7 Must-Ask Questions to Find Your Perfect Book Editor – Part I

Today’s post is written by my friend, a book editor, Kristen Hamilton.  She’s going to enlighten us on how to find a perfect editor for our book.

Here’s Kristen…

Imagine this: You’ve finished writing and self-editing your manuscript and are ready to hire an editor. You type in manuscript editor on Google and are overwhelmed by the results—over 95 million. You e-mail several book editors, not really knowing what you’re looking for, and choose one at random, possibly the cheapest one or the one who has the best looking website. Then, after spending thousands of dollars, you’re unhappy with your book and, discouraged and disenchanted, you shelve your book and never publish it.

Just as the market is saturated with books, it’s also saturated with book editors—some good, some not so good. Although every editor has something positive to bring to an author-editor relationship, some editors will undoubtedly be a better fit for your manuscript.

How do you find the right book editor for your manuscript? You just need to ask yourself the right questions.

1. What type of editor are you looking for?

Are you happy with your book’s overall structure? Do you feel like something’s missing in the storyline? Do the sentences have good rhythm and flow? Most books require three distinct stages of editing:

  • Substantive or developmental editing focuses on the big picture of your novel: addressing character development, pacing, plot holes, and loose ends.
  • Line editing looks for improving sentence structure, readability and flow, consistency and clarity, and logic and sense of scenes.
  • Proofreading is the last check for surface errors including spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice, and syntax.

Some editors only provide one or two of these services, while others are specialized in all three. Of course, each editing service will be a separate pass through your manuscript. The more times your editor goes over your manuscript, the more errors that will be caught. A good editor will be able to guide you to choose which editing services are right for your book.

2. Does the editor specialize in your genre?

Once you find a competent developmental editor, line editor, and/or proofreader, narrow down the results a bit more by genre.

Most editors specialize in a specific genre. Cookbooks, crime thrillers, general fiction, or memoirs are all highly different types of books, and need different elements to succeed. Naturally, the more experience the editor has with that specific genre and type of editing, the better hands your book is in. And while there are no guarantees that your perfect editor will transform your book into a bestseller, an adequate and competent editor will certainly improve your manuscript.

3. What is the editor’s experience?

Once you’ve narrowed the pool of editors to a select few who offer the type of editing you need, check that the editor is qualified with a degree in English, writing, or a related field. While years of on-the-job experience will help hone an editor’s skills, nothing can replace the specialized learning that comes with earning a degree in the field. Any qualified editor will also be a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, and you can search the database of editors here.

Unfortunately, uninformed authors can easily choose a really, really terrible editor. Beware of editors who don’t have a lot of experience, who have extremely low prices, or who are just plain…sketchy. There have been countless times I’ve accepted a new client who was burned by their previous “editor,” where the editor took their money, did minimal edits, and left a very dissatisfied author and an incomplete manuscript. Yikes.

4. Does the editor have a portfolio and testimonials?

This one’s easy. Check out the editor’s portfolio and testimonials from previous clients—a reputable editor will have these clearly listed on their website.

Take it a step further and read reviews on the books they have edited. If there are complaints of misspelled words, poor editing, or a confusing storyline, move on to the next editor. Your book is too important to put it in the hands of a sloppy editor. If possible, ask to contact an editor’s previous clients. Were they happy with the editor’s work? Would they hire them again? Previous clients’ testimonials are one of the best ways to vet your future editor.

This is just scratching the surface of what you need to do to find the perfect book editor for your manuscript. Check back next Thursday, where the final three questions will be addressed, helping you to find the perfect editor for your book.

Book manuscript editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of Kristen Corrects, Inc. , which provides manuscript editing services. Working independently allows Kristen the opportunity to interact with clients and provide them personalized service. There is nothing better than communication and friendliness in a business world that is slowly becoming less focused on people.

 Kristen is included in the 2014 Guide to Self-Publishing and the 2015 Guide to Self-Publishing, both published by the prestigious Writer’s Digest. She is also part of the credible Writer’s Market, Publishers Marketplace, and Editorial Freelancers Association and plays a pivotal role as senior editor at Modern Gladiator magazine.

Reading is Kristen’s passion, so when the workday is over, she can usually be found curled up with a good book (alongside her three cats, Sophie, Charlie, and Jack). She loves pizza, cat videos, watching The Bachelor, and traveling, and is likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, Idaho.

What questions do you have about finding an editor?

The Book, the Key or the Goblet

Dewy cedar mingles with brisk pine as I inhale deeply the fragrant woods.  A familiar path stretches before me, yet the mist that hovers near the ground lends a mysterious, unknown quality to the hard-packed dirt track under my feet.  Light from the rising sun filters through the treetops, a slight breeze sends the branches overhead into applause and whisks the mist around my ankles like a friendly feline.  Turning to the left, the path begins to rise, and ahead I see the outline of a cabin.

Immediately, I sense that no structure was in evidence the last time I walked this way.  I quicken my pace, up
the slight incline, breath quickening and calves burning.  Aside from the clapping branches, the woods are strangely silent; no birds twitter a greeting to the rising sun and no bugs hum in the pre-dawn coolness.

Cresting the hill, the cabin comes completely into view, a small one-room shack resembling the pump house at my grandmother’s retirement home in Idaho. Painted hunter green, just like that one, the exterior blends with the surrounding foliage.  As I pause to catch my breath, it seems as if the trees shrink away from the little building.  The sound of running water reaches my ears, but there isn’t a creek nearby and the sound is out-of-place.

While I glance around and puzzle over the sound of rushing water, the door of the house swings open,
creaking on its hinges and scraping against the wooden floorboards in the same manner Gram’s pump house door always did.  A woman with a wicker basket over her arm emerges from within.  Strangely, a veil covers her face, clashing with the light blue polyester slacks and black rain slicker she’s wearing.  Even though she moves confidently, her shoulders are slightly hunched which gives the impression that she’s older. Her
figure is full, soft, and grandmotherly even though she’s several inches shorter than I am.

When she is just a few feet away, she stops and speaks.  Holding the basket out toward me, I see lying within it on a scrap of red silk a dusty tome, an antique key and a simple pottery goblet.  She invites me to take one, or all, of the items from her basket, promising they will give me special knowledge about myself.

My fingers itch to touch the hardbound book.  It appears to be a journal with a faded navy leather cover.  Red ribbon peeps from the top indicating a silky bookmark inside.  My eyes rest upon the antique key briefly.  It’s small, somewhat discolored from age and so old-fashioned I can’t fathom what it would open.  The goblet is fired to a pearly sheen; marbled purple, lavender and ivory clay gives the cup shape and appeal.

Reaching with my right hand, I gently lift the book from the basket, which tilts and sways as I remove the small volume. My eyes sweep over the other two items again, but instead of reaching for anything else, I clutch the book with both hands, pulling it protectively toward my chest.  The cover feels warm and supple beneath my fingers.

The woman commends my choice. When her hands cover mine, they are rough and calloused but warm in the cool morning air.  Her knuckles , wrinkled and spotted with age, are knobby from arthritis.  After releasing my hands, she steps closer until we are only inches apart and pulls the veil away from her face.

Tears prick the back of my eyes because the face belongs to my much-loved grandmother.  Every wrinkle, every smile line, the silver, wire-framed glasses, the white hair in its short, wind-tousled style belongs to my Gram.  Every inch of the face is just as I remember, and then she smiles – angelic. The clearing brightens and I’m sure I hear musical calls of several birds.  Even as I return her smile, I feel the hot moisture on my face. I’ve missed her so much!

“Ask me one question about your life so far,” she says.  “Any question you want and I’ll answer you the best I know how.”

I’m speechless with joy and sorrow, overwhelmed that I’m getting another opportunity to talk to her.  I really just want one of her hugs.  I’ve missed them more than anything.  Only Gram could hug me in a way that made me feel cherished and accepted. Who knew a hug could say so much?

“Did you write this book?” I finally ask, holding the thin volume up slightly.

“You’re asking me about the book when you could ask me about anything?”

I nod, my eyes memorizing her every feature, knowing she’ll be gone soon. I don’t want to forget anything about this moment.

She shakes her head slightly, “I didn’t write the book,” she says quietly. “You did.”

Author’s Note: I wrote this story as part of an assignment for my nonfiction workshop in February 2011. My grandmother had been gone just over a year and I cried the whole time I wrote it. Gram believed in my dream. I’m pursuing my writing career with gusto now – in honor of her unfailing support and unconditional love.