• Margaret Phillips

5 Steps to Hire an Editor



If you've never hired an editor, how do you find the right one?


Here are five steps to get you started.


Step 1. Start Early


Do you have a deadline?


If so, start the process well before the deadline. Otherwise, you may not find an editor who can meet your fast-approaching deadline.


Here's why.


Editors schedule their work based on a client who agrees to their quote, including that client's deadline.


If their schedule is full just when you need them, you’ll have to look for someone else.

Also, editing takes time.


Plan for your draft to be passed back and forth. When you give an editor your document, they will edit the agreed-upon level and return it to you with track changes and comments. It's then your turn to review the changes and revise your draft. Once you've done that, you'll send it back to the editor for a second revision.


So, allow time for collaboration and communication.

Finally, if an editor has to work overtime to meet a short deadline, they may charge rush fees. In that case, you'll end up paying more for your project than if you had scheduled the work in advance.


Step 2. Learn about Editing Levels


Do you know what kind of editing you want?


In Canada, editors talk about three levels of editing. Here’s the lowdown on different editing levels.


First level: structural editing

This level is all about organizing and presenting content in a way that makes sense to your reader. After your content is organized, an editor can move to the second level.


Second level: stylistic editing

An editor ensures that paragraphs and sentences are clear and coherent. They may need to rewrite text to achieve that clarity.


Third level: copyediting

An editor checks for sentence-level technical issues, such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Are you using a style guide? If so, they'll follow your guide to ensure consistency throughout your text.


Style guide: what's that?

Style guides help you make decisions about things that aren't grammatical rules but style decisions: for example, how you handle numbers, abbreviations, capitalization, and punctuation. The Chicago Manual of Style is commonly used as a guide. But there are other guides, such as Editing Canadian English or style guides for different academic disciplines.


Proofreading: what does that mean?

In the editing world, proofreading has a specific meaning.

Proofreading occurs after all editing is complete.

A proofreader reviews a print-ready document for errors before the text goes to print. They look for typos and visual consistency of the text.


Seem confusing? Not to worry. Your editor will guide you through the process so that you learn the ins and outs of editing your text.


Step 3. Search for an Editor


What kind of editor do you need?


Editors come in all different stripes. Some edit fiction, others non-fiction (NF). In other words, editors specialize in different kinds of writing.


I’m not an editor of fiction, so it’s hard for me to speak to that field. There are fiction editing subspecialties — for example, historical fiction, sci-fi, or fantasy. If you’re a fiction writer, your writing genre will help you decide which editing subspecialty to seek.


In the case of non-fiction, some editors work with a broad range of document types. NF editors may also specialize. Some may do academic editing only, while others edit for specific industries or narrative non-fiction.


To add to the confusion, editors may focus on different levels of editing (Step 2 editing levels). Some specialize in structural and stylistic editing, while others specialize in copy editing or proofreading. Some may offer all levels of editing.


Just be aware that different editors have different editing niches.

If someone can’t edit your document, they may be able to refer you to someone who edits the type of document you’re writing.


Tip: Editors Canada has an online directory of all its editors. You can search for an editor by location, content, document type, and editing skills. To check out their directory, click here.


Step 4. Ask an Editor


So, you’ve found an editor that sounds like a great fit. What do you do next?


Contact the editor and give them a few details: tell them your deadline, the type and length of your document, and the level of editing you want. Based on this information, they'll respond with a yea or a nay. If they say they're a fit, ask a few questions.


Ask about their experience and ask to see a sample of the kind of editing you want. Also, most editors use MS Word. If you want them to edit a Google doc or proofread a PDF with Adobe markup, ask if they have experience with that.


Finally, ask them to give you an estimate for your project.

To prepare an estimate, an editor will ask for a short sample of your document. Once they’ve seen the sample, they can confirm the level of editing you need. They'll also estimate the time your text will take to edit, and based on that, they can give you a quote for your project.


Step 5. Review the Quote


The quote will contain several details you need to review.


It will set out

  • the agreed-upon level(s) of editing and number of revisions

  • the time allotted for communication with the editor

  • the milestone deadlines for both you and the editor

  • a project price and a deposit


Most editors require a deposit before they begin work. That deposit secures your spot in the editing queue.


Once you have a quote, you can decide if the cost fits your budget.

You always have the option of saying, This is my budget. What can you do? Based on your budget, an editor will give you an appraisal of what they can edit. Keep in mind the editing may be more limited than what is required.


So, to recap: start early, do some research, and ask questions. And be prepared for a collaborative process.


How can I help?

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, you can fill out the form on my Contact page.