An editor of long and varied experience, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf of KOK Edit fame has been a friendly acquaintance of mine for years through the Copyediting-L (not the first time this bottomless resource for editors has been mentioned here, and it won’t be the last). Today she provides editor-side advice on finding the right editor, basic expectations a good editor should fulfill, and what you can do to get the best out of your editor.
You’re a savvy writer: You know you need editing because all writers develop blind spots that make reviewing their own work too difficult to be effective. So how do you find a good editor, and how do you work with the editor you choose?
Before you start your search, critically review your work, and get the opinions of colleagues as well. Initial reads like these often help resolve big-picture issues. If you skip this step, the editor may find that you require a higher level of editing, such as substantive editing. You can find definitions of the levels of editing here, but basically, it takes longer and costs more than copyediting. You’ll ease the editing process if you take care of as many large issues as possible beforehand.
Finding an Editor
- Google the phrase “freelance editor” or “freelance copyeditor,” or follow the links to these directories.
- Peruse freelancers’ websites for an editing philosophy, client list, résumé, project list, and affiliations with professional associations. Not all editors have all of this information posted, but that’s what the next step is for.
- Contact editors whose sites inspire confidence and ask about their work process, rates, time frames, and any other information you need or want to know. Request a sample edit from the respondents you like. Samples may or may not be free, but they’re usually only around five 250-word pages, so they’ll be cheap.
- Choose an editor on the basis of compatibility and how well the results of his or her editing appeal to you. Don’t choose the one who says your golden prose is perfect as is. The right editor will help your writing say what you meant it to say in the first place.
- Sign a contract and dig in!
Yes, you could just ask for references, but learning about the editor’s background shows you how long he or she has been in the business. It also gives an idea of how many and which types of clients have actually trusted him or her to edit. This may seem like an awful lot of work, on top of the hard work of writing. But imagine you’re shopping for insurance for your new, expensive car. You’d likely take as much time as necessary to shop around for the best coverage and the best value. Why would you do any less looking for an editor to provide the best services for the writing you’ve sweated over?
Expect a good editor to
- provide a detailed written description of the steps involved in the project and of both the editor’s responsibilities and your responsibilities in the project.
- work with you to set up a schedule for editing: the first major round; your review; and a final quick cleanup edit to find any last-minute problems.
- respond reasonably quickly by phone or e-mail during business hours to your calls or e-mails.
- query (ask questions about problematic passages in your writing) respectfully.
- ensure clarity.
- ensure a smooth, logical flow.
- double-check plausibility of events in plots, if your work is fiction.
- verify place names, names of actual people, and historic dates.
- fix grammar, syntax, and spelling errors.
- ensure consistency of point of view and tone.
- maintain your voice: All edits should appear as if you alone made them and thus be undetectable.
Treat a good editor right
- Communicate frequently and honestly with your editor.
- Give careful consideration to the edits suggested before rejecting them, keeping in mind that the editor is not trying to destroy your work but offering professional advice you paid for.
- Pay your editor on time. It may seem like a no-brainer, but this common courtesy alleviates stress on both parties and helps the work become fun.
Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, ELS, has been in publishing for 27 years. For the first 11, she was a production editor for various publishers. Since then she’s been a full-time freelance copyeditor. She is a medical editor with a specialty in editing manuscripts written by non-native speakers of English. Her editing has helped researchers in more than 20 nations get published in more than 30 different medical journals. She is also creator and curator of the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, which is housed within her business web site. On Twitter, she is @KOKEdit.