How to Hire an Editor, Part 1 of a 3-Part Series

I know, apparently I’m into series this year. But as I started to write about how to hire an editor, I quickly began to see how many things writers have to consider before taking the plunge. So this month’s newsletter will cover hiring a developmental editor, and then in July and August we’ll talk about copyeditors and proofreaders.

What Is Developmental Editing, Anyway?

Developmental editing is about the big picture. It’s about structure and theme and content. It’s about understanding what your eventual Table of Contents is going to look like (or your plot, if you’re writing fiction) and making sure that everything is consistent and actually makes sense. A lot of the coaching I do is developmental editing in that I walk authors through what’s working and not working with their manuscript. If I start working with someone early on in their process, I work with them to develop their Shitty First Drafts (SFDs) and to get their content on the page. It’s a process and it involves a lot of refining. For those writers who decide that they need a developmental editor later in the game, like after they’ve written their entire manuscript, the process is a little different in that it can involve an overhaul. A developmental edit can get a little messy at this stage, and a good editor is more important than ever because there are so many moving parts to hold. If you find yourself in this situation, knowing that your manuscript is a bit of a mess and needs more help than you ever anticipated, don’t fret. There are good people out there who can fix almost anything!

Why Do I Need a Developmental Editor?

A developmental editor should be your collaborative partner. You can bring them on board at any stage of your writing process, but in my opinion, the earlier you have them reading along with you, the better off you’re going to be in the long-run. A developmental editor is looking for the big picture. Because they’re removed, they can see things you can’t because you’re too close to the story. They can also help guide you in a direction you might not have considered. Your developmental editor should be someone who defers to your choices, but also someone you can trust, and who hopefully occasionally pushes back and has an opinion about your work.

How Do I Work with a Developmental Editor?

There are any number of ways to work, and many editors will have strong feelings about how they want to work, but I will throw out some food for thought here since you do have a say in your process—no matter what. If you are just getting started on a new book project and you know you do well with feedback and partnership, consider hiring someone upfront who can read pages as you write them and talk you through decisions about the arc of the work or your plot. Ideally, your editor will ask you to create a chapter summary document that the two of you can use as your roadmap in the process of completing your book. This is my preferred way to work with clients, and it ultimately saves both time and money as pitfalls and inconsistencies are averted along the way. If you already have a complete manuscript and realize that you need or want a developmental editor, you will probably need to pay someone to read your entire manuscript and give you notes. This is kind of like paying for a home inspection before you buy a house. You might not end up buying the house, but you aren’t going to regret having paid a little bit upfront to know what you were getting yourself into. If you’re going to pay someone to read, make sure you get good notes. Make sure you agree with the editor’s direction and ideas. Make sure you have good rapport with the editor and that you like the way they talk and/or advise you. This is going to be an important relationship, and you want to feel like you’re being heard, that the editor understands your story, and that everything they’re saying actually makes sense to you.

Is This Going to Cost an Arm and a Leg?

A developmental edit can get expensive. When we outsource developmental edits at Seal Press, we generally expect that it will take between 60-100 hours. Editors are charging anywhere from $25-50 an hour for this kind of work. This is why I advise getting started working with an editor early on in your process. Spreading out that kind of expense over the year or more that you’re writing the book is much easier to swallow than spending it all at once because you’re desperate and you need someone to save or fix your book. That said, you never want to shop your book to an agent or editor without having some sort of professional assessment. So if the price tag here freaks you out, consider at least getting your manuscript copyedited. I’ve met many smart people who felt that the fact that their best friend and mother read and loved their book was evidence enough that it was going to be a bestseller. The best piece of advice I can give you is: Don’t be naive. If you want to get published by a traditional publisher, you need to have your work edited. If you want to self-publish, it matters even more.

Until next month,


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