Your book is finished and you’ve done all you can with it, so it’s time to get an editor. But it can be sooo expensive. You wonder, could I do it myself? You could, maybe, but you’re likely to have a much better result if you hire someone else to edit for you.
Our brains are trained to read what should be there rather than what is actually there when reading our own stuff. For example, I do a great job editing and proofreading others’ work, but I’m terrible at doing it on my own work. The only way to possibly do an adequate job on your own work is if you read every word out loud. Something about saying it triggers your brain better, allowing you to catch more errors.
If you don’t feel like reading the entire thing out loud to yourself or you doubt your ability to craft a high enough quality product that way, it is almost always going to be a solid investment to hire an editor. (To learn about the different levels/types of revision/editing, read this post here.)
But you don’t want to just hire any editor. Like anything, you get what you pay for in editing, but even paying a high price might not get the result you expected. I recommend you request a potential editor edit a two to three-page sample for you. I insist on doing a sample edit for all of my new potential editing clients.
When I get an inquiry or request, I ask the author to send me two to three representative pages from the manuscript. Usually the first pages aren’t the best to send, because those are usually the ones you’ve worked on and polished the most. Send the worst two to three pages (the ones that need the most help) or those that are typical of the whole manuscript. If you send your two to three best pages, either the editor will come back and ask for more compensation, or they will not be too happy with you, refusing to work with you or overcharging in the future.
Along with the sample, send the total page count of the manuscript formatted the same way as the sample pages. In other words, if you send the sample in double-spaced, 8.5″ x 11″, with 1″ margins, send the total page count for the whole manuscript based on double-spaced, 8.5″ x 11″, with 1″ margins. If your book is already formatted, send pages from the already-formatted book, whether 6″x9″, 5″x8″, etc.
I ask for the sample pages (and entire manuscript if hired) in Word format (electronic is most efficient; if you’re a technophobe, get some training, as your editor options will be much more vast if you can provide an electronic copy, plus you’ll need electronic copies for submitting and/or publishing anyway). Once I get them, I edit or proofread them (whichever the potential client desires) with tracked changes turned on. This allows the potential client to see exactly what changes I would make and evaluate whether my editing would be a good fit for the manuscript.
Things to pay attention to are whether or not the editor preserved your author voice. Did he or she pick up when some kind of quirk in language was a character trait or stylistic choice? Did the editor make it better? Did he or she improve the flow, mechanics, and readability? Did he or she ask questions when appropriate? Were any things changed incorrectly or do you not agree with some of the grammar/punctuation changes? Don’t automatically get turned off by lots of suggested changes, though, because you always have the option to reject them if you don’t agree.
Be especially wary if there are very few changes. Chances are your manuscript isn’t that clean. As an author, I’d rather see lots of suggested changes and then reject the ones I don’t want than to have an editor come back to tell me it’s all good. (The exception is for strictly proofreading, since proofreading is basically looking for typos.)
An idea I don’t know if any of my potential clients has tried would be to include two or three glaring, obvious mistakes and see if the editor catches them. This should tell you how carefully they are reviewing a manuscript.
Remember it’s not necessary that the editor has experience with your genre or even enjoys it (although as an editor, I like to work with the types of stories I enjoy, though I don’t require it) if all they are doing is line/copy editing or proofreading. If the editor is not evaluating your story arc, characters, or other big-picture issues, he or she doesn’t need to be an expert in your genre.
Doing the sample also allows me to provide an accurate quote for the project. I time myself as I edit the sample and, using my hourly rate and page count, I calculate the price. So far, all of my clients have been happy with this process.