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Finding Your Own Professional Editor

Author:  Gary Kessler
Date:  26-03-03

If you have sufficient training and talent to be publishing your book or article, you really should not need to engage the services of a professional editor before you submit your manuscript to an agent or publisher.

The strength of your writing and ability to tell a story should shine through minor content and style problems in your manuscript, and traditional publishers have editors of their own to polish the manuscripts they contract to publish.

However, there may be situations where a pre-submission edit is appropriate:

  • You feel a professional edit would enhance the saleability of your manuscript.
  • An agent feels you need to have the manuscript edited before approaching publishers.
  • A publisher is only interested in publishing the work if you make revisions that you need the help of a professional editor to accomplish
  • If you are self-publishing or contracting the services of a book production company (e.g., a POD producer or a vanity press), you will probably have to arrange for and pay for the edit of the book yourself.

With the current deluge of well-written manuscripts in the publishing market, agents and publishers do, indeed, expect work to be more highly polished than ever before.

So, what can you do if you think your manuscript needs an edit?

You can find a fresh set of eyes to review your manuscript. Ask literary or well read friends to read your work, make suggestions and point out possible grammar, spelling, and punctuation problems. Or ask for recommendations from other authors, local publishers or university creative writing programs.

You can also find editors listed in the publisher’s “bible” of publishing services, The Literary Marketplace. This large, two-volume set published annually is available in the reference section of most public libraries. Or, with a wary eye, you can do an Internet search for editorial help.

Finding Editorial Services Online

Reliable editorial services that can be contacted via the Internet include:

  • www.the-efa.org - The Editorial Freelancers Association site. The association has training and experience requirements for membership and a job board where you can list jobs (for at least $15/hour). The website also now has a listing of members who you can approach directly.
  • www.consulting-editors.com
  • editorialdepartment.net
  • www.copyeditor.com - A less reliable Internet job board where you can advertise for an editor. Credentialed editors do check this website, but there is nothing to keep those with no experience or ability from bidding for editorial jobs. If you use this service, it is doubly important that you ask for and verify credentials.

Choosing the Right Editor

When editor hunting, pay attention to the type of editor you think you need and the credentials and experience in working with books similar to yours of the editors you are researching.

Book and journal/magazine article editing is a specialty. The publishing industry has highly specialized style and format preferences that don’t match college-level English rules. Someone who is a college English teacher or a technical or newspaper editor may not have the right qualifications to be editing for the book publishing world.

In addition, the different genres and categories of book publishing are specialized. Look to engage an editor who has demonstrable editing experience in the appropriate genre or category.

What Type of Editor Do You Need?

The type of editor you need depends on what you need done with your manuscript:

  • If you are looking for an evaluation of the marketability of your book or for advice on the structure or content of your book, you need a substantive editor. Those with experience as acquisitions editors in publishing houses have good credentials for this type of editing. Experienced literary agents also often do well with this.
  • If you are looking for someone to do a complete overhaul of the content and structure of your book, you need a book doctor. This specialty requires considerable writing talent and experience in the specific genre or category of the book. So look for evidence of work on published books in your genre or category.
  • If you are looking for an editor to clean up the style and format of your manuscript, engage the services of one with formal training in book publishing and experience in books in your genre or category that were actually published by traditional publishers. Although literary agents often offer to help clean up the style and format of manuscripts, few are actually credentialed to do so.

Learn From Your Editor

If you do bite the bullet and pay for any type of edit, spend a good deal of time examining what was done in that edit. Try to observe and absorb the restyling the editor did of your work; you should be able to work these techniques into your next work yourself.

How Much to Pay

Book editing, like many businesses, has an unregulated, “what the market will bear” payment structure. However, publicized rate structures are often significantly more than what editorial services are willing to work for - and most certainly more than publishers pay for these services.

Private clients should be able to find a good editor by offering payment within accepted ranges. Claims of $40/hour and $60/hour pay structures are common. But academic and small publishers generally pay $15-$20/hour for regular copyediting, while larger trade publishers pay $18-$25/hour. Publishers generally pay $22-$27/hour for substantive editors.

Ghost writers are usually paid by the book, and their payment is often indexed to the projected sales of the book (which itself is often indexed to the existing celebrity of the “author”).

The general copyediting rate is considered to be seven or eight pages (depending on the condition of the syntax) of standard manuscript copy per hour.

A standard manuscript page is considered to be:

  • the normal 8 1/2 X 11-inch page and margin settings provided by computer word processing programs
  • using 12-point font in either Courier or New Times Roman (hint: New Times Roman uses fewer pages than Courier)
  • with everything double spaced
  • and extra line spaces only between chapters and sections.

Estimating Editing Costs

To estimate how much your edit should cost, divide the number of standard manuscript pages by both seven and eight, which gives you a range of the estimated number of editing hours, and multiply by the hourly rate. Most editorial services will add three or four hours to the time to cover the preparation of general notes. They will negotiate who pays for delivery costs if hardcopies need to be exchanged.

Copyright 2003 Gary Kessler. All rights reserved.

Gary Kessler, a frequent contributor to the WritersNet discussion board, is a novelist and freelance book editor who has edited more than eighty-five published books for some twenty traditional publishers since 1997. He has worked inside both trade and academic publishing houses and has released books of his own in traditional publishing, POD-production, and electronic publishing forms. He is the editor of the two-volume Writer’sNet Anthology of Prose, which was released in 2002. Gary’s previous career was with the U.S. Government’s foreign media news agency, for which he served in embassies in East Asia and the Mediterranean and also served as the news agency’s managing editor. He provides writing and publishing tips for authors on his professional website at www.editsbooks.com.