What To Look For In An Editor

Budget and time frame are two very concrete things to negotiate when looking for an editor. You know when you need the manuscript back and how much you can afford. But how do you figure out if your editor is suited to you? Do you need to take a Meyers-Briggs test and compare astrological charts? No, thank god.


Make sure your editor enjoys or has experience in the genre in which you are writing. I’ve had people tell me my memoir should be a novel (I don’t write novels) and my fiction-writing spouse has had people tell him short stories should be essays (he does not write essays). You want an editor who will meet you where you are and who will be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about your genre of choice.

Communication style

Does your editor respond to your emails in a time frame that works for you? Do you want to talk to the editor on the phone or by video call? Does your editor do that? Does the way they talk about their work make sense to you?

Feedback style

An editor is going to give you criticism, probably a lot of it. What do you need when you receive feedback? Do you want the unvarnished truth? Or do you prefer your criticism presented in a gentler approach? Do you need a lot of encouragement or reassurance?

None of these styles are right or wrong, unless you are an experienced writer and your editor explains each change she makes in excruciating detail. That is a waste of time for both of you.

Not sure what kind of writer you are? How do you respond to criticism or feedback at your job? How do you give criticism or feedback to other people?


How do you know if an editor is right for you?


What To Know When Hiring An Editor

You’ve written something, and you need someone outside your friend and family circle to read it. You have a short list of editors you want to talk to. There’s a good deal  of back and forth before you hire someone you don’t know to edit your work. You need to establish a few things first.

Level of Editing

The first thing you want to figure out is the level of edit you want. Do you just want a quick polish for glaring errors or do you want someone to help you rethink the organization of your work?

Developmental editing is where the editor works with the writer to flesh out ideas, identify compelling storylines or themes, and organize the larger work.

Copyediting ranges from “heavy” to “light” depending on how much work needs to be done. In a copyedit, the editor checks for grammar, typos, awkward wordings, some organizational issues (that’s on the heavier side), consistency, readability, and continuity.

Proofreading is usually quicker and less hands-on for the editor. The text is in its relatively final form, and the proofreader is just looking to correct errors introduced earlier in the process.

Writing coaching is the process of helping the writer set and meet their writing goals. It can include all of the above level of edits, but what makes it unlike editing is that writing coaching involves helping the writer with their creative process itself rather than just the writing.

Budget and Time Frame

When do you need the manuscript returned to you? Is it ready to go today or are you halfway through and want to set something up for a few months from now to give yourself a deadline?

How much money do you have to spend on an edit? I live and die by the Editorial Freelancer Association’s chart of common rates. Editors will often ask for a certain amount of money up front and the rest upon completion of the project. For longer projects editors might want to be paid weekly, biweekly, or monthly.

Be direct (and polite, of course) about both your budget and your time frame. (And pay your editor promptly. We editors like to eat too.)

Editing Style

This is the less concrete part of your negotiations. Each editor has a slightly different set of interests and approaches. Each writer has different styles and needs. A successful editor/writer relationship needs compatible styles. Sometimes people are perfectly good writers and editors, their styles just don’t mesh. And there is nothing wrong with that; it’s just something one should find out earlier rather than later.

You can always ask an editor to talk about their editing practice and approach. Also think about what approaches have worked well for you in the past. Haven’t been edited before? Think back to other collaborative and teaching experiences. What works for you and what doesn’t?

The best way to figure this out is to ask for a sample edit. (This is more common with larger projects.) Some editors (such as myself) will edit 2 pages or so for free. Others will give you a sample edit for a small charge. Either way, this is a great way for the writer to figure out if they like the editor’s approach and the editor to figure out if the writer is receptive to what the editor says. It also helps the editor set a more accurate estimate on the final project.

What do you ask when first contacting an editor?

(Image from https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/help-tools/proofreading-marks.html)



A Meteoric Rise

In the seventh century BCE, Greeks thought that the weather was linked to the motion of the planets and stars. The word “meteor” was used to describe anything that happened high up in the atmosphere, and included what we would now call astronomical phenomena as well as weather- and atmosphere-related events. Thus the field of study the atmosphere and its patterns became called meteorology.

My first editing job was at the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences (or JAS as we affectionately called it). I became fond of JAS and my job copyediting meteorology. I liked to joke that the technical editor and I were the only ones who read JAS from cover to cover, and it was totally wasted on me.

My job editing meteorology eventually lead me to a second and third scientific editing position. Today I edit articles from a variety of scientific disciplines for the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. I still find myself drawn to the physical sciences, geology, meteorology, physics, and astronomy. Chemistry and I have a bit of an estranged relationship going back to the eleventh grade, but that is another story.

My robust English major/writer background and my puny (yet punny) science background leads to a lot of humor on my end as I try to make it through the my day. Yesterday I was amused by the fact that my authors were talking about a “meteoric rise” of methane concentrations in the atmosphere. It wasn’t until my second pass that I saw that it was a meteorological pun. This fact, I am sure, escaped my authors.

How do you amuse yourself at work?

(PS Keep your eye out for the Perseid meteor shower on August 11. Photo from JPL/NASA)