4 Steps Towards Finding the Right Editor

When you’ve done all you can do on your novel, but you think it could still be better. Or you’re just tired of form letter rejections to your queries: Sometimes, the next step is to hire an editor. But, how do you know if they’re right for you?

‘Judging An Editor’s Work’ was a panel at #balticon51. The panelists were: Joy Ward, Jean Marie Ward, Jamaila Brinkley, Jennifer Levine, and Sue Baiman. I’ve edited the notes to apply to freelance editors for hire, although the panel also addressed editors within a publishing company.

Here are 4 steps towards finding the right editor.

1- Polish It On Your Own First

You’ve finished your novel. You’ve read it over, revised it, copy-edited it. You had beta-readers (volunteer readers) read through. You had a critique partner (another writer) or three give you feedback. You’ve seen how clean and polished you can get your manuscript on your own. (You’ve thought this stage would never end… ) Only now should you even think about getting an editor.

If you send it unpolished to an editor, the line-edits, formatting, small continuity issues will distract them and they won’t be able to pay attention to the details. It will waste their time and your money.

2- Finding An Editor

You’re ready to find an editor, how do you find the right one?

Who To Ask To Edit Your Novel

  • Ask other authors for suggestions
  • Follow authors you like and see who they mention
  • Check the dedication and acknowledgements pages in books similar in voice and style to yours and see who they had. Sometimes they’re private editors, but sometimes it’s an editor who freelances
  • I’m part of the PitchWars community and many of the mentors are freelance editors. Reaching out to their previous mentees is a good way to find suggestions

What Type of Editor Do You Need

There are three main types of editors, as I’ve mentioned before.

  1. Copy Editor – who looks for the writing mechanics. Also, they check for continuity – internal and, where necessary – should also check historical/scientific/etc continuity
  2. Line Editor – who looks for typos, spacing, and punctuation.
  3. Developmental Editor – who looks at the story — focusing on writing as a craft
    • Scenes that don’t support the theme
    • Plot Holes
    • Weak characterization
    • Inconsistent voice
    • Poor pacing

Ask For a Sample Edit

Ask for a sample edit. Any professional editor should be willing to do a sample edit: a query, 5 pages, etc.

This is so you can know if you can work with them – if their time frame works with your schedule, if their voice works for your story, if their editing style is too soft/harsh for you. And it’s also so they can know if they can work with you!

3- Red Flags

You’ve found an editor, but you’re not sure if you can trust them. What do you look out for?

  • Editors who find nothing.
  • Editors who don’t communicate with you – no updates, no feedback, no questions.
    • (Like house contractors – Jamaila Brinkley)
  • Editors who aren’t bringing out the best in your work.
    • This one’s subjective–but so is writing.
    • Are they fixing the words and sentence structure, but somehow missing the vibrancy your world needs?
    • Are they not able to see the brilliance hidden behind the tarnished words you don’t know how to polish?

4- When To Push Back

You’ve found an editor you can work with, you trust them, but this edit just doesn’t feel right to you.

  1. Reflect on their edit. Step back if you need to and sleep on it.
  2. Never reply to the editor in frustration, (especially if you’re not sober). And probably give it a day or two even if you are.
  3. Try to figure out WHY they suggested that edit.
  4. Remember that edits are suggestions, not ‘corrections’. You can take their advice and see it as a starting point.
    • You can change their edit into something that uses your own writing voice
    • You can see what they’re trying to fix and clarify it earlier, so the editor’s confusion is resolved without the suggested edit.
    • You can see the problem that the edit is trying to fix and do it your own way.
    • You can see their edit, decide it doesn’t matter, and skip it.
  5. If you can’t see what they’re trying to fix, ASK.
    • A simple, “What are you trying to show here?” to the editor is always permitted.
    • Don’t be accusatory or defensive. Be open and listen before casting judgement on their edit and their reasoning.
  6. Remember to pick your battles. The editor had reasons for their edits, don’t decide to negotiate on them all.

With a bit of research and due diligence, you should be able to find an editor who takes your novel and makes it shine.

Today’s blogpost is also available on my youtube channel:
Morgan’s Online Blog: In Video Format

What tips and tricks do you have for finding the right editor for you?

Any (anonymous) horror/serendipitous stories you’d like to share?


  1. And it is always possible to find a talented editor with great insight, who still doesn’t work well with you. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad editor, or you are a bad writer. It just means that you shouldn’t work together. Finding a good editor is like finding a dance partner. You can dance with anyone, but things work SOOO much better if you can find someone who fits well and moves with the way you move.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I just thought it bears repeating. And I really like the dance partner metaphor. You can have two people who are really talented at what they do, but they just don’t mesh with each other. And that is OK.

        Liked by 1 person

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