With the recent ebook explosion, dozens of freelance editors have popped up, self-promoting, taking payment, and supposedly editing ebooks. How can you tell if you’re getting a good deal from a reputable freelancer or about to be screwed over by a misguided (potentially malicious) hack? Here are our five signs of bad editors.

1. They accept anything.

      On the surface, this seems fine. Why wouldn’t an editor accept anything that comes his way? Well, much like a chef might specialize in French cuisine, an editor might specialize in romance. Or sci-fi. Or YA. It doesn’t mean the editor can’t edit another genre, and it doesn’t mean the chef can’t cook something else. It’s just not going to be their best work. If you’re a serious mystery writer gunning for high sales and book prizes, doesn’t it make sense to find an experienced mystery editor instead of a chick lit editor who wants to try something new?

      There’s another question which springs to mind when editors accept anything: why do they have so much free time? Editing is a long, involved process. Are these misguided editors really devoting their full focus to the work, or are they cranking out submissions to make some extra money on the side? Groucho Marx didn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member; self-publishing writers should be wary of enthusiastic editors who seem too eager to take submissions and payment.

Good Editors Will…

  • Explain to you if they’re not the right person to edit your work.
  • Have a clear work schedule and know when (or if) they can fit you in.
  • Articulate their strengths (and more importantly, their limitations).

2. They quote a price without seeing the work.

      Out of context, this makes no sense. No contractor would give an estimate on construction work without seeing the blueprints and all relevant information. It’s equally important for an editor to see the document before deciding on his approach.

      Now, we’re not advocating for baseless and confusing pricing, either. But between the flat per-page fees of misguided wannabes and the pulled-from-thin-air numbers of the intentionally malicious are clear, public, and comprehensive pricing structures.

      Pricing should take into account the experience of the editor, the length of the work, the author’s deadline, and the amount of editing required. Many editors will charge extra for a quick turnaround time or discount their services for long-term clients. There’s nothing wrong with charging extra money for extra work (or less money for steady work). But that’s the point: pricing shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all.

Good Editors Will…

  • Give you an estimated cost and timeframe for editing your work.
  • Provide a schedule of fees or pricing structure which allow for shades of gray.
  • Advise you in advance of any additional fees or potential discounts.

3. They’re going it alone.

      Any reputable freelance editor should have some industry ties. Whether it’s editing-focused education, relevant job experience, or membership in professional societies, freelancers should have friends. A so-called editor who refuses to provide his legal name, background, or contact information should send you scrambling for the back button.

Good Editors Will…

  • Offer a detailed resume with current contact information.
  • Supply references from both clients and colleagues.
  • Provide proof of current membership status in professional societies.

4. They can’t explain their changes.

      It’s easy to say that a sentence doesn’t flow. It’s harder to explain the grammatical reasoning behind the problem. Be wary of any editor who tells you that you need changes without explaining why the sentence needs to change. Freelance editors work with words all day long. Experienced editors should be able to identify, explain, and fix grammatical errors without looking up every single mistake. You should feel comfortable to question your editor’s comments; however, questioning each individual remark will slow down the editing process, contribute to higher pricing fees, and potentially alienate your editor.

Good Editors Will…

  • Note your most common mistakes and explain how to avoid them in the future.
  • Provide answers with sources for your grammatical questions (within reason).

5. They seem too good to be true.

      So you have a first draft of half a million words and you need it professionally edited by the end of the week for less than $100? No problem! says the misguided editor. He doesn’t realize what he’s gotten himself into. He’s just happy to have a client! When the end of the week rolls around, you might find yourself out the $100 with nothing to show for it.

      Every author wants more readers, increased sales, better reviews, publishing contracts, and prize-winning stories. Unfortunately, no one can guarantee these things, even editors. This goes back to the first point: good editors know their limitations. Save yourself money, time, and headaches by choosing an editor with realistic goals for your story.

Good Editors Will…

  • Acknowledge their limitations.
  • Explain what is realistic and possible for your project.
  • Behave professionally.

Write with your heart. Publish with your head.

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