How NOT to Hire an Editor for Your Manuscript

Back in December, I hired an editor to look over the first pages of my manuscript and give it to me straight – how close was this thing to a finished product? She was not what I expected at all, and I don’t think I was what she expected either.

Fortunately, my blunder only cost me $45 and came with some good life lessons. You, my friend, don’t have to pay a dime for this hard-earned wisdom. Learn from my mistakes. Avoid the following blunders when seeking a freelance editor for your work.

1. Start looking for an editor when you can’t stand to look at your MS anymore.

By last winter, I was entirely too close to my manuscript. The characters felt lifeless, the world-building a tangle of inconsistencies, the plot a hot mess. I couldn’t tell whether I was helping or hurting myself every time I sat down to edit. What I should have done was put down the manuscript for six or eight weeks and start on a fresh project. That way I could return to the MS with fresh eyes and have the energy to keep pruning. Instead, I decided to send it out to people, and see what they said. It was too early. The story was still unformed. Editors cost money, so wait until you really, really like your story from head to toe. Then send it to be shredded.

2. Assume that an editor with a website is a professional.

An editor approached me on LinkedIn, said she was also Christian, and that she’d be happy to offer her services when the MS was ready. I checked out the website linked in her bio, and it looked okay. What could possibly go wrong?

The problem is that when dealing with freelance editors, we writers have to be very careful. Everybody wants to be a writer, which means there’s a huge demand from beginner writers looking for someone to cast a magic spell and turn their pile of doodoo into a multi-million dollar franchise. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld says: don’t be the guy that wants to learn to play the guitar, be the guy that sells guitars to all those schmucks who want to learn guitar. 

The moral of the story? It’s easy to set up shop as an editor and make money right off the bat, because everybody wants to be a writer, and everybody wants to pay someone to fix their writing. So do more research than the normal “checking out the website” and a few reviews.

3. Don’t ask too many questions so as not to offend.

If you want to be sure that your money is being well spent, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If all the information is not readily available on your editor’s website, then she has an obligation to fill in the blanks for you. Here are some questions I wish I hadn’t been too timid to ask.

·      What kind of work does the editor usually do?

·      What authors and writers has the editor worked with?

·      What genres and manuscript lengths does the editor prefer?

·      What authors does the editor read and how up to date is she on the market?

·      Can you see a sample of the editor’s work?

Of course, be sure to strike a cordial tone (more on this later), but if your editor prickles at merely having to provide her resume, she won’t be a picnic to work with down the road. Pay attention to the red flags!

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

4. Forgive and forget each time an editor takes four weeks to respond to an email.

On the subject of red flags, notice how communicative your editor is. If it takes weeks and weeks to hear back from her, even to answer a simple question, this is not going to be a healthy relationship. The editor I used would literally take four weeks to respond to my email, which would never address any of the questions from my email. Sure, it was jolly good of me to forgive her these inconveniences, but that didn’t mean I had to continue working with her. 

5. Say, “I agree to all your terms” before establishing some ground rules.

Sending an email that reads, “sounds great!” isn’t exactly a lawsuit waiting to happen, but you may find yourself in a heated exchange if you and your editor have different ideas about how and when the manuscript will be edited. Make bullet points in your email, laying out your expectations and your questions. Be sure to establish at least the following.

·      How many pages is the editor reading? Editors charge by the page, usually somewhere around $1.75. This can add up quickly, so if you want to play it on the safe side, pull the first act of your book to be edited. Most of your content problems can be spotted in those first chapters, and you can apply what you learn to the rest of the MS yourself.

·      What kind of editing will she do? There are content/line editors and there are copyeditors. There’s a big difference. I learned this the hard way. Here’s an article to help you decipher which kind of editing you need.

·      When will she want payment? My shoddy editor did not specify when she would expect payment, and so I naturally assumed I would pay when the job was finished. Over a month after we agreed upon the job and I sent the pages, she sent me an email which read, “your payment is due.” I replied, “?” Her next email (which came surprisingly quickly) informed that half the payment was due “up front” and the other half would be expected after the job was complete. That’s right; she had not started on my pages.

·      When do you want the job completed, and how does that correspond with her schedule? It takes time to edit well. Especially for copyediting, it may take between 30 min to an hour just to comb through a single page. So be flexible, but also be explicit. You want the MS edited by this date, and is that possible.

6. Let your editor know your patience is running thin.

No matter what happens, or how sour your impression of an editor becomes, do not let it show. The only way I was able to wriggle out of my deal with the shoddy editor was to lay on the honey and write her a check for forty five dollars. Every email I sent (i.e. “Hello where are we with this? Did you get my last message?” smoke signals) was carefully crafted to sound upbeat, understanding, and professional. Losing your cool will only ruin your day, and hopefully, if your expectations are reasonable and clearly laid out, there will be no occasion for frustration!


Side Note:

There is a totally revamped and reimagined website coming your way this summer, and the genius behind it all (my extraordinarily talented sister, Rachel Grantham) has suggested I resurrect my long-lost love of VIDEO BLOGGING!

Any suggestions for the vlog’s content? I am thinking book and movie reviews, giving some snarky perspective on the morality and story-structure. Eh? Eh?

Until next week!




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