What questions you should ask when hiring an editor?

Hiring an editor might be overwhelming. Thus, it is always good to approach the potential candidates with a list of questions that will help you make the decision. You should ask them about:

  • their experience in editing the genre of your text,
  • their assessment of what the text needs,
  • their process,
  • how long the project will take,
  • and what technology stack they use.

If you are self-publishing, it might also be helpful to find out if they can recommend a proofreader, typesetter or indexer, which might come in handy at the later stages of the publishing process.

When preparing for a meeting with a potential client, I always note what I want to learn about them and their text. Things I ask might include:

  • Is this your first book?
  • What is your writing background?
  • Can you tell me about your reader?

Reversely, it only makes sense that writers make a similar list. Finding out if your goals, experiences, availability and expectations align is the best way to make an informed decision when hiring.

Some of these questions I have sourced from my experience as a non-fiction editor. On the other hand, some are questions I would like to be asked when writers consider hiring me. They may also be ones I do not get asked often enough, especially when working with first-time writers. The conversation based on these questions will centre around:

  • the editor’s experience,
  • their process and availability,
  • the needs of the text,
  • the tools for communication and information exchange.

What experience does the editor have editing the genre of your text?

Ask the editor what they read and edit the most. This will tell you if their specialism aligns with the genre of your manuscript. For instance, if the editor says, ‘I don’t read horror stories, but I am open to editing them,’ consider this a red flag. You will find editors well-versed in just any genre — children’s literature, erotica or literary history. You want to work with someone knowledgeable about the intricacies of the literary convention embodied in your manuscript. It is not a fad but a good professional ethos to be upfront about one’s strengths and weaknesses.

What type of editing does the text require?

Some authors I have worked with needed more clarity about what type of editorial intervention their text required. The more substantial editing processes are called developmental editing and line editingCopyediting and proofreading are more mechanical and address the consistency and correctness of the language.

If this is the first time anyone else has ever read your manuscript, it might not be ready for proofreading. Unsurprisingly, a text that has yet to be read and critiqued might need more in-depth involvement. In the case of a non-fiction manuscript, it would include making sure:

  • the chapters’ flow is clear and cohesive,
  • the core message is well formulated,
  •  there are no gaps in the evidence and argument.

This type of editing is called developmental editing, and copyediting, not to mention proofreading, comes after it. So, in a nutshell, when you engage an editor’s services, ensure you have discussed and agreed on the needs of your text.

What is their process (and how long will it take)?

Every editor has a different style and pace. Understanding how they will process your manuscript will help you reconcile the project timeline. For instance, it might seem like they have quoted an unnecessarily long time. But when you become too familiar with a text, you lose objectivity and the ability to detect errors. For me, it is important to take breaks from a specific text. Also, I never spent my entire working day on one manuscript. I usually do the second pass after taking a day of break (if the project timeline allows). After the author has answered my queries and comments and approved the changes, I like to switch mediums and do a final pass on paper to minimise any issues going unnoticed.

What technology stack do they use?

The author–editor relationship entails three information handling protocols that you need to agree on to ensure the success and efficiency of the project: what (document format), where (document storage) and how (author-editor communication). Among the array of editing, storage and communication platforms, the writer and the editor must be on the same page.

  • The what: format of the text that the editor will be working on and the text editing software. Importantly, not all such software has editing functionality. For instance, Google Docs have a function called Suggesting mode, which can be used for editing. Still, Google Docs are incompatible with the plugins commonly used by the editors, such as PerfectIt. On the other hand, more advanced typesetting systems like Vellum (although much better suited for formatting the text) are not equipped with the editing capabilities that Microsoft Word’s Track changes provides.
  • The where: secure and easy storage and access to the text. The editor can email you the edited iterations of the text, but using platforms such as Dropbox or Box is much easier. This way, you will not lose track of the subsequent versions. They will be all visible in the folder, saving you time going through email attachments. It is also secure as the file settings will allow you to guard the access to the file.
  • The how: communication medium. Throughout the project, you will frequently communicate with the editor. It will make your lives easier if you agree on the platform you will use from the beginning. Email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, whatever works for you, choose one and stick with it, so you have a complete record of the communication, and nothing ever gets lost.

If you are self-publishing, can the editor recommend an indexer/typesetter/designer?

Editors are one of many professionals involved in the publishing process. The editors can make recommendations based on their exposure to collaborating with indexers, typesetters, cover designers or other editors if you need a different editing skill set.

Otherwise, you could refer to the professional bodies that connect the relevant professionals. For instance, the Society of Indexers and the Association of Illustrators are good places to start your search. You might also check the Alliance of Independent Authors, which vets and approves partner companies and individuals working within the self-publishing workflow.


Hiring an editor might be overwhelming, especially if you are a first-time self-publishing author, so it is crucial to make a list of questions to help you navigate the screening process and ultimately make the right decision. Asking about the editor’s experience, their process and availability, the needs of the text and tallying up the tools for communication and information exchange will undoubtedly help. If you would like to read more tips for writers, follow me on MastodonTwitter and LinkedIn, sign up to my newsletter or contact me for a free sample edit (and remember to use my early bird discount).

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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) and a student member of the Society of Indexers.

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