How Do You Know If You Have a Bad Editor?

Ask the Editor Series, Q4

WAD Ask Lynda CartoonQ: How do you know if you have a bad editor?

A1: Their style guide is I’m OK – You’re OK.

A2: This happens on occasion, but if you’re on top of things, it’s not as complicated as you’d think.

Let’s face it, with the whole idea of internet personas, it’s hard to trust that anyone is who they say they are. And if you’re looking to hire someone for a service, the sheer number of choices combined with the need to trust a stranger can make for a daunting task.

How do you know if the editor you’re considering is a good one? For that matter, how do you know if your potential editor is even an editor at all?

The answer to this is simple, but it’s something I can’t believe people overlook: do your research. Yes, that’s what I said. Do your research. 

Writing a book is serious biz. It only stands to reason that you should put the same care into finding an editor that you have in writing and revising your MS over the course of months or years.

In my experience, the problems are predictable but fixable, if you plan ahead and look around. There is nothing to be gained by rushing the process. Here are a few good steps that should start you in the right direction:

  • Look at editing costs and set a budget—If you don’t at least look at prices before you start your search, you’re more likely to think everyone is too expensive. You’ll have no realistic grasp on how much money you should be setting aside for the work that comes after the writing is done. (Don’t forget to look at costs for formatting and cover art while you’re doing the research.)
  • Don’t wait until the last minute—It’s never too early to start thinking of an editor. Is your first draft finished? If you’re not sure whether your plot is solid or not, this could be the time to work with a developmental editor. If you’re good to go with starting your own revisions, this is when you begin the quest for a copyeditor.
  • Ask other writers for references—If an editor provided a good experience for someone, the writer will be happy to tell you all about it. Conversely, if they did a bad job of it or were difficult to work with, writers will rat them out in a heartbeat so as not to let them rip anyone else off. Don’t just blindly go with someone’s reference, either. Use the “look inside” feature on Amazon to check out that editor’s work. Put more weight on the references of writers you know are more experienced. Check out websites . . . sometimes, all it takes is a glance at a bad/fake editor’s website to put them in the NOPE pile.
  • Get sample edits from a handful of editors—Most editors provide a free sample edit of about 500-1000 words of your MS. Some editors will do a longer sample for a fee. When your book is as polished as you can get it on your own, send your manuscript to a few recommended editors who are within your price range. I prefer taking a random sample from somewhere in the middle of the MS, but if you’re sending to multiple editors, they should ideally be editing the same portion so you can compare their work. 
  • Ask another writer to help you interpret the sample edits if you’re unclear—If your grasp of grammar, spelling, and/or punctuation isn’t the best, that’s okay; that’s what the editor is for. But it may be difficult for you to know whether someone’s sample made your work better or whether they did harm. Call in a pro—or at least someone who excels at the language and/or writes better than you do—and ask them if they think the edits are done well.
  • Don’t automatically go for the lowest price—You might be able to find a bargain. You might not find anyone in your price range. You might like Editor A’s edits better, but Editor B has the lower price. In every instance, go for quality if at all possible. If Editor B fixed all your typos and subject/verb agreement issues, but Editor A did all those things and gave structural suggestions that made improvements to the flow of sentences and paragraphs, you will always regret not going with the editor who could provide more.
  • Don’t assume an editing service will give you a better product than a freelancer—Of course, I say this as a freelancer/business owner. However, many of the same freelancers you can find through editing groups are the same people who freelance for Reedsy and other services. The only difference is that you’ll get their “real” price if you hire them through their own site instead of paying for the middleman inflation.

If you start with these handy-dandy steps, you’ll find that the rest of the process will go so much smoother, and you’ll be a satisfied customer in the end.

If you have any questions, don’t forget to

Ask Lynda the Awesomest Editor™

All the answers . . . according to me!

6 thoughts on “How Do You Know If You Have a Bad Editor?”

  1. Hi, this is a really helpful post. I have a question: My MS is finished, I’ve had beta readers, I’ve revised it a bunch, now I’d like a critique or a big picture editor. I’ve been a writer/editor in the business world forever so I don’t want or need a copy editor; instead, I want someone who will tell me how to make it better — maybe more or different conflict OR more world building OR less narration OR a better hook OR… you get the idea. Are there people who will do this? What are they called?


    1. Theresa, the type of editor it sounds like you’re looking for is called a developmental editor, and yes, there are a lot of great ones out there who can help you with what you need. If you’re on Facebook at all, there’s a group called “Ask A Book Editor” you might check out. It’s full of writers and editors who help each other out with odd writing questions. The group has a sub-group called “AABE – Help Wanted” and that’s where you can go to find the services you need, whether it’s developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, formatting, or something else. Editors are not allowed to advertise in the first group—we’re only there to help without spamming the authors with “please hire me” comments—so you’d need to join both. Many of the editors there are members of the Editorial Freelancers Association or Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and you’d be in good hands.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m the same. I’d rather go into any purchase, whether a product or a service, armed with referrals from real people. Anyone can make themselves or their product sound terrific. I mean, that’s the goal, right? (This, of course, is coming from the person who calls herself The Awesomest Editor™ though, so take it as you will.)

      Liked by 1 person

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