Everyone--even highly talented and sought-after authors, use editors for their work, whether that takes the form of developmental editors, line editors, or simply proofreaders. A good editor should, theoretically, be able to take your writing to the next level. But what exactly should you be looking for and how do you find the best ones? Here are a few tips to consider:
1. CHECK THE FEES
Fees for editors vary widely and are dependent on many factors. As of this writing, you might see rates vary from 1 to 6 cents, depending on the type of editing (proofreading is usually the least expensive), the subject (technical writing, such as medical articles, tend to be the most expensive), and the skill of the editor (obviously, newer, less experienced editors are less likely to charge exorbitant rates). However, finding the least expensive editor should not be your primary goal. You know the adage "you get what you pay for." Editing is no exception. But you don't want to overpay, either. Usually the large companies are the most expensive. They have to be in order to pay the editors who work for them and still make a decent profit for themselves. A typical, average rate for line editing would be 3-5 cents a word, or $40-80 per hour.
2. GET A SAMPLE
For projects over 10,000 words, you should be able to get a free editing sample. As an editor, I actually prefer it, so that prospective clients know what they are getting into. The last thing I'd want is to find out halfway through a novel that my style was not to their liking. At any rate, you should make sure you're a good fit before making the plunge.
3. CHECK THEIR BACKGROUND
Do a quick check of your prospective editors to see the types of projects they've been involved with. A romance novelist may not find what she's looking for with an editor who concentrates on dissertations in microbiology. While you're at it, find out the number of projects they've tackled, recommendations by past clients, how many years they've been at it, and check to see they have a decent web presence.
4. FIND OUT IF THEY'RE GRAMMAR PURISTS
For academic writing, a grammar purist may be what you are looking for, but for fiction, especially in writing dialogue, such things may work against you. A client of mine recently wrote a book about a little girl, stranded on the prairie in 19th-century Kansas. A previous editor of hers, to my client's astonishment, changed a person's title from "Miss" to "Ms.' even though that wasn't in common usage until 100 years later! If you are a grammar aficionado, you’d say "An author should be proud of his work.” If, however, you lean toward the politically correct, you might use the awkward “his/her” or even the grammatically incorrect “An author should be proud of their work,” even though 'their' is plural. Such matters, however, should be your choice, not the editor’s. I tend to lean toward the ‘correct’ version, but what I personally think shouldn’t matter, and that’s why I usually ask for clients’ preference when it comes to such matters. I’ve even sometimes suggested ‘un-correcting’ a character’s dialogue, when it seemed to me that the character would not likely use formal, standard English.
5. SEE WHAT THE EDITOR IS AFTER
I know, I know. Why should you care? You're the client. However, some editors (perhaps writer wannabes) try to pull you in the direction that they want to go, rather than attempting to assess the writer's goal. Occasionally, clients will tell me that their work is very religious or extremely graphic or strongly Pro-Trump, and asking if I have any objections. I tell them that not only have I dealt with every controversial topic under the sun, but what I ultimately think of their views is none of my business. My job is not to interfere, but instead, to help clients say whatever they have to say as well as possible. Editors are not hired to be the moral watchdog, or to preach about the evils of sexual perversion. You need someone to work with you and for you, not push back against what they feel is the better way. In fact, I always make it a habit to explain that I actually never make 'corrections,' per se. I just make suggestions, which they are free to accept or reject, and in fact, I encourage them to reject anything that doesn't seem to go along with their intent. Be certain that the editor’s goal is ultimately to serve you.