How to Choose an Editor

First and foremost, you don’t choose an editor based on price. A book is a baby conceived and birthed by an author. An editor is a midwife or doctor that delivers that baby.  If you wouldn’t look for a discount doctor to deliver your human child, then don’t do the same for a literary baby. In fact, when some parents look for an obstetrician, they often ask other parents for referrals. This is, perhaps, the best means to choose an editor.


Suppose I don’t know anyone who has ever written a book, how then would I be able to ask for a referral? If you have no one to ask for a referral, then finding a professional editor or getting an editing quote may require Internet or library research. A great resource is Literary Market Place. It is an enormous reference guide to editors, publishers, printers, reviewers, wholesalers, and just about anything or anyone related to writing and publishing. It even has an online version. You can find the printed version in the reference section of just about any public library.


Meanwhile, for those who insist on getting a deal, you can try bidding sites like and Again, I caution you to stay away from price as the main determining factor. That said, you can almost always get a better deal or rate by using providers outside the country, such as India, Pakistan, etc. I offer you caution and my personal horror story of using someone outside the country for a publishing related project, not editing, though. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say the main or foremost issue was communication (written). I would literally have to keep sending the same message in varying forms to get something done correctly.  The other, almost more irritating, thing was that because these foreign providers bid so low to get the job, they nickel and dime you to do what they call “extra” work. You end up paying what an American was charging and with more aggravation. To say that all foreign providers I have worked with were problematic would be untrue. However, I have never nor would I ever use a foreign provider to create or edit English verbiage.


If you decide to have people bid for your editing project or job, please provide the following in your proposal or project description:


  1. Word count and/or page count
  2. Sample of writing from manuscript for provider to edit
  3. Extent of editing you “think” you need


If you fail to provide any of the above information, and the editor is able to quote a price for editing, then don’t use that individual. Think about it, an obstetrician is going to ask that his/her pregnant patient to get a blood test and maybe an ultrasound, too, so that he or she can determine the health and nature of the patient and child. This is true also for the person who is going to doctor and deliver your writing. As for the sample of writing you provide potential editors, once you get the edited copy back, share it with at least one other literary type person you respect and trust in order to make a decision. Also, have the editor to prescribe to you the extent of editing that he or she thinks you need. The prospective person should be able to describe why something was changed or removed.


In choosing an editor, make sure you get as much editing or as little as you “think” you reasonably need. There are lots of different types of editors, including copyeditors, substantive editors, etc.  You can find a full list of the types here

Many people use the term “proofreader” and “editor” interchangeably. Both function to improve documents, but that can, in many cases, be the extent of the similarities. A proofreader “checks” a document for typos, minor grammar issues, and layout inconsistencies. My first real job after college was as a proofreader for a large classified publisher. I had to check the display ad layout and wording against the intended design. I also had to correct any typos, missing or wrong words. After more college and bigger job opportunities, I became the editor-in-chief of a business magazine. By this point, I had learned that being an editor meant much more than correcting words. It meant helping writers to compose their words and even thoughts to create clear, compelling, concise, and sometimes colorful prose. That’s what an editor does.


My last piece of advice is that everyone needs an editor. I’m and editor, and I use an editor when I write any major projects, not like this article. I need and you need an editor because we all make mistakes – some because we don’t know, and others because we didn’t see them. No matter how the mistakes occurred, someone needs to fix them, especially if they could cost you credibility. This word “credibility” is what writers earn when people “trust” the author’s information and/or talent as authentic. Readers will begin to question an author’s credibility if he or she can barely compose a paragraph without an obvious mistake. Likewise, if the organization of the book is so haphazard, an author’s credibility will be questioned. Thus, even the composition of a book reflects an author’s competence or ability. Additionally, Microsoft Word and other editing software can’t provide help with coherence, unity or ideas, which I find that most writers need. These programs are also limited when identifying word usage errors, such as “apart” instead of “a part” or “dairy” instead of “diary.” Sometimes these programs will even highlight something as incorrect when, in fact, it is correct. Only a professional editor would be able to determine the difference. For instance, I was asked to edit a manuscript of a writer who told me his manuscript had been edited and proofread by three other people, including himself and his aunt who “is great at English.” What I discovered was a document that required extensive editing. I used Microsoft Word to identify some cursory issues, but I had to go back and correct almost 200 pages filled with comma splices and other errors that Word hadn’t identified.


The point is that choosing a good editor is critical to the outcome of a literary project, so follow the steps provided. Too much is at risk, mainly your credibility.

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