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Finding a reputable editor

In an unregulated industry that primarily takes place over the Internet, scammers abound. Indie authors often save for professional editing, and it can be a costly mistake to hire the “wrong one.”

How do you know you’re hiring a reputable professional editor? More important, how do you know you’re hiring the right kind of editor for your manuscript? From an editor’s perspective, there are a few standard cues to look for when vetting your editor.

Do they have a professional business site?

Not every freelance editor operates through a website. Marketplace sites, like Fiverr and Upwork, are popular places for editors to get started, and I’m not totally against them, but they are oversaturated and can make it hard for a new author, or first-time author, to find a good-fit editor among the glut of low-priced, quick-turnaround – ok, you get my point. Buyer beware is all I’ll say.

Websites are just great tools for business in general. They allow business owners to keep all the information about their business in one place and in an attractive format. They are also the gateway to first contact between an author and editor.

Can you view the editor’s credentials?

An author on TikTok recently shared with me that, in her experience, not many freelance editors include their credentials on their site. This was pretty surprising to me, and I’d have to investigate further to see if there is any truth in her statement.

Regardless, if you’ve got a website, and you’ve got an “About” page, it makes sense to include information that is a credit to your professionalism and abilities. No one gets hired without sharing their educational background, job experiences, skills, training, references, etc., and freelance editing should be no different.

Are there any professional membership badges visible?

Ok, so this isn’t a foolproof thing, but if an editor has paid for a professional membership (such as through the EFA, ACES, or CIEP), they gain access to a membership badge to place on their site or social media. These images are typically inaccessible to nonmembers. Of course, someone could claim membership to a professional org and decide not to use the membership badge, so again, it’s not necessarily a red flag if someone says they have membership but have nothing to show for it.

And just because someone pays for a membership doesn’t necessarily mean they are good at what they say are; however, it seems like if they’re willing to pay a membership fee, and thus put their money where their mouth is, then that’s at least a decent indicator of professionalism.

Are they transparent about what services authors will receive and how much services will cost?

A lot goes into this piece of criteria, and the thing is, you may not know the answers until you’re decently deep into the vetting process. First of all, the editor's site (or wherever the business resides) should contain an email address or contact form to reach them at. Maybe they use a meeting scheduler, and you can talk to them face to face. That’s always nice.

Poke around and make sure there are details somewhere about services and what each service entails. As I’ve discussed before about pricing, not every editor will put a baseline cost (per word or otherwise) on their site. I would not call that a red flag (heck, I don’t do it), but that means you should receive a very clear quote or proposal with the full cost of services, a payment schedule, and project timeline at some point in the onboarding process (and definitely before you've signed any NDAs or contracts!).

Signing a service contract or agreement never goes amiss. The sad reality is that, as an author, you will likely never be able to take an editor to court over a breach of contract, but you better believe I had a contract attorney look at my service agreement to make sure it provided protections for my business and for the author’s intellectual property. It's just good business and standard industry practice. There's something about the act of putting your name on a contract that holds a weight of accountability.

Do they provide a sample edit?

This is another one of those things that may or may not necessarily be a red flag. I like to offer a sample edit. First of all, I have the time to do so, and second of all, I want authors to see how I edit. It’s helpful to me, as well as the author. It also helps me determine the length and cost of the project. However, not all editors offer sample edits. In fact, many long-time professional editors who have been in the business for a while may not, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It just means if, as an author, you are using the “results” of the sample edit to determine “fit” with an editor, you could be more limited.

So what do you look for in the sample edit once it’s been returned to you? First of all, did the editor do what they said they would? Are you seeing the types of changes that you expected and want to see? Are the comments helpful to you? What tone do they strike?

Speaking of tone ... what is their communication style like?

No one is perfect. We all have bad days, but generally, communication between an author and editor should be professional and supportive. Some authors want a bit of “tough love” in their interactions with an editor, and some editors provide that. Others want a more warm approach. Different people obviously have different personalities, and that’s not quite what I’m talking about here. You and the editor's personalities may be totally different, but if the editor is proactive and forthcoming, transparent and professional in all their dealings with you before you actually become their client, that seems like a good thing.

Do they have a portfolio or testimonials?

Even a brand new freelance editor will have a testimonial or two to share, even if they have a bare bones portfolio. An editor won’t always be able to share information about the projects they’ve worked on, but they should have enough that gives you a sense of what others took away from working with that editor. Take a look at the words that pop out at you from a testimonial page. Are those the words you would use to describe your ideal editor? Even if there aren’t any book titles shared on a portfolio page, Google the author names. That’s always a good place to start.

Where are they from?

This is the sort of thing that could put me in hot water, but I think it has to be said. I believe editors who are editing the English language need to be native speakers. It doesn't matter where in the world an editor lives or what cultural or ethnic background they come from, if English is their native language, and they've been trained, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to edit well.

I sometimes see what I would consider misguided advice about finding an English-speaking editor who lives in the same English-speaking region you do or where you learned English. For example, if you're an Australian author, you should find an Australian editor because they'll be familiar with Australian slang/jargon and British spelling and grammar style. While this may be true on some level, many, many editors have been trained to work with a variety of English spelling and grammar style conventions. It should be part of an editor's standard onboarding procedure to ask the author their style preferences, including their preference of regional spelling and grammar style. This is where a sample edit comes in handy. If you notice that an editor hasn't asked about your preferences and doesn't seem aware of the difference in preferences, you should query about it ... and then run the other way if they're unaware or unsure what you're talking about.

Don’t forget about everything else!

The final line of defense seems to be in interacting as much as possible via channels most used by an editor you are interested in. Watch their TikTok videos, check out their Instagram, or interact with them on LinkedIn. Watch how they interact with others. Notice what they talk about and how they present themselves. I personally see social media as almost like an extended interview. Everything is out there for the world to see, so it better reflect how I want potential clients to view me and my business.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I know many authors do their homework and still get scammed or have a bad fit with an editor. And that’s frustrating and disappointing and discouraging. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of an unregulated industry, but by and large, most professional freelance editors are out there waiting to help you get your book ready to publish. They want what you want - it’s just a matter of finding the right one, which is, apparently, no small task.

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