It’s a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a manuscript must be in want of an editor.
But how do you choose an editor? How much should you spend? Do you even need editing at all?
Fortunately, you have found—
The Ultimate Guide to Working with a Fiction Editor
You don’t even have to read it top-to-bottom to find answers to your most pressing questions. Check the table of contents below for your question and click on it. When you’re done reading, if you want to return to the table of contents, click “Back to top”:
If you don’t see the answer to your question here, please leave a comment at the very bottom of this article. I’ll be happy to respond and, if needed, add to the guide.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
There are many reasons an author may question the need for editing at all. For example:
- The author is an editor themselves, or they have other background such as an English or journalism degree, a natural talent for language, or simply the intuitive grasp on conventions one gets from extensive reading. This may indeed set you up to have a fairly (or even remarkably) clean manuscript to start with. However, no editor is perfect. Even Benjamin Dreyer, who literally wrote the book (at least, ONE of the books) on copyediting, employed a copyeditor and three different proofreaders.
- The author has a friend or family member or writing group acquaintance who’s “really good at English” or is an English teacher, and they’re willing to edit for free. This may indeed improve your manuscript, especially regarding typos and missing or repeated words. However, being “good at English” or getting all A’s in their high school and college English classes or even teaching English does not guarantee that a person has good editing skills. In fact, a frequent topic of conversation in online editors’ groups concerns the damage we’ve had to undo after an author’s well-meaning friend introduced errors and “corrected” the author’s “mistakes” that were perfectly acceptable usage.
- The author believes that story and character trump a few comma errors any day. In an ideal world, this would be true. For some readers, it is true. But the fact remains that many readers get frustrated or angry about errors and are eager to leave detailed one-star reviews on the subject. Some nonstandard usage might even make it hard to read or understand your story. This isn’t to suggest that it’s possible to eliminate every single error, but a wise author gives as little ammunition as possible to the internet trolls—and leaves as few speedbumps to the reader’s experience as possible. Errors can distract a reader from even the best-crafted story.
- The author believes that “correct” spelling, grammar, and sentence structure are merely elitist conventions that squash creativity and attempt to reserve literary achievement to a privileged few. I won’t disagree with you there. There has long been a rift in language circles between the prescriptivists, who stand firm on “the rules,” and the descriptivists, who recognize that language and its conventions change over time and simply strive to describe those trends.
Many authors have successfully bucked the prescriptivists by writing in regional dialects (such as Zora Neale Hurston in her celebrated novel Their Eyes Were Watching God) or by radically eschewing language conventions (such as the poet e e cummings and his aversion to capital letters, traditional punctuation, and standard word usage). This is a decision that only the author can make and only their audience can approve or despise.
Violating language conventions can make digesting your work more challenging to the reader, as with Their Eyes Were Watching God, which both delighted and frustrated my former high school students—they had trouble following the dialect. On the other hand, who knows what long-term goals you might accomplish by doing so? Authors over the years have continued playing with methods to convey the feel of a dialect without making it quite so difficult for the reader, and in so doing, they’ve brought more dignity and sense of value to dialects (and communities) that have historically not been privileged.
Just keep in mind that the line between trailblazing and writing a mess that readers won’t want to deal with is rather blurry.
Your average reader might be willing to work a little harder if your book is engaging enough—MIGHT—but it’s hard enough to sell books. Just sayin’.
- The author believes that editing is valuable, but the potential benefits are outweighed by the expense. This may be true, depending on the circumstances. After all, there’s no guarantee that your fiction will ever earn any money, however worthy it might be. Money you spend on editing may never pay off in book sales. But consider how much time and effort you invested in your writing. At minimum, you should get a second set of (skilled) eyes on your manuscript. See the section How much will it cost? Who pays for editing? below for further discussion.
In a perfect world, one in which you had unlimited time and money, this is how your editing and revision process might go:
- A talented developmental editor/writing coach gives you feedback on your overall story concept before you start writing and provides insightful guidance at various stages in the writing process.
- A group of talented beta readers gives you insightful and creative feedback on your story, characters, setting, worldbuilding, and so on.
- You revise accordingly.
- Another talented developmental editor reads your manuscript and provides detailed feedback and advice for further revision.
- You revise accordingly.
- Another group of talented beta readers gives you feedback.
- You revise accordingly.
- A talented line editor works through your manuscript, tightening up sentences, eliminating repetition, and generally making your writing flow better.
- A skilled copyeditor (different person) goes through and fixes any remaining errors (capitalization, punctuation, spelling, etc.) and ensures that your manuscript conforms to the style guide (probably the Chicago Manual of Style).
- You might go through yet another round of beta reading at this point, just in case.
- An experienced book designer uses InDesign or a similar professional software package to format your manuscript for print and e-book.
- One or more skilled proofreaders review the formatted book for any errors that might have been missed in previous editing passes or introduced in the process of formatting the book.
- Ready for publication!
Keeping in mind that editing a manuscript takes longer than simply reading it, you can guesstimate the number of hours this whole process might take. And if you’re paying anywhere from $20–75+ per hour … well, it can get expensive.
So, for most of us, we have to weigh our wish list against our budget and decide which services will give us the most bang for our buck. See How much will it cost? Who pays for editing? below for further discussion on triaging your manuscript.
How much will it cost? Who pays for editing? Should I edit now, or should I submit to agents/publishers first and see if they’ll cover it?
As I pointed out in What kind of editing do I need? above, most of us must compromise between the ideal amount of editing (lots!) and our budgetary and time constraints. How can you deliver the best product possible to your readers without breaking the bank?
Here are some thoughts on how to do that:
- Some editors, like me, will skim through your manuscript and offer preliminary advice on what kind(s) of editing you need most. (Caveat: When I review your manuscript, it might appear pretty solid in terms of plot and character. However, that’s based on a 5–20 minute perusal. Only a thorough reading can fairly assess whether your manuscript needs high-level attention.)
- Find ways to get feedback for free, such as trading manuscripts with other authors in a writing group or locating volunteers to beta read. Keep in mind, however, that you often get what you pay for. Also, see point #2 in Do I really need editing? above.
- Some editors offer an all-in-one package in which they line edit and copyedit in a single pass and also give you some developmental feedback. This is not ideal, but it might be a good compromise if your budget won’t accommodate separate passes. However:
- When possible, it’s better to perform each different type of editing in a separate pass because each requires its own frame of mind. It’s easier to miss things if you’re trying to pay attention to three totally different things at once.
- It’s also better to have a different editor do each kind of editing, even if you find one who offers a full range of services. Once we’ve read carefully through your manuscript once, we start becoming blind to things. Best to have a fresh set of eyes on it at each stage.
- Depending on your manuscript, you might pay more in the long run if you end up doing a major rewrite later (especially if you decide not to get a full developmental edit or employ beta readers early on). A lot of the text you paid someone to line/copy edit might be deleted or substantially rewritten, which amounts to wasted money. Some authors don’t discover this issue until after they’ve self-published and gotten negative feedback from readers.
- A compromise you might be tempted by—but be warned: If you’re planning to submit your manuscript to agents and/or publishers, you might elect to pay for good editing on just the first 20–50 pages (the amount often requested as a sample), or even just the first 5 pages. Many editors offer a query package that covers the sample, blurb, synopsis, and a compelling query letter. It’s nowhere near as expensive as getting your whole manuscript fully edited, and you might figure that if your manuscript is accepted, then the publisher will pay for subsequent editing. But a friend in publishing, E. Prybylski, offers this caution: “If the first 20 pages were polished and looked very clean and the rest of the manuscript was a disaster, I wouldn’t pick it up. If someone is only doing this for copy editing to make sure the grammar is as clean as possible, then that’s okay. But it could end up a nasty surprise for the acquisitions folks.”
For more on the topic of whether to edit before submitting, please see my article Who Pays for Proofreading? The Author or the Publisher?
With all that said, let’s finally address the cost issue.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) conducted a rates survey in 2020 to find out what its members charged for each editing service during the 2019 calendar year. Here’s a snippet that shows average hourly rates, per-word rates, and speed for coaching and copyediting:
To see the full chart, including data for developmental and line editing, please visit https://www.the-efa.org/rates.
I personally offer both hourly and fixed-price contracts. My current rate is $35/hour for all services. Fixed-price contracts are negotiated based on my initial review of the manuscript and completion of a free sample edit that helps me determine how long the project might take. Depending on what the author wants and the manuscript needs, my fixed-price rates range from $.008 – $.03+ per word. See my Services page for more information.
Let’s say you have an 80,000-word manuscript that needs a moderate amount of copyediting. I’m likely to charge about $.01/word for that project, which would come out to $800.
If the same manuscript needs heavy line editing and copyediting (which I can perform simultaneously), we might be looking at $.03/word, or $2,400.
Editors offer a wide range of rates and services, so it’s a good idea to shop around until you find one with the right balance for you.
This depends on a number of factors. Let’s get an important one out of the way first:
COVID-19 has stuck its spiky little proteins into every facet of our lives, including business. Editors are no less affected than anyone else. We’ve caught the virus, dealt with daycare and school disruptions, and found ourselves having to juggle all sorts of new concerns, including empty shelves at the stores and new or worsening cases of depression and anxiety.
So, this phrase may have become trite, but it’s still a good policy:
Now for how many actual work hours might go into the edit:
As I mentioned earlier, editing a text takes longer (often MUCH longer) than simply reading it. The EFA rates survey I linked to in the How much will it cost? section includes median speeds for each type of editing. For example, on average you can expect an editor to get through about 1,750–2,500 words per hour for copyediting or about 1,000–1,500 words per hour for line editing.
But keep in mind that those are median rates. Actual speed on your project will vary based on:
- How much editing is needed/desired
- How much time the editor needs to spend looking things up, especially if a lot of fact-checking is needed
- How many passes you’re willing to pay for (how many times you want the editor to work through your manuscript from beginning to end; more passes = better accuracy)
- How much caffeine your editor has consumed
For reference, here are some of my projects over the last few years:
|Word count||Type of editing||Total editing time|
|64,900||Line editing, young adult dystopia, one pass||17.5 hours (3,700 words/hour)|
|129,000||Line editing, young adult fantasy, one pass||53.5 hours (2,411 words/hour)|
|74,900||Copyediting, contemporary fiction, one pass||29.5 hours (2,538 words/hour)|
|152,800||Line editing, dystopia, one pass||53 hours (2,883 words/hour)|
Please note that all of these manuscripts were well-written to begin with and needed no more than moderate line editing.
Now you have an idea of how many work hours your project might take—but how many calendar days should you expect?
Some editors can spend 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week on your manuscript, but this is not the norm. Editing requires powerful focus and a lot of mental bandwidth, especially for the more creative end of the spectrum (developmental and line editing). A commonly accepted figure in the industry is that beyond about 6 hours in one day, the editor’s accuracy and judgment begin to suffer. Factor in the extra challenges of a pandemic extending into its third year, including trying to work with children present, and many editors are finding their timelines stretched further than they’d like. Again, please consider offering grace in such situations.
If you decide to seek editing before you send out your manuscript, there are plenty of ways to find the right provider.
NOTE: Please do your homework before hiring any freelancer or service, and be sure to have a clear-cut contract or letter of agreement that spells out each party’s rights and responsibilities. I’m providing some guidance on seeking an editor, but I cannot make any guarantees about the suitability or reliability (or any other -ility) of anyone you hire.
WHERE TO LOOK
Freelancer platforms: These are websites where you can find, hire, and work with freelancers of all sorts. Not only can you locate a writing coach and editor, but you can also find someone to market your self-published book, handle your social media account, and build your website, if you’re looking for such services.
Upwork: I’ve used and liked this platform for the last several years. Clients post job offerings, and freelancers submit proposals with bids and other information. Once the client hires someone, they can communicate through Upwork via messages, voice call, or video chat, all without disclosing their private information. My favorite features are their escrow and arbitration services. The client deposits payment into escrow before work begins, which assures the freelancer that payment will be made. However, the client does not have to release payment until the work is received, which ensures that the provider won’t just disappear with the money. If there’s a dispute about whether payment should be made, Upwork will arbitrate the issue. I haven’t had to resort to arbitration yet, fortunately, but knowing it’s there provides great peace of mind.
Fiverr: I use this platform as well but only joined recently. It’s similar to Upwork, with the main difference being that freelancers post their services. Clients choose a freelancer they like, then place an order.
LET ME REITERATE: Please do your homework in vetting candidates. There are lots of great editors, but there are also plenty you wouldn’t want.
Professional editing organizations: Unlike doctors, lawyers, and cosmetologists, editors in the United States have no central licensing or credentialing body. However, there are a number of organizations that editors join for the purpose of networking and professional development. They can’t guarantee the quality of your experience with one of their members, but they can be a good place to find a pool of candidates for your project. Click each name to visit that organization’s directory or hiring page.
ACES, the Society for Editing: This is the organization I currently belong to. ACES provides excellent training opportunities for members and nonmembers alike, as well as a weekly Twitter chat and yearly conference that bring together some of the best minds in the business.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA): I’ve belonged to the EFA in the past and will join again in the future as finances allow. They also provide excellent training opportunities, and their member discussion boards are extremely active, which fosters a sense of professional camaraderie and constant learning.
If you seek editing in Canadian, Australian, or UK English, you have some great options as well:
Editors Canada: This is the premier editing organization of our neighbors in the north. They offer the well-regarded Editors Canada Professional Certification and maintain a Roster of Certified Editors.
The Institute of Professional Editors Limited (IPEd): This organization brings together editors from Australia and New Zealand and offers a comprehensive accreditation exam that must be renewed every five years to remain active. You can search their Accredited Editors here.
Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP): I wish this UK organization would establish an American arm because they have a fantastic system for vetting and credentialing their members. I would join anyway except that all of their training and testing materials are in UK English, which is not what I edit. Alas! But if you need someone to edit UK English, you can’t go far wrong with a CIEP member, especially a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member.
Other ways to find an editor: LinkedIn is always a good way to find members of a particular profession; for example, here are the results you find when searching for writing coaches. You can also hit up Google to discover websites of individual editors (like me!).
MAKING SURE IT’S A GOOD FIT
Experience vs. rates: As I pointed out in the How much will it cost? section, most people will find it necessary to consider how much editing (and what quality of editor) their budget will accommodate. Here are a few additional thoughts:
- A high price doesn’t always guarantee high quality.
- A low price doesn’t always signal low quality.
- However, it is often true that you get what you pay for, especially if you get it for free or far below market rates.
- Lack of editing-related credentials doesn’t mean anything. As I pointed out in the Professional editing organizations section, the United States doesn’t have any sort of licensing body for editors. Some of the best editors I’ve met don’t have an English, journalism, or editing degree and have learned exclusively by experience and self-study.
Experience in your genre: Each genre, or type, of writing has its own conventions—the things most readers expect to see. I personally don’t coach/dev edit romance novels because I don’t read that genre and don’t have a great understanding of what readers expect. All I know is that you do NOT mess with their happily-ever-afters!
I specialize in science fiction, dystopia, and fantasy because I’m widely read in those genres. One of the common pitfalls I see when someone not steeped in those traditions tries to coach in them is the misguided prejudice against “infodumping.” While it can still be overdone, readers in those genres expect a certain amount of background information for worldbuilding: how magic or advanced tech works, how a society is structured, and so on.
This applies to certain kinds of action/suspense/thriller novels as well. Where would a Tom Clancy or Clive Cussler book be without extensive technical detail and political context?
So, when you’re hunting for an editor, be sure to find someone well-versed in your chosen genre.
Skills: This is tricky because it’s literally what you’re hiring an editor for—many authors don’t have the expertise to judge someone’s editing skills, just as I would have no way of knowing whether someone’s a skilled web designer or accountant. Here are a few ways you can try to assess a candidate:
Credentials: As I stated earlier, credentials are neither required nor a particularly reliable measure of an editor’s skills. However, if they have some sort of editing-related degree or certificate, that can at least ensure they have a certain amount of training.
Reviews: Reviews from satisfied clients can be extremely valuable IF you can be assured they’re genuine. I have testimonials on my website because it’s a standard practice, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to take my word that they’re genuine. That’s why I provide a link at the bottom of that page to where the reviews were originally posted—by the clients themselves. If the only reviews you can access were posted by the editor, then please take them with a grain of salt.
Portfolio: This is a problematic issue for editors. Our clients’ writing is protected by copyright, so we can’t go around posting large chunks of it to demonstrate our mad skills. Also, there’s the problem of portfolios everywhere: how do you confirm that it’s genuine? I’ve hired a few graphic designers in the past for business logos and web design, and more than once I’ve noticed that multiple candidates had the EXACT SAME logos in their portfolios. That happened often enough that I quit even looking at portfolios—I had no way of judging their authenticity.
Editing test: This is a good way of measuring an editor’s skills if it’s done well. However, the most obvious problem, again, is that many authors don’t have the expertise to craft or select such a test, much less judge the results. This is a more common method for larger clients, such as publishing companies or corporations. I did create a short proofreading test for one of my clients. I’d done a couple rounds of line editing and recommended she find a separate proofreader to make a final pass for errors. She requested my help in selecting a suitable candidate, and I think the process worked well. The key is to keep it short and simple so it isn’t overly burdensome for the candidates or the assessor.
Sample edit: I consider this to be the most reliable test for the average author to employ. You may or may not be able to judge the editor’s skills accurately, but at least you can get a feel for whether you’d like the results of their work. Click here for more information on the free sample edits I offer.
Interview: An experienced editor should be able to answer certain kinds of questions off-the-cuff. For example:
- What style guide would you use for this project, and why?
- What are some of the reasons you would consult a dictionary for this project?
- What software would you use to edit this project?
- What is your position on making silent edits (making certain kinds of edits without tracking them)?
- Describe your editing process.
- How do you balance your personal preferences against “the rules”?
- How will you ensure consistency in the manuscript for things such as the spelling of proper nouns?
- What, in your opinion, is the role of grammar and writing “rules” in editing fiction?
I won’t provide what I consider “correct” or “good” answers to these questions, but an editor who can’t easily answer without time to prepare in advance may not have the expertise you’re looking for.
Personal recommendation: And finally, it’s hard to beat the recommendation of someone whose judgment you trust. But don’t neglect to evaluate the editor yourself just because a friend or colleague has worked with them successfully. Make sure it’s also the right fit for you.
NOTE: Whatever method(s) you use to evaluate a candidate, please be aware that no editor can promise 100% accuracy, nor should you expect it of them. The number generally accepted in the editing community is about 95%, which means that if there are 100 errors in a manuscript, a good editor catches about 95 of them.
Back in the days when publishing companies had bigger editing budgets, a manuscript might have passed through four or five different editors—and STILL gone to print with errors. So it’s important to have realistic expectations.
What if I plan to have a different editor do the next stage? How do I ensure consistency of editing style?
Whether one editor or five will be touching your manuscript, it’s important to create and maintain a style sheet. It’s doubly important if you’re writing a series, where you need to maintain consistency across multiple books (and potentially years of writing and editing).
A style sheet doesn’t replace a style guide (like the Chicago Manual of Style) but rather complements it. Style sheets can take many forms, but some of the most common features include:
- A word-consistency list: proper nouns, unusual words, capitalization different from the mainstream, etc. This is especially important in sci-fi and fantasy. For example, the words “hand” and “king” wouldn’t normally be capitalized, but in A Game of Thrones, the “Hand of the King” is a key advisor’s job title and is always capitalized. It’s also frequently shortened to “the Hand.”
- A list of frequently used rules from the style guide: The editor may wish to point out certain rules and conventions for the author’s convenience. For example, my style sheets include the CMOS guidelines on numbers (when to spell them out and when to use numerals), ellipses (including the use of nonbreaking spaces), how to style em dashes (no space before and after), and more.
- A record of where the editor diverged from the style guide (yes, it can be done!).
- Some editors also include plot and character charts (though at this point we’re straying into “book bible” or “series bible” territory as opposed to a simple style sheet).
It’s time for another caveat: I am not an attorney. I cannot advise you on legal or financial matters. All I can offer is information that may help you ask some of the right questions. You are ultimately responsible for doing your own research and deciding if/when to consult an attorney.
Agreement/contract: Whether you and your editor decide to have a formal, capital-C Contract or not, it is always advisable to put as much of your agreement as possible into writing. As my daddy always told me, “You can’t document a phone call—or a handshake.”
Here are some of the things you may wish to spell out in your written agreement:
- Who the parties to the agreement are, along with their contact information
- The title, length, and brief description of the project
- The scope of the project (what the editor is and is not expected to do)
- The agreed-upon schedule for the project
- When, how, and how much the client will pay
- How delays will be handled
- How each side can properly terminate the project without completion, including a payment/refund policy
- How disputes will be resolved
- Other legal stuff like risks, warranties, indemnity, severability, and applicable laws/jurisdiction
- Signatures (physical or electronic)
I found this book to be extremely helpful in writing my own contracts:
It’s short and sweet and—might I add—actually enjoyable to read. However, let me repeat: no book or blog article can substitute for advice from your attorney.
Methods: My favorite way to accept payment is via escrow because it protects both parties. As I explained above in Freelancer platforms, Upwork includes escrow as part of their service. You can also find independent escrow services, though let me point out that, because of their fees, this is usually not worth it for smaller projects. I have also accepted payment via PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, and the Cash app. You’ll want to review each option carefully to find the best fit for you and your project since fees and policies vary.
Timing: There are so many ways to time payments. You’ll probably find that each editor has a particular preference, but here are some of the schedules I’ve seen:
- X% deposit when the contract is signed, X% right before work begins, and X% before or at delivery of final edits.
- X% deposit before work begins, and X% before or at delivery.
- Divide the project into X number of milestones and make equal payments each time a milestone is delivered.
- X% payment at the halfway mark, X% at the end.
- 100% deposit into escrow, to be released upon delivery of edits.
- And VERY rarely, 100% to be paid after delivery of edits. (I personally only do this with a couple of clients I’ve worked with for a long time.)
Once editing begins, what kind of communication should I expect to have with my editor? Will there be checkpoints with feedback?
This depends on the nature of your project and how you and your editor prefer to communicate. If you would like your editor to check in with you frequently, please be sure to specify that when you’re negotiating your agreement. We editors tend to be a “put our heads down and concentrate on the work” bunch.
Some authors who want frequent communication or who just want to keep a finger on the pulse of their project might find that Google Docs is a good solution. If you aren’t already familiar with Google Docs, it’s a free online word processor that works much like Microsoft Word.
Benefits of using Google Docs:
- You and your editor can access the document simultaneously (Word has recently improved their online functionality, but I haven’t spent enough time with it yet to compare)
- All previous versions of the document remain available (so, if someone accidentally or rashly deletes a bunch of material, it’s easy to restore)
- You can keep an eye on the editing process
- The editor can get responses to their queries without waiting till the end
Drawbacks of using Google Docs:
- Communicating in real-time might slow the editor down and disrupt their mental focus
- Some editors like to write brief notes in the margin and then clean them up before sending to the client; having to make them client-ready as they go may slow the process down and make them more likely to lose their train of thought
- Sometimes an editor will change their mind about certain editorial decisions later in the manuscript and go back to fix things; if the client has already gone in and accepted or rejected edits, the editor might not be able to find what they’re looking for
- Google Docs is not good with formatting, so I would reserve it for the earlier stages of a project
- The program starts slowing waaaaaaaay down if you have too many comments and edits (it might even stop letting you scroll down the page at all!), so I recommend dividing long projects into multiple files (which can make global searches and changes more time-consuming)
I personally would not use Google Docs for a fixed-price contract unless full payment were made up front or deposited in escrow.
What will editing look like? How will I know that the editor won’t screw up my manuscript, change my voice/intentions?
Not all editors work the same way, but you’re likely to see commonalities, depending on the type of editing.
Developmental editing: In developmental editing (sometimes called structural, substantive, or content editing), the author delivers a more-or-less finished manuscript to the editor for high-level feedback. This feedback usually comes in two forms:
Comments in the manuscript: The editor uses the “Comment” feature in Microsoft Word or Google Docs to leave queries (notes, comments, questions, and suggestions) in the margin. Here are a couple of examples:
Editorial letter: This is a formal or informal write-up of the editor’s overall impressions, recommendations, and other feedback that is more effectively communicated this way than via comments scattered throughout the text. Here are samples from an editorial letter I wrote a few years ago (redacted):
As the developmental editor’s input usually involves comments and recommendations rather than changes to the text itself, it’s easy to see how the author will retain creative control—it’s up to you, the author, how to respond to the feedback.
Line editing and copyediting: This is where authors start sweating bullets. How do you know the editor won’t introduce errors or change your meaning or edit your voice out completely?
Honestly, that fear isn’t unwarranted.
A skilled, ethical editor would never do so, but there are plenty of inexperienced editors and even scam artists out there. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this guide—to share knowledge that will help you select the right editor for your project. If you only walk away with one nugget from this guide, let it be my recommended interview questions, because scam artists are likely to have trouble answering those without preparation.
But let’s presume you’ve found a good editor. Here’s what they’ll do to ensure you have the feedback you need but retain control over every editorial decision:
They use tracked changes.
If you aren’t already familiar with tracked changes (TC) in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, here are the main points:
- It’s a setting that you can turn on and off.
- When TC is turned on and you delete text, that text remains in the document, but now it’s red and has a strikethrough to indicate that it was deleted.
- When TC is on and you add text, that text is red and underlined to show that it was added.
When you get your redlined copy back (your manuscript with all the red marks from TC), you have three options for accepting/rejecting changes:
- You can accept or reject all edits at once
- You can accept or reject each edit individually
- You can highlight larger chunks of text and accept or reject all changes within the highlighted section
Another option is to leave an edit alone if you like it and make a comment on each edit you want to change in some way. Then your editor can go through and make the necessary changes for you, which will reduce the possibility of introducing new errors at that stage. (Be sure to discuss this with your editor because it will add to the project’s billable time.)
Please read my article Intro to Tracked Changes for more information. Here are a few examples of tracked changes in fiction manuscripts:
Sometimes when an author receives feedback, no matter how constructive and positive it is, they experience negative emotions. They may feel:
These feelings are NORMAL.
Suggestions for dealing with Feedback Fallout:
- Skim through all the feedback so that fear of the unknown can stop being a factor.
- Walk away from it and do something that makes you feel better (watch a favorite movie, go get a cookie from Starbucks, call a friend, take a nature walk).
- Make a list of what you’re feeling so you can acknowledge it and deal with it.
- Go back to read the feedback more carefully. Highlight or circle all the positive feedback (if developmental) or several edits that you think are really excellent, that help bring out your intentions more effectively.
Once you’re feeling calmer and more confident, it’s time to do the real work.
What your role is after receiving edits/feedback:
Remember that the editor has provided his or her expert advice—but YOU are the author. All final decisions belong to you.
I’ve written a few other articles to help you deal with the nitty-gritty of revision and working with feedback:
“If you delivered a completed manuscript to your editor, odds are that you’ve received feedback in two different forms: comments in the margin of the manuscript and an editorial letter. Some people get overwhelmed with the feedback and have a hard time figuring out where to start. Here is how I would do it….”
“I just got the manuscript back from my editor, and it’s covered in red. What do I do now?”
“I just got the manuscript back from my editor, and it’s covered in green. What do I do now?”
I hope this guide has answered your most pressing questions or at least set you on the path! If you have other questions about working with an editor, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.
 Before you leave a scathing comment about my use of “themselves” for a singular pronoun, please refer to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), 17th Edition, section 5.48, “Singular ‘they.’” Also refer to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, APA style guide, MLA, AP, AMA, and others.
 The eagle-eyed among you might notice that I write “copyediting” and “copyeditor” in closed style, which means it’s all one word without a hyphen, while Dreyer styles them “copy editing” and “copy editor” (open style). This is because not all editors agree on how to style these terms. This is the type of issue a copyeditor (or copy editor) will be aware of and know how to navigate.
 This is an example of the type of acceptable usage that a well-meaning non-editor friend might change. “I learned that it’s wrong to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction!” But it’s been done for centuries in the most classic of classic literature. I’ll refer you to CMOS 5.203.
 For example: “‘You better git dat kivver offa dat youngun and dat quick!’ she clashed at me. ‘Look lak you don’t know who is Mistis on dis plantation, Madam. But Ah aims to show you.’” TEWWG, chapter 2.
 Some editors offer what they call a manuscript critique, and others do this under the umbrella of developmental editing. Be sure to clarify exactly what an editor includes in such a service since the terminology is not standardized.
 “Per word” refers to how many words the manuscript contained when it was delivered to the editor. If you send me an 80,000-word manuscript and it’s 78,581 words after I edit, it’s billed based on that initial 80,000-word total.
 I know this may seem obvious, but most editors have run into potential clients who think editing doesn’t take much more time than the reading itself.
 This can get complicated if you’re writing about things in real life. For one project, I had to look at hotel floor plans, what kind of ammunition would be used in a particular weapon, and a detailed map of a university (to confirm how long it would reasonably take people to run or bike from one location to another). Be sure to clarify whether you want your editor to fact-check; not everyone offers this service.
 Upwork has not asked me to recommend their website; I’m offering my personal opinion without any kind of compensation because I think it’s a good platform. I make no representations or guarantees about any individual’s experience with Upwork.
 I probably wouldn’t bother making a style sheet for a single short story because I can easily check 5–15 pages of material for consistency. But you can bet I have one for every single novel and series.