Cousin George cannot be your editor! And there is no book or checklist that can fully replace an experienced professional editor. You need someone who “gets it” in terms of your particular work and your writing style; someone who won’t ruthlessly reduce your manuscript to sterile correct grammar, capitalization, and proper punctuation, or completely remake your manuscript in his or her own image.
Look for someone with whom you can establish a positive relationship; someone who seems to have a good sense of what you and your style are all about. You don't want someone who might eviscerate you right out of your own work.
You should also check other books and genres with which he or she has worked. Watch for signs of over editing and under editing. The comments and testimonials of other authors who have used the individual you are considering will help in your decision making process, of course.
And, finally, have your prospect do a sample edit of your work for you. At Final Copy Editorial Services, we do sample edits free of charge.
Your work is your life, especially if your work is writing a book. You need an editor who not only knows what he is doing, but also someone with whom you can relate, someone who can understand what you, as well as your book, are all about. You are hiring a business partner and confidant rolled into one. Find out how he or she works, how he will approach your work, how easily you can confer on writing issues. You are not going to marry this individual but what you are doing is most definitely a team effort.
Fast editing is probably not good editing. Good, experienced editors may or may not be able to promise you a quick turnaround on your work; that depends on how challenging they find your work to start with. Promises of fast editing regardless of all other factors are simply promises that your work will not get much editing at all, whether it needs it or not. Will this fast person really “listen” as she reads your work, or just look at the words? Fast editing is often just about hitting the high spots in order to get to the next project and pay day as quickly as possible.
Appropriate professional credentials, education, and experience are extremely important in choosing an editor. Do not sign up with someone who thinks he has those qualifications simply because she knows how to run a computer spell checker, or because she can recite a lot of the rules of grammar. A thorough knowledge of good grammar, because of the complexity of the English language, really only comes from a lot of experience that has fine tuned an ear for the nuances and subtleties of the language.
You don’t want your best creative efforts turned into sterile but grammatically correct pulp. You never want a manuscript edited so heavily that you don’t recognize your own work. Sensitivity to your personal writing style is also important. You need both, and that unique combination comes only through years of varied experience working with the English language.
If you want a cover letter for your resume, or a new resume, don’t go to a poetry editor. If you’re writing poetry you probably don’t want the editor who has been polishing business plans throughout his career, or who has edited only non-fiction books on fishing, or academic theses. Good editors can be flexible to a point because their business is the English language and they know it well, but if you want assistance with improving your baking skills, going to a sushi chef is not likely the best choice... unless, of course, he also bakes.
There are different levels of editing, from basic to substantive. Be sure you know what it is you want an editor to do and be willing to pay accordingly. Don’t fall for the quick editor who promises 24-hour turnaround on a 200,000-word novel... at any price! If you do, you will likely be paying someone else to run your book through a spell checker. You get what you pay for.
Be willing to give prospective editors a sample of your work to be edited and have them send it back with a quote on the whole project. That way you get to see what he or she does to your work, at least at the copy editing level, and he gets to see your work before quoting.
You want to be comfortable with what an editor does with the sample you send him, as well as with any suggestions or comments she makes about the work. Are they valid, do the suggestions make sense? If your don’t like what he or she does to your precious words, or the price being asked for it, move on.
And remember, editors are not proofreaders. These are two different professions. Don’t pay for an editor if all you’re getting is a proofreader.