These days, a whole niche industry is dedicated to telling you that absolutely anyone can write, format, and publish a book — the self-publishing industry, of course. It doesn’t take more than a few hours of (often excruciatingly painful) reading to discover that many “authors” take this endless optimism a little too seriously.
Whether you have already decided to self-publish your manuscript, or you are hoping to be traditionally published after partnering with a literary agent, it’s essential to embrace one undeniable truth. The book may be yours, but writing an excellent book isn’t a solitary endeavor. No matter how good you are, you can’t go solo all the way and still produce a quality end result. Your book will need to be professionally edited, and perhaps by more than one person.
How do you find a book editor to work with?
Your first step lies in determining what kind of editing your manuscript needs at the moment.
Developmental editors examine the broad strokes. They spot plot holes and weaknesses in fiction, criticize the way in which you decide to start your first chapter, and spot logical errors in chapter progression in the case of non-fiction works. If your manuscript isn’t quite there yet, you may instead benefit from an editorial assessment, in which authors received detailed reports on the work that still needs doing before they move to the next step.
Copy editing scrutinizes your individual paragraphs, sentences, and word choices more closely. Your structure or plot are already in place, and now it’s time to tighten and beautify your book. At this level, a book editor examines your use of tenses, your grammar, any inconsistencies, and your flow. Fact-checking may also be part of this stage of editing.
Finally, you may want a proofreader to put the very smallest details under the microscope, ensuring that no typos, grammatical errors, and outright mistakes remain. A proofreader can also make sure that the style of your manuscript is consistent throughout.
Now that you know what kind of book editor you need, it’s time to look around for one. Unless you already have relevant industry connections, that process is, in today’s world, going to involve the internet. Dedicated marketplaces for editors, editors’ own websites, and social media are all good ways to begin exploring your options.
Once you have a few potential editors in mind, you will want to follow up by combing through reviews from past clients. Especially if you have a long manuscript, it is perfectly normal and acceptable to ask prospective book editors to put you in touch with some previous clients. That way, you can gain a better idea of what it would be like to work with the editor, and what level of quality you can expect from them.
The type of scrutiny you apply will depend on your manuscript — if you have a short ebook, which may be no longer than 10,000 words, you may not vet your book editor as well as you may in the case of a full-length manuscript. If you do have one of those, and you are hoping to be traditionally published, look for book editors with a proven track record in the publishing industry. They’ll have edited at least 10 books, and they’ll have worked as a book editor for at least a few years.
Your initial communication with potential book editors is going to tell you more about what working with them will be like — and at this stage, you can typically immediately tell if you simply dislike the editor or their approach. Once you hit it off with a book editor with proven experience, and you have confidence in their work and abilities, you can go ahead and sign a contract.