How to Find an Editor as a Self-Published Author

A closeup of the tip of a red pencil by  suzumi3 via Flickr
by suzumi3 | via Flickr

In today’s guest post, indie author Teymour Shahabi explains how to find an editor for the draft of your self-published book and what to look for in an editing relationship.

In traditional publishing, submitting your draft to an editor is an inevitable step on the road to bookstore shelves. But how much editing is required for self-publishing? Does a self-published author need to find an editor? And if yes, when and where, and how?

First things first:

Do you need an editor?

The answer is yes.

The greatest benefit of an editor is that he or she is not the author. An editor is someone else. Some editors are professional writers, but every single one of them is a professional reader. As a writer, you’re probably a voracious reader, but you can never be a true reader for your book. By bringing forth a book into the world, you’re asking other people to read something you’ve never read. If you sincerely want the book to be the very best that it can be, then you must ask someone else to read it first. You owe it to your book, to yourself, and to your readers.

What an editor does is discover your characters, your situations, and your images without seeing any of the creative process that brought them to life. Where you might see all the crossings-out and labors, all the accidents and decisions, the editor sees only a page. This is the clarity you need, and you can never achieve it for your own writing, simply because you envisioned it first. The editor will tell you what an attentive, an educated, and, most importantly, a new reader will experience while reading your book.

When should you hand your manuscript over?

It’s difficult to answer this question without first addressing what an editor actually does. Editors can review the content of your writing (characterization, pacing, plot, etc.), which is often referred to as content editing; the form of your writing (the grammar, the punctuation, etc.), which is often referred to as copyediting; or both. (By the way, proofreading is indispensable, but it’s the final step of checking for typos and other glitches once the book is ready for print—any writer who thinks that proofreading is editing is in grave danger of getting ripped off.)

So when should you look for an editor? Logic indicates that content editing should come before copyediting, though what exactly you need might depend on the book. But in every situation, you need to hand over your manuscript at the point where there’s no improvement left for you to make on your own.

In other words, you should edit, tweak, and refine until you reach the point where the next change no longer enhances your book. Most likely, you’ll know the point when you reach it (you’ll start to feel that you’re running on a treadmill, as opposed to covering new ground).

But it might be helpful to ask non-professional readers (or “beta readers”) to take a look at your draft before turning to an editor. To use a painting analogy: paint as many coats as you have to before applying the varnish. (You could always paint over the varnish, but wouldn’t that be a waste?)

How do you find an editor?

There are about as many ways to find an editor in today’s world as there are to find love. Instead of casting a wide net through search engines and outsourcing databases, it’s usually better to focus your efforts by targeting specific communities, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Just as in dating, a seal of approval from someone trustworthy is ideal: you can ask for recommendations in places where authors get together (such as One useful list is available here at; Joanna Penn also has a list.

Don’t just reach out to one editor; contact several. When choosing the right person for the job, there are at least three considerations you should keep in mind: book, business, and (bedside) manner.

1. Book

The single most decisive factor should be the quality of the edit itself: Will this editor help improve your book? In order to assess this, nothing beats a sample edit (even if you have to pay for it). Testimonials and credentials (such as experience at a major NY publisher) can help you narrow your list, but you should submit the same sample to a variety of editors and compare their work side by side. Some editors will push too hard, and some won’t push hard enough; some will simply “get” your writing, while others will seem to speak another language entirely. In my experience, the editor’s résumé is far less revealing than the quality of the sample edit. In fact, the higher an editor’s pedigree, the more reluctant the editor might be to provide a sample edit. Don’t be afraid to insist: no one should expect you to invest in a car without a test drive!

2. Business

An edit is a business transaction. This means that money will exchange hands. Therefore, you need to approach the edit as both a writer and a businessperson (an increasingly common role in the age of self-publishing). Compare the deals you’re offered. Editors with brand-name backgrounds might offer less user-friendly terms (such as hourly rates, which are less predictable than fixed contracts), while less established professionals might offer discounts and extras (such as book formatting and publishing consulting). Don’t be afraid to ask. Hiring an editor is a professional investment. A sample edit will allow you to estimate the value of the service, but never forget about the price.

3. (Bedside) Manner

Technology may have changed the way books are produced and distributed, but ultimately the connection between reader and writer is one of the most enduringly personal in history. You need to pay close attention to an editor’s manner and decide if the relationship is likely to be pleasant, professional, and productive. Is the editor overly curt or slow to respond to your emails? If the comments in the sample edit are too harsh, how will you make it through hundreds of pages of red-inked barbs? Beyond the financial expense, editing can be an intensely emotional journey; make sure that your editor will be a good travel companion.

No matter how much the industry changes, authors will always need editors. But always remember that an editor is more like a therapist, rather than a surgeon. The editor doesn’t hold the scalpel, and you’re not lying helpless: as soon as you step out of the edit, the book’s life is entirely in your hands.

For more on editors:

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