How to evaluate an editor’s copyediting portfolio?

A copyediting portfolio provides information input by the copyeditor about their completed projects. It can be a useful tool for writers trying to find the copyeditor who will be most compatible with the project’s scope and the manuscript’s needs. Specifically, it provides details of the relevance of their copyediting experience to the manuscript, the currency of their experience, how many years of track record they have, other skills and the type of publishing they have experience with.

However, the copyediting portfolio should not act as the only method of assessing a copyeditor. There are things that their portfolio will not entail, such as editing approach, expertise (in a broader sense) and practicalities such as their rate, availability and turnaround time. Read on to find out how to obtain this crucial information and how to evaluate the copyediting portfolio for the information it does provide.

What should a copyediting portfolio consist of?

For a copyediting portfolio to be a helpful tool that potential clients can use to evaluate the editor’s skills and experience. Each of the completed projects could contain the following elements:

  • Book title, author’s name, publisher’s name and publishing year,
  • Hyperlinks to where the books they worked on are sold or reviewed (publisher’s page, Discovery, Google Play, Amazon or Apple Books),
  • Past clients’ testimonials and contact details.

If the portfolio contains these elements, it will provide sufficient information for the potential client’s evaluation, and the information will be easily verifiable. So next, let us look at how to use these elements to assess if the copyeditor will be a good fit for your manuscript.

What copyediting portfolio will tell you about the copyeditor?

Relevance

Editors usually include information about their specialism (for instance, non-fiction, cookbooks, romance and crime). It should also transpire from the titles gathered in their portfolio. (Although they might not necessarily specialise in a single form.) By looking at the portfolio, you can verify if their specialism aligns with the genre or topic of your manuscript. If you notice in their portfolio a distinctive lack of the genre your manuscript represents, this is a good indicator that the editor’s experience may not be relevant to your manuscript.

Currency

Projects listed in the copyediting portfolio should be dated with their publication date. This would allow you to extrapolate if the editor worked on this book recently, which is a good sign. New and recent positions in the portfolio mean that the editor has an ongoing pipeline of projects, is trusted by new and returning clients and likely provides good-quality work. But it may also mean that they have limited experience (since they only showcase recent projects) or do not try to keep their portfolio updated.

Copyeditors should maintain their portfolio current because it shows their experience and skill set, acting as a display window of their virtual editing workshop. However, they may sometimes be slow to update it, not out of their negligence but because publishing is a slow industry. It may take up to three years to see a book that an editor worked on to finally appear in shops. This is common with traditional publishers; however, self-published books usually go through the production stages much quicker.

Professionalism

A good copyediting portfolio includes testimonials from previous clients. Testimonials may touch upon their experience of working with the copyeditor, not only the quality of their work. Thus, past clients’ feedback can give you an indication of the copyeditor’s communication skills, timely delivery or understanding of the client’s needs. Testimonials that include the name and contact details of the clients (for instance, a LinkedIn profile) will allow you to reach out and ask what it was like to work with this copyeditor.

Admittedly, the testimonials included in the editor’s portfolio are naturally curated by the copyeditor, and they may choose only to showcase the positive ones. Nonetheless, the testimonials should provide you with an idea of what it was like to work with the copyeditor, and you may consider if they sound like a person you would like to work with, too.

Type of publishing

If the copyediting portfolio includes publishers’ details, this will help you understand what types of clients the copyeditor works most often with. Some may work exclusively with self-publishing authors; others may only provide services to academic presses. Some editors work across the board — with self-publishers and various types of publishing houses and presses.

Universally, the more experience, the better, but if they worked with self-publishing authors in the past, that might indicate they are more flexible and self-reliant. This is because working with independent authors may involve a smaller budget or larger involvement in the project. Copyediting is only one of many processes for preparing a manuscript for publication; and in the world of traditional publishing, each process (developmental editingline editingproofreading) will likely be carried out by different people. When working with elf-publishers, the editor may also provide proofreading or line editing services or blended services, including a mix of editing processes.

Other skills

Copyediting is one type of editing process, and copyeditors may often be skilled and experienced at proofreading, developmental editing or line editing. They may also provide non-editing services that are part of the publishing process and may be relevant to your manuscript, such as ghostwriting or book indexing. If you enjoyed working with the particular copyeditor, it might be worth taking note of other areas where they can bring value to your manuscript.

What a copyediting portfolio will not tell you about the copyeditor?

Editing style and approach

Understanding the copyeditor’s style is an essential consideration when hiring an editor. This may include the copyeditor’s practices concerning:

  • preserving the author’s voice and style,
  • suggesting improvements,
  • enforcing the manuscripts’ consistency,
  • preferred tools (software) and format of the manuscript,
  • ensuring bias-free and sensitive language,
  • knowledge of Plain Language or other reader-focused approaches.

To get to know the copyeditor’s style and approach, ask them open questions, for instance:

  • How do you approach maintaining the author’s voice while making necessary edits for clarity and consistency?
  • Can you walk me explain your approach when you receive a manuscript for copyediting? How do you begin the editing process?

Practicalities

The copyediting portfolio does not usually contain any information about the past projects’ cost, turnaround time or the editor’s availability. Yet, these are essential practicalities of every project. Even if the copyeditor appears to be a perfect match regarding their skills and experience, it may be impossible to book them because they are unavailable in the coming months or their fees are outside the author’s budget. To avoid such disappointment, remember to:

  • Book a copyeditor in advance or at least reach out to ask for their availability for the following months,
  • Understand the duration and cost of the copyediting projects.

For instance, you could refer to rates suggested by the professional associations for editors. In the UK, the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading advises that 2023 copyediting rates start from £34.70. Professional editors can justify quoting hourly rates in this region with their expertise, training and experience. If you receive a lower estimation for copyediting, the service might likewise represent a lower editing quality.

Moreover, remember that it generally takes an hour to copyedit four pages (or 1,000 words). This estimation, combined with the standard hourly copyediting rates, will help you prepare a budget when you hire a copyeditor. Another way to prepare your time and cost expectations is to ask the copyeditor for a sample edit. It will allow the copyeditor to understand the level of editorial intervention required, thus accurately estimating time and cost.

Qualifications

Language evolves quickly, and copyeditors need to stay updated with how it is changing. Their copyediting portfolio will not reveal if they receive regular training. Equally, it does not contain information about the copyeditors’ employment history or membership in a professional body/association. These elements indicate the copyeditor’s overall experience and expertise and may be crucial when considering hiring a copyeditor. To find out, ask the copyeditor for their CV and inquire if they are a member of a professional body. (Although, those who are usually include this information on their website). For instance, if the editor may be a member of

This means they undergo regular professional development and abide by a code of conduct, which most likely will reflect well on their work quality and ethic.

Conclusion

In conclusion, evaluating a copyeditor’s portfolio is essential in finding the right match for your manuscript. While the portfolio provides valuable information, it is important to consider its limitations. The portfolio can tell you a lot about the copyeditor’s relevance, currency, professionalism, type of publishing they have experience with and additional skills. However, there are aspects that the portfolio will not reveal, such as the copyeditor’s approach, rate, availability and qualifications. If you are still unsure, here are some ideas for additional questions to ask when hiring an editor. You can also ask me for a free sample edit (and remember to use my early bird discount). If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on MastodonTwitter and LinkedIn, Facebook or join my newsletter.

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Magda

I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).