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  • Grammergency #23: Five Essential Questions to Ask Your Editor
Grammergency #23: Five Essential Questions to Ask Your Editor
Written by
Annie Tucker
October 2015
Written by
Annie Tucker
October 2015

Hiring a book editor can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned authors. It’s an intimate dynamic that requires trust, open communication, and sensitivity on both sides. The good news is, as vulnerable as you may feel sending off your beloved manuscript to be redlined, the relationship that you develop with your editor can be a symbiotic, rewarding, long-term one—especially if you do your due diligence by asking the five questions below when you’re considering whom to entrust your book to.


1) What kind(s) of editing do you do?

Editing is not a one-stop shop. Ideally, a book manuscript goes through a developmental edit, a copyedit, and a proofread, in that order, and each of these types of editing focuses on a unique set of considerations. Editors who are equally adept at developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading are basically the unicorns of the publishing world; it’s far more common for an editor to focus on a single phase of the process. As a result, be sure to ask any potential editor what her specific skill set is, so that you don’t end up hiring a proofreader when what you really need is a developmental editor. And if you don’t know what level of editing your book needs, read this post before you start interviewing candidates.


2) What are your rates?

This may seem overly obvious, but you’d be surprised how much different editors’ rates and payment models vary, depending on their level of experience, the kind of editing they provide, and whether they charge by the page, by the hour, or based on some other criterion. If you interview an editor who charges by the hour (as many do), ask what her average page-per-hour editing pace is; that will give you a sense of the total hours she’ll spend on the project and the total amount you should therefore expect to pay. It’s also acceptable and even advisable to ask a prospective editor for a sample edit. Some editors are willing to provide, say, a one-hour sample or a ten-page sample of their work for free, but you shouldn’t expect that, so find out whether you’ll need to compensate them. Being as informed as possible from the get-go about the particulars of every candidate’s fee structure will help you make the best decision for your budget.


3) Are you going to change my voice?

I can’t tell you how many authors who’ve already worked with a developmental editor come to me lamenting the fact that the editors tampered so much with the authors’ narrative voice or tone that their book didn’t even feel like their own anymore. A good editor should point out issues that weaken your voice—inconsistencies, flatness, etc.—but shouldn’t try to make it fundamentally something it’s not, unless you actively ask for that before you get started. If you encounter a prospective editor who says something like, “I’ll change your voice if I think it’s not effective,” you have every right to tell her you don’t want her making any such changes without asking your permission first.

4) How much do you communicate with your clients during the editing process?

If you’re a person who’s always online, asks lots of questions, and/or needs a lot of hand holding, be transparent about that with your editor and find out what her communication style is. Ask her whether she’s okay with receiving a bunch of emails with individual questions you might have, or whether she’d prefer for you to consolidate all of your questions within a single email each week, and then find out whether she plans to bill you for the time she spends responding to your messages. You might also ask whether she’s available for phone calls to provide editorial clarity and/or moral support, and whether she charges separately for those or considers them built into her service agreement with you. Every editor is different; some of them are happy to engage in ongoing chitchat about your project, and some of the busier ones just want to do their thing and deliver the finished product to you when the time comes. Clarifying these parameters up front will ensure that both of you get what you need.


5) What will my next steps be?

Even the most niche editors should have a sense of the overarching publishing process and where their particular role fits in to it. For example, a developmental editor should know that a copyedit comes next, and a copy editor should know that a proofread happens after a copyedit. So be sure to ask whomever you’re working with what will happen when her part is done, so that you can plan and budget for that.


Have a question? Leave it in the comments below.

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