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I’ve finished my first manuscript and I need an editor. What should I look for in an editor?

It’s all about clear communication from the start, and it’s important that the writer and the editor get along. Sounds simple, and it is.

You will want to check the editor’s background. If you’ve written a literary novel and the editor has mostly edited medical textbooks, it might be best to find someone else. Find out if the editor has experience working directly with authors, as opposed to working with publishers or other companies. Having the buffer of a middleman between the writer and the editor can affect an editor’s sensitivity. What sorts of projects has the editor worked on and how do those projects compare to your own? You can also ask the editor for a specific type of reference. If you ask for three authors the editor recently worked with, those references might be able to provide valuable insights for you.

It’s important to be very clear about your expectations with your editor from the get go. If you only want a quick proofread for spelling errors and punctuation, you’ll want your editor to know not to take a deep dive into your prose, restructuring sentences and suggesting substantive changes to a book you thought you were finished writing. If you are looking for a substantive edit, you don’t want the editor to zoom through without nudging the prose around a bit. Asking the editor for a sample contract or project proposal can be a great way to hammer out these details. Their contracts should state specifically what they plan to do with your manuscript, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and so on. The contract can be a wonderful tool for the author and editor to negotiate back and forth for a while before jumping into the work.

When finding an editor, it’s important to do some introspection as well. How deeply do you want your editor to dig into your prose? How comfortable are you with criticism? Are you looking for someone to praise your genius or someone who will help you improve your manuscript? Try to prepare yourself for what you’re asking your editor to do. Emily Dickinson once wrote to her mentor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it.”

Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.


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