How to Avoid Being Bamboozled by a Book Editor

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Real talk: there are editors out there who will take advantage of authors. Today, I’m going to teach you how to avoid being bamboozled by a book editor.  

Start with these five steps:

Step 1: Choose Your Poison

Are you done writing your book, or does it need help with plot holes, character development, and a logical format? Does it need to be reorganized and revised? Do you need someone to look at the bigger picture? Then you need a developmental editor.

Are you done revising your book and need it edited for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and consistency? Do you need someone to concentrate on clarity and flow? Do you need someone to focus on the smaller details? Then you need a copyeditor.

What you need to understand is that editors do so much more than correct your grammar—editors improve your entire book without changing your voice. From fact-checking to sentence structure to word choice, editors do it all. 

Pro Tip: Your book editor should be familiar with a stylebook. Most editors use The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the industry standard stylebook. Some editors use MLA Style Manual. If you’d like to know the difference between the two, read this.  

Step 2: Set a Budget

I’m going to be candid here: a cheap editor is the second worst thing you could do to your book. The first would be neglecting to hire an editor at all. “But I can’t afford a professional editor.”

You can’t afford not to hire one.

How much should you budget, though? That depends on a few things: the length of your book, the kind of editing you need, the turnaround time, and the quality of the book. A full-length novel (100,000 words) in need of a professional copyedit can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000. A developmental edit will cost you more.  

Pro Tip: Stay away from book editors who charge by the hour. The editor should offer a fixed rate based on his initial review of your book. (Doesn't it make you feel uneasy when a book editor charges by the hour?) 

If you think it's too much money to hire a professional, then read this book review from an Amazon user for Trim Healthy Mama: 

 

  • 31 one-star reviews
  • 533 people found the above review helpful (they agreed with it)
  • Several negative reviews mention the poor editing job

What happens if you already hired an editor and have the same kind of review(s) as Trim Healthy Mama? If an editor charges an author for a professional service and doesn’t follow through (i.e., improperly edits the book; doesn’t finish the edits; and/or doesn’t ensure that the author is happy with the final product), then that editor has cheated his client. If this has happened to you, ask for a refund. 

But you’re going to ensure that doesn’t happen by following step 3. 

Step 3: Research Your Candidates

Ask the following questions when choosing an editor:

  • How long have you been editing/how many books have you edited? I’ve been professionally copyediting since 2010 and have edited over 300 books.
  • Have you ever edited a [insert your book genre] book before? If your book is historical fiction and the editor only specializes in horror, he might not be the best option for you. Make sure your editor is familiar with your genre.
  • What is the turnaround time? A copyedit for a full-length novel takes a minimum of six weeks. A developmental edit takes three+ months. A shorter book, like 20,000 words, takes three weeks or so, depending on the level of editing. Keep in mind that if the editor is juggling other clients, the wait time could increase. 
  • Will you charge me more if it goes past the turnaround time? Nope. That's why I charge a flat rate. I don't appreciate editors who charge a flat rate, and then come around with a surprise fee.
  • What do you charge to copyedit an 80,000-word book? It depends on what kind of editing you'd need. For copyediting, you can expect a ballpark of 4–5¢ per word. Contact me here for a quote.
  • Will you use a style sheet or Track Changes to show your edits? I was trained with a style sheet, but I use Track Changes now to show the author every single edit. It also allows me to add comments to specific sentences or paragraphs.
  • Will you do a sample edit so I can see your work? I do. I charge for them, and the price depends on the word count I'll be editing. 
  • Can I contact any of your recent clients? I think this is a great idea and should happen more often. What would happen if your editor appeared to have great reviews online but actually cheated several author clients? Ask if you can contact the editor’s clients—those are his references. Sometimes, you can see the editor's most recent client on their website (right here). You can also go to Amazon to see the editor's books (if he gives you a list) and contact the author from there.
  • Will you sign a contract to cover what we’ve discussed? Absolutely. I use the handy-dandy HelloSign to make signing electronically easier. Don't sign with an editor if he won't do a contract.

Pro Tip from Mandy Keef (editor extraordinaire): If your editor provides a sample edit, how will you know if it’s accurate? An editor should be providing explanations for punctuation/capitalization/grammar changes at the beginning. That way the author can look them up (if the author doesn’t know himself) and validate that the editor actually knows what he’s doing. You can't just say commas always go before conjunctions, and take someone's word for it. Because, no, they don't always go before conjunctions.  

Step 4: Review the Information

You have all the information now. It’s time to pick an editor. If you’re stuck on which one to choose, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did the editor reply to my emails in a timely manner?
  • Was he professional?
  • Was he friendly?
  • Did he ask about my book? (In other words, does he care about your book or the money?)
  • Does he walk the talk? (How did that sample edit go?) 

Step 5: Remember Your Reputation 

Guess what you are? An author. How incredible is that? That’s a huge feat that people are dying to accomplish—and you did it. 

And that credibility can be flushed down the drain the second your poorly edited book hits the shelves (or screens).

Don't let that happen. Use this guide to find the right editor for your book. After all, it deserves the best.

An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric coach, Shayla Eaton works one-on-one with self-published authors, having edited 300 books. She is the president of Curiouser Editing, where she offers top-notch publishing guidance for authors and their books.

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