There’s no perfectly reliable way to find a book editor, but here’s a quick rundown on what you want. No, what’s good for you. I’ll tell you what you want:
- Actual experience in book publishing. Not magazine writing, not student newspapers or college lit journals, and not even a brief internship. Look for real editorial experience at a real publishing house that produces real books. For money.
- References or samples. This can be tricky, as most writer clients are terribly shy and protective of their work, which is protected by confidentiality. But a good editor should be able to scare up a happy client or two to return your email, or a few sample critiques with damning details removed.
- A heavy pen and a sadistic streak. Seriously. If you’re paying someone to help you improve a project, get someone who’ll do it, not just rearrange your commas and return your manuscript with smiley faces. Demand brutal honesty, and nothing less.
- A sparkling personality. Or a miserable, boring one, if that suits the tone of your memoir. Find someone you want to work with, who you trust, respect, and feel comfortable with. It’s going to get personal digging into the manuscript that your soul typed out.
Qualifications that can be misleading (nice, but insufficient on their own)
- An English degree. Any level–you wouldn’t believe the quality of writing I’ve seen produced by MFAs. Because nothing they teach you in school has much to do with the actual modern publishing process or industry. There’s a hell of a lot more to this than deconstruction or punctuating subordinate clauses. If you’re trying to sell your writing in a non-academic (or even academic) market, your editor should be able to advise you with that, or at least edit to that end effectively.
- Publication credits. Yes, a (legitimately) published author has proven that he can write. In that genre. This does not mean that he is qualified to critique your work. Writing and editing are two utterly different pursuits, with different purposes. Some people can do both, but a talent for one does not predict competency in the other. Also, any published author’s work has been edited more extensively than you’d think–by someone else.
- A referral. If you’ve got a glowing referral from a writer friend, hooray, but consider that the author’s happiness with the editing won’t necessarily reflect on its quality. Ask to see the critique or revision, or at least think objectively about that writer’s work and experience. A lot of (new) writers would be overjoyed to get shoddy editing that tells them what they want to hear–that it’s great just as it is, so glad we caught those typos. There’s a lot to be said for cheerleading, but please don’t pay for it. If your editor doesn’t find anything to get upset about, she’s likely unqualified or not trying or both.
So where to look? This is in beta, please write me with ideas and experiences!
- The EFA will take anyone–no qualifications; you just sign up and pay a membership fee. Not recommended.
- Vanity presses may provide “editing,” but it’ll just be proofing. They have little or no stake in your book selling and a lot of incentive to get you to just publish and not revise. Find a professional who’ll give you actual feedback.
- ACES has a job board, and a lot of members do book editing on the side, but this organization is primarily for news copy editors. Anyone can join this one as well, so be cautious. I believe they’re about to offer a certification program with Media Bistro–anyone have any experience with that job board?
- Book Editing Associates actually looks promising. They seem to be very selective about their members. I’m probably going to apply to join them when I do this full-time; they only accept completely independent editors.
- Elance is a surprisingly awesome site, and it’s more than a job board. Disclaimer: I just joined it this morning and I’m still kind of dazzled by their level of organization and services. Elance is a super-safe way to hire a freelancer, since they provide escrow and arbitration. As always, vet your applicants per the lists above.
- Contact a publishing house that does what you write and ask if anyone on the editorial staff freelances. Be careful not to abuse this, but it’s actually a really good way to find qualified if starving professionals.
And for pete’s sake, run screaming from scammers who tell you that any publisher requires that your submission be professionally edited, or that an editing service can guarantee that your book will sell.
Run away, and alert the scamwatchers.