Ten questions may seem like a lot. But you've worked hard on your manuscript, and if it's a complete dissertation, novel, or memoir, you're probably going to spend in excess of $1,000 to have it edited. You need to know that it's going to be money well spent, and that you're entrusting your precious work to someone who has the ability to give it the quality treatment it deserves. The following ten questions will help ensure you're in the right hands—so don't be shy about asking them!
1. What will the fee include?
When you're comparing potential editors, certainly price will come into play. You don't necessarily want to go with the lowest price—after all, you do tend to get what you pay for! At the same time, you're not looking for the most expensive service. Your editor's fees should be somewhere in the middle of the fees for comparable services from other editorial agencies. Shop around.
But it's also important to clarify what that fee will cover. Almost no online editors will agree to a free re-edit of the entire text once it's been returned to you for revisions. But many (like Edits Made Easy) will be willing to work out a deal for re-editing, at a much-reduced charge, only the portions of the text that have been significantly revised; some will even be willing to make minor changes for free . . . as we do!
You should also find out if you have access to someone on your editorial team for follow-up questions after the edited text has been returned to you. At EME we're proud of the fact that we will remain in touch with you for whatever questions you may have as you make decisions about our recommended revisions—all at no extra charge.
Above all, ask your editorial agency if the fee is all inclusive, or if there's any chance the editor may come back and say that more extensive work is needed and will incur further fees. You have a right to expect that your editor will make an assessment before any work is begun, and that the fee quoted to you will cover all of the work that is part of your agreement. In an effort to remain completely transparent, Edits Made Easy posts a Pricing page that lets you know up front what the rates are for each type of project. In the end, a reputable editorial agency should be willing to guarantee that there will be no surprises!
2. Is there any supervision?
With independent freelancers and with freelancer aggregators, this will be a problem, and you should beware! Editorial agencies that take a team approach (like Edits Made Easy) will usually be able to offer you the assurance that comes from a second set of eyes reviewing your editor's work. And what happens if you're not satisfied? With team-based companies, there is usually someone responsible for working with you to address your concerns and ensure a finished product that meets your expectations; independent freelancers and freelancer aggregators can't always offer that same guarantee. Let the buyer beware!
3. Does your editor really specialize in your genre or does s/he cross genre lines?
No one can be an expert in all genres. The precise kind of writing that makes a doctoral dissertation great will, instead, ruin the dialogue of a novel. Great editors are great in their own area of expertise; people who try to be editorial jacks of all trades, by contrast, are usually masters of none. You don't necessarily need your editor to be an expert in your specific academic field (History or Education or Social Work) or your precise style of fiction, but you shouldn't be entrusting your novel to an academic editor and you shouldn't be entrusting your dissertation to someone who has never earned a doctorate! Be sure that your editor is an expert in your genre and doesn't try to work in fields in which s/he does not have real, proven, professional expertise.
4. Can your editor provide any references or feedback?
Your editor should promise you confidentiality, and undoubtedly owes that same obligation to his/her other clients. As a result, it may not be possible to provide for you the names of previous clients. But most professional editors will have at least some previous clients who are willing to serve as references, or who have provided feedback on the quality of the service they received. Don't be shy about asking for references or feedback. The best assurance that you'll be satisfied is the recommendations of previous satisfied clients.
5. Is your editor willing to provide a free sample?
Editors work hard, and great editors have invested a great deal in their background, so they deserve to be fairly compensated. However, nearly any serious editor understands that you're investing a lot in your project, and so most will be willing to provide you with a free sample of the kind of work you can expect. At Edits Made Easy, we'll edit 1,000 words or 10% of your project, whichever is smaller. With that sample, you can at least get a sense of the kind of eye your editor brings to the project, and the type of results you can expect. It is neither rude nor unusual to ask your editor to provide a sample before you pay any money.
6. Who owns the finished product?
Under U.S. copyright law, it is not necessary to register a copyright in order for a work to be copyrighted. Just creating a work and fixing it in final form means it is protected by copyright law. Technically, this may be construed to include editorial work that someone does on your text. At Edits Made Easy, our Terms of Service clearly state that neither our company nor our individual editors will ever lay claim to ownership of your edited work, and each of our editors has signed a contract agreeing to this policy. When you're interviewing prospective editors, make sure that they offer the assurance that the edited final product will be owned by you, and only by you.
7. Does your editor offer a guarantee of confidentiality?
8. Can you communicate with your editor(s)?
Most freelancer aggregator companies restrict the communication between clients and editors; by contrast, most independent freelancers and team-based companies are willing to allow at least some level of communication. If you're going to be comfortable turning your work over to strangers for editing, you deserve to know that you can check on the progress of your project. At Edits Made Easy, we're proud of the unparalleled level of transparency and communication we provide. But whatever editor or company you choose, be sure that you're going to be comfortable with the level of communication you will have. It will make a huge difference to your level of comfort, and it may contribute significantly to the quality of your editor's work if s/he can raise questions that only you can answer.
9. Can your editor meet your deadline without sacrificing quality?
Deadlines are important in the editing world, and all editors are used to meeting them. When you enter into an agreement for your project, it will almost certainly involve the discussion of a deadline.
If you have a non-negotiable deadline, your editor will be anxious to meet it, since you probably won't sign on for the service if s/he can't. But can your editor meet your deadline without sacrificing any quality? A serious edit always involves several passes through your document. At Edits Made Easy, an academic edit usually requires at least five passes through the manuscript (plus a supervisory review), and a novel or memoir edit typically requires at least three (plus the review). That takes time. You should have a conversation with your prospective editor about what would be a reasonable time period to accomplish your edit; and if you need it sooner, you would be wise to ask how the edit can be accomplished more quickly without sacrificing quality for time.
I'm always suspicious of editors who want extra compensation for meeting a shorter deadline, though I know it's a fairly common practice these days. Why would an editor want to take any longer than is necessary to carry out a project? And if careful work on a project would require a certain amount of time, how would more money make it go faster? At Edits Made Easy, we'll work with you to arrive at a reasonable deadline, we'll work as quickly as we can without sacrificing any quality, and we'll never charge you more money to do a project as quickly as it can safely be done.
10. Can your editor answer some technical questions about your project?
If you're looking for a developmental editor for your novel or memoir, you have chosen a point of view for your story. Does your editor think you've made a good POV choice? If you're writing an academic work, your formatting will likely be governed by an established style sheet--like APA, MLA, Chicago, or Turabian. Is your editor an expert in your style sheet? And which version of it does s/he use? Where does your editor stand on serial commas? And will s/he fix your widows and orphans? You may or may not know what all of these things are—but your editor most certainly should! If a prospective editor isn't able to answer any of these questions, run the other way!