One of the most important parts of finding a good independent editor is preparation: The first steps are learning how to describe what you’re looking for and understanding what to expect. Whether or not you end up working with the Writer’s Ally, we want to help you get as informed as you can possibly be—we always say that a successful writer is an educated writer. So here are some of the most frequent questions we hear from writers like you, and some answers you can trust.
What does it cost to hire an editor?
Well, that varies. Your investment for any project depends on a lot of things, from the total word count of your manuscript to the specific service you need. A small project may require an investment of as little as a few hundred dollars, and a big one could be several thousand dollars.
The best way to learn what your project might require, and what your investment might be, is to sign up for a Free Project Review. This is a half-hour phone call during which we can work through all the variables and find out exactly what will be best for your project and how we can help you achieve your goals.
Of course, the other consideration is what kind of editor you’re looking for.
Wait. There are different kinds of editors?
You bet. Like professionals in any field, different editors have different areas of expertise—and we’re not just talking about fiction versus nonfiction. During the editing process, there are basically two different kinds of editors of which you need to be aware.
First, there are developmental editors. This is our sweet spot. Developmental editors focus on the substantive, big-picture issues. For most nonfiction, that means structure and organization, use of anecdotes and exercises, audience and category suitability, tone, writing style, and any and all other problems that may exist. For fiction and memoir, that means story, characterization, conflict and tension, logic, dialogue, setting, style, and everything in-between.
Then, there are copyeditors. Copyeditors correct your mistakes and examine your sentences for clarity. They handle spelling, grammar, punctuation, and all technical issues with your manuscript. Our fantastic, experienced copyeditors won’t miss a thing. A copyeditor can also typically handle line editing—a more intensive edit that will clean up, and in some cases partly rewrite, your paragraphs and sentences—and proofreading, that last run through a laid-out manuscript prior to publication.
A developmental editor’s job is to help you craft the very best version of your manuscript before it goes out into the world; a copyeditor’s job is to help you fix your mistakes so that best version absolutely shines. You can learn more about the editors on our team here.
Why doesn’t one editor take care of both these things at the same time? Wouldn’t that be way more efficient?
Quite the opposite, in fact. Suppose Chapter 6 of your novel is in need of a complete rewrite. In that scenario, what was the point of paying your editor to correct the spelling or punctuation in Chapter 6? You’ll still need to go through another copyedit once you finish your revisions.
Traditionally, an author works with a developmental editor first, then a copyeditor toward the end of the process before moving on to layout and design. That way, the deeper issues are resolved before the surface is addressed, and you only need to pay for that copyedit once. Proofreading is done at the end of the layout process on “proofs,” which these days are usually PDFs of your designed pages.
Okay, but why do I even need a developmental editor? Isn’t that what beta readers are for?
Beta readers are great! It’s important to get as much feedback on your work as possible.
But in much the same way that a well-meaning parent can only tell you so much about your headache, and your partner can only provide so much legal advice acquired from reruns of Law & Order, a beta reader can only tell you so much about your manuscript. Ultimately, for the best advice, you’ll need a doctor, or an attorney, or a developmental editor.
A beta reader can tell you if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t resonating. A developmental editor can tell you why—and not only why, but how specifically you can make it better. In nonfiction and fiction alike, a good developmental editor has particular insight and understanding that most beta readers do not. We do this for a living!
If you’re serious about writing and publishing success, and especially if you’re still learning your craft, your manuscript needs at least one pass from a developmental editor.
But I’m pursuing traditional publishing instead of self-publishing. Won’t my publisher handle the editing?
If you’re picked up by a publisher, they will bring in their own editors. But first you need to be accepted. Agents and publishers alike receive millions of submissions every year. And though some are willing to work with an unpolished but promising manuscript, most are looking for works already in great shape—those that stand out from the rest. Some of the most optimistic estimates are that only one in a hundred submissions ever makes it to the proverbial shelves! So to improve your chances, it pays to get some professional developmental feedback before launching into the submissions process.
One caveat here is for copyediting: If you have a strong sense of proper grammar and punctuation and you feel reasonably confident that your manuscript is “clean,” there’s no need to pay for a copyeditor before shopping your manuscript around. As we explained above, copyediting is most effective when performed toward the end of the editorial process, and your publisher most certainly should provide that service.
Even if I know what kind of editor I’m looking for, how do I determine which one is right for me? Should I ask for a sample edit?
You can ask, but honestly, you can’t tell all that much from five pages of free edits—especially when you’re new to the process and unsure of what to look for. The most experienced professional editors simply don’t have the time to provide free sample edits to every potential client.
Far more important than a sample edit is a resumé. What books has your editor worked on? What books in your particular genre? How long have they been editing? What do their past clients have to say? Have any of their clients been successfully published? These are some questions you should consider asking before hiring an editor.
As for The Writer’s Ally, our editors have collectively edited well over a hundred published books. Here on the website, you can find testimonials from many of these clients, a link to our Goodreads shelf featuring many of those published works, and even some highlighted projects on our blog. That kind of experience tells you more than any sample edit ever could.
(That said, if you want to see a sample of previous projects, we’re happy to oblige!)
The other thing you can do, quite simply, is speak with your prospective editor to get a feel for his or her personality, approach, and experience. In our case, you can sign up for a Free Project Review, during which you’ll have opportunity to ask whatever questions you like.
How long does editing take?
Like investment, this varies based on the size of the project. A developmental edit of a manuscript of average length may take about four weeks. The longer the manuscript, the greater the project duration, naturally, and the smaller the project the more quickly it goes.
Given our experience, we’re often booked several weeks to months in advance, but whenever work is set to begin on your project, it becomes our absolute top priority. (Which is another reason we don’t do sample edits. That’s valuable time we’d rather devote to our clients!)
What kind of projects do you take on?
We handle many types of fiction, memoir, and other types of nonfiction. The whole purpose of forming The Writer’s Ally was to provide serious authors with editorial and marketing assistance no matter their book type, so chances are great that someone on our intimate but deeply experienced team has worked on a project much like yours.
What about shorter manuscripts? Or different kinds of manuscripts?
While we typically work with full-length manuscripts, we’ve been known to edit novellas and short ebooks too. Harrison is an optioned and award-winning screenwriter, which, combined with his editorial experience, makes him uniquely adept at editing screenplays.
Will you edit my query letter?
Yes! Our editorial packages typically include help with your query letter, as this is an essential piece of your submission package, and our goal is to do more than just improve your manuscript—we want to help you get published. We also work with book proposals, synopses, and anything else you might need in marketing your project.
Will you write my manuscript for me?
Ally, our Founder, is a bestselling book collaborator/ghostwriter who specializes in nonfiction. You can find out more about those services at www.allymachate.com. We don’t ghostwrite fiction or memoir.
Is there anything you don’t do?
Ventriloquism. We’re awful at ventriloquism.
We also don’t edit poetry (though we can make a recommendation), and we can’t do translations or work in foreign languages. If your project requires someone with special knowledge of any science or technical field, we’re probably not the right team for you. We’d love to be—we just don’t have the expertise.
And that’s important. We’re not going to tell you we can do something we can’t just because we want the job. We’re going to be honest with you so that you have all the information you need to make the right decision for you. We’ll even refer you to trusted colleagues if we think they’ll be a better fit for your project.
What if I’m not finished writing my manuscript? Can you help me get there?
We’re always working on new programs through which we can help writers at all points in the process. Registration is often limited and offered first to writers on our mailing list. Feel free to sign up (you’ll get a free gift!) so you can be the first to receive notices of new programs and special offers! Or email us to see if a new program is about to begin.
What if we don’t live in the same region? Can we still work together?
My friend, this is the digital age. We don’t need to live anywhere near each other to work together. Some of our favorite clients live as far away from our east cost U.S. headquarters as Australia, South Africa, Finland, and Japan. We’ve never had a problem with any of them. (Except for scheduling phone calls. But hey, if we need to work after-hours to talk with you, then that’s what we’ll do.)
How do you handle payments? Do you require payment in full before beginning?
We’ve learned that the best way to handle investments is with a 50% deposit on signing and the balance due on delivery. Some small projects may have payment due in full up front. For larger projects, we’re willing to work with you on a more flexible payment plan. Once we come to an agreement about your investment, you’ll receive a contract to sign and return with your deposit. That reserves your spot on our schedule. An invoice for the second or subsequent payments will come at agreed-upon intervals or when you receive your completed project.
We use PayPal as our payment processor, but can choose to use your credit card or send via your own PayPal account. Whatever is easiest for you!
I need an agent! Will you represent me?
We love to help you however we can, but we can’t be something we’re not. We’re editors and writers. We’re not agents. And there are tons of great agents out there. Try browsing a copy of the most recent Literary Market Place at your local library or visit any number of websites, such as the Association of Authors’ Representatives. The Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents is also a good resource.
Can you publish my book?
Same deal. We’re not publishers, though we all have considerable background in publishing. That means we won’t publish your book, but since we know exactly what the process entails—whether it’s self-publishing or traditional publishing—we’re always happy to provide advice. It’s all part of making sure that, no matter what we work on together, we leave you in the best possible position to move forward toward your publishing goals and dreams.
Okay, but what about other aspects of book production, like layout, cover art, and ebook design?
While we don’t do these things ourselves, our years of experience have left us with a great many contacts. Please feel free to get in touch for a referral! And if you’re looking for some sort of package deal that includes editorial assistance as well as design or website work, we may be able to offer you a discount in conjunction with our partners.
You said something up there about a mailing list . . .
That’s right! The mailing list is a great way to stay up to speed on all our special offers. You’ll also receive some terrific articles on writing and publishing. It’s totally free, so go ahead and sign up now! And of course, if you decide at any point you no longer want to be part of the mailing list, you can cancel your subscription. There’s a handy “unsubscribe” link on every communication we send out.
Any more questions?
Who’s your favorite superhero?
Spider-Man. Hands down.
Boxers or briefs?
That’s a little personal.
How do I know you’re all really editors instead of, say, aliens preparing for a brutal invasion of the planet Earth?
We can neither confirm nor deny reports of extraterrestrial parentage, but either way, we’ve edited a lot of books for a lot of happy authors, agents, and publishers, so we’re still the finest resource out there as far as creating the best version of your manuscript before the inevitable overthrow of Earth.
Thanks for reading! We’re looking forward to working with you. If you think you might be ready to talk with us, all you have to do is get in touch for that Free Project Review.
And if you have any more questions, just let us know!
Missing Pieces? Find Out!
- Learn the nine steps every successful book project goes through.
- Find out if you're ready to compete on the (virtual and physical) shelves.
- Identify which pieces you may be missing.
- Get tips on how to check items off your list.