How to find the right editor to turn your manuscript into a book

The right editor can turn a good manuscript into a great, publishable book. Finding the right editor takes time, patience, and above all a willingness to set aside one’s own ego. There are four phases to the search for hiring an editor:

  1. Identifying a need for an editor and what will be accomplished
  2. Sourcing, vetting good candidates
  3. Agreeing on what the ultimate manuscript will look like.
  4. Establishing milestones and compensation schedule.

First and foremost you must understand and agree that an editor is needed. Many would-be writers believe what they have written is perfect. It is difficult for many authors, particularly young writers, to see the need for an editor. But having an editor is an absolute must. However, deciding what level of interaction you will permit is a key initial step in the hiring process. With this hurdle past, you need to establish a budget. Set up a budget, but don’t make the final choice based on price.

After deciding on the level of contribution you are comfortable with and a budget, the next step involves sourcing. Choose three editors and ask each to review a chapter or section of the manuscript. Discuss with each their reaction to the work and what they think they can contribute to improving the contents. This first interaction will set the tone for future discussions. Together, you and editor will establish what the ultimate manuscript will look like.


Cartoon with check mark

  • find an editor who understands what you want to say
  • talk to at least three editors before choosing
  • carefully listen and review what the editor has done
  • get recommendations from other authors
  • choose an editor who has worked with published authors

Cartoon with x mark

  • make price the most important factor in your decision
  • let time be an issue
  • choose an editor that is trying to be your friend
  • forget about deadlines
  • pay all of the fees up front

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do find an editor who understands what you want to say

Good editors make great books. Look for an editor who takes the time to fully understands what you want to say and how you want to say it. It is important to talk about the goals you have set out to achieve in your writing. There is much discussion as to whether the editor should be well versed in the subject. Sometimes, not knowing the subject can enable the editor to provide helpful insights particularly if the subject is obscure. In either case, it is important that the editor takes the time to understand what you want to convey.

Moreover by their task, reviewing and modifying prose, editors tend to intrude on writers’ egos. Some writers will only accept correction in grammar and punctuation. Others will permit the editor to suggest modification and to fact check. A few encourage dialogue to strengthen all aspects of the manuscript.

Do talk to at least three editors before choosing

It is important to get a diversity of views in order to choose the one you want to work with. If nothing else, their take on your efforts is a cost-effective way obtaining invaluable insight into what you are trying to accomplish in your efforts. Give each applicant a sample chapter to review and edit. Review what each has done and make that an important part of your decision process. An editor with experience helping published authors are preferable as they often have connections to publishers and can perhaps recommend the manuscript.

Ask the editors about their reaction to your work and what they can contribute to making it better. During this interaction look for the candidate that comes closest to understanding your communication goals and writing styles. Opt for the candidate who comes the closest to your desired outcome. Also, use as a decision criteria, the candidate who best conveys their ideas in a manner you can appreciate and accept. The editing process requires give and take on both sides, and you need to be able to listen and accept changes.

Do carefully listen and review what the editor has done

Some editors work with a heavy hand. Others use a lighter touch because of the author’s ego. Leave your ego outside the room when discussing what needs to be done. We all fall in love with our writing, but good editing can only make it better. A good editor will provide invaluable help in shaping a manuscript, but sometimes it comes at a cost of the author’s ego.

Do get recommendations from other authors

If possible, source candidates from other authors who have used an editor they recommend. Ask the recommender how his or her experience with the editor was. Preferably, seek out recommendations from published authors, this approach demonstrates the editor knows what he or she is doing. If the author does not know published authors, search the Internet for sites or seek out writers’ group to ask members for help.

Do choose an editor who has worked with published authors

When making a choice, lean towards an editor who has worked with published authors. Sometimes, these editors have connections to publishing houses and can help get you in the door.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not make price the most important factor in your decision

Establish a budget before starting the selection process. Good editors are hard to find and those that are really good usually cost more. The key is finding an editor you can work with and who can give constructive criticism in a way you can clearly understand.

Do not let time be an issue

Take the time to choose an editor. A hasty decision can delay the process rather than hasten publication. Devote your efforts to finding the right editor and avoid setting a decision deadline.

Do not choose an editor that is trying to be your friend

An editor often needs to tell an author things they don’t want to hear. The best editors tell authors things their mates or friends won’t. Just because an editor candidate is friendly and sympathetic doesn’t mean they know how to create a great manuscript.

Do not forget about deadlines

Without deadlines, tasks are not completed. Never start a project without having milestones for completion. Determine whether the editor has the capacity for finishing the project within an agreed upon length of time. It is important to establish dates for completing the review. Preferably, you should require a review after the first three chapters to see what is being done.

Do not pay all of the fees up front

Paying all of the fee up front is a recipe for disaster. The payments schedule should be agreed upon at the start of the editing process and should be contingent on progress. There should also be agreement on the terms for cancelling should the relationship not be working exactly to your liking. Provisions for a “kill fee” if the process proves untenable by either party is an important part of this agreement.

Perhaps the most contentious potential conflict in this process will be agreeing on compensation and deadlines. No agreement should require full payment up front. Payments should be tied to completion deadlines. Usually, editors require an initial payment on the start of the project and additional payments as edited chapters are accepted by the author. Put everything in a signed written document.


Every author loves their own writing as it is often an extension of their ego. However, an editor must often challenge the prose which in effect is attacking the author’s ego. Find an editor who can do this and have enough credibility to encourage the author to accept those changes. Experienced editors know how to this and, while often more expensive, those consultants are the best ones to hire, particularly for new writers. Recommendations from published authors are the best sources for finding the right editor. Do not choose based only on cost and always have agreement as to milestones and completion dates.

A good way of testing the candidate is to have he or she test edit a chapter and be open-minded about what they have done. A signed agreement with agreed upon milestones and payment schedule and kill arraignment is critical to a successful relationship. Be prepared for a painful journey but the end may be a happy ending.

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