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Finding the Right Editor

Amy is a freelance content and development editor. She loves coffee, reading, traveling, and editing.

Finding the right editor is everything. It’s also easier said than done.

Business cards, lists, referrals. Where do you start?

Business cards, lists, referrals. Where do you start?

Keep An Open Mind

Even the thought of collaborating with someone to refine what you’ve written can be daunting. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or fifteenth novel you’ve published, editing is a personal process. Regardless, remaining open to suggestions and recommendations can and will lead to growth. After all, the goal of an editor is to enhance what you’ve already written.

How do you choose the right editor? Your decision is likely based on numerous factors, including strengths and weaknesses, and specific focal points. Some writers are capable of creating perfect sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, but aren’t comfortable with grammar and punctuation. Others are comfortable with their flow and concept, but want assurance that their plot and subplots hold water. Or maybe a certain heroine isn't coming across as intended. Disregarding the specific need or concern, the ability to communicate exactly what you hope to accomplish is important and should be an editing goal.

A step in the right direction is to get familiar with the territory. Ask other authors for the names of editors they work with and why they enjoy working with them. It's important to know what specialty the editor works within (e.g. content and development, line, copy, or proofreading).

Approaching authors writing in the same or similar genre is helpful, especially when considering your content and developmental edits. If you’re writing a young adult novel and are concerned with cursing or the sexual content, hiring an editor that primarily edits adult-oriented content might not be the best choice. However, that's why discussing your novel with the editor you choose is so important. The simplest reason? It's not unheard of for an editor to cross genres; most can answer genre-specific questions, and are capable of providing the requirements of your manuscript, but you want to be sure.

Requesting an editor referral is like asking for a referral for any business that offers a service. For example, you want a new haircut. You peruse different styles for weeks. One day, you bump into a friend and fall in love with their new haircut. You’d likely ask the person who cut their hair, as would any savvy shopper. You’d contact the hair stylist and ask for an appointment. Undoubtedly, at the first appointment, you’d discuss what you like and dislike about your current cut and color. The new stylist would most assuredly ask what you want to change, and you would devise a plan together. This process is similar to finding an editor—easy, right?

Every Story Is Painted With Different Colors


Keep in mind, another author’s editor might not mesh with your particular writing style, challenges, or personality. Writers and editors are quirky animals. We love to work under strange conditions sometimes. It’s crucial to always remember that every writer and editor is different. Let’s repeat that: every writer and editor is different. The author-editor relationship is all about fit. Not every editor focuses on the same objectives, and not every author writes with the same style. Don’t get discouraged if you find it necessary to work with different editors for different reasons. Once you do find your fit, you’ll know, and you’ll stick with that one editor—or an editor and a proofreader, or several editors and several proofreaders. With each book, you’ll grow and so will your editing team. Remember that editors learn and change their style and skills with every book they edit. Writing, especially fiction, is not all rules and references.

Priority One: Communication

After you’ve identified someone you want to collaborate with, you might still have questions. For first-time authors, it’s useful for you to ask for a sample edit to understand what to expect after a first pass of your manuscript. Editors receive these requests often. Recognize that it’s not uncommon for an editor to request payment for a sample edit (this fee is usually included in the total charge for service, or non-refundable if you decide not to schedule for whatever reason). What are you paying for? The editor’s time and expertise. Also keep in mind, editors can sometimes receive multiple sample edit requests per month or even in the same week.

Take time to ask questions and decide together what you want to accomplish. From there, you confirm if they are the right service provider for you.


“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

— Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Teamwork Is Essential

There is something important to note. An editor is not there to say they are the best at what they do or adamantly profess they know the tenets of writing better than you. The partner you choose for each type of editing is there to enhance what you’ve painstakingly written and spent months working on, sometimes years. There is no us and them. There is only we.


Editing Takes Time and Input

Most authors arrive at the end of writing their novel with a ten-thousand-pound gorilla on their back named Done.

Absolutely, the hard part is finished, but now the editing phase starts.

Prepare to take on the deconstruction and reconstruction of certain aspects of your novel that might jump out during the editing process. But always remember, your manuscript is yours. You own your words outright. Your editor’s job is to suggest revisions and make corrections while also interpreting your voice and message.

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During the content or line edit, an editor might point to specific passages that require revision for clarification, or to boost meaning. These edits take time and thought to revise. Regardless of the question or suggestion, the most important thing is to keep an open mind when you discuss comments and revisions and to take your time.

Communicating With Your Editor

Let Creativity Take Over

Your focus will change from novel to novel. Maybe you’ve written in third person point of view for the first time and are worried character depth isn’t enough. Or your main character's voice is not consistent throughout the novel. The point here is that the editor-author relationship is a team. Keeping discussion lines open is essential to enhance a novel to its fullest potential.

Your content and development editor is always there to flesh out ideas!

Your content and development editor is always there to flesh out ideas!

A Fun Exercise

When you’re ready to edit or discuss conceptualization, this is a great exercise to help with the process.

Take a step away from what you’ve written or what you plan to write. Give yourself a pros and cons list of what you think works and doesn’t work with regard to your idea or completed body of work. Then start asking questions. Are you confident you closed loopholes that were presented at the beginning of the story? Do your character arcs progress the entire story, revealing and culminating your main character’s fatal flaw or internal conflict? Does each chapter represent forward movement for your characters and storyline? Does your storyline have a definitive peak and finale? Does your plot have any distinguishable holes? Do your characters display any vagaries that will be exposed when the entire manuscript is read as a whole? Do your chapters transition in and out smoothly?

The sky’s the limit. And remember to push yourself with every novel.

Read about the Four Levels of Editing here:

  • The Four Steps of Editing
    This article describes the four steps of editing: content and development, line, copy, and proofread.

© 2018 Amy Donnelly


Yessenia on May 04, 2020:

Thanks so much for all the helpful information Amy!

Amy Donnelly (author) from Texas on April 30, 2018:

Thanks Amanda. I'm so glad you enjoyed the article!

Amy Donnelly (author) from Texas on April 30, 2018:

Thank you!

Amanda on April 30, 2018:

Wow this was very informative and there were a lot of key points that I think people often overlook when working with an editor! Thanks so much for all of this knowledgeable information and I can’t wait to read the next piece.

LisaMarieNJ on April 30, 2018:

Great article and you offered a lot of awesome information.

Tanya Mainwaring on April 30, 2018:

Amy Donnelly is an excellent writer. Loved the second article. Please write more!!

Amy Donnelly (author) from Texas on April 28, 2018:

It's a seriously important relationship! I'm glad you liked the article. Thank you for reading!

Eli Peters on April 28, 2018:

This article would be helpful to all authors. It includes some very important and useful information on the relationship between an author and editor. “With each book, you’ll grow and so will your editing team.” This is so true. It is amazing the growth that we all gain from a great relationship and open communication. Thanks again for another awesome article, Amy.

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