Red Flags When Hiring an Editor

I have written extensively about how to find and hire a copyeditor that is right for you. In the blog series How to Hire an Editor in 5 Easy Steps I discuss what to look for so you know you are hiring a qualified editor and the one who is best suited to you and your book. In this post I discuss the other side, the red flags.


Perhaps the biggest red flag to look for is someone who makes promises they can’t possibly keep. I recently came across this bold statement on an editor’s website:

Because of David’s experience and cachet, you are more likely to sell your book to a publisher if his name is attached to the project. A book “authored by J. Doe and edited by David [Lastname]” will give the publisher assurance that the book will be a professional effort.

There is no way this editor can make such a promise unless he is an agent also. Freelance editors do not get special treatment within publishing houses. Even with an agent, the only special treatment I ever saw when I worked in-house was a closer look at the manuscript and a personalized rejection letter rather than a form letter. The book has to be good and right for the publisher. An editor’s name is not going to sell the book for you.

Another red flag to look for is anyone who does not list credentials on her website, or her only credential is a degree in English and/or time spent as an English teacher. Book editing requires specialized training, whether that’s through classes and certifications or through on-the-job training. Good training is very important, and you should expect your editor to tout whatever training she has received.


Two factors when choosing your editor warrant further exploration. I wouldn’t call these red flags, but you should know what they mean to you before you commit to an editor.

First, most of the time if you are hiring an editor who is part of a large editing group, you will pay a higher rate than if you hire a solo editor. This includes editing packages provided through self-publishing companies. If you aren’t paying more, then the editor is getting less than other editors. That’s because the leader or organizer of the group has to get paid somehow. The upshot is that you may not be getting the same quality of editing for the price.

And second, I have mentioned before that you will get the best edit from someone familiar with your genre and topic. If you work in a subgenre, you may need to be more particular. For example, if you write adult fiction, your editor should be familiar with adult fiction. Experience in young adult fiction is not enough, as the conventions are different. Similarly, if you write romance, an editor of sci-fi/fantasy may not give your book the edit it needs. He might overedit your manuscript or miss key elements that romance readers are looking for. With the number of editors out there, you can and should be picky.

Proceed with Caution

There are a few practices that some authors think are red flags that are not necessarily so. It is up to you to decide if you dislike the way an editor works, but you probably don’t have much to worry about with these editor preferences.

Some freelance editors like to see a full manuscript before agreeing to take on a project. It is unlikely she is planning to run away with your book. Rather, she may be able to get a better sense of how much work the project needs and therefore how much time and cost to estimate for the project. If you trust the editor otherwise, you should feel comfortable sending the full manuscript.

Further, I have found an increasing number of editors do not like to release their phone number. I prefer to speak to a client over the phone, and many of my clients feel the same way, because it gives me more insight into what our working relationship will be. It can also be a time-saver compared to email and can clear up misunderstandings faster.

However, most freelance editors work from their homes and may not have a separate work number. Giving out their phone number means giving access to their personal lives as well as their work lives. Others may have found that they spend too much time on the phone with clients who require hand-holding, and the editors prefer to control their time by restricting communications to email.

If you really want to be able to speak to your editor on the phone, then you should find someone willing to do that. At the same time, if you have found an editor you think will be great for your project and you don’t mind email as a primary form of communication, you do not need to discount your editor for this one preference.

Due diligence is essential to finding a qualified, reputable editor. When you know what to look for, you can hire your editor with confidence.


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