What To Do (And Not To Do) When Approaching Editors


Guest post by Richard Held from Held Editing Services!

Hiring an editor has its benefits. An editor can make typo and grammar corrections, eliminate passive voice, alert authors about plot holes and patchy character development, and can offer advice on character and plot development, as well as assist with fact-checking and other tasks.

Some authors, however, do not know how to approach an editor.  When these clueless scribes contact an editor, the latter often finds his/her time is wasted—and time is money for an editor, especially a full-time one.

Here is what to do—and not do—when approaching an editor.

Do: Communicate clearly.

Do you think your manuscript needs a detailed proofread to eliminate lingering typos, or do you think your document needs a light copy edit to eliminate some rough grammar?  Knowing what kind of help you need before you query will help smooth the process.  If you feel your project needs help but you don’t know what type, let the editor know that and send him/her a sample for an evaluation.  (Most editors do free evaluations/sample edits for potential clients.)

Don’t: Assume your project needs a quick final polish before publication.

Earlier this year I had a would-be Ian Fleming approach me with a gargantuan manuscript (over 400,000 words) on the assumption I could give it a quick edit and make it ready for publication. What I found was an editor’s nightmare. There were typos all over the place, plus multiple grammar rule violations.  And don’t get me started on his hopelessly slow and slack plot pacing, or his characters who acted more like high school seniors than mature spies.  I was game, however, and decided to take on the project—only to admit defeat and refund this Fleming wannabe after a month of struggling with his mammoth manuscript.

Moral of the story: never assume an editor will work fast on your project because it is virtually complete.  Editing is a time consuming process, so be prepared to potentially wait at least a couple weeks unless the editor is so skilled he/she can get projects done within short time spans.

Do: Research editors first.

You would not run out and buy a car, boat, home, etc. without doing research first, right?  The same logic applies to hiring an editor. If you study a list of editors, you will know what types of editors are out there (copy, line, developmental, etc.), what they do, what they charge, and what their clients have to say.  (Places like Kboards Yellow Pages or GalleyCat’s Freelance Editor Directory are fine places to begin your research.)

Don’t: Be prone to “sticker shock”.

In 2014 an author contacted me about my editing/proofreading services.  One of the offers I had available at the time was a special $1 per page rate. He was specifically interested in this rate, and had a short two-part novel he was thinking about hiring me to edit.

I sent him a sample edit, submitted my bids based on the $1 rate ($90 for part one, $101 for part two) and stood by for his response.  All I got was crickets until I contacted him again to see if he got my sample.  He said he had, thanked me—and said he was no longer interested.

He had suffered “sticker shock” over my bids even though they were “bargain basement” prices (a practice I have since discarded).

How do you avoid this?

Do: Pay attention to editor’s prices.

All editors have their prices listed on their websites. Study up on them to see which would fit your price range.

Don’t: Assume an editor will work for free.

You would not ask for free gas at a gas station, would you?  Of course not—the station attendant would either laugh in your face or they would narrow their eyes and give you a look that says Are you nuts?

Sadly, some authors assume editors do their work as a hobby, not as a job.  While this may be true for a few, the majority of editors expect to be paid—and in many cases, paid well—for their time and effort.  We have taxes and bills to pay, just like those who work nine-to-five.  Asking an editor who charges a fee to work for free is both arrogant and rude.

An editor asks that his/her time be worth what you hire them to do.  By doing your homework beforehand and approaching an editor without having unrealistic expectations about what he/she can do, you have laid the groundwork for a successful author-editor relationship.

Richard “Tony” Held is the proprietor of Held Editing Services.  He would rather hunt for typos and other grammar errors for a living than collect shopping carts on bitterly cold or blistering hot days.

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