How to Find the Right Editor for Your Self-Published Book: 7 Essential Questions to Ask

  • Writing and Production
How to Find the Right Editor for Your Self-Published Book: 7 Essential Questions to Ask

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve finally finished your book. Congratulations on an amazing achievement! I know that the buzz of having a finished draft of a book is something indescribable, probably akin to climbing Mount Everest.

But don’t go publishing that draft just yet.

Yes, I know your book is your baby and that to you, it is absolutely perfect and beautiful. Trust me, though. If you put the book down for a few weeks and then get back to it, you’re going to discover that it has some serious flaws.

You’re going to have to edit your work and, especially if this is your first time editing, you don’t want to do it alone.

Luckily for you, a whole industry has sprung up around self-publishing books, and this includes a whole host of freelance editors willing to work for a fee. Unfortunately, all editors are not created equal, so just the act of choosing which editor to work with can be as daunting as editing your book in the first place.

But don’t worry. I’ve figured out seven of the best questions you should ask yourself and your editor before making your decision. Once you have those answers, you’ll be able to sort your best candidates out from the rest. And who knows? Maybe you might even find “the one,” that editor you keep going back to for every book you publish.

All you have to do is ask the right questions, which are:

1) What’s My Budget?

Editing is one of the most expensive parts of self-publishing a book, and the reality is that no matter how awesome your book ends up being, you don’t always know how well that book will sell.

Therefore, letting your publishing costs get out of control can turn into a nightmare experience. So do yourself a favor and draw up a budget. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Ugh no, that sounds like work.

Absolutely. Self-publishing is a lot of work, because you’re turning your writing into your own little business.

Businesses have to concern themselves with profits, losses, expenditures, and earnings. And in the beginning stages of your business, you need to be concerned with cash flow, i.e. how much can you pay to self-publish without immediately needing that money again for something else. That’s what your budget is for.

So what sort of items should be in your budget?

  • Editing costs
  • Cover costs
  • Formatting costs (This is to lay your book out for publishing.)
  • Marketing costs (if you have the money for it.)
  • If you’re not including this in your marketing and want to send paperbacks to reviewers, you need to budget for paperbacks to be printed and shipped to them.

There might be more costs involved, depending on what you have available and what you want done, but those are your big ones.

Once you know what you’re willing to spend in total, you need to divide your spending into those items. Only then do you really know what you can possibly spend on your editing. And even then, that amount needs to be divided into each stage of editing that you want done.

Yes, there are stages. Which brings me to the next question.

2) What Sort of Editor Am I Looking For?

A lot of self-publishing writers make the mistake of thinking that an editor only changes a few words here and there to change your writing from “okay” to “absolutely amazing.”

The reality is not that simple. Getting a book up to a publishing standard takes a lot of editing, but more than that, it takes a lot of editing of various types.

This is incredibly important to know, especially when it comes to hiring editors. A proofreader isn’t there to polish your plot. Neither is a structural editor there to polish your words to make everything pretty and lyrical.

Each editing type requires a different skill-set, so editors will focus on what they were hired to do and ignore even the most glaring errors because they don’t fall under the job description. (And, to put a really cynical point on it, because you wouldn’t be paying them to spend their time on fixing those errors.)

So it becomes really important to know exactly what sort of edits your money will pay for. Here are a few kinds of editors that you want to know about:

Developmental Editor 

This is someone who basically helps especially non-fiction writers to work on the concept and structure of their books. Fiction writers can also hire Developmental Editors, but usually this is to help them figure out how to write their books, so Developmental Editors almost act like writing coaches.

Structural/Content Editor

This editor goes over all the big-picture issues in your book, from your plot to your characterization as well as any other story-wide issues such as character voice and point of view.

Some structural editors are willing to rewrite sections in order to fix these issues, others will only point out these issues and expect the writer to do the rewriting themselves.

Line Editor or Copy Editor

Often, these two are used interchangeably, but they’re in fact not exactly the same. When it comes to fiction, line editing is when an editor goes over every single line in order to make sure the language, grammar and punctuation is correct, as well as to suggest improvements to the flow and voice in a writer’s sentences.

Copy editors are actually more focused with correcting language and grammar, and not so much on the stylistic aspects of the writing.

Editors can do both of these together, but some don’t, so always make sure exactly what they’re offering to do before paying.


Often, writers assume that copy editing and proofreading are the same, and then expect a copy editor to have a flawless manuscript ready for publishing once they’re done editing.

It doesn’t work that way.

Copy editors are human and, especially if you’ve given them a messy manuscript to begin with, some small errors (like a comma or small typo) might be missed.

Or sometimes, your word processor will do something weird with your writing and change or remove things as you’re formatting for publishing.

A proofreader’s job, then, is to go over the work after it has been edited in order to make sure nothing has been missed, and to correct any errors that they do find.

So if you hire a proofreader hoping they’d fix the voice and flow issues in your writing, you’re going to be disappointed.

Now that you know the different kinds of editing, you need to decide how much to spend on what kind of editing, and also figure out how you’re going to get editing done on the phases for which you won’t be able to hire an editor.

3) Do I Want to Spread the Workload or Do I Want a One-Stop Service?

If you know exactly which editing phases you’re hiring for, you can start searching for an editor. Some editors will be willing/able to do all of the editing you require while others will only be able to do one or two stages of edits.

You’ll need to decide if you’re going to just work with the person who does everything, or if you want to go through the trouble of mixing and matching services, potentially in order to save costs.

4) Does This Editor Show a Good Track Record?

Once you’ve started weeding out all the editors you don’t want, you’ll want to start looking up the editors you think might work for you. See if they have any good references who are willing to vouch for their services.

One of the best ways to get a good editor is to ask your writing buddies who they’re working with. (You do have writing buddies, right?)

If the editor is new (hey, everyone has to start somewhere), do they offer a cost advantage to you using them instead of someone with a good record? If they do, you might want to consider using them in order to lower costs, but it’s a risk you have to take.

5) Is This Editor Willing to Do a Sample Edit?

This won’t work for structural edits for the most part, but if you’re looking for a line editor or proofreader, and the candidate doesn’t have much of a track-record, you could maybe ask for a small sample edit. Two or three pages only. The idea is to see how sharp their eye is, so you know you’re spending money on someone who knows what they’re doing.

Some might not be. Don’t argue with them. Just decide if the risk is worth it to you and move on to someone else if you think it’s too dicey.

6) Does My Schedule Match Up With the Editor’s?

Some freelance editors are in high demand, which means they’re seriously busy and booked months ahead.

Obviously, these editors are good ones to go with to edit your book, but sometimes the schedule just won’t fit in with what you want no matter what you do. (For example if their next available opening gives you only a week to send in the work, but it’s going to take three to get ready for editing.)

Sad is this is, sometimes it’s just better to look for someone else. Or, if you have your heart set on working with a specific editor, you’ll want to learn how to work on potentially tight deadlines.

7) Does This Editor Gel Well With Me and My Work?

This question needs to be asked twice. Before you hire them and after you’ve hired them


Some editors will, for whatever reason, not edit certain kinds of books. Or they will focus on a specific genre or niche. They will state this clearly, so make sure to read their product descriptions before contacting them.

If the person says they don’t edit XYZ, don’t try to hire them if you’ve written XYZ. Some might be tempted if the money’s good, but you’re probably going to get stuck with an editor who doesn’t care for the work the way they’re supposed to, which could result in sub-par editing.


Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you’re going to pick an editor that you just don’t like working with, no matter how good their skills were.

In such cases, just say thanks and, when the next book needs to be edited, start the process again to find someone else.

To Sum It Up…

Finding an editor doesn’t have to be a daunting task. It’s really a matter of knowing what you want, what you’re willing to pay, and how to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

Sometimes, finding an editor for books you want to self-publish is a trial-and-error process, but asking these seven questions should have you well on your way to find the perfect editor for your book.

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