How to Assess an Editor's Quality


4/21/20242 min read

When spelling "editor" is pretty much the only barrier to entry, authors are forced to dig a little deeper to find an editor they can trust.


Their friends, family, and colleagues come to them for "just the right word" or for their "eagle eyes," but a good instinct for language should be the beginning, not the sum, of an editor's ability.

When I delved into the professional editing world, I already had some grounding as an English teacher, but I discovered nearly infinite rules, interpretations, and special circumstances still waiting to be mastered. And while I haven't mastered them all, I strive continually to do so.

This is why I cringe at the occasional post from a "self-taught" editor who "loves to read."

Loving to read is good, but I imagine you have your head on straight and care more about not needing a second editor to find what the first missed (and even fix a lot that was "corrected").

Enjoying a book is not the same as editing; it takes discipline to avoid getting too sucked in and engrossed by a manuscript.

That said, how do you know if an editor has any real training?


When it comes to editing, training can come from a variety of sources: university programs, professional organizations, or independently offered courses (this can be a mixed bag like any other field).

While these can sometimes be found on editors' websites or social profiles, often all you'll find is their professional membership badges.

But here's a helpful tip: editors invested in their business will likely be taking the time to show you their expertise over just telling, which means expanding their online footprint.

Social Media

In addition to a blog on their websites, a lot of editors have at least some social media presence. If you don't want to just look at the editors who show up in job post forums, you can try searching sites for hashtags like #copyeditor or the like—or joining more expertise-based groups like the self-publishing subreddit (r/selfpublishing) or the Ask a Book Editor Facebook group.

Like self-publishing, editing is pretty competitive, so editors like to "hang out and help out." Wherever you find editors, pay attention to their tone and how they interact with authors and with each other. This can reveal a lot about their attitude and ability to explain editing decisions in a way you can understand—like a "micro" sample edit.


Experience matters.

But I wouldn't be being entirely honest if I didn't point out that sometimes (not always) experience is more of a gateway to higher rates than anything else.

This is completely reasonable, of course. Experience and a line of testimonials can serve as proof of expertise, which gives authors more confidence in how much an editor is worth.

But the more experience I gain and the more I see what's out there, the more I'm convinced that experience isn't everything.

Maybe it's because editing used to be less competitive, and the self-taughts could gain entry easier.

Maybe they had absurdly low prices for a couple years and racked up some glowing testimonials from authors that unfortunately didn't realize the quality of editing they received.

I don't necessarily blame these editors. It can be hard to "know what you don't know," and they likely operated in good faith.

To combat this danger, though, I recommend getting sample edits from more than one editor. That way, you'll get to compare the different choices they made and see whether and how they explain things.

As for testimonials, look for authors with some clear success or savvy. If an editor only reaches clients with less than ten reviews per book, or with hand-drawn covers, then I would give those testimonials less weight than those from more practiced self-publishers.