Vetting Editors, and Why You Should Do So

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While scrolling through replies of a post in one of my Facebook editing groups, a comment stuck with me. The poster had said a large chunk of their workload comes from frustrated writers disappointed with poor work performed by previous editors/proofreaders, with their books suffering as a result.

Good news for the editor, at least. But not for the writers.

Scenarios like this are damaging all round. For one, writers who go through this experience have their confidence in the editorial industry crippled, questioning whether it’ll be worth the gamble next time. While many venture out and hire a replacement editor, some don’t. And for editors that get hired by those wary clients, the temptation is certainly there to lower their charge rates out of empathy.

This, of course, then tarnishes not just the reputation of the previous editor, but the industry as a whole. Bit by bit.

This problem, in part, relates to editing and proofreading belonging to a largely unregulated industry – anyone can set up their own business and call themselves a proofreader. There are organisations – such as the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, the Editorial Freelancers Association, and The Publishing Training Centre – that do wonders for the industry with the wealth of training they provide and the supportive, professional communities they cultivate. However, even they can’t fully stem the tide of scammers or underqualified workers asking you to part with your hard-earned money.

Here’s a few things to look out for when planning to hire an editorial professional.

Do they have professional affiliations and qualifications?

If they do, are those training providers reputable and comprehensive? Some organisations require certain standards to be met by their members to join or upgrade to higher membership tiers.

Do they have an online presence?

Almost all editors these days have their own corner on the Web. Whether that’s in the form of a website or social media is up to them, but you should be able to find them.

How's their website's copy?

If their writing is littered with errors, that wouldn’t fill you with the greatest of confidence, would it? Of course, even experienced editors allow mistakes to slip through, albeit rarely – we’re all human! So don’t let just one mistake shy you away from considering them.

Can you find any testimonials?

What have past clients been saying? Testimonials and word of mouth are an editor’s secret weapon to gain clients and can give you an idea of how well they deliver their services.

Do they offer sample edits?

Usually samples are for around 1000–2000 words and best taken from the middle of your manuscript. Samples are a great opportunity for you to check whether the editor’s suggestions and edits bond well with your style. Editing, while mostly aims to be objective, always comes with some subjectivity which varies from editor to editor. Editors also use samples to gauge the complexity of your text; decide whether it needs another type of edit altogether; and, if they’re interested in taking it on, generate fee quotations.

Do they have a contract?

This doesn’t have to be called a contract – they may name it a ‘service agreement’, ‘a statement of work’ or something else. But it’s important that the work to be undertaken and the terms of the agreement are laid out in some shape. At the very least, an email detailing this information will suffice.

Now, having a contract isn’t the service provider trying to find a way to sue you or vice versa, but rather a tool that helps to define the nature of the job, ensure expectations are aligned, and provide transparency. It can act as a reliever, giving you the knowledge that the editor or proofreader understands the project and is serious about completing it.

You may get told by the editor soon in your communications with them that you’ll need to sign a contract, or much later. But simply having something that lays everything down will help assuage your fears compared to having an editor accept payment then leave you in the dark until they return your story to you, hands trembling with trepidation as you open the file. The editor may have done an amazing job, leaving you wondering why you ever doubted them. But having a contract shows they acknowledge the leap of faith you’re taking and how worrisome the process can be at first.

And lastly, are they prolific in working with your genre?

Are they passionate about your kind of story? If your story is right up their street, they will be more excited about the job. More excitement means more investment and they will likely have more meaningful insights that someone unfamiliar with your genre will not.

Final thoughts...

There are, however, caveats to each of these points and should only be taken as guidance, as good signs, and not hard and fast rules each editor must abide by. Circumstances have their role to play too. An editor may just not enjoy social media, or not be tech savvy enough to have a website, or have a strong pre-established client base to not warrant undergoing the effort online marketing needs. They may not be affiliated with a prestigious training organisation, but still be a fantastic editor whose experience has grown from a previous in-house position. Maybe they’re a newer editor who hasn’t got a large collection of testimonials (yet). And the list goes on.

This post is really just a reminder to do your due diligence. Don’t blindly toss your eggs in one basket, but do some research, ask questions, find the right fit. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a similar situation as those writers mentioned in the beginning: out-of-pocket and time wasted.

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