There are a lot of excellent articles out there about how to select a good editor for your project, which I will list at the bottom of this post. These pieces sensibly focus on the editor’s experience, track record, testimonials, style of editing, and pricing -- the metrics you would use when hiring someone to paint your house, remodel your kitchen, or operate on your appendix. Those metrics make good sense if you are hiring an editor to proofread, copyedit, or in some cases, perform a developmental edit (for the difference between these types of editing, see last week’s post The Editorial Spectrum above), but I believe they leave out some of the key elements that contribute to a writer’s ultimate success, including vision and compassion.
A book is not a new kitchen. It may take as long to build, but it is coming from your heart and soul. You are digging deep inside yourself and bringing your thoughts and ideas to life. It’s not like walking into an appliance showroom and evaluating refrigerator features and prices and colors and saying, “THAT one.” It’s much harder than that – and a kitchen remodel is hard.
I see a lot of writers who have sought help from a wide variety of sources – classes and workshops and books and online courses and retreats and conferences – and it often seems to me that they haven’t ever stopped to ask themselves what they are looking for in all those activities. They want something – but they don’t know what that something is. Their energy is desperate and unfocused. They haven’t made a commitment to finish or sought the particular help that would get them to that goal.
Choosing an editor or a book coach before you know those things is probably not going to turn out well, no matter how stellar that person’s reputation.
There are some wonderful editors out there who are gifted at helping writers who want to tell their life stories to capture the narrative for their children. There are editors who specialize in certain genres and who can talk romance tropes with you all day and night. There are editors who have ushered writers to top agents and juicy book deals and big payouts. You want to work with an editor who is aligned with your particular goals.
You can get a clear sense of the editor or coach’s philosophy by spending some time on their website and following their blog or newsletter. Pay attention to what they say about writing, about writers, about creativity, about reading, about publishing.
If they offer a free resource where you can interact with them – a webinar or a Q&A or a podcast – sign up for it.
Your goal is to get a sense of their philosophy and style. You want someone you can trust – which can’t always be measured by the metrics we talked about at the top of this post.
If you like that person’s philosophy, take the next step and contact them. Fill out the form on their website, send an email with a few questions, or set up a consulting call if they offer that option. (Some coaches offer it to anyone who asks; others want to see a bit more intention before they spend that time.) See what that process is like. Is it professional? Does it inspire confidence? Trust your instincts.
Here’s a little insight into how that interaction might work:
When someone writes to inquire about working with me, I send a form where I ask them to tell me why they are writing their book and what they would consider success to be. I want to know that they have some awareness of these things, and have taken the time to think about them, because when the writing gets tough, you better know why you are doing it. If you think that success can only be measured by getting a blockbuster movie deal (and not by, say, simply doing the best work you can to bring your vision to life and realizing that you can’t control the world’s reaction to what you make) you’re just setting yourself up for failure – and you’re not going to be a good match to work with me. By my asking that question, and you answering it, we already have a good sense of how we might work well together -- or not.
I also ask writer to consider their goals and objectives for writing their book, and give the following options:
To make money
To make a name for myself an expert/authority
To influence/educate/illuminate/comfort/entertain people
To raise my voice/speak up/claim my story
To prove that I can do it, either to myself or others
Because I feel called to do it/I am burning to do it/I can’t rest until I do it
To leave a legacy for my family
To model for my kids what it means to pursue a dream (hard work, frustration, failure, perseverance, etc.)
Most writers check a bunch of boxes. It’s a simple checklist, but it too goes a long way towards my knowing what matters to that writer, and their knowing what matters to me. In many cases, it’s the first time the writer has been asked to define their motivations. If they like that process of probing and digging, odds are good they are going to like working with me, because I push writers pretty hard. If they don’t like it – if they don’t get why I am asking, don’t know the answers, don’t care – they probably aren’t.
As you prepare to hire an editor or coach, ask yourself these questions:
What is giving you the most satisfaction in your book writing process and your writing life? It’s always a good idea to know why, exactly, you love this work.
What is giving you the most frustration in your book writing process and your writing life? Is it time-based? Skill-based? Faith-based?
What have you already done to try to address those frustrations? Consider all the books you have read and courses you have taken. What was effective about those activities? What was inspiring? And what left you feeling more confused? Know what works for you.
What would be the most useful support you could get in overcoming those frustrations?
Once you have a clear idea what you want, you will be in a much better position to find an editor or coach who can give it to you.
How to Find an Editor or Book Coach
Here are the articles I mentioned about how to find a good editor or book coach. A lot of them come from Jane Friedman’s website, because she is insightful and wise about these things, and has a lot of pros guest blogging for her. I am extremely proud that Author Accelerator earned a place on her recommended list.
Joanna Penn is another savvy voice to listen to, especially when it comes to independent publishing.
Lisa Poisso is a fiction editor and book coach whose post I found while searching, but it was very smart, and her site immediately inspired trust in me for all the reasons I mentioned above.
Lisa Tener is someone I do not know but she has a great reputation, and her post is also smart: