Choosing an Editor? Writer Beware!


So, you have written your magnum opus. Congratulations. Now you need the services of an editor. But which one do you choose? More importantly will they help or hinder?

In these days of the internet, more and more people are advertising their services as an editor. Some even start up their own publishing business. But how good are they really? Do you simply engage one at will? No – ask pointed questions. after all you are about to pay them for their services.

If they are genuine, they won’t mind being quizzed. The first question I would ask them is which best selling books have you edited? If they are genuine they will be happy to list the books. The second question I would ask them is why, if they profess to know more about the English language than the average writer, have they not become a best selling author themselves?


Just because they may have a university degree, doesn’t mean they can write to save themselves. Far to many so-called editors these days are nothing more than failed writers. Once upon a time they wrote what they believed was the next perfect literary work of note, only to find that it appealed to no more than a handful of equally academically minded individuals like themselves.

With some of these editors, there is always the very real danger that they will try to impose their own will on your story. Don’t let them! Just remember that apart from taking note of the grammatical and punctuation errors they found, and making the necessary corrections, the story is your intellectual property not theirs.

The same thing applies to a lot of people who offer their services in cover design and formatting. Like the aforesaid editors, they tried their hand at writing and failed. So what did they decide to do? Make money instead by offering their services for a fee. No one could ever blame them for wanting to earn a living. I certainly don’t.

Just remember this – engaging any of the above is no guarantee of literary success.

The truth is that no matter how much you try, no matter how well your editor and you edit and polish your manuscript, no matter how eye catching the cover of the book may be, no one can ever predict what will be the next best seller.

Plus, remember this – before you can turn a profit, you have to sell enough copies of your book to get back the amount of money you handed over to your editor etc. A lot of people forget that tiny detail.

Last year to my great delight, one of my books took off, selling well over eight thousand copies. Compared to a book published by one of the big five conventional publishing houses, its sales were minimal. But in ‘Indie’ terms it was a best seller. What appealed was its scenario – a story written around the so-called Mayan calendar predictions for the world ending in 2012. When I was writing it, I didn’t give a thought to whether or not it would appeal. All I wanted to do was entertain the potential reader. Apparently I did just that.

Most writers of my acquaintance, whether they publish conventionally or self publish, would ever consider giving up to become an editor. Instead we plough on writing that next book. If you are a writer, you are a driven, some would say pig-headed, individual. Writing is very definitely not the occupation of choice for the faint hearted, or the academically minded…

  1. Avatar of Derek Haines
    Derek Haines says

    The online world is replete with these ‘reader, writer, author, editor, proof reader, publisher’ types nowadays, Jack. My Twitter feed is full of them.

    I’ve tried a number of people over the years and after a lot of disappointments, I have settled on my own quality control technique. My great little bunch of beta readers, who are bluntly honest, and offer me constructive criticism as well as proof reading, and then I use my own eyes, and edit. Then repeat the process until the job is done.

    In my experience, if someone is offering their services as an editor, and is also trying to cut it as a writer and author, beware.

    1. Avatar of Jack Eason
      Jack Eason says

      Couldn’t have said it better myself Derek.

      The world is full of charlatan’s and other assorted sharks. The internet also has its fair share. The problem is sorting the wheat from the chaff. I also operate using beta readers and experienced people like yourself, as well as my own eyes as you know.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  2. Avatar of Paula Boer
    Paula Boer says

    Gosh, guys. Although I agree with you that there are plenty of charlatans out there, I need to provide editing services, manuscript assessments, and workshops in order to eat. As a traditionally published author of four novels, one an Amazon ‘best-seller’, with a contract for two more books, I don’t consider myself a charlatan.

    I agree that anyone engaging the services of an editor – or any other service provider – needs to ask questions and understand what they are paying for. However, don’t lump all authors who also offer editing services into the waste basket please.

    1. Avatar of Jack Eason
      Jack Eason says

      You said :- “However, don’t lump all authors who also offer editing services into the waste basket please.”

      To which I reply, I wasn’t aware that I had…

    2. Avatar of Derek Haines
      Derek Haines says

      Very few authors earn enough to make it a living, Paula. I am an author too, but I make my living primarily as a teacher, a profession for which I am well qualified. My earlier comment is directed at those who offer services for which they are not qualified, yet label themselves as professionals. My experience has been that few even know the difference between editing, copy editing and proof reading. All are separate skills and require different qualifications and experience. It is impossible to be all of them, and at the same time be an author and publisher.

  3. Avatar of Paula Boer
    Paula Boer says

    My comment was a response to Derek’s last statement, Jack, and was a request to the reading audience, not a criticism of either of you.

  4. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
    Gerry Huntman says

    Jack, when I was reading your article, I started with a nodding of the head – after all, it goes without saying that if you want your work edited you need a good editor. Yes, you need to ask them their qualifications – commensurate with their fees (I should add). But then you started to drop some generalisation bombs and I feel the need to comment on them – although Paula has already made some pertinent points. My motivation is to keep clarity in forums where new writers can be influenced.

    Firstly, it is complete nonsense to ask editors if they have written themselves or assume if they haven’t, that they are incapable of editing. It is a bit like saying to a reader not to read a book unless they have written one, otherwise they couldn’t possibly understand what writing is about. Editing, and the variety of editing roles in the publishing business are skill sets that are learnt via a combination of training and experience. Additionally, some people are cut out to do it, while others aren’t. Quality professionals are worth their weight in gold, as attested by most of the greatest and most successful writers of the past few centuries. Just trawl the internet and you will stumble on countless ‘thank you’s by authors to their editors.

    This isn’t, by the way, ignoring the higher level point about being wary of poor editors, those who claim to be editors when, really, they aren’t. However, I don’t see that as any different than anyone claiming anything these days in the publishing industry, including people who claim to be writers.

    One of the most important skills a good editor has is the ability to help shape a work without impinging on the style and voice of the author. It is a partnership. It requires understanding on the part of the editor, and it requires the author to understand that there is room for improvement and factors that extend beyond the author’s horizon. You provide examples of poor editorship, but seem to have forgotten to mention poor attitude by the author. Yes, the author owns the product, but you don’t go into a relationship with the delusional belief that the work is perfect short of typos.

    Again, my statement is predicated on the fact that a given author has found a good to brilliant editor.

    I am a part time editor – have been for over five years and have had training and writing experience (and, God forbid, a degree in English Literature among other disciplines) that extends back nearly forty years. In my own assessment I am a good editor, particularly in the mid-list range of authors. (Here is the list of long titles I have edited, just to put it on record, for what it’s worth – I can’t hold a candle with editors that I know or can call friends, such as Cat Rambo, Neil Clarke, John Amen, and John Joseph Adams. Having said that, these guys are (or were) full time pros, have done their work for a very long time, and, may I add, in the some cases, are award winning authors. When I read what you, Jack, say about editors, particularly in terms of relationship building between editor/author, I feel I am visiting a surrealistic world. It is divorced from reality. How many editors have you actually met and had quality-time discussions about the art? How many that are professionally qualified and proven?

    Editors are not necessarily bad writers. They aren’t necessarily good writers. Writers can be good editors, and editors can be good writers. One of my acquaintances, who I have known for nearly thirty years, Garth Nix – successful writer, is also a fully qualified editor., and was in the business a long time. Worked for the big five, helped many writers become successful.

    I fully support the veneer layer message of your article – writers, beware! Yes, find the good editors, ask the right questions. Get your money’s worth. If you follow the traditional publishing path it is a non-issue as the editor is paid by the publisher (with the investment posture of being paid from publisher royalties your story can potentially make), but there is less control on who you get – having said this, the success and failure of a reputable publishing company rests on the quality and professionalism of its craftspeople – editors included, and many of the best are hired by mid to top level publishers.

    However, beneath the veneer of this article is an odd depiction of what is the ‘right’ author/editor relationship. You are, more or less, stating that editors are mere proofreaders, checking for typos, grammatical errors etc. Most authors, and many successful authors, need professional assistance beyond proofreading to polish their work to a professional level. In most cases, we are talking about weeding out awkward sentences, getting continuity right, getting voice consistent, making sure POV is properly handled, etc etc. Sometimes a good editor will say to their author, ‘friend, I think that chapter is in the wrong place’, or ‘there’s a thousand words that don’t need to be there’. In a good relationship, these observations conclude with all parties satisfied. As Mr Haines said in an earlier comment, no-one can be everything in the publishing process, which makes self-publishing such a challenging endeavor – and why serious writers must seek out the best possible people to help shape their final deliverables. This is, of course, assuming the writer is seeking continual improvement and the goal of producing professional quality material (which I believe the majority of writers seek).

    Writers, beware! There are poor editors out there and you should easily be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Writers, beware! Without good editors, you are doing your work a disservice.

    Writers, beware! Good editors will not hijack your style, but instead, help polish the shine that comes from the gem you had created.

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