What questions should you ask an editor?
You’ve written your first draft or edited your manuscript to the best of your ability. And now, you want to hire a professional book editor to help you lift your manuscript to the next level before you hit publish.
But how do you find out whether the editor is any good? And how do you know if they’re a good fit?
Below I’ve gathered a few questions. You can find the answers either on an editor’s website or by sending the questions to the book editor to determine whether you’d like to work with them.
1. What is their experience?
Not just in years, but also if they’ve had any training or not. You might feel more comfortable with a veteran editor who’s been in the business for more than ten years, or you might want to give the beginning editor a try. Of course, the experience is also reflected in the rates: a more experienced editor will also cost more. If you do decide to try a beginning editor, either check on their website to see if they’ve had any training or send an email to ask them.
2. Which genres are they familiar with?
Usually, this will be featured somewhere on their website. If you can't find it, it's a good idea to ask. Each editor has their preferred genres and expertise. For instance, some work mostly with fantasy and sci-fi authors, whereas others prefer academic books. They might also have a mix of fiction and nonfiction genres they’re specialized in.
3. Which books have they worked on?
One question you should ask before hiring one is what books they've worked on before or with which authors. Usually, they'll have a selection of their portfolio on their website. Even so, this won't be everything, so it can't hurt to ask what other books they've edited.
This will tell you whether they work mostly with publishing houses or self-published authors. And it will give you an idea of which genre they work with the most. You can also reach out to a few of the authors they’ve worked with to ask whether they enjoyed working with the editor and if they would recommend them.
4. Do they have good testimonials?
Social proof is everything these days. Usually, you can find testimonials on an editor’s website. Read through them to get a feel of what the authors seemed to appreciate the most about working with the editor and if this would be a good fit for you.
In addition, you can contact some authors who have worked with the editor to ask if they would recommend the editor.
5. What feel do you get from their website?
Never discount intuition—we all have it, and it can work quite well. Do you get a good feeling when reading through their website? Do they seem knowledgeable from checking their social media profiles? Do you sense this is someone who would do their best for your manuscript?
6. What is the expected fee and turnaround time?
Of course, money and time are key factors as well. But don’t just compare the hourly rates, also ask for a quote to compare the final estimated price and time (and to check whether they give you a decent quote).
When you ask for a quote, you usually also get an estimated turnaround time. Do keep in mind that the longer you wait to decide whether you’ll work with them, the higher the chance that your manuscript will be pushed back.
This can also be the upside of working with a newer editor, as they tend to have more time available in their agenda. In other words, the turnaround is usually quicker.
7. Is it clear what you’ll receive?
From reading the pages describing the service, is it clear what end product you will receive? If you’re not quite sure, send an email to the editor to ask for clarification.
Usually, a developmental edit or critique will have an editorial letter explaining all the strengths and weaknesses with inline comments and minor adjustments through Track Changes (MS Word). The other editing forms tend to have more inline comments and adjustments through Track Changes. Some might also add a small editorial letter.
8. What is their editorial style?
This can be difficult to gauge from a website or service description. You could check on their social media whether they have some videos showing examples of how they edit, or you can get a sense of their style from the testimonials. However, the most straightforward way to find out their style and whether it fits your needs is to ask them for a sample edit. More often than not, the editor will be happy to provide one.
9. What style guide do they use, and do they provide a stylesheet?
This question is especially important when you’re inquiring about a copy edit or proofread. Most editors will have experience with more than one style guide. Of course, you need to decide which style guide you’d like to use for your manuscript before you ask the question. For the US, the Chicago Manual Style Guide is the most often used one. Other common style guides are the Associated Press Stylebook and the APA Style Guide.
Sometimes you can find this information on their about page or in the service description. Otherwise, you can email them to ask.
As for the stylesheet: editors create this when they do a line edit, copy edit, or proofread. It includes the general rules of the style guide and details specific to the manuscript. These could be alternate spellings, italic formatting, alternate capitalization, or the formatting of times and dates. Editors typically don’t send the stylesheet automatically, but if you’d like a copy, you can inquire whether they could send it upon delivery.
10. What systems do they use to edit?
For instance, do they prefer to work in MS word or PDF? Do they use a Mac or Windows computer? Are they comfortable with using Google Docs? It’s important to know whether the software they use is compatible with how you plan on delivering your manuscript. Word documents tend to be the industry standard. For proofreading, PDF or InDesign files are also generally accepted. If you can do neither of those options, Google Docs should be all right for most editors—simply inquire in advance.
11. Do they offer other services you might need?
This is not a requirement, but it might be nice if they offer more than one service you could use in the future. For instance, you could do a developmental edit and a proofread with the same editor. Or they might offer a first chapter critique to help you really nail that beginning of your novel. Other services that can come in handy are blurb writing, help with inquiries, cover design, or promotional services. If they don’t offer these services, you can also ask them whether they know or recommend people who do.
12. Do they offer follow-up support and answer questions?
Writing a novel is an organic process with a lot of steps. It can be very valuable to feel supported along the way by your editor. So, either see if there’s any kind of support mentioned in the service description. Otherwise, send them an email to ask what kind of support you can expect if you work with them.
13. Is it possible to have a chat with them beforehand?
Nothing gives a better impression of a person than a personal conversation. This might not be overly important for a copy edit or proofread, but it can make a difference when you want a developmental edit or manuscript critique. You’re putting something personal in front of the editor—it can feel very vulnerable. You want to make sure that this editor makes you feel confident and capable rather than tear down your story. If the option is not on their website, simply email them to ask if you can set up a zoom call.
14. Can they edit a short piece up front for free so you can see if it’s a match?
Asking this question is always a good idea. Unless you already have a decent idea of how the editor does their editing, you want to make sure it fits your needs. For instance, some editors are more rigorous in their editing than others. And each editor pays attention to different things or uses different ways to fix issues. Shoot the editor a message and ask if they offer a free sample edit. More often than not, they’ll be happy to give you a taste of what you can expect if you work with them.
15. Can they give you advice on what type of editing your manuscript needs?
It may be the case that you’re at a complete loss of what type of editing your manuscript still needs. An editor should be able to give you honest advice (and not just recommend everything to get you to spend the most money). Tell them about your manuscript, what you’ve done so far in terms of editing, and whether you feel the story is solid or not. Then, send them a sample of the story to read through. It might be that you expected you needed a line and copy edit, whereas only a copy edit would be enough. It can never hurt to ask.
What questions will you ask your editor?
I hope the above questions give you a good sense of what you can ask a book editor before you decide to work with them. Do your research and send out emails with the questions you want to ask. With the above questions, you should be able to get a good impression of the editor and whether it’s someone you’d like to work with.
If you’d like to work with me, you’re always welcome to send me any questions through email.
Or go ahead and request a quote right here!