Thursday, March 17, 2016


 Watch for more articles on Going the Indie Route 
every month from self-published RWA/NYC chapter members.

by Elizabeth Cole

No matter how you publish, you should make your book the very best it can be. If you work with a traditional publisher, you’ll be assigned to one of the editors on staff. Easy peasy. What if you’re going indie? There are several ways to go about finding an editor.

You can Google “freelance editor.” I don’t recommend that route, just because it’s like buying a lottery ticket. Could be great. Probably not, though.

You can ask other writers who they use, which is a better option! RWA and other writers’ groups have discussion groups on this topic. In addition, ask indie authors whose books you admire who they use. You’ll know when you hit on a likely prospect, because authors happy with their editors won’t shut up about how great they are.

Or, you can tap into a professional network—it doesn’t have to be a fiction writers network! I happen to know plenty of people who work on publishing games and tie-in material (including novels). So most editors I’ve worked with started out editing in the RPG world, for both indie games and “big” game companies. One benefit: everyone knew everyone else’s reputation—I had a good sense going in which editors were reliable. Depending on the type of writing you do, one editorial style might be better for you, but remember that lots of editors cross over and work in multiple fields.

So, once you do that research, you should have a few names. What’s next?

Professional editors know that you need to shop around. A quality editor will be willing to do a sample pass on a small piece of writing—usually a few pages—at no charge or a very small fee. This is good for them because they can see the quality of your writing, and it’s good for you because you’ll see what sort things the editor reads for. Study these samples carefully. The feedback should be critical, yet honest, and above all helpful.

And keep in mind: send the same (or a very similar) sample to all your potential editors. Not only is this the most scientific way to evaluate their work, it’s fairest to the editors.

A few years ago, I was a newbie, and I auditioned editors. Here’s how it went down:

·         Editor A gave me a fantastic bird’s eye view of the sample’s arc and how to improve it, but had virtually zero comments on things like word choice, characterization, or plot consistency issues. She also used phrases like falling action, which I barely remembered from college English. So I knew that she was not a good fit for me. She remains a smart, careful reader who clearly knows her stuff, but our working styles were too different. Red flag.

·         Editor B would have been an amazing proofreader. Every typo was caught—even one I must have overlooked 20 times. Yet he didn’t seem to care very much about the grander plan. He didn’t ask questions about what I was going for in terms of mood or tone, and he didn’t appear too interested in my writing in general. That’s a red flag.

·         Editor C returned the sample to me with a “this looks OK.” Red flag.

I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to find someone who I could work with, but this was harder than I thought.

Going to my circle of gamer contacts, I got the name of another editor. She returned my sample with amazing feedback and notes. She was interested in my future writing as well as the current project, asked smart questions about my new publishing company, and understood that this would (ideally) be a long-term gig.

So I hired her. I was lucky. She was a freelance RPG editor just transitioning into editing fiction as well. I was one of her first fiction clients. And that’s another lesson. Experience is great, but skills are skills. If you find a great editor, don’t worry if they don’t necessarily have the credentials you might expect.

Now, some crass money talk.

Professional means paid. The rates that different editors charge will vary a lot. It’s based on their location, their experience, and their workload. In general, expect to pay more for more complex editing. A proofreader may cost as little as 1 cent/word. A developmental editor may start at 3 or 5 cents/word or go much higher, depending on who they are and what the project is.

The good news is that many editors are flexible. They may negotiate a flat fee that works for both of you, many will let you pay in installments, and some may even work for a percentage of the sales. No matter what, remember that you get what you pay for.

Now, I leave you with these thoughts:

·         Be patient in your search and don’t settle for a mediocre job.
·         An editor can be great while not being a great fit for you.
·         Editors are professionals. Be prepared to pay professional rates.

An editor is neither a slave nor a genie. They’re part of your team, ready to make your work the best it can be!♥

Elizabeth Cole is a romance author with a penchant for history, which is why she lives in an old house in an old city. She can be found hanging around libraries and archives, or curled in a corner reading, cat on lap. She believes in love at first sight. Then again, she also believes that mac 'n' cheese is a healthy breakfast, so don't trust her judgment on everything. Find about her new medieval romance, Honor & Roses, and more at


Managing Expectations by Lena Hart


  1. Very good advice. I would add one thing, if you're writing a specific genre, then look for an editor who is familiar with your genre. I wouldn't hire a nonfiction or a children's fiction editor to edit my romance books because romance has certain specifics an editor should watch for. If you're not that experienced in your chosen genre, then it helps a ton if your editor is.

  2. Great tips, especially for the newbies; like myself. I'm happy for the wealth of knowledge about self-pub /indie from our chapter members.