How To Hire a SUPERB Editor: 5 Tips

Several months ago, after reading Hello Goldilocks: The Best Time to Hire an Editor, a reader asked for my thoughts about finding an editor who truly understands what they are “going for” in their novel. IMHO that understanding is both the hardest part of editing (and writing), and also quite personal… but here are 5 tips that attempt to make 30 years of hard-won experience both useful and relevant to others.

1. Figure out the type of editing you need

I do my own copyediting, line edits, proofreading, and style checks; what I always need help with, even with non-fiction books, is developmental editing. In Why Hire an Editor?, I compare developmental editing to building a strong house foundation and frame. Various websites break down editing into 3-5 specialties; I like Reedsy’s comprehensive overview.

2. Make a good match

There are plenty of websites (like Reedsy) that list editors. Like finding an agent, you may have to kiss a few frogs before finding your Superb editor, because it’s very difficult to assess someone’s abilities and approach from what they write about themselves. Word of mouth can be a much better source if you already have a writing community; if not, finding an editor is another great reason to start building one.

3. Personality matters

Lots of people have the skills to edit your work, but very few will make that process truly fun. Negativity doesn’t work for me, but neither does over-flowery blind optimism. Give it to me straight, with a positive spin whenever possible. And unexpected laughter is a bonus!

4. Treat your editor as a team member

There is never only one path to “the best book you can write,” and walking any of those twisty-turny routes should bring joy—especially during the rare moments when you aren’t flying solo. Your editor is not a lawyer who’s going to put you on the witness stand to prove a pre-determined point; as I put it in Editing Best Practices: The Middle Distance, “The difficult part of editing is seeing what’s not there yet.”

5. Trust your gut

More than two decades ago, I wrote down some advice about handling group critiques: “A word to the wise, then: The things said about your work, no matter how well meant, are only important if you know (not think, not believe, but KNOW) they’re right.” Since then, I’ve used this gut-check to filter out the truly useful criticism from coaches, editors, and even other writers. (Sadly, I failed to record the writer’s name, so consider this an anonymous thank you.) 

Bonus Tip: There are no shortcuts

No editor will ever replace the hard work of writing: putting words on the page, and then trying to align and filter them until they point toward a logical yet still surprising The End. Yup, it’s a lot of work and involves a lot of thankless slogging. Yup, I’m not always sure why I keep doing it. Yup, editors can help—but even if you hire the perfect one at the perfect moment, in my experience it won’t significantly shorten the process.

I love hearing from writers (and readers), so please share thoughts about your own process in the comments below or by email. Thank you, and good luck to all with taking your next step, no matter where you are in your writing journey!

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