Monday, May 24, 2010


Rhonda Browning White

As professional editors, we hear it all the time.

“I paid Editor X four hundred dollars, (or a thousand dollars, or fifty bucks) to edit my manuscript, and I’m still getting rejections. The agents are telling me it still needs a lot of work. Have I been scammed?”

It breaks our hearts, but we have to answer, “Yes. You have.”

A professional edit of your work is an investment. It’s an investment in your manuscript, in your reputation as a writer of excellence, and in your career as a published (or soon-to-be-published) author. Hence, you want to select the best editor possible for your work. But in a world of scam artists, or even well-meaning acquaintances who offer to edit your work for a few bucks, how do you decide which editor to trust with your manuscript?

In this two-part essay series, I’ll address some of the questions you should ask of potential editors and the answers to seek before you hand over your manuscript (and your money).

  • Determine what kind of editing your manuscript (book, novel, novella, short story, chapbook, etc.) needs. Do you need simple proofreading by a qualified professional? Do you need a full edit with feedback on active voice, characterization, plotting, pacing, and other important story elements? Do you need more in-depth assistance, such as a complete re-write to restructure or round-out your story, or to act out (show) the scenes that are written in a telling fashion? Do you have a basic outline and completed research, but you need a professional writer to ghostwrite your story? In addition to the edit, do you want post-edit assistance, such as help preparing a proposal, query letter or synopsis? Or do you simply need a professional read-through analysis where a qualified editor will study your manuscript and make overall suggestions or offer direction for improvements you can make on your own? Once you know what you need, you can search with confidence for the right candidate for the job.
  • Research the editor or editing firm thoroughly on the Internet. Search both company name and the individual editor’s name. Check to see what is said about them outside of their own website, and see how active they are in the writing community. Are they listed as workshop presenters or speakers at writing conferences? Are they mentioned on author websites with a note of thanks for what they've done? Look for an editing company that provides excellent references and testimonials from clients.

  • Check to make sure the editing company has two or more editors. If one has a family emergency, you’ll want a back-up contingency plan to ensure your work is finished before the deadline you were given. Another benefit of a company with multiple editors is that, while one editor may thrive on editing doctorate dissertations, another may detest them, yet love to edit romances or horror stories. Choose a company with multi-talented editors, so you can ensure you’ll have a long-term relationship with the group, no matter which direction your muse may lead you.

  • Ask for a free sample edit. Reputable editors will be happy to ediT a few pages (250-500 words) of your novel or book. Of course, if you’ve written a two-page short story or brief article, don’t expect a free sample—that’s unfair to the editor. It’s important to see if the editor can supply the exact assistance you need and if you two are compatible as a team. Your relationship with your editor is a marriage, of sorts, so make sure honesty and communication are part of the equation. Can you email your editor and expect a response within one business day? (If your free sample edit is returned within one business day, you can expect the same prompt response to your questions and concerns). Will you editor agree to conference call (telephone) meetings? Will there be an additional fee for such phone conferences? Were you provided a phone number at which to contact your editor, free of charge, with questions regarding your edit?
  • Expect to pay fair wages for professional work. There’s an old adage that says, “If you pay with peanuts, you’ll end up working with monkeys.” The so-called editor who offers to edit your manuscript in exchange for nail salon services, babysitting, or auto repair is not a professional. Professional editors are highly skilled, college-educated, published experts who accept only real money for real work. Editors pay taxes on their wages (no “under the table” business), they carry business insurance, and they will provide you with a legal contract prepared by an attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry.
  • Settle on an exact fee—in writing. Be certain how much the professional editing service you request will cost. What is the exact fee for the service provided? Will you be billed by-the-hour (typically only for ghostwriting or writing that requires research, which can’t always be quantified by a word-count); or will you be charged a per-word fee? Expect to pay less for small services, such as professional proofreading or for a read-through analysis, and more for ghost-editing (a service that’s more detailed than a full edit, but less involved than ghostwriting). Typical full-edit fees range from three cents per word to ten cents per word, depending on the company and the editor. Ghostwriting fees may range from thirty cents to fifty cents per word. Proofreading fees may range from one to three cents per word. In addition to the basics, make sure you seek value-added services, such as frequent communication, a multi-page written analysis of the work completed on your manuscript, or perhaps even your name listed on the editor’s web site as a free marketing tool for your published book.
  • Ask about payment options. Does the editor or editing company accept credit cards, or are they strictly cash-and-carry? (Many credit cards offer free cardholder protection services). Will the editor accept your work piecemeal (a chapter at a time as you can afford to pay)? Do they offer gift certificates? Will they accept international payments? Professional editing companies will offer a variety of options to make doing business with them convenient and affordable.
  • Ask for an editing contract. Make sure specifics are spelled out for you, particularly, two things: First, that the writer retains all rights to his manuscript, including suggestions made by the editor pertaining to his manuscript. Second, the editor will keep confidential all information about the writer and the submitted manuscript. The contract should also spell out exactly how much the edit will cost, what it will include (one edit, multiple edits, rewrites, follow-up services, phone conferences, and an estimated date of completion).
Check back this fall for more tips on selecting the right editor for your manuscript. Remember, you and your editor are a team! Choose one who will be with you through many manuscripts to come!

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