How to find an editor who will help you look good

Aug 24, 2015 | Better Writing

How do you turn a good book into a great book?

Answer: Let a professional editor have his or her way with the manuscript. A professional editing job is even more important if your manuscript is weak. A professional editor can make it strong. And if you don’t use an editor, you might wind up like Greg who’s still wondering why his book doesn’t sell.

I love editors because they make me look good and save me from myself. I’ve posted general advice on choosing an editor for your business book. Recently I worked through the process of selecting an editor for a client’s book. Here are the details of that process.

Great editing is situational

There is no generic great editor. There are only editors who are great for you and your book. My client wrote a memoir, so we looked for experience editing memoir, in addition to general editing credentials. We tried to get a sense of an editor’s individual style.

Post a notice

I’ve found the best way to get the attention of professional editors is to post a project notice where lots of professional editors will see it. For this project that place was The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).

You want to include information that will help editors decide if the project is a fit for them. You also want to describe your selection process so they understand what they’re getting into. Here’s the notice we posted on the EFA site.

We are seeking a professional editor for a memoir of about 30,000 words. Here is the process we will use to make the selection.

We will review the submissions of interested editors and narrow the field to three possible editors. We will make our decision based on your experience and references.

Then we will ask each of the three to spend an hour reviewing a portion of the manuscript. The manuscript will be in MS Word and we want you to use that program’s change tracking and comment features. Everyone will get the same portion of the manuscript. You will be paid your normal hourly rate for this work.

We will select one person to provide an estimate for editing the entire manuscript and then to complete the work in an agreed-upon timeframe.

How the editor selection process proceeded

We received sixty-four responses within the first twenty-four hours. The first task was to eliminate the obvious misfits.

Five editors were eliminated because their materials contained typos, misspellings or grammar and usage errors. Seven were eliminated because they didn’t share anything about their credentials or shared things about how they work that wouldn’t fit the project. Twenty-three others were eliminated because their credentials were relatively weak.

Procedure note: It’s important to keep people advised of what’s happening. At every stage everyone who was eliminated received an email with that information and everyone who was moving on in the process received an email with that news and a description of what would happen next.

After a closer look at credentials, eleven editors were eliminated because their credentials were relatively weak. We requested references from the other eighteen. We received and reviewed references from twelve of them.

Two editors had extensive relevant experience, excellent references, and a long history in business. They became two of the three who would do the test edit.

Six editors had weak references. We eliminated them from consideration.

That left four. My client and I talked through all their credentials and discussed what we know of their personal styles. We chose one for the test edit.

Each editor was instructed to start at the same place in the manuscript and edit for one hour. We asked them to use MS Word’s comment and markup features. The editors were paid for one hour at their usual rate.

My client and I reviewed the three test edits by ourselves before we discussed our final selection. All of the editors we considered were professionals, but there was a vast difference in their styles.

One editor had a very aggressive comment style that was a little unsettling. We decided to eliminate that editor and concentrate on the other two.

My client made the final selection after taking a morning to do a careful, line by line, review of the two edits that remained. She chose the one who was the best fit for her and the project.

Bottom Line

I think it’s important to have a good process that will help you select and editor for your book who is right for both you and the project.


The important thing is that you wind up with an editor who will do what you need. My way is only one way to achieve that. For an example of another process that works read Teymour Shahabi’s post: “How to Find an Editor as a Self-Published Author.

Tip of the hat to Merce Cardus for pointing me to the post.

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