How to Find and Work With Professional Editors

Working with professional editors are an essential part of the editing and publishing process. It doesn’t matter what publishing path you pursue, you need to use one.

Editors are there to make our books better. They polish and refine our stories, and narrow the focus of our narrative. They cut out the unnecessary elements, and enhance your major plot points. Editors are the last step we take before publishing our novel.

No two editors are the same. They have different focuses and editing styles, making it difficult to know who you need to work with or what to look for. So let’s look into the different types of editors, how to work with them, and where to find them.

What Are Professional Editors?

As previously stated, editors polish creative content, like your book, so you can either traditionally publish your novel or self-publish it.

According to Editors Canada, an editor (along with the writer) is responsible for ensuring that the document is:

  • accurate enough to satisfy the most informed audience member
  • clear enough for a novice to follow
  • interesting enough to catch and hold the attention of all readers

But why do they go to all this trouble for someone else?

Many editors enjoy finding the right words to convey a point or to make sense of a complicated piece of information. They’ll work with a text until it flows smoothly, and have a passion for detail and accuracy. They notice illogical arguments, inaccurate statistics, and poorly constructed sentences.

Simply put, editors are drawn to editing because they can’t ignore the mistakes they see in publications.

And depending on what irks them the most, they will focus on a specific type of editing.

An editor editing

The Different Types of Editors

There are several types of editors out there, and I’m not just referring to their personalities. Their jobs can differ between disciplines, such as magazines, videos, music, etc.

But for our purposes, we’re going to stick to the written word.

No matter what type of editor you come across, they will deal with at least one of the following types of editing:

  • Proofreading: detects any errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. It may also involve checking of different elements of a layout, such as headlines, paragraphs, illustrations, and colors, for their correct formatting.
  • Copy Editing: the process of reviewing and correcting written material to improve accuracy, readability, and fitness for its purpose, and to ensure that it is free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition.
  • Stylistic Editing:Clarifying meaning, eliminating jargon, smoothing language, and other non-mechanical line-by-line editing. May include checking or correcting reading level, creating or recasting tables and/or figures, and negotiating changes with author.
  • Structural Editing:Clarifying and/or reorganizing a manuscript for content and structure. Changes may be suggested to or drafted for the author.

And what type of editing they deal with depends on what part of the hierarchy they’re in.

Magazine and Newspaper Editors

Newspapers and magazines are on the decline, according to experts. Grocery stores are moving away from selling print publications at checkout across the globe.

But until newspapers or magazines disappear completely, you should know what the editing staff looks like and what their roles are:

  • Editor in chief or editor at-large—Responsible for the type of content produced by their newspapers or magazines, the look of the product, and the nature and number of stories/articles to be written.
  • Managing editor—Works under the most senior editor. Directs writers to particular stories. May write some of the stories. The managing editor may be responsible for one section of a newspaper (business or style or local news) or magazine. May write headlines or may delegate that task to others.
  • Copy editor—Responsible for checking article facts and ensuring that an article matches in-house style guides. Also checks spelling, grammar, and punctuation. May also suggest word changes to keep the newspaper or magazine from being sued. May arrange layout of articles and sidebars. Copy editors might write headlines.
A magazine editor looking at page layout

If the decline of newspapers and magazines troubles you, look into ways that will help them make a lasting impact. You can do this by subscribing to their websites to get all of the latest information, or by buying physical copies when you can.

Publishing House Editors

If you’ve heard that the book publishing industry is dying, don’t be alarmed. It’s not going anywhere, according to The Guardian. And because the book publishing business isn’t dying off, the industry still needs editors to flourish.

Publishing houses work differently than a magazine or newspaper and they hire different types of editors. They typically employ:

  • Acquisitions editor—Finds new authors and promotes writers he thinks will be profitable for the publisher. Often must fight to get an author accepted by the publishing house because he’s competing with other editors to bring in new authors. Writers and agents typically submit manuscripts to the acquisitions editor. The acquisitions editor, especially for fiction, may follow a manuscript from submission to publication, suggesting plot-level changes to bring the story in line with his/the publisher’s vision for the product line.
  • Developmental editor—Helps a writer develop a book from idea or outline or initial draft. Makes sure the book will meet the needs of the publisher and its readers. Will work with the author through any number of drafts. Often works with writers of non-fiction. Guides the writer in topics to be covered in or omitted from the book.
  • Copy/manuscript editor—(These may be two different positions or one that combines elements of both or the same position called by a different name.) Ensures that the manuscript meets in-house style standards and corrects grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Checks facts and may suggest different words. Verifies headings, statistics, data in graphs, and footnote entries. For fiction, the manuscript editor will check for consistency and logic, and will read with the needs of the audience in mind.
  • Proofreader—Compares one version of a manuscript against another to eliminate errors from the newest version. The proofreader is the last person to check a manuscript before publication. A proofreader is not an editor in the traditional sense, but because of a crossover between duties, an editor may be the proofreader.

Publishing houses have made some room in recent years for the self-publishing industry, which has created a need for freelance editors.

A pen laying on the book page

Freelance Editors

More people are turning to self-publishing as a way to get their books out there. However, they still need editors to help polish their manuscripts.

And this is where freelance editors step in. They can provide a variety of services, such as:

  • Copy editor—A freelance copy editor may deal primarily with spelling, grammar, punctuation, fact checking, and word choice (in the sense that he makes sure the words mean what the author thinks they mean).
  • Developmental editor—As detailed above, the developmental editor helps the writer from the idea stage through the final draft. He may suggest topics, help with research, verify facts, and plan the structure of the manuscript. He works through successive drafts with the writer. He’s as concerned with the structure of a manuscript as much as he is the words and meaning.
  • Substantive editor—Helps a writer improve his fiction manuscript by focusing on story elements, plot, characterization, dialogue, order of scenes, point of view, voice, setting, word choice, sentence construction and syntax, and pace—anything that could improve the strength of the manuscript. Substantive editors do not usually work with a writer from the beginning stages, but instead will come to a manuscript after the writer has completed several drafts. Points out weaknesses and suggests options to strengthen those areas. Examines both the big picture and the fine details of a manuscript (including grammar, spelling, and punctuation).
A freelance editor sitting on the floor working

What to Expect When Working with an Editor

Each editor and writer has a different relationship and expectations for one another but there are some commonalities that take place.

For instance, you will set up a meeting between yourself and your editor to discuss your book. You will go over what your book is about, who your audience is, and what your goals are.

Your editor will also probably tell you a bit about themselves, and answer any questions you may have. They will also ask about deadlines and how often you will be in contact with each other.

All of this will depend on what type of editing is being performed, what shape your manuscript is in, and what genre you’re writing in. Not to mention what your personal preferences are. Once everything has been established a contract will be drafted between the editor and the writer.

How to Get the Most Out of the Experience

Editing is not always a fun experience. So make sure that you’re nworking with someone that you trust and get along with because working with an editor should never be frustrating, confusing, or disheartening.

Which leads me to the question: how do I make editing a fun, easy process? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your editor:

  • It’s a partnership. They key to any good partnership is communication. Make sure that you tell your editor what you want to achieve with your book clearly and concisely.
  • Don’t waste your editor’s time. Once you get feedback from your editor, go over it ASAP. They have other clients and you don’t want to keep them waiting for follow-up questions or forgetting what your story was about.
  • Trust the process. Your editor has done this a bunch of times for many other authors. They know what they’re doing. Trust them to do the best for your story.
  • Your editor isn’t your enemy. So don’t be afraid to ask him or her questions or for clarification. Even disagree with them if you want. Just keep in mind that they are only trying to help you create a salable book.
  • Take advantage of their view of the market. They get to read trade publications that you don’t and they’re tracking what’s selling and what’s not too. Learn from that insight.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for another editor. If your working with a publisher or magazine and, an editor is not working for you then it’s okay to say, “Sorry, but I need someone else.”
  • Ask questions. Your editor will know what your strength and weaknesses are as a writer. So ask them questions on what needs to be improved and how to do it.

Before we move onto where to find your ideal editor, I wanted to talk about what to look for in an editor.

The Ideal Editor

Editors have unique editing styles. Some are more strict, while others are more lenient on what they let you get away with.

Either way, you don’t want an editor who relishes their power over your manuscript. These editors never compliment your work and believe it’s their life’s duty to point out how very wrong you are. Their lines are hard and unforgiving.

I’ve dealt with this type of editor before and it’s not fun. What’s even worse is that your writing suffers because you’re too dejected to learn anything or they’re not offering any helpful tips.

You also don’t want an editor that puts all of the onus on the writer either. This type of editor will end a lot of their “suggestions” with a question mark.

As always, you’re going to be looking for someone who lies between the two extremes. This sums up what you want:

You want an editor whose line is firm, yet not dogmatic. Experienced, well-read editors should be able to tell when you’re flaunting the rules of English on purpose. And if they’re not sure what you’re trying to accomplish, they should be able to ask you and receive a fair and reasoned answer.

Their edits may be short, direct and bereft of personality, but that concision and clarity prove their expertise. In most cases, they can make a definitive edit because they know it’s correct, or, at least, they’ve verified that it’s correct.

The Write Life

You want someone who is going to develop a relationship with you that is not strictly professional. You want an editor that you brag about in your acknowledgments section.

Where to Find Editors

In traditional publishing, you’re most likely going to get assigned to an editor within the publishing house. But if you’re pursuing the self-publishing route or want to make sure your novel is publish-ready before querying, then you’re going to want to find an editor.

One of the first places to look for an editor is in your favorite book.

Most writers give their editors a shout out in their acknowledgement sections. From there go to your favorite search engine, type in their name, and voila! You’ve got their website.

You can use an editing agency, like the NY Book Editors or Reedsy. The Creative Penn has a substantial list of editors that you could look into hiring.

Ask a writer friend for a referral. Or look into giving a newbie a shot on a platform such as Upwork or the Freelance Writer’s Den job board. Editor guilds (like Editors Canada) and self-publishing alliances are also good place to look for editors.

All you need to do is some research into who is out there and what they charge.

The Cost

I know that one of the biggest factors that stress writers out is the cost of hiring an editor. The cost of hiring an editor is largely going to be based off of experience and how much editing is required.

Most editors will have quotes for their services listed on their websites. Take a look at them and see if that fits into your budget.

And if you don’t have a lot to spend, looking towards less experienced editors may be the way to go. The only trade off here could be the quality of your edit.

Either way, having a professional look at your manuscript is better than not. So make sure that you put aside money for an editor.

Before You Hire an Editor…

Before you hire an editor, make sure that you check them out. Ask yourself or the editor the following five questions:

  • Which publishers have they worked for?
  • Are they an editor or a copy editor?
  • How many authors do they work with each month?
  • What their approximate quote is?
  • Can you get a trial edit?

This article from The Write Life breaks down why each of these questions matter. And from the editor’s answers you’ll be able to glean their competency and if you’re going to like working with them. This is especially if they agree to do a trial edit for you.

The other thing you need to figure out is when they expect to be paid, which will be outlined in a contract.

As with any contract, read it thoroughly to make sure there are no hidden fees or restrictive clauses and that what you’ve talked about in terms of deadlines, fees, and any additional editing are outlined.

I’ll say it again:

Read your contract carefully!

Doing this will save you time, trouble, and headaches, if things don’t work out between you and your editor.

I hope this post demonstrated why editors are a must have when it comes to publishing your novel.

Editors can provide invaluable industry insights and networking opportunities, but they are also your greatest champions. They polish your book until it shines and help you become a better writer.

Some editors work on books because it brings them joy to be part of the creative process. They get to help spread the word of all the great things you and they have done to bring your book into the world.

Who was your superstar editor? Where have you gone to look for an editor? Please tell me in the comments below!

Stay safe, everyone!

Until next time!



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


10 Responses

    1. In all honesty, I don’t actually know, so I looked it up and found this article on epic voice: 😛

      It’s been translated from Russian and can be hard to decipher. From what I understand, it’s common to epic pieces of literature, such as a novel, play, or poem. By the looks of it, the narrator recalls events in dialogue or a monologue. It also allows the narrator to rise above the constraints of space and time.

      I’ll look into it some more and let you know if I find anything else out. 🙂

  1. It grabs my interest, how you point out what an editor wants.
    Know the people you’re working with, and you’ll work much better, so to speak.
    Based on what you say here, I think it is valid to say a professional editor wants to bring something good and well-made into the world.
    And they will focus on a specific type of editing, to help remedy the types of mistakes or missteps that irk them the most.
    I wonder if I could find such a person, in the substantive or developmental disciplines, who has a motivation to put proper form to the type of work I’m trying to create.

    As always, thanks so much for the hepful information.

    1. Exactly!

      That’s definitely what an editor wants to do. It’s one of the reasons why they do what they do. For me, whenever I get to edit something for a friend or because I find mistakes in articles I see online, I want to fix things, so they’re better.

      Some editors definitely focus on a specific type of editing, others can be more generalist. I know that Editors Canada does offer a full certification course for all kinds of editing. And I’m sure you can. Job boards, like Upwork, are excellent places to start looking for those types of editors.

      No worries! I’m just glad it helps. 🙂

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