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  • [She Self-Publishes] How to Choose Your Editor
[She Self-Publishes] How to Choose Your Editor
Written by
Emily Suess
February 2013
Written by
Emily Suess
February 2013

No ifs, ands, or buts. If you're going to self-publish, you need an editor. Choosing the editor you need depends entirely on where you are in the self-publishing process, however.

Essentially there are three editing phases: substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading. It's highly unlikely that you'll find an editor that does all three. In fact, you might be wise to run away from someone that offers to do all three stages, because:

  • All three types of editing require different skills sets.
  • The more eyes on your manuscript, the better your chances of catching more mistakes.
  • Reading the same manuscript over and over and over makes for tired eyes and lots of missed details.

You may be familiar with the basic types of editing already, but we'll recap just to make sure everyone's on the same page.


Substantive Editing

Substantive editing is what I call big picture editing, and it can change your manuscript for the better. Assuming your editor knows what she's doing.

Substantive changes include things like reorganizing paragraphs, sections, or even chapters to improve how the story is told. Your editor may also suggest that you scrap sections that don't move the story along or rewrite portions that impede the flow of your work.

When your editor is done with the substantive portion of your revisions, there's a good chance your manuscript will look very, very different. That's why this is generally done first, before any copy editing or proofreading.



Copyediting is next. (You may also hear people call it line editing.) Once the big kinks in your manuscript have been worked out, an editor will move on to sentence-level changes, keeping an eye out for problems with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. For most fiction works, The Chicago Manual of Style is the reference of choice.

This is the time when your book may get a style sheet too. As you can imagine, editing isn't an exact science. There's room for someone to make a few judgment calls. For instance, in a non-fiction work there may be multiple spellings for a particular location. If neither is wrong, you must pick one and stick to it for consistency's sake.

Likewise if you're working on a non-fiction book, this is the point where facts, diagrams, charts and captions will be thoroughly checked for accuracy. Other fiction manuscripts, like works of historical fiction, may be fact-checked too.



During this stage the proofreader will check a sample (or galley or ARC) of your book for errors. While she may find spelling or punctuation errors that fell through the cracks in the copyediting phase, she's also looking to make sure the book meets layout and styling specs. In addition, the proofreader may check the current revision of your book against another version looking for any changes or omissions.


Hiring the Best Editor

Now that you know the differences in types of editing, it'll be much easier to find the right editor for your project—at least as it exists in its current state. The way to find a good one is to ask yourself a number of questions.

  1. What kind of editor do I need? I covered details of the types of editors above to make the process as painless as possible for you. Think of the changes you need, and hire someone that provides the editorial service you're looking for. If you don't have recommendations, do a search. Just make sure you follow-up.
  2. Does the editor work in my genre? For the best result, you should work with an editor that specializes in your genre, whatever that might be: fantasy, romance, non-fiction, mystery, self-help.
  3. Is the editor experienced? Find out how long the editor has been working in the industry, and don't be afraid to ask for references or a list of projects she's worked on.
  4. Does the editor offer consultations? Many times, you'll be able to turn over a portion of your manuscript so that the editor can evaluate it and give you an idea how the process will go. It costs a lot less, and it gives you an opportunity to see if the editor will be a good fit before you sign on for the rest of the editing.
  5. Can you afford it? Money matters, so it's important to do the math. If you get a quote by the word or by the page, don't just think "Hey, that sounds good!" and sign on the dotted line. Figure out how much it'll cost you to have your entire manuscript edited. If you don't have the money, you have two options: keep shopping or start saving.


Don't forget to talk with your fellow She Writes members for recommendations on great editors and proofreaders, too!

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  • Emily Suess

    Kelly, traditional works are sometimes horrible too. You're right! Thanks for sharing your experience. 

    Suzy, thanks for the recommendation!

  • Kelly Hand

    I agree that books need editors, and yet I did take the cheapest way out for my novel, Au Pair Report.  My writing group served as substantive editors and I did my own copy-editing, which I have done on a freelance basis for a couple of other authors (and I am extremely nitpicky).  It turned out there were about three typos in my ebook that I did not detect (two equally nitpicky friends let me know), but the great thing about ebooks is that it's possible to upload a new version.  I was able to do that easily on Smashwords, but Kindle is harder since the files have to be in HTML. I had paid someone to do the formatting and think I'll need to pay more to get a new HTML file (of course, my theory is that the formatters are the source of the typos, but I have no proof).  I must say that a total of three typos is not bad, given that many traditionally published books have more.  The worst example of poor editing I've ever seen was Peter and the Starcatchers, a middle grade book Dave Barry co-wrote with another author.

  • Suzy Soro

    I must recommend my editor, who I've worked with twice, once on an essay coming out in April in an anthology and in my memoir, which just launched. Professional, easy to work with, has worked with traditional and Indie publications. The best part was that sometimes she even enhanced my jokes (grrrr) and that? For a comedian? Is the luckiest you can get! Here's her link if you want to take a look at her site: http://the-editrice.com/commendations.html

  • V. Lynne Murray

    Well put!

  • Miranda C. Spencer

    Good succinct explanation!

  • Daphne Q

    Good advice, Emily!