How to Hire an Editor, Not an “Editor”

Molly McCowan The Art of Editing 15 Comments

“Editors” are a dime a dozen these days. Plenty of people think that just because they: a) read a lot, b) are good at spotting typos, or c) picture themselves wearing a tweed jacket and teaching Shakespeare to enraptured students on the coiffed lawns of Harvard, they can sell their services as editors.

Some of these people will take your money, run spell check and/or grammar check on your document (something you can do yourself for free), and send it back to you. These “editors” are more than likely doing this as a way to make quick cash on the side, and many have no training whatsoever.

In order to help you avoid swallowing the bait and hiring a wolf in sheep’s clothing, here are some ways to vet your potential editor—using, if you haven’t already noticed/groaned/rolled your eyes, idioms, because they’re fun to abuse. (Call it a word nerd’s guilty pleasure.)

Stay Away from an “Editor” Who:

Talks the Talk, but Doesn’t Walk the Walk

If you find more than a couple of typos or grammatical errors on the website of your potential “editor,” be wary. The same goes for her emails to you (a couple of typos can slip by anyone in a rushed email, but a good editor usually won’t have more than two).

Will Work for Peanuts

If an “editor” charges extremely low rates (say, $50-$100 for copyediting an entire novel), steer clear.

Has No Strings Attached

If the “editor” doesn’t talk about their process or ask you to sign a contract for larger projects, tread with caution. (Note: some freelancers won’t write up a contract for small, quick projects, but the larger ones, like a full manuscript edit, should have a contract.)

Keeps a Low Profile

Can’t find any information about the “editor” online? No website, social media account, or any kind of online presence? It could be that this person is just starting out, but be careful. If he or she won’t provide you with full contact information (at least a phone number) upon request, stop, drop, and find a professional.

Talks Big, but Can’t Back It Up

No resume? No previous experience? No problem…for these “editors,” that is. Feel free to ask your potential editor about her background: where did she learn how to edit? What editing jobs has she held? What are some of her past projects? Any professional editor would be happy to share this information with you.

Thinks Rome Was Built in a Day

Use your common sense here: if an “editor” can return a full manuscript to you in one day, something’s up. Time to high-tail it out of there.

Offers the Best of Both Worlds (Not)

If an “editor” offers to edit your work for dirt cheap and promises to get it back to in record time, it won’t be good work—it just doesn’t happen that way. I made a nifty Venn diagram to show this dilemma in action:


Bottom Line: Actions Speak Louder than Words

If you hire a so-called “editor” and receive files back that have barely been touched, along with emails that include typos and grammatical mistakes, you’ve most likely been duped.

You can’t judge a book by its cover. Vet any editor you’re considering hiring, and trust your intuition. Here are two more potential red flags to watch out for:

Red flag #1: The “editor” says negative things about other editors.

Namely, that their prices are too high, their services aren’t worth the money, etc. After all, they can do the same job by running spell check, right? (Wrong.)

Red flag #2: The “editor” won’t provide you with a sample edit if asked.

(Don’t ask for more than a page or two, and don’t expect to get it for free, although many editors will offer a brief sample edit at no extra charge to you. Also, keep in mind that a sample edit is really only useful for copyediting, not developmental editing.)

A fool and his money are easily parted, as the saying goes. Don’t be that fool! Spending money on quality work from a professional will be worth it, so don’t mess around when you need your next book, paper, report, or article edited.

Learn the value of a good editor.

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Editors, what shady practices have you come across? Writers, have you worked with freelance editors before? Are you still wondering how to hire an editor? What questions can I answer for you? Let me know in the comments!

This post is part of the Word Carnival series of monthly blog posts. Click to read more posts on this month’s topic, “Dirty Deeds and Due Diligence: What to Watch Out For in 2015” written by other whip-smart entrepreneurs, bloggers, and marketing masters.

Image from Flickr user janwillemson.

Molly McCowan
Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor from Fort Collins, Colorado. As the Lead Word Nerd at Inkbot Editing, it's her job to make you look good.