Whether you’re starting the new year with a new project, or looking to wrap up your dissertation or publication this semester, finding the right writing support is key. If your writing group isn’t translating to publication-ready pages and you’re considering working with a professional, it’s useful to understand what kinds of support are available and how to find the best fit for your needs.
Of course, finding someone you are comfortable working with is just as important as finding someone with the necessary technical skills. Here are six issues to discuss with potential editors:
• Type of edit: Having a paper edited can mean many different things, and some editors specialize, while others offer a range of services. Are you looking for a simple proofread (i.e., a check for typos and spacing problems), do you need a developmental editor (i.e., someone who can help you develop a draft-in-progress by identifying areas for development and streamlining structure), or something in between (i.e., a substantive edit or copyedit)? Often, writers aren't sure exactly what they need. A good editor should be able to look at your document and quickly suss that out.
• Method(s) of communication: Do you work in Word, or do you need someone who is comfortable with LaTeX? Do you prefer to communicate online, or do you want to meet face-to-face? Consider what you need in terms of the logistics of communication.
• Style: It can be hard to see someone examine your writing with a critical eye—but of course, that’s an editor’s job. The nature of the approach varies, however: do you prefer someone with a soft-and-gentle approach, or a take-no-prisoners approach? Think about how you respond to criticism and find someone who’s going to complement that.
• Experience: While some editors may specialize in particular fields (e.g., health sciences, humanities, etc.) it is virtually impossible to find someone who is a subject-matter expert on precisely your topic—and that’s okay. An experienced editor is used to working with unfamiliar content. For editors, flexibility across disciplines is more important than knowledge within a discipline. This is less true of documentation styles: finding someone who has specific experience with whatever style you’re using ensures more efficient work.
• Turnaround time: Are you a long-term planner, or do you tend to work last-minute? Find someone whose turnaround can accommodate your work habits (but be wary of anyone who claims to turn around a 150-page manuscript in 48 hours). If you have a set deadline for a project, make sure to communicate that up front, and be aware that most editors charge a higher rate for rush work.
• Pricing: Some editors work on a per-project basis, others per-hour, page, or word. Make sure the terms are clear, and don’t be a sucker for bargain-basement pricing. When it comes to an editor's fee, you may find out that "too good to be true" is absolutely accurate.
A good editor should be willing and able to discuss all of these issues and to provide references upon request. And many will perform a sample edit of a few paragraphs or pages to give you a sense for the scope and style of their work.
While it can take work to find the right editor (and courage to share your work), the benefits are great: You’ll end up with a polished piece of writing and a relationship that can serve as a future resource. In fact, in our experience, it’s a relationship that only gets better with time—working with a good editor on an ongoing basis means that the editor can get to know you as a writer, can work more efficiently, and ideally, can support you on individual projects while also helping you becoming a stronger and more confident writer.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, mom to three troublemakers.