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Indie Authors: How To Choose A Copyeditor

Indie Authors: How To Choose A Copyeditor

Sometimes an author needs a lot of hand holding …

How do you choose the right copyeditor for your book? And which kind of editor do you need anyway? ALLi member, indie author and ace copyeditor herself, CS Lakin, points the way.

Getting a personal recommendation of an editor from a trusted author friend is usually the best way to go. But even in those instances, you may find one author’s choice in an editor may not be your best choice.

Personality comes into play, and sometimes the fit just isn’t right. Sometimes an author needs a lot of communication and handholding, and some editors are all business, so see how the editor responds to your query and questions.

You should be able to tell by her personality and responsiveness to you if it feels like a good fit. An editor that doesn’t answer your e-mail, ignores your specific questions, or pushes you to pay or to hire her for a service you don’t really want should set off red flags.

Don’t expect them to drop everything when you contact them, though, or push your rush job to the front of the line if they have other commitments ahead of your project. They may also not want to talk on the phone, for that takes up a lot of time that could be spent editing.

I avoid phone calls with clients, not primarily because it eats up my time but because I like having all correspondence in writing. When juggling a dozen or more clients at a time who are in various stages of rewriting, it’s not humanly possible for me to remember everything I’ve talked about with each client. I often need to refer back to an e-mail to make sure I’ve answered their questions.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Editor

What if you don’t know anyone who can give you a personal recommendation for an editor, or the editor they’ve sent you to is just not right or way too busy right now? What other avenues could you pursue to find that perfect editor?

  • Reputation and Testimonials:
  • If you have no author friends or writers’ groups you belong to that can give you a personal recommendation for a great editor, consider joining a Google or Yahoo group or two, then post a query to see who might be able to recommend someone. LinkedIn is also a great place to find a good editor. You can post to writing groups you join with the same query. Or you can search for editors and look at the testimonials on their profile page.
  • You can also look at the testimonials an editor has on her website, but it’s not at all an imposition to ask an editor you’re considering for a few references. You might do this when hiring a lawyer, surgeon, or dentist, so why not an editor? A great editor doesn’t need to have a lot of letters after their name, nor do they need to be able to give you a list of NY Times best-selling authors they’ve edited for. Some of the best editors I know don’t have a college degree but they have learned the Chicago (CMOS) rules inside and out, and that’s what’s needed. And most best-selling authors don’t hire a personal editor for their books; their publisher provides all the editing services required before publication, and that’s usually in-house.
  • If you’ve written a novel, you may prefer choosing an editor who is a published novelist, and perhaps one who writes in your genre, especially if you are not sure your book is really well structured. An editor/author, in this case, may be a better choice than an editor who has never written anything in her life.
  • Some literary agents offer a list of recommended editors, such as this list on agent Rachelle Gardner’s site. If you know any agents or have the opportunity to speak with some at a writers’ conference, they may refer you to some they’ve worked with or can recommend. And speaking of writers’ conferences—what better place to chat with lots of authors and ask them for an editor recommendation? Or there may be editors at the conference with whom you can meet and talk to in person.

Other Resources: Another way you can find an editor is by going through an established and reputable editing organization. Editcetera, in Berkeley, CA, is one example of a group of very proficient and experienced editors that not only teach online and on-site workshops in editing, they also have a pool of editors who have gone through rigorous testing and application to become approved as their editors for hire. Often you have a large choice of editors, including some who are authors that write in your genre, and you can count on getting great editing help this way. Some companies allow you to specifically choose the editor you want to work with; others do not. So be sure to read up on what they offer and how their service works.

How Job Cost Is Determined: This may not seem important to some, but I’d like to give you something to think about. Some editors charge by the hour, while others charge either by the page or word. I would opt for editors who charge by the hour, and here’s why. When an editor sets a rate per page or word, they are usually figuring an average regarding the time they will spend editing a page or a certain number of words. That means if you are a proficient writer and self-edit your material well, you are getting charged the same as a sloppy or inexperienced writer who may require a complete rewrite of every sentence. In a sense, you—the experienced writer—are getting penalized instead of rewarded for your hard work and experience.

The flip side to this, of course, is if you are truly inexperienced and feel your book is a train wreck, and an editor is willing to take you on and do massive reworking of your material for a reasonable price. In that case, paying by the word or page may be a great deal for you.

However, you may wonder if an editor faced with a lot of messy material requiring an exorbitant amount of time to wade through might tend to rush in order to make his hourly rate. Surely he’s not going to spend an hour on a page or two when he aims to edit eight pages an hour. An editor paid by the hour who has been asked to do his best and give serious consideration and help to the writer, which may also include some instruction on how to improve her craft, will not feel rushed and will spend just the right amount of time needed without that clock ticking in the back of his head. I may be generalizing here, but the professional editors I know charge by the hour.

Tip: If you’ve found someone who might be just the right editor for you, but you’re still hesitant, just hire her to edit a few chapters. See how it goes—not just the editing but the overall communication and support as well. If the results are favorable, give her the rest of your manuscript to edit. Clearly tell her your concerns and needs, and ask questions if you don’t understand something. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a great friendship as well as a professional relationship.


Author: C.S. Lakin

C. S. Lakin is a multipublished novelist and writing coach. She works full-time as a copyeditor and critiques about two hundred manuscripts a year. She teaches writing workshops and gives instruction on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive.Her new book - "Say What? The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Usage" - is designed to help writers get a painless grasp on grammar. You can buy it in print or as an ebook - more information can be found here.


This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. Hi

    My name is George Moore.

    I am searching for a Copy Editor who has experience with non fiction instructional books.

    This book is a tutorial for the sport of surfing. At this time it is complete for the most part and the 3rd proof / final read is in progress.

    Could you please let me know how I could find an Editor in these areas?

    Thanks so much!


  2. I need a copy editor … preferably someone knowledgeable about today’s progressive politics.

    While my work is fiction, the politics of my book are as factual as possible.

    At this point, I have written two books. The second is a continuation of the first. I am close to starting Book Three. Even after finishing Book Three, I suspect this story will not be over.

    The story is of a young man who is not a good person. He is suddenly reduced to harsh circumstances, works hard to change himself, and what happens to him as a result.

    My manuscripts are polished. Now, I am at the point of requiring professional assistance to be sure. I have just begun my search for the right editor. If you are reading this and feel it might be you, please feel free to email me without hesitation. Thank you so much.

  3. Hello Lisa,

    I am in desperate need of a Copyeditor, that will do proofing, and correct mistakes related to my first fiction novel. It is important to promote this novel with the top online services. My book is online selling for $27.00 a copy, and it has mistakes all over the book and book cover. Please Help !

    Thank you
    Cecelia Curtis

  4. CS Larkin I am working with my fathers manuscript who is deceased the story is about his life in White Russia before and during WW11 broke out . He and my mother were in a concentration camp in Glemobkoye out of 20,000 people that were killed only 5 survived. My parents against all odds survived and fought with the Partisans. They were heroes saved many lives.I want to tell his story in his own voice. He spoke with a lazy English but it has a wonderful flavor, I am not a writer but I am an artist and I did do a body of work with paintings interpreting his story through my images with my Rabbi writing prose with some of the images that didn’t have excerpts from his book. It was well received and is going into the Holocaust Museum in Tucson, I was asked to do a book on the exhibit which I did it is on Amazon The book is titled L’Chaim – To Life by Lisa Mishler
    People have asked for the whole story and that is why I am working with re-doing his work.
    I wondered if you would work with me I feel a copy editor is the way to go because I don’t want the story changed just helped along to express what I and he was try to communicate. Their story is beautiful, remarkable and reads like a movie. If you would I need to know what you charge? Thank you for your time Lisa Misher http://www.lisamishler.com [email protected] 520-444-7074

  5. […] If you have no author friends or writers’ groups you belong to that can give you a personal recommendation for a great editor, consider joining a Google or Yahoo group or two, then post a query to see who might be able to recommend someone. LinkedIn is also a great place to find a good editor. You can post to writing groups you join with the same query. Or you can search for editors and look at the testimonials on their profile page. (Indie Authors: How To Choose A Copyeditor) […]

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