How to Tell a Good Editor from a Bad One

How to tell a good book editor from a bad one

by Phoebe Geary

In today’s industry, securing the right editor can mean the difference between your book’s make or break. Book editors bring your manuscript to life by providing valuable feedback and ensuring that your message is communicated in a clear, cohesive way. 

There are many different editors and editing styles on offer out there, so differentiating the good from the bad can be a really confusing process. But as book-editing experts, we’d like to think we can help narrow down the search for a great editor who stands out from the rest. Here are our top tips:

#1: Relevant experience

The single most important thing to consider is the editor’s experience. Rather than just looking for “a good editor”, the right editor for you will have experience in your particular genre, subject matter, target audience, and the editing service you’re looking for. It’s all about finding the right match. 

To determine this, see which books they’ve previously edited and what type of editing they specialise in. Often, the perception of a “bad editor” comes down to choosing the wrong type of editor for your needs, such as hiring a copy editor when you actually need structural help. 

Top tip: Check whether the editor has worked in-house for a publisher, as this means they’ll have insider industry experience , which can be vital to your book’s success. If you’re self-publishing, a good editor for you will have experience with self-published books.

#2: Client feedback

It should go without saying that a good editor will have great feedback from their former clients! Look at clients’ testimonials on their personal website, but don’t rely solely on this, as it might not give you the whole picture. Google their name to see where they appear online and make sure to check freelancing sites, then assess their feedback overall. Look out for reviews that show the editor added real value to the book, not just “good job”.

Top tip: Look out for return clients, because a client won’t go back to a bad editor—and they won’t look elsewhere if they have a good editor.

#3: Spot typos

It sounds obvious, but if you’re hiring a line or copy editor, check their profile for typos, mistakes, or things that could be worded better. You want to know that they pay a lot of attention to detail and that their own writing isn’t littered with errors. If it is, that’s a red flag that they’re not a good copy editor. 

Top tip: Don’t discount an editor just because their idea of grammar is different to yours. There are many grammar rules that are now considered “grammar dinosaurs”, such as not ending a sentence with a preposition.

#4: Talk to them

You can figure out a lot about the editor and whether they are right for you by simply talking to them. It’s tempting to say that someone is a “bad editor” when they were actually given unclear instructions, so discuss your project and requirements before hiring them. Check that you’re both on the same page and that they truly understand what you want. Ask them what they do during the editing process, so you have a clear idea of what you’re getting from them.

Top tip: Ensure that your conversation feels natural and comfortable. If your preliminary discussions don’t go well, then they’re not the right editor for you.

#5: Working styles

You might feel that someone is a bad editor if the project doesn’t go smoothly. Just think, you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time working with this editor, so find out what kind of working style they prefer—and check that it matches your own. If they prefer a hands-off approach and you want regular updates, or if they like to speak over email and you prefer video calls. then it won’t be a harmonious working relationship. 

Top tip: Consider that you’re hiring this editor for a potentially long-term relationship, so they need to be someone you can actually work with.

#6: Passion

As with hiring anyone, you want to know that the editor has passion for your project and is excited to work on your book. If they send you a generic pitch, then decline their offer—a good editor will spend time talking to you about your book, not just talking in general.

Top tip: Take notice of editors who tell you specifically why they want to work on your book and what interests them about the project.

And finally…

Finding the right book editor to suit your project can feel like a real challenge at times, but it’s an important stepping stone towards your book’s success. Keeping these tips in mind can narrow down your search, shed light on the editor’s role, and separate the good from the bad. Get in touch with us here if you’d like to hear more about our editing services for nonfiction books—we’re happy to help!