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.)
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)