Today I sat down with the fabulous owners of Top Shelf Editing to get some fabulous tips and advice on finding the right editor for YOU and your work.
Congratulations! You’ve spent weeks, months, or years writing your book, and you’ve just typed “THE END!” Now you know you want to publish your book and get it into readers’ hands. But before you publish, you want to make sure you’ve done your best work and that the book is in its best possible shape to avoid bad reviews and low sales. What do you do now?
You could try to self-edit. But studies have proven, and experts agree, that authors are entirely incapable of catching every single mistake they’ve made. There’s a theory that states that self-editing is similar to staring at one of those optical illusion pictures.
Our mind sees what SHOULD be there rather than what is ACTUALLY there. So, it’s utterly impossible for authors to catch and fix every single typo, misspelling, and punctuation error. And that’s not even diving into “big picture” issues, such as plot, character-development, pacing, and narrative inconsistencies. So, okay, no. You now know better than to try to self-edit your book.
You could ask a friend/relative/co-worker or even a “beta reader” to edit your book. A lot of authors think this is an effective way to save money on editing. But let me lay out a cold, hard truth for you guys. These people, while well-intending, are NOT professional editors. They have not been trained, nor do the have the experience necessary, to properly and effectively edit your manuscript. Friends and family will simply serve as “yes men,” telling you only the amazing things about your book. Most will be afraid of or are unwilling to provide tough feedback, even if they can recognize major flaws and tiny errors. Beta readers serve a distinct purpose, and I think they are wonderful creatures who are willing to read books for free and help authors. However, again, even if they’ve been reading books for decades, they are still not trained or experienced in editing. So, yeah, no. Not them, either.
So, if you can’t edit for yourself, and you can’t use friends, family, or beta readers to edit your book, what, then? Well, it’s now time to go on the hunt for a professional book editor, my friend.
I can hear the wheels in your brain turning already…all the way through the internet. I bet you anything, these are the questions circling in your mind.
What do editors do?
Editors provide a wide variety of services, including proofreading, line editing, and content editing. They will take your manuscript, usually received by email, and they’ll go through it line by line and word by word, fixing any mistakes and making notes on “big picture” issues that need to be corrected (if you hire them for content editing, that is). They usually work in Word using Track Changes. They’ll strike through the incorrect parts and add in the corrections. Sometimes, they will add comments in the margins if they have questions or comments about a certain scene or detail. They will then send it back to you for you to take their suggestions and revise your manuscript accordingly. Editors almost always only offer one round of edits included in their quoted fee (more on this later). A good editor, however, will stick around after the edits are concluded and be there to support you as you revise, publish, and even market your book. At Top Shelf Editing, we do just that. We also connect our clients with other trusted service providers, such as cover designers, formatters, and promoters, etc. We even add the author’s published book to our Success Stories page on our website and include the cover image and a buy link so readers can find our clients’ books!
How much do editors charge?
That’s not quite as easy to answer. There is no official “standard” in the industry at the time of this blog post, but the fees vary from editor to editor and are usually based on factor such as the amount of editing each manuscript needs and which services the author chooses. At Top Shelf Editing, we constantly monitor our competitors’ rates, and we price our services below their average rates to remain competitive and make editing as affordable as possible. We want to give authors access to top-quality, professional, experienced editors for less than they might pay elsewhere. Right now, our rates start at .015/word and can go up to .02 per word. Most editors charge similarly, but some charge by the hour. Personally, I don’t trust that way as much, as there’s no real way to “prove” how much time the editor actually spends on a given manuscript. By charging per word, we ensure that the authors know immediately before we start how much it’s going to cost them and be confident that rate won’t change. We also offer payment plans for authors who need them. And we often run discounts and sales offering up to 20% off our rates.
How to I know I’m hiring the right editor?
The first thing an author should do is to check vetted, trustworthy online resources for lists of editors they recommend. Top Shelf Editing and Christina Kaye (owner) are listed on many of these websites. Here are two of the most trusted sites where you can find editors who have vetted, tested, and confirmed in their skill and abilities:
Make a list or spreadsheet of the top 10 editors you find on these lists. Make columns for their name, email, rate, and turnaround time. Then narrow your list down to the top 3 candidates you like best. Take those top 3 names and begin the most important part of the process: research them! Type their name in a simple Google search bar.
A good, quality editing service will have a website, not just a social media page. Is there website professional looking? Do they list their services and clearly state their rates? Do they list testimonials/success stories? Top Shelf Editing is not only present on all social media platforms, but we’re proud of our website. Take a moment to check us out online:
After viewing their website, keep digging. See if anything negative pops up anywhere because, trust us, authors absolutely will go online and share their negative experiences with service providers. EVERY provider is going to have that one crazy client who wouldn’t be satisfied if Stephen King himself edited their book, so don’t be too alarmed if you only see one or two bad comments. But if you notice several dissatisfied clients, immediately mark that editor off your list.
Now that you’ve done your editor stalking, it’s time to contact the top candidates directly. Email them (most professionals list their email clearly on their website) and inquire about their availability. Tell them (briefly) about your book (just list your genre, title, and word count), and ask them if they would be willing to provide you with a free sample edit. Be wary of any editor who refuses to do this or who asks you to pay for the evaluation. That’s not a good sign. At Top Shelf Editing, we offer completely FREE sample edits to ALL interested authors. We do a complete edit of the first five pages of your manuscript, including line and content editing, so you can see everything we can do for you. Sample edits work both ways. They allow the editor to show potential new clients what they can do for them and how thorough their edits are, and they allow the author to show the editor what kind of book they’ve written and how much work the manuscript would need. It allows both parties to determine if they’d be a good fit. While you’re waiting on your sample edit, ask the editors to provide you with 2-3 client referrals. And this is important – actually reach out to these referrals! Email them and ask about their experience with Editor X. Authors are always willing to share their experiences, and this is crucial to finding out if this editor is trustworthy.
When the editor sends you back your sample evaluation, they should also provide you with a complete quote for their rate and estimated turnaround time. It should clearly state the per word (or per hour) rate, the total for the entire manuscript, and a proposed finish date/turnaround time. At Top Shelf Editing, we provide a professional looking document that contains all this information. Authors get back three documents from us: 1) the five sample pages with line edits contained therein, 2) a separate memo containing suggested content changes, and 3) the quote and proposal.
If you review what they provide, and you are happy with their proposal, the next step is to ask the editor if they are willing to provide a brief, free phone or video chat to discuss the project in further detail. This is not required, but at Top Shelf Editing, we always do this for potential new clients. IT only takes a few minutes of our time, and it lends a personal element to the discussions. IT also allows the author to “pick their brain” and ask any other questions they may have, and it lets both parties feel out the other to make sure they can work together.
Questions to ask the potential editor:
What is your background in editing, and what kind of training/experience do you have?
Have you worked on other books in my genre?
Can we speak on the phone?
Do you offer package or combined services discounts?
Do you provide a free sample edit/evaluation of my manuscript?
When can you start, and when can I expect the edits to be completed?
Will I be able to ask you follow-up questions after the editing is done and while I’m revising?
Do you offer contracts?
Do you have contacts with other service providers (cover designers, formatters, promoters) you can refer me to?
When you’ve made your selection, and you’re ready to hire Editor X, ask them for a contract. These, again, are not required, but when offered, they are the icing on the proverbial cake. They “seal the deal” between author and editor, and they protect both in the future. At Top Shelf Editing, we provide clients with a brief, two-page contract that covers the total editing fee, any payment arrangements, and the services selected by the author, and it includes standard non-disclosure language to make the author feel comfortable, knowing we will not share or discuss the contents of their book with anyone for any reason.
You have an editor! What now?
Be sure you stay in communication with your editor, but don’t hound them every day to find out if they are loving your book and/or how far along they are. A good editor should keep you apprised every few days to once a week on their progress. Communicate any fears, concerns, or questions with them. They can’t know how to help you if you don’t share your thoughts with them. And be patient. As long as the editor maintains open lines of communication with you and gives you regular updates, sit back and let them work their magic. In fact, the best piece of advice I can offer authors waiting during the editing process is to start that next book! It’ll keep your mind occupied, and besides, there’s no better way to improve in your craft than to practice, practice, practice.
One final parting piece of advice. When you get your edits back from Editor X, open the document, read through the edits and/or attached memorandum, then close your laptop and let the suggestions sink in. Do NOT respond emotionally or have a knee-jerk reaction to any feedback, even if the criticism seems harsh to you. Editors’ only goal is to help an author polish their book and to help them be the best writer they can be. They have no dog in that fight. There is no reason for them to lie, exaggerate, or be unnecessarily hurtful. After you’ve digested the feedback, make a list of any questions you have, THEN reach out to Editor X and share your concerns. Communication is key to making the author/editor relationship work. But keep an open mind and don’t get all in your feels.
At Top Shelf Editing, we provide honest but respectful feedback to all our clients. We are never rude or unkind in our criticism, but it doesn’t serve the author or their book for us to sugarcoat the truth or hold back out of fear of wounding egos. Our only purpose in this business is to help authors. Period. End of story.
If you have read this (admittedly long) blog post, and you are ready to seek out an editor, we do hope you’ll keep Top Shelf Editing in mind and that you’ll reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, even if you’re not certain you’re ready to pull the trigger. You’re never bothering us. We’re here to help and pay it forward because we are all authors, too.
Thanks for listening.