I recommend you take your time with this step. This is the first time you get your cheque book out. And it can be expensive so it’s worth doing your research.
Developmental editors are amazing professionals who earn every penny you pay them. This is money that I enjoy spending and will never scrimp. You pay for what you get. And if you try to save a buck or two at this point, you’ll be hiring someone who might not give your MS the service it deserves.
Research your editor
So, the first thing you’ll need to do is make a list of freelance editors and books they have worked on before. You can normally find this on their testimonials page. Another way to approach this is to think about indie books that you have read recently that really stood out? Who was the developmental editor?
If you can’t find that information, email the author and ask. Tell them that you enjoyed their work and would like to approach the same professional they hired. If I received an email like this, I’d be over the moon. It’s a great compliment that proves my book was edited to a high standard. It says as much about my book as it does about my editor. And I’ll respond with the details.
But be prepared to join a queue. Good editors have a waiting list. My editor was fully booked for seven weeks. And being a professional, she was forthcoming about how long I could expect to wait. Again, you are paying for a quality service, so if you can’t wait a few weeks for the right person, you’ll be doing your story a disservice. Be patient and join the line.
Make a list
Now will be a good time to create a spreadsheet. You need to capture names, websites and previous work of editors you’re considering. Spend a few days or weeks reading the books they’ve worked on. Engage with them on social media to see if they’re your type of person.
Also, take note of their prices. Some editors charge a daily rate, and others (the majority) will charge by word count. Personally, I prefer word count because it gives me an idea to budget with. But also, a daily fee can become expensive if the editor is slower than average.
You should also consider what country your editor lives in? If you’re a British writer who is intending on publishing primarily in the UK, you might be better suited to a UK-based editor. This is so they understand colloquialisms and local spelling, e.g colour vs color.
Some editors will only will only work on certain genres so make sure the editor you target works on books like yours. Also, some editors don’t like nasty surprises. If your story goes into things that could trigger people such as sex, child abuse, animal cruelty, extreme torture/violence, let your editor know in advance. Some of them will tell you on their website, or they may inform you in their contract. But it’s always polite to give fair warning.
Your editor has seen and worked on countless projects over the years. They are trained professionals in this field and do this for a living. If they suggest a change or an amendment, there is probably a very good reason for it. So please, don’t argue with them.
Don’t get me wrong here; you don’t have to change anything. That is entirely up to you. But you sought this person out, hired them for their skills, and now have a talented editor giving you advice. It’s probably best to adjust your point of view to see it from their side.
Ultimately, you’ll be paying them at the end of the job regardless of whether or not you agree with them. Instead, ask why and try to appreciate what they are telling you.
When I received feedback from my developmental editor, I was shocked that she had read my work and thought the worst. In my feedback, she told me that I needed to be careful with how I portrayed a certain character. The character was presented with underlying gender-bias. But the way it came across, it seemed like the author (me) was a bigot. I was open-mouthed shocked and worried about offending my readers! But I read the feedback and quickly understood that it was my fault.
One of my characters is a bigot; sexist and horrible. But the way in which I wrote him could easily lead a reader into thinking that this was my mindset. All it took was a phone call to my editor to first, clear my name. And second, to ask for advice on how to clear up the confusion on the page. With a bit of advice, we worked the problem and found the correct balance.
Developmental editors are the people who will lay your story out in full, analyse it, and find any weakness in plotting, sub-plotting and character development. They will also consider pacing, voice and style. And then provide you with expert feedback to keep you on the right track.