How to Choose an Editor for a Self-Published Book

As those of you who read this blog regularly know, I am in the process of self-publishing my book, Passionate Crusaders: How the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II. After reading some great books on self-publishing, I knew I needed a professional editor. It took a lot of work for me to find the editor that was right for my book. Hopefully this post will make the process of finding one easier for others.

Step One: Contact other self-published authors you admire and ask them for recommendations.

I’ve found that many self-published authors are happy to share the names of editors with whom they or someone they know has worked. Sometimes an author will include the name of an editor in the acknowledgements of his or her book, so that’s another way to build your list.

Step Two: Realize that you are not finished after step one.

Please don’t assume that you have the perfect editor for your book once you have a few names. You need to get to know your potential editors first by moving to step three.

Step Three: Visit the editor’s website to see how seriously this person views editing as a career.

If the spelling/grammar on the site is poor, you know it’s time to move on. (I’m not kidding—I’ve seen editor websites that had multiple spelling and grammar errors). Also, see what other services this person offers. Does he/she offer primarily editing and proofreading services, or is editing tacked on to a long list of other things? Most of the time, people who tell you that they can provide everything your book needs are better at some tasks than others. You don’t want to find out that their weakness is editing.  

Step Four: Find out if this person edits books in your genre/uses your style manual.

For example, as a history writer, I wanted someone with experience editing similar books and who could make sure my book conformed to the Chicago Manual of Style. An editor who worked exclusively on mystery novels might be talented, but not a good fit for my book.

Step Five: Initiate e-mail contact with a few editors and ask for basic information.

This will give you a chance to find out more about these people. You can ask about pricing, if they’re taking new clients, when they might be free to work on the book, etc. See if their writing style and personality fits with yours.

Step Six: Study the editors’ responses for mistakes or other quirks.

I got to this step with one editor and realized that she had misspelled my first name, which is in the dictionary. Needless to say, I didn’t hire her.

Step Seven: Ask the editors who are still on your list to copy edit a few pages of your book.

Before any freelance editors who are reading this get angry with me, I’m not saying that an editor can’t charge a fee for a sample of their work. However, self-published authors need to see how the right editor can transform their manuscripts. When I received my sample manuscript pages from the editor I later chose, I was amazed at how much he had improved my work. For example, after adding material to the first chapter, I forgot to include one historical figure’s title–secretary of war–the first time his name appeared. Fortunately, my editor saw my mistake, along with others.

Step Eight: Hire the editor who amazes you!