How To Establish A Connection With And Trust A Freelance Editor

I have to start out by saying that hiring a freelance editor is NOT required. You don’t have to ever spend a dime on editing if you don’t want to. Critique partners, alpha and beta readers, editing how-to books, and time can all do wonders for a manuscript.

But if you’re thinking about connecting with an editor, here’s the deal:

Finding an editor starts by looking at yourself and where you are with your own writing.

What type of edit are you looking for? Do you think you’ve got the story basics down but need help deepening the plot? Perhaps a developmental editor is needed. Got the plot perfect but have trouble with those pesky commas? Maybe you only need a proofreader. While some editors wear many hats, they should have a main focus. Consider working with more than one editor on the different types of edits.

What kind of editor are you looking for? Do you need someone that is hands on, back and forth, more of the “teaching” type? Would you prefer a do-it-for-you editor who makes changes and asks questions later? Would you want an editor who will change everything they see, or one who points things out only and lets you make any decisions? Do you need an editor that is challenging or encouraging or a mix of both?

Finding An Editor:

Google “editor” and there are millions of results. Google “YA editor” and there are fewer. Google “YA developmental editor” and there are even fewer. The more specific you can get, the better. But I don’t recommend using Google to find an editor.

Hiring an editor is a business decision. Just like a celebrity surrounds themselves with a team to make them fabulous, your editor should be someone you like and trust to help put your words in the best possible light.

Ask your writing buddies, critique partners, and other authors in your genre, and see who they’ve used and who they recommend. Get a long list of names. Not every editor is going to be a good fit for every author and the more options you have, the better.

Stalk the editors on Twitter. Comb over their websites. Look at portfolios and read testimonials from

past clients. Google them and read interviews and guest posts. Do they seem like someone you would get along with? Some might seem to be a good fit, others you’ll know right away are not for you.

When you’ve narrowed your list down to a few names, talk to them. Send emails, chat with them on Twitter, anything you can do. Ask for a sample edit. While it’s difficult to really do any impressive editing in less than ten pages, it can often reveal an editing style and an edit expectation that don’t match.

Perhaps have a shorter section edited by several editors first, say 25-50 pages for a smaller fee before jumping into a full edit. Don’t be afraid to hop from editor to editor to find the right fit.

Don’t get carried away by a resume; focus on actual skills. Verify what you can. Look up their previous books. Read them. You want to find an editor who is the right fit for you, and for your stage of writing. An editor shouldn’t impose, they should help your book be the best form of itself.

Trusting Strangers:

It’s like leaving your dog at a kennel for the first time. I’d leave my MolliePup with a family member sure, but with a STRANGER? What if they decided she needed a haircut and I come home and she’s bald? Would I trust them to know that a double-coated dog shouldn’t get a buzz cut?

If I’ve done my due diligence, know that they know what they’re doing, there’s that moment when I have to trust the professionals and let them get on with it.

That being said, if there’s ever a red flag for you, it’s perfectly okay to walk away. In some cases, run.

The best advice I can give is GET IT IN WRITING. You’re going to be handing out hundreds, potentially thousands of dollars to a stranger on the internet. It’s everything you’ve been told not to do. Get your expectations, the timeline, their scope of services, the price tag, all of it, in writing. A good contract is essential. Look it over, ask questions, and tweak it until you’re happy.

Sure, there are some nefarious swindlers who set up shop with no experience or qualifications hoping to score a quick buck from the self-publishing boom, but they won’t last long. Same goes for those who are well-intentioned with a love of books or a long teaching career who think that is enough to qualify them. Such people rarely possess the specialized skills and industry knowledge to be useful and they’ll find that their clients are few and far between. This is why word of mouth recommendations are so important.

Be wary of referrals from agents or publishers. While these are not always questionable, there may be kickbacks being handed out. Be sure the referring agent has a sales history and they’re not charging fees for this service. Publishers should provide their own editing at no charge. Editing by a “professional service” should never be a requirement before representation or a book deal.

Don’t fall for assurances or high praises. No one can guarantee anything in this business and there are those who prey on the insecurities of writers who think their book has to be print ready to even have a chance. Your manuscript needs to be as perfect as you can make it–finished, polished, and properly presented, but even that doesn’t guarantee success.

Partnering with an editor is a lot like dating. Keep your guard up and your pepper spray handy but don’t forget to have a good time too.

And I repeat: If there are any red flags for you, walk away.

Then What?

Follow through with your side of the editing. Just saying you’ve had a book edited doesn’t give you a free pass in the query stage. It’s not about “buying your way in” or an expensive foot in the door kind of thing.

One of the best parts of being an editor for me is when I hear back from previous clients when they get good news. I love bouncing ideas around with them and finding new ways to write a scene. I often joke that my clients are stuck with me. I’m known for sending nudge emails asking how things are going or what things I can do to help promote a book when it debuts. Hopefully your chosen editor becomes an ally and you’ll have someone on your side for years to come.

Using Comp Titles In Your Query

We editors have been doing #askeditor sessions on twitter. The most asked question seemed to revolve around comp titles.

Comp titles are something you use to quickly convey the atmosphere, themes, settings, or general gist of your story. They're usually other books but can also be movies, TV shows, song titles, or even music videos.

It's usually formatted as "X meets Y" but that can vary. Use the creator's name and the creation's title unless it's obvious who the creator is because they are such a pop culture force that they need no introduction.

For example, if you've got a zombie book set at a ballet studio set at Christmastime, effective comp titles might mean saying your book is The Nutcracker Ballet meets Michael Jackson's Thriller.  (Note: If you have that book, send it to me RIGHT AWAY.)

Everyone knows Nutcracker is ballet and Thriller is zombies. Ballet and zombies. Easy enough, right?

However, using comp titles like Center Stage meets Beiber's What Do You Mean might not work well. While the Center Stage movie features ballet too, those unfamiliar with it might think it's a theatre/acting story. And while Beiber songs might make you dance, that particular song title might be confusing. Acting and a questioning singer? What?

If you've got a story about mental illness set in the world of the globetrotting rich and famous, maybe your comp titles are Taylor Swift's Blank Space meets Rich Kids of Instagram. (I want to read that one too.)

You're not looking for other books that are exactly like yours. It's best to focus on tone rather than plot with your comp titles. Most agents don't want to see clones. They want new and fresh and something they haven't read before. Using blockbuster successes as your comp titles can work if done right, but it's best to avoid them. So many other people use them and it's rare that a book actually stands up to those huge books. It's quite possible that comping huge books can make it seem like you're copying that book, trying to ride their magic so to speak. Try to show how your book is different. If it's the same as another book, why even bother? 

Try to match genres or demographics. Comparing an adult mystery book to Dora the Explorer might not translate. However, if you've got a thriller with a paranormal twist, comparing it to the works of Dean Koontz might be good. 

Using comp titles is showing that you have an understanding of the market. Saying that your book is unlike any other out there is highly unlikely. It usually means you haven't read widely enough and can come across as you being lazy or arrogant. 

How to find comps
  • Use amazon. Search for a book that is similar to yours. You know that  row of other books that pops up that shows things that other people bought that were interested in that book too? Start there. There's usually lots of suggestions and one might be a good fit.
  • Bestseller lists. Themes usually come in waves. Remember how many vampire books appeared after Twilight? Dystopian books tend to pop up more during times of economic hardship. Using recent books is best, but classics can also be considered. 
  • Check your favorite agent's other client books. If they've got a book that's kinda like yours it might appeal to them more and also shows that you've done some research on them. Be sure to actually read the book though. An agent might ask questions about it and can spot someone who hasn't actually read the book from a mile off. After the writer, the agent is often the most familiar with a story. Beware if your books are too match-matchy--agents won't want competing books.
  • Check your library. Librarians are great resources for this sort of thing. They're friendly, helpful, and establishing contacts at your local library can come in handy down the road. 
  • Ask your writing buddies. More brains means more ideas. 

If you're really struggling with comp titles, feel free to leave them out entirely. It's your story and your pages that mean the most in the end. Don't make yourself crazy.

Any questions?

Cast of Harry Potter sings Taylor Swift

This is so hard to watch! I keep wanting to finish the movie quote, not the song lyric!
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