In any given month, a few writers will email me saying they want to find the perfect book editor for their project. This always prompts me to ask a few questions to see if they are truly ready, or if perhaps, a bit more homework needs to be done first. Below are eight questions I ask potential clients before we move on to a phone consultation to see if we are a good fit for each other. Know your genre, target audience, weaknesses, and budget before hiring a freelance editor.
1. What is your genre?
This will tell your editor if they’re a good fit for your project. Unfortunately, editors are not a “one size fits all.” Professional editors specialize in certain genres, therefore, it’s imperative to know your genre, and if possible, your subgenre, so that the editor can see if this is an area they’re experienced in and how they can help you.
2. What is your word count?
Every genre, and subgenre, has a word count range that you should try your best to adhere to. For example, most memoirs are around 70k words. YA books average between 50k to 80k words. Mystery books about 80k words. Historical Fiction from 100k to 150k words (think Diana Gabaldon). So, if you’re within your word count range, this tells the editor that you’ve done your genre research and know what publishers and readers are expecting to see. It also means your manuscript will be about that length too, and that hasn’t gone overboard. You can learn more about what your word count should be in this post by The Write Life.
3. What draft are you working on?
If you’re on your first draft, then your novel or memoir is most likely on its way to becoming a manuscript but it’s probably not ready for editing yet. If you’re on your second or third draft, hopefully, you have beta-readers or a writing group looking at it and offering suggestions of what can be removed, things that need to be added. They might even suggest punctuation and grammar corrections. Be receptive, but take everything with a grain of salt. If the correction doesn’t feel right to you, make a note of it and come back to it later. If you’ve completed your third draft, and you’ve run a thorough grammar check, you’ve had it read by your writing group or beta-readers, then your MS is probably ready to have a set of editorial eyes look at it. This is the time to start searching for an editor.
4. What type of editing do you need?
Before contacting an editor, make sure you research what type of editing your might need. Developmental editing? Line editing? Copyediting? If you’re not sure, see my services page for examples. Even if you’re not sure which one is right one yet, at least you’ll have an idea of what service you might need before contacting an editor. For instance, developmental edits deal with macro-level issues (character arcs, plot lines, resolutions, or lack thereof). Line editing addresses small, intricate issues at the sentence level (flow, dialogue, word choice, consistency). Copyediting is also an important and intricate-type of editing (grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax). Freelance editors specialize in different things. There are many organizations that host directories of freelance editors. The three I belong to are Professional Editors Network, The Society for Editing, and the Editorial Freelancers Association.
5. Are you querying agents/publishers? Are you planning to self-publish or go through a traditional publisher?
Traditional Publishing, Small House Publishing and Self-Publishing are like three different roads to get to the same place: your printed and e-book copy. Each comes with a different set of rules, time frames, author responsibilities, expectations, as well as earnings. Make sure you are clear on what your preferred choice is and what to expect from each. A full-service editor should be able to explain these better, but if not, Joanna Penn, from The Creative Penn, has some excellent information on The Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing and Self Publishing that might help you decide.
6. Who is your target audience?
This is where the red flags start popping up if your answer is too vague. You need to be specific. Being specific doesn’t mean you’re eliminating readers who are not in that group and might be interested in the book. Having a clearly defined target audience tells the editor that you’ve done your research, you know exactly whom you’re writing for. This means that the voice of your characters will match what those readers are expecting. It means that you understand the language that can be used for those readers, and you know how to use it. Knowing your target audience makes it easier for the editor to pick up on inconsistencies that could distract a reader from finishing your book. In this post, Kimberly Grabas explains how to determine who your ideal audience is.
7. What other books in your genre are similar to yours?
Likewise, you may not know, but an editor’s eyes will roll back into their cerebellum when a new client says, “I’m not much of a reader.” Why? Because it tells the editor, you’re probably not serious about writing. Generally, if you don’t read in your genre, you probably don’t know your book’s competitive market (other titles like yours that are available now). In other words, you’re probably not familiar with the key points you need to hit in your genre to keep your reader interested. Some developmental editors, like me, want to know how your book is similar to those, but also, how it is different. We want to make sure you have a publishing market awareness. (Fyi, this is a question an agent and a publisher will ask too.)
8. Do you have an editing budget?
This question scares writers, and the answer tends to scare editors. We live in a highly competitive publishing world where everyone can become an author. Think, how is my book going to be noticed from the rest? Your sentences need to be clean and tidy. Above all, your message needs to be clear and communicate precisely what you meant to say. A good editor will point weaknesses in your work and suggest options (not solutions). Your editor will bring up everything the reader might notice. And a good editor has trained, studied, and… costs money. Have an editing budget in mind and start setting aside funds so when you’re done with your last draft, you can hire a professional editor to make your work shine. The Editorial Freelancers Association offers a baseline rates chart that can give you a better idea of what you might need to spend.*
Remember, an editor is the reader’s biggest advocate (and yours, too!)
If you are looking for the perfect book editor for your project, do your homework first so you can find the perfect editor for YOU.
Linda Ruggeri is a full-service editor and project manager based out of Los Angeles, fluent in English, Spanish, and Italian. She coauthored the historical memoir Stepping Into Rural Wisconsin: Grandpa Charly’s Life Vignettes from Prussia to the Midwest as well as Networking for Freelance Editors with fellow editor Brittany Dowdle.
She can be found on LinkedIn and on Instagram, where she reviews books and posts tips for writers and editors.
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