and experience level that you are comfortable with.
How to work with an editor
Before you start working with a freelance book editor, here’s a checklist to make sure you’re ready:
- Get in touch with your goals – Do you plan to publish traditionally or self-publish? Are you hoping to gut check your novel or are you looking to improve your craft? Get in touch with what you want and need from an edit and make sure to communicate these to your editor.
- Make sure your manuscript is formatted properly – An editor is going to want to receive your manuscript in the industry standard format. Format your work properly (and while you’re at it, get in the habit of writing that way so you don’t have to spend hours re-formatting when you’re done).
- Self-edit as much as you can before the edit – You’ll get the most out of your edit if you have already self-edited to make your book as good as you can possibly make it before you engage with an editor. They will see things you never saw coming (you know, because if you saw them you would have fixed them already) and will help you make your book even better.
- Be prepared to do the work – No matter how much you want your editor to shout, “Your book is PERFECT don’t change a THING!” this is a) not going to happen and b) not remotely helpful. You are going to have work to do after you work with an editor, and it may be extensive. That’s why you’re paying them. Mentally prepare.
How to respond to an editorial letter
If you have a good freelance editor, the feedback you receive may not be the most pleasant to hear but it will be useful.
Receiving feedback can be a bit overwhelming and it’s hard to know where to even start when confronted with a multi-page editorial letter and thousands of line edits.
Here’s an approach that can help:
So that’s how to find a book editor. Do you have any tips or tricks? Anything I missed? Take to the comments!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes (NEW!), my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt
Lisa MP says
Thank you, Nathan. This is a good post and pretty much sums it up in a very creative way (of course it’s radioactive!) I’ve also been on both sides of this and it’s funny how one side just doesn’t translate to the other. On the receiving end it always hurts at first.
JOHN T. SHEA says
Of course, editors, like doctors, differ, hopefully without killing the book or author! I suggest settling any such difference by pistols at dawn, or swords, or a joust (using coconuts if you can’t get horses). Then follow the advice of the surviving editor.
Rachel Capps says
I’ve used Reedsy once and had a stellar experience 🙂
G.B. Miller says
I’ve found two very good editors via fellow writers, and I couldn’t have been more happier with both. Regarding cost, both of mine cost roughly one half to the $1500 that you’d quoted for your article. My second one had rates that varied depending on the turn around needed, as well as what you wanted to have done overall with your manuscript.
Lillian Duggan says
Great article! Just wanted to mention a couple of other tips.
The Editorial Freelancers Association and ACES: The Society for Editing are professional editing organizations that provide directories of experienced freelance editors of all shapes and sizes.
Also, any reputable freelance editor would be willing to provide a free sample edit for a potential client (this is particularly appropriate for copy and line editing). The sample enables the editor to understand the needs of the manuscript, and helps the writer get to know the editor’s communication style, skill level, etc. The sample lays the groundwork for the writer-editor relationship.
Nathan Bransford says
I don’t totally agree on the free sample edit, I don’t think it should be an expectation for an editor to provide free work and don’t think a refusal to offer a free sample edit should be construed as an editor not being reputable. The author needs to decide what they’re comfortable with and whether they have enough information to proceed with a paid edit, but I’m extremely wary of expectations around freelancers providing work for free, even if it’s just a sample.
I have also gone the ‘free sample’ (but to be paid for if a total edit is commissioned) route with my edits. I have found it to be a useful means of letting the writer know exactly what to expect. In the vast majority of cases they have requested that I carry on.
Bette Stevens says
Well done, Nathan! Saving and sharing…
Lucianne Poole says
Thanks for re-sharing this post. I missed it the first time, and it really helps to know what is out there. Also, the comments are useful, too! Thanks again and have a good vacation.