7 Little-Known Ways to Finding the Right Book Editor

As a writer, you’re probably not overly concerned with dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s. Besides, your focus is on giving a tangible form to your ideas, which makes it harder to spot holes in logic and other problems that could cause your readers to disconnect. This is why every writer needs an editor! A professional book editor will not only check the technical aspects, such as grammar and punctuation, but also offer valuable advice from the perspective of your target audience.

While editorial support can take a range of forms, from ghost writing to proofreading, most authors look for either one of two service levels—referred to generically in this article as “copy editing” and “substantive editing.” Different companies offer these under different labels, but you can use the following guide to compare across services.

Copy editing – for meticulous attention to grammar and style

The primary focus of copy editing is to produce a book that is ready for publishing. Accordingly, a copy editor performs a line edit to correct the technical aspects of writing, such as

  • Grammar, spelling, and syntax
  • Punctuation
  • Typographical errors
  • Unclear or ambiguous words and phrases
  • Word choice
  • Stylistic conventions (unless otherwise specified, the editor would follow the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style)

Substantive editing – for consultative support

Substantive editing is useful for authors who need expert guidance on plot, characterization, and core concept, in addition to in-depth line editing for the technical aspects. This service helps authors make their material more cohesive and interesting for their target audience, without altering the author’s voice. The editor will provide comments about

  • Plot and pacing (for fiction) and narrative coherence (for nonfiction)
  • Core concept (for nonfiction)
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Tonal shifts
  • Title

Given the depth and scope of the editor’s involvement in a substantive edit, this service calls for greater collaboration between the author and editor, and might involve multiple rounds of editing until all the issues are satisfactorily addressed.

Some companies offer more intense editorial support in the form of developmental editing (also called manuscript critiquing or literary review). Such services are typically sought in the early stages of book writing, but they can be useful even after the writing is completed. The editor goes over the entire book, or a substantial portion of it, and provides comments on specific aspects in an editorial letter and/or page margins. Such services are aimed at helping authors develop their books and do not typically include any line editing.

Tip! If your budget does not support hiring a professional editor, you could tap into pools of beta readers who would critique your book for free. While beta readers are no substitute for professional expertise, their feedback would give you the constructive criticism you need to publish a stronger version of your book.

How to choose the right editor?

Like with any service, there is really no way to be sure without personal experience or the recommendation of someone you trust. But here are a few tips to cut through the clutter of book editors and find the right one:

  • Ask for a sample edit
    Most editing companies and freelance editors will offer a free sample edit on about 1000 to 2000 words. Use the same sample across companies for an easy comparison of their quality. Also, if you are considering working with an editing company, ask for profiles of suitable editors and choose the one with the best experience in your genre.
  • Gauge professionalism from responsiveness
    Do they respond quickly to your questions? Do they honor their deadlines? Do they understand your doubts and address them in a manner that makes you look forward to working with them?
  • Look for a holistic service provider
    If you want professional editing, you are also likely to want professional design services for your book’s cover and inner pages. If you are new to publishing and don’t have a set of professionals that you or people you know have personally vetted, it would be better to work with a company that offers all the services you may need.
  • Do not underestimate project management
    Like writing, book editing can be a long-drawn project. Look for a company that treats your book like a project and assigns a dedicated project manager to it. This will save you the bother of communicating with a different professional at every interaction, or for every new service that you take up. It is like having your own agent at the service provider.
  • Watch out for additional costs
    Book editing is an iterative process; several rounds of editing may be required before a book is finally considered ready for printing. When you compare prices, consider how additional rounds will cost you and whether they are discounted.
  • Ensure a communication channel with your editor
    Confirm that your editor will be available to clarify doubts. Understand how easy/difficult or quick/time-consuming this process might be.
  • Inquire about their complaints policy
    Even after you select the best editor/service provider following a rigorous screening process, you still run the risk of being disappointed. Before you decide who to work with, inquire about their feedback policy and ask how complaints are typically resolved.

Lastly, remember that good writers do not necessarily make good editors. At the very least, editing requires an eye for detail and knowledge of the stylistic conventions applied to published works. Imagine a situation where your readers point out embarrassing but avoidable errors in book reviews! Investing in professional editing will help you publish work that you can be truly proud of. After all, even bestselling writers need the services of professional editors.


Learn about Editage’s book editing and design services!


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