You might think it’s odd that I’m telling you why you shouldn’t hire me to edit your writing, but bear with me.
Think about the last time you bought something. It might have been a jacket, or a hairdryer, or a notebook. (Given that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, it was probably face masks and hand sanitiser.)
Let’s go with the jacket. I’m pretty sure you didn’t march into the shop, pick up the first jacket you saw and then head to the till to pay for it.
I imagine you would have looked at what was available and then, by a process of elimination, dismissed anything unsuitable and focused on those jackets that met your criteria.
So if you were in the market for a waterproof jacket in a cheerful colour, you might eliminate everything that wasn’t waterproof, didn’t have a hood, or only came in drab, neutral colours.
Then you would look at the remaining styles, choose the colours you like and check if they had your size in stock.
Finally, you’d definitely try on a few different jackets to check the fit and see how they made you feel. How about the yellow one? Fabulous? We have a winner!
And when you look for someone to edit your writing you should go through a similar process of elimination. Why waste time getting into negotiations with an editor if you haven’t first established that they’re potentially a good fit for you? Don’t get distracted trying on floor-length velvet coats in your search for a waterproof jacket!
So if you’re considering hiring me to edit your book, here are some reasons for you to take me out of the running, put a line through my name and move on. Keep looking for that editor who fits your writing like a glove.
1 You’ve written a fiction book
Much as I love getting lost in a gripping post-apocalyptic world, or a Southern Gothic vampire universe, I don’t edit fiction.
My brain just isn’t wired that way – being alert to point of view drops and head hopping, or looking out for plot holes or a flat character arc simply isn’t my forte.
So I’ll leave it to other editors who do get a kick out of fiction to work their magic on your book. Here are some colleagues who are fiction specialists:
Contemporary fiction, including romance: Kia Thomas Editing
Speculative fiction, fantasy, sci-fi and literary fiction: Sophie Playle of Liminal Pages
Literary fiction, YA, children’s literature, romance and erotica: Maya Berger of What I Mean to Say
Crime, mystery, suspense and thriller: Louise Harnby
You can also search the directories of professional editing organisations. Remember that in this digital era there’s no need for your editor to be local. Many of us work with clients around the world, which greatly widens the net in your search for an editor. So don’t limit yourself geographically.
Northern Ireland: the Editors’ and Proofreaders’ Alliance of Northern Ireland directory
Canada: the Editors Canada directory
Australia: the Institute of Professional Editors’ directory
- Should I hire a freelance proofreader or use an agency?
- Writing fiction: Do I need proofreading and is it enough? (guest post by Louise Harnby)
2 Your writing is highly technical or scientific
I have a bachelor of science degree from *cough* years ago, but editing STEM (science, technical, engineering and mathematics) topics is not my thing.
I’m comfortable with social sciences, allied health and popular medicine, but as soon as we stray into the realm of equations and statistical analysis you’ve lost me.
You can search the directories mentioned earlier for a specialist to edit your writing, and here are some colleagues who specialise in STEM subjects:
Physical sciences, construction, environment, sustainability: Melanie Thompson technical communications
STEM, information science and technology: Andrew Coulson (RyburnTextWorks Ltd)
Biomedical and life sciences: Dr Claire Bacon, Bacon Editing
3 Your book contains offensive content
Let’s be honest here. What constitutes offensive content is subjective, and one person’s joke is another’s disgustingly offensive slur.
I have no problem with topics and language that other editors would not be comfortable working with, but here’s my line in the sand.
When I say offensive, you can take that to mean any form of hate speech: racist, sexist, mysogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, whatever. Also, promoting the abuse or sexual exploitation of women and children, however dressed up or buried deep or referred to obliquely, is a non-starter. Same for glorifying rape or paedophilia, or promoting terrorism. I’m not your editor; you cannot hire me to edit for you.
But I’m entitled to my opinion
Now you might argue that there’s such a thing of freedom of speech, and of course there is. You can say or write whatever you want. But freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, and the consequence of your writing content that I consider offensive is that you have to keep looking for an editor.
If you’ve written about how you think feminism is getting out of hand and women should know their place, or how immigrants are taking all the jobs in the UK, or that you have the answer to teenagers questioning their gender (that is anything other than providing them with loving support and a safe space), I won’t be part of creating a platform for your opinions.
Bear in mind that platforms such as Amazon have rules prohibiting such content, so even if you do find an editor, you may have other problems to face.
And if you’re shocked reading this and can’t imagine that anyone would write a book advocating these opinions, you just have to take a look at our print and social media to be reminded that they exist.
4 You don’t know when you’ll finish it
I’m a strong advocate of writers planning ahead. You should definitely be thinking about what editorial support you need before you finish writing, as good editors are often booked up weeks and months ahead of time.
However, if you don’t have a clear sense of just how much longer you’re going to take, then you’re potentially on difficult ground if you decide to hire me to edit for you.
If you take a guess and book a slot in my schedule when you think you might be finished, you’re putting your money on the line. I take a non-refundable deposit of 50% of the project fee, or the full amount if it’s under £500. If you then miss your deadline and don’t deliver the completed book on time, you don’t get a refund. I will, of course, always try to reschedule your edit, but that may not be possible depending on other client commitments.
So by all means get in touch before you’ve finished writing, but have a clear and, above all, realistic plan for completing your book that you’re confident you can stick to.
5 You want me to write it for you
It’s easy to confuse copywriting and copyediting, especially when some people offer both services. Copywriting involves someone else creating your copy pretty much from scratch – you give them the topic, the purpose of the piece and any key information you want to include, and they will then research and write your blog post, marketing copy, web copy or whatever it is you’re after.
Copyediting is when I take something that you’ve written, however rough around the edges, and improve it for clarity and concision, while getting rid of all those pesky spelling and grammatical errors that you can so easily miss in your own writing.
For some, the edits may be light, just tightening up the sentences and cleaning up typos and punctuation, while for others the intervention can be extensive and involve cutting, moving and rewriting elements of the text. It all depends on what level of intervention I think you need, and whether you are in agreement with me making such changes. This is where a sample edit can really help us both.
Copyediting is one of my skills, and I love doing it; present me with a blank page to create content for you and I’m stumped. It takes me ages and I don’t enjoy the process. That’s why I don’t offer it as a service.
Here are colleagues I can recommend for copywriting:
- to create regular content for your business: Debbie Ekins
- to write compelling B2B copy, award applications and web content: Chris Bryce at Spotlight Editorial
6 You have a really tight deadline
If you want to hire me to edit your book in a matter of days then I’m not the right editor for you. Although I often have flexibility to take on small projects at short notice, I am usually booked out at least a month or two ahead, sometimes more, so you may be disappointed.
A full length book project takes several weeks for me to do a thorough job, so doing it in significantly less time than that would mean I run the risk of having to cut corners to meet your deadline, and neither of us would be happy with that.
However, I may have capacity to take on short pieces of work – for example, doing a quality assurance check of a slide deck or marketing copy – where there are small gaps in my schedule, so it doesn’t harm to ask if your copy fits the bill.
In this episode of The Editing Podcast, Louise and I discuss how long it takes to complete an edit, and how to plan ahead.
7 You want the cheapest editor possible
Let me make this clear up front – I’m in no way judging you if your budget doesn’t match my fees.
Cost will be an important factor in deciding which editor you hire for your book, and it might come as a shock when you receive a quote from a professional editor. But it’s important to bear in mind that we run our own businesses, so our fees have to cover more than just the time we devote to editing your book.
Like any other small business owner, editors have many expenses to take care of – tax, national insurance, professional liability insurance, membership fees for our professional organisations, and the cost of training to keep our skills up to date, for example – and we must account for our sick pay and holiday pay too.
Which is why you’ll find that my quote for editing your book will probably be significantly higher than some of the prices on sites like Fiverr or Upwork, where people might offer to do it for $100 or so.
Remember that this job might take two to four weeks for me to do, and so I need to charge a fee that reflects the time commitment.
And finally, and most importantly, you’re not just paying me for the time it takes, you’re paying for my skills and experience. In any profession you would expect to pay more for someone with years of training and client work under their belt. I’m an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, which means I have thousands of hours of experience, have undertaken training of a high standard, and have references from satisfied clients. So of course I’ll cost you more than someone who is doing a bit of editing on the side as a hobby, or who is just starting out and lacks experience.
So if you can’t afford my rates that’s absolutely fine – there’s another editor out there whose rates will be a better fit for your budget and who’d be delighted to work with you. As my great auntie Margaret used to say, every teacup has its saucer!
- How much does editing cost?
- How much will it cost to edit my book?
- How much does a proofreader cost?
- Everything you need to know about having your book copyedited
8 You expect absolute perfection
Perfection is subjective, so if you’re looking for a promise that there will be no errors in your book I can’t give you one.
We were all taught rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar at school, but believe it or not, many of these ‘rules’ are no more than preferences without a single universally accepted ‘right’ answer, and some are just flat out wrong. So it may well be that your edited book comes back with what you consider to be outright errors, but which, in fact, are merely style choices that can be changed back to suit your preferences – after all, it’s your book and you are the ultimate decision-maker.
Or it may be that what you have learned in school or grown up hearing is no longer typical usage or may even be inappropriate, because language has moved on, and I’m attuned to these changes in a way that you are not. Take, for example, the use of singular ‘they’, or using food words to describe people of colour’s skin. I’m more likely to be familiar with changes in language use and the conversations around it from participating in and learning from editing groups, where we discuss such things.
When I’m editing your book I will, of course, do my utmost to make it as error-free as possible, but among the thousands of corrections that happen in a book-length document it’s inevitable that some mistakes will slip through. So if you’re looking for a cast-iron 100% error-free guarantee, I won’t be the editor for you.
If you’ve got this far and still haven’t scored me off your list, then perhaps we’re a good fit!
You can drop me a line if you’d like to talk to me about editing for you. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship!
And if you’re not sure about working together but would like to keep in touch and receive useful advice on writing each month, you can sign up for The Editor’s Note.