How to choose the right editor and editing service, and other great tips with Sue Archer

Today I’m really happy to be interviewing a blogger a lot of you know: Sue Archer, from Doorway Between Worlds. She has recently launched her new freelance editing business, and today she shares with us some tips and ideas on how writers can select the right editor and editing service for them. I’ve already worked with Sue on a short story and will be working with her on the sequel to The Viper and the Urchin once it’s ready, so I’m very excited to share some of Sue’s expertise with you today.

First of all, thanks for taking part, Sue, and for being on the blog today! Tell us a little about yourself and your editing background. 

Thanks for having me on your blog, Celine! It’s great to have the opportunity to chat with you about editing and share some tips with your readers.

It’s so hard to talk about yourself, isn’t it? I’ll do my best. Here’s my story: When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a fantasy novelist, and pursued a Masters degree in English. Like most people who graduate from school, I had no clue about what to do next, but I did know I had to find a job. So I put my fiction writing dream on hold for a while. Instead, I worked in various communications-related roles (technical writer, communications trainer, marketing strategist) where I did a lot of writing and editing.

Gradually, I realized that helping other people write well was even more exciting for me than creating my own stories. So I took courses in editing from Ryerson University’s graduate publishing program, joined Editors Canada, and began applying all the editing skills I had learned over the years towards a new role — freelance editor. Now I help self-publishing authors to polish their writing, and it’s been such a rewarding experience for me.

For anyone interested by the way, the photo to the left is a heavily edited page of Flaubert’s Un Coeur Simple. Goes to show, even literary masters need editing — which is quite reassuring for us mere mortals!

So, Sue, can you give us an overview of the different types of editing there are?

This is such an interesting question, because there are many different terms for editing out there — they vary widely between countries and even between editors. This can make it very hard for writers to know exactly what they are getting. So here’s my first tip — make sure you find out what the exact scope of the “editing” is when you are signing up for editing services.

In general, there are four different levels of editing.

The first level is what’s normally called developmental, structural, or substantive editing. This is a comprehensive hands-on edit of the manuscript content — the “big picture” editing. It involves reorganizing the structure to improve the flow and identifying where content can be added, removed, or changed. In the case of developmental editing, it can also mean working with a book proposal and helping the author write the content from scratch.

The second level is known as stylistic editing. While the substantive edit is at the manuscript level, the stylistic edit is at the paragraph level. In a stylistic edit, paragraphs and sentences are edited to improve transitions, clarify meaning, and eliminate jargon. You may not see this term very often, since this work is usually combined with either the substantive edit or the copy edit.

The copy edit (or line edit) is the third level of editing. The purpose of a copy edit is to eliminate errors and establish consistency throughout the manuscript. This involves editing for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It can also mean checking the manuscript for internal consistency, including the consistency of facts (such as place names and timelines).

The final level is proofreading. This term in particular gets misused a lot, because writers often say they need a “proofread” when what they really need is a copy edit. In traditional publishing, a proofread is the final read-through of the proofs before the work is published. At this point, the manuscript has been typeset and is ready for printing. The proofreader makes sure any changes made by the copy editor were added in correctly, the coding has been done correctly, and that page layouts, page breaks, running heads, and other design-related items are all in place. Many editors do not proofread, since it’s a very specific design-related task.

79693940_24be0eb86e_zHow should a writer decide which editing service is going to be right for her? 

This one can be hard to figure out, since the writer may be too close to the manuscript to know exactly what it needs. I know many of my editing colleagues get requests for a “light copy edit” and discover that the manuscript needs a lot of substantive work for it to be publishable. As you can imagine, this makes for a challenging conversation!

A great way to figure out what your draft needs is to pay for a manuscript assessment. This is a service where the editor writes a report outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript and recommends changes. The editor can point out structural, stylistic, and grammar-related issues. This is perfect for writers who are more hands-on and would like to do most of the work themselves before paying for any actual editing.

For the editing services themselves, here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you determine what you need:

How confident are you about what you know? If you’ve learned about story structure and characterization and practiced it in your writing, then you may not need a substantive edit. If you know your grammar inside and out, then you may not need a heavy copy edit (although you will still need some form of copy edit, since we all miss errors in our own work — even editors!).

Are you focused on accessing a market for your work? A qualified substantive editor can recommend changes based on your genre and target audience to help you gain more readers or attract a publisher, if those are your goals.

Are you open to substantial changes in your story? If you’d prefer to have your content largely untouched, and you are only trying to prevent errors, then a copy edit is the way to go.

Whatever you decide, make sure that you and your editor agree on what is needed before the work starts.

Finding the right editor is equally as important as deciding on the kind of editing a manuscript needs, so how should writers go about choosing the right editor for them? Any tips on things to look out for, or questions to ask?

The number one thing you need to find out is whether your editor is qualified to edit your particular manuscript. Having an educational background in English, for example, is not the same as knowing how to edit. Confirm whether your editor has taken any editing training or completed any editing certifications. Editors who take their work seriously are often affiliated with professional associations, such as Editors Canada, the Editorial Freelancers Association (U.S.), or the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK).

Ideally, you want someone who has editing experience within your genre, particularly if you are looking for substantive or stylistic editing.

I’d also ask for references or testimonials from previous clients. Probably the best way of finding a qualified editor is through word of mouth. If you like someone’s work, ask who edited it and whether the author would recommend that editor.

Another thing to think about is whether your editor acts like a professional service provider. Think about what you typically look for when hiring anyone to do a service for you. Editing is no different. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is the editor’s online presence consistent with what you would expect from a professional business owner?
  • Is the editor responsive to your questions?
  • Does the editor ask you questions to help determine your specific needs?
  • Are services clearly outlined, with terms and conditions provided in some form of contract for your review and approval?

Ideally you want to have a collaborative relationship with your editor. So the final consideration is whether you “click” with the editor on a personal level. You need to picture yourself working with this person. Do you like the tone of the emails you receive? Does the editor seem genuinely interested in you and your work?

To confirm that you’ve picked the right person, I would recommend asking for a sample edit before committing to anything. Most editors will edit a small sample of your work either for free (which I currently do) or for a nominal fee. A sample edit will help you confirm whether your editor is a good fit for you.

6946253448_0413828369_zEditing is generally the biggest initial outlay for an independent author. It can be a bit daunting spending all that money before the book is even published, and some people may struggle with that cost. Any suggestions on ways authors and editors can help reduce that cost?

The most important thing you can do (as an author) is to self-edit your manuscript thoroughly before submitting it for professional editing. The less time it takes someone to edit your manuscript, the less cost to you. So instead of rushing out to get editing done when you finish your writing, let your draft sit for a while and then go back to it. You’ll have the objectivity to spot things you missed the first time around (or the second, or the third). And please don’t forget to spell check!

A manuscript assessment is an excellent lower-cost way of getting feedback from an editor if you can’t afford a full substantive edit. Another alternative is a mentoring service. I offer one for writers who are looking for feedback on a particular section of a manuscript or have editing-related questions.

The editing contract is a key tool for controlling your costs. Verify what is included in the service (and confirm it through the sample edit). Some editors charge based on the time they spend on the manuscript rather than by the word or the page. Check to see what the maximum fee will be under the contract, and how things will be renegotiated if more work is needed. For a long-term project, pay attention to cancellation terms. If you are not satisfied with the service as things progress, can you cancel with partial payment?

Editors can help to reduce costs by being up front about all fees and discussing individual needs with the client. A flexible editor will adapt the work to the author’s budget by reducing the number of editing passes or focusing only on items the author is particularly concerned about.

A final word of caution on the topic of cost: You’ll find there is a wide range of fees that are charged for editing. Obviously you will want someone who will fit your budget, but I wouldn’t necessarily go with the lowest bidder. Some editors charge a very low fee per word. This means that the editor needs to work very fast to make a living. And you don’t want an editor who will rush through your manuscript.

How can a writer know whether her manuscript is ready for editing? Do you have any tips or suggestions on how authors can self-edit before sending their manuscript to an editor — any books or resources you could share with us?

I’d be sure to take advantage of beta readers and writing critique groups who can provide you with feedback. Solicit opinions from writers you admire and trust. Your editor should not be the first person who provides you with feedback on your manuscript.

Find out your weaknesses and work on them. If you’re not confident in your grammar, for example, take a current grammar course or refer to a resource like Grammar Girl, the Purdue OWL, or Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman.

There are a few good books out there on self-editing. The best one I have seen so far (and recently reviewed) is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Another popular resource is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell.








I also recommend using a style sheet when editing your work. A style sheet is a place for capturing stylistic decisions on items such as spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. I have a style sheet template on my website that you can use. A style sheet will help you confirm that you’ve applied the same style consistently throughout your manuscript. In addition to helping you edit, it will save your editor effort (which can reduce your editing costs) and will help you avoid any misunderstandings with your editor about your stylistic preferences.

As a very quick aside for anyone reading this, when Sue told me about her template I immediately downloaded it and started using it for the book I’m currently writing. I had never thought of using something so structured, but as a Fantasy writer who makes up a lot of names for places and people, having some formal method to track spellings is proving to be a big help in reducing typos. For anyone not sure how to use stylesheets, Sue’s article on her website is very helpful.

Thank you for sharing that tip Sue! Anything else you would like to share?

As you can probably tell, I could go on and on about the whole topic of editing. 🙂 I would like to share one final piece of advice: Try to think positively about feedback (which is hard, I know) — and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand the reasons for that feedback.

Speaking of questions, I’m happy to answer any questions about editing in the comments. You can also contact me directly — I’d love to hear from you.

And thanks again, Celine, for hosting me on your blog. I had a great time!

Well thank you for sharing all that information with us, Sue, that was really helpful!

Connect with Sue:





36 thoughts on “How to choose the right editor and editing service, and other great tips with Sue Archer

  1. Wonderful summary of what editors do and what to look for. Thank you. I think the breakdown of the different types of editing is important, because oftentimes people don’t realize there are different types. Editing requires looking at different things at different times. That being said, I suspect there’s overlap. For example, during a developmental edit, obvious typos or wrong word choices could be changed. But I imagine you don’t want to spend too much time changing the little things early on, because they might end up on the chopping room floor! 🙂

    By the way, love the Style Sheet Template. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carrie, you’re right that there is overlap between the different editing types. It’s difficult to make a firm dividing line, especially since you are going to notice things that are not your main focus at the moment. When I’m doing “big picture” editing, I make a note of the smaller repetitive things when I see them – but it would be counterproductive to hunt them all down and fix them at that time, until the bigger things are fixed. 🙂

      I’m happy you like the Style Sheet – I hope it will be useful for you!


  2. Great interview, Celine and Sue! I really appreciate learning about your experience, Sue. Great points and questions.

    I’ve worn the editor hats (all four) before so I’m in total agreement with you. The most frustrating thing for me as an editor has been when someone came to me professing a desire for an edit, but balking at the actual edits. He or she probably believed that proofreading is all the editing the manuscript needed. So I’m glad I have this post to bookmark and to refer to. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • L. Marie, I keep learning new things about you! It’s nice to hear your perspective as a fellow editor who has been in the trenches. 🙂 I hear about your type of experience a lot — the editor is trying help, but the client doesn’t agree with what needs to be done. It’s a tricky situation, and it requires some good faith on both sides. One piece of advice I often hear (for writers) is to let the edited version sit for a while before addressing the changes, so you can gain a bit of emotional distance and be objective about the comments. You may still not agree with all of them (and that’s fine), but then you can have a more productive discussion with your editor.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you, Sue. In my grad program, my advisors would send us feedback letters for our manuscripts. They told us to wait a day before looking at their feedback. That way, the initial ballistic period would pass and we would be able to look at the feedback with a clearer head. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Tips on How to Choose the Right Editing Service for You | Sue Archer

    • It is a sensitive matter, isn’t it? One of my editing mentors once compared our role to that of a midwife – we’re there to help deliver the author’s baby successfully. We need to always remember that it is the author’s baby (not ours), and that it is very precious.

      And thank you so much for the compliment! 🙂


  4. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’ve had more editors than I’ve had hot dinners. And I have learned to love them all–save one–long story. but this is a really good thing as they have all loved me back–or to be more precise, they have loved my work back. I don’t mean that they’ve all written me glowing reviews of my writing, but rather that they have invested blood, sweat and tears into making my work shine as if it was their own. And their names ARE attached to much of it, so they truly have a vested interest.
    Now, had I been given the opportunity to read this interview, Sue and Celine, a thousand light years ago, I could have escaped with a perfect roster of editors. Being burned because you don’t have enough experience and info to make the right choice is an expensive mistake, but one I think was ultimately worth it. I hope this post is a huge help to many, many writers.
    Loved the interview. And I’m a massive fan of Sue Archer. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Investment” is definitely the right word for the editing experience, Shelley! I’m sorry to hear that you have been burned in the past. It just goes to show how important it is to take your time and really try to find a person who’s a good fit.

      I’m relieved to hear, however, that the rest of my editing tribe has done your work justice. 🙂 And I’m a big fan of yours too, Shelley! I don’t know what I’d do without your weekly posts to make me laugh. Never stop writing!


    • Hi Liz! It can be a bit overwhelming at times, I know. Before I trained as an editor, I had no clue that there were all these different distinctions. Sometimes it helps to think of them as two main groups: big picture editing and details editing. I hope the post was helpful to you. Please do feel free to reach out to me if you ever have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them!


  5. Great interview, so thanks Celine and Sue for sharing such comprehensive details about the editing process. I think trust is an important part of the editor/writer relationship, and finding someone with the knowledge, qualifications and attitude is invaluable to any writer. I really appreciate the tips and resources you mentioned. The style sheet is fantastic 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, Mel! I’m so glad you like the style sheet. 🙂

      Trust is such an important aspect of any working relationship, but it feels like it’s especially true for the author-editor relationship because the work is so personal. One of my earlier jobs was in customer relations, and sometimes I feel like the skills I learned there have been just as essential to my success as an editor as the editing training itself!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a really good point. Customer relations is a good training ground for any profession! It takes more than skills alone, it takes understanding and respect to build a relationship.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. What a fantastic interview! This really helped me get more clear on what I need to do to refine my own editing business, as I am getting a fair number of clients who need that “light” edit and then I am scrambling to finish stuff because they are ALSO on a short deadline.

    I like the idea of a manuscript evaluation. I’d not heard of that one before. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Alex! That’s great that the interview gave you some ideas. I find the distinction between a “light” edit and a “heavy” edit is too subjective to be helpful. Doing a sample edit is a much better way of estimating how much work will be needed. (Of course, tight deadlines will still be a challenge!)

      I also love the whole concept of manuscript evaluations/assessments. You’ll see them under different names sometimes, but the idea is the same. They are such a fantastic way to help writers gain some useful insights into their writing strengths and weaknesses — and the writer can apply these insights not just to their current work in progress, but to future works as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, it was really helpful. I know that the fees range, and you are free not to answer (seriously!) but what would you say is a decent fee/your fee for a manuscript assessment? Do you actually suggest reading the whole manuscript or just a third/half/depends on the budget? 🙂 I’m just curious.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Great questions, Alex! I assess each project individually based on a sample provided by the author, but in general I would say it takes around 20 hours or so to do a thorough manuscript assessment on an average book-length work. You need to slowly read through the document, make notes, read through sections again, gather your thoughts, and write a comprehensive report. (The length of the report is a big factor here – there’s a significant difference between 2 pages with generic comments and 15 pages with helpful details.) The actual cost would depend on the editor’s hourly rate. The EFA puts out an average rate chart for their members on their site ( and they estimate it at $45-55 USD per hour.

        A full manuscript assessment is obviously best for looking at things like plot structure and character development, however I would be open to a partial one (based on budget) and would focus on certain aspects that are common throughout the book (description, dialogue, voice, etc.). This is also why I offer a mentoring service by the hour – if an author has a specific area they are concerned about, then we can focus on that rather than doing a full review.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, I am really underselling myself, haha. Granted, I’m still a novice editor, but I just quoted $300 for a 59,000 word novel (one read through, structural edit). I better not do that anymore. (It definitely isn’t sustainable!!)

        Liked by 1 person

      • My numbers were based on something closer to 100,000 words (since the novels I’ve been editing tend to run on the longer end – I’ve been working primarily with fantasy). Even with that difference, though, I think you’re right that you’re underselling yourself! I like that the EFA has published some ranges, so that writers and editors can get some idea of what is reasonable. That doesn’t mean you need to charge that amount, of course. But when you think about the hourly labour rate you pay other types of professionals to do things like repair your car or fix your plumbing, it’s not actually that high. 🙂

        I’d recommend thinking about what you feel your time is worth, and quoting based on that. You can always offer discounts if you feel that’s fair, but that’s not the same thing as lowering your rate. Also, you may want to time how long it takes you to perform that edit for future estimating. 🙂

        All the best with your editing projects, Alex!


  7. Wonderful summary of the different types of editing offered. I’ve heard different terms used to describe the big edit – developmental editing , substantive editing, etc. it’s nice to understand the differences. You mentioned that you should not hire an editor prior to having your work critiqued by a critique partner and read by beta readers. What if you don’t have either ? Don’t some editors offer manuscript critiques?

    My other question is whether or not the novel must be completed and revised before hiring an editor? Suppose your novel is more than seventy-five percent complete. Is it ever a good idea to hire an editor to work at the developmental stage on the first quarter or first half of the novel, thus allowing the writer to use what she learns from the first portion of the edit to complete the final revision of the last portion of the novel? I hope that made sense .

    Thanks for sharing your tips.

    Melissa Sugar

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Melissa! You don’t need to have your work critiqued by a partner or beta readers before submitting it to an editor, but having someone read it first (any kind of target reader) can be a good way of finding out some key things that you may want to change. This way your manuscript will be in better shape when you submit it to the editor. Many editors charge based on time, and the more things they have to review and comment on, the longer it takes. You’re absolutely right, though, that editors perform manuscript assessments — I provide that service, as well as an hourly mentoring service for authors who are looking for answers to specific questions about their work.

      That’s an excellent question about whether to finish your manuscript before submitting it to an editor. This is exactly why I offer that mentoring service. I am open to having an author submit a portion of their manuscript so that I can provide feedback on certain things that they may be concerned about (dialogue, description, grammar, etc.). They can then apply that feedback to future writing. However, if you are looking for feedback on plot structure or character development/arc, having a full manuscript ready is usually the best way to get useful feedback from your editor.

      I hope this is helpful for you. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me!


  8. That’s some in-depth detail! My first test when choosing an editor is seeing if they spell my name right in the reply. I’ve actually had editors reply back with Dear Lori… That right there tells me they don’t have the attention to detail I’d expect from an editor. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like a great test, Loni! Errors in names are hard to catch because our eyes tend to gloss over them…which is one of the reasons why editors learn to slow down and pay particular attention to all of the capitalized words in a manuscript. 🙂


  9. Sue, I’m so glad you recommended James Scott Bell’s “Revision and Self-Editing.” I love all of his writing books, but that book might just be my favorite. I was really stuck on a second draft, and reading that book helped me get “unstuck.”

    I like your recommendation of getting a sample edit before paying for a full edit. It would definitely help to know that an editor is a good fit for your manuscript.

    I will be sure to look into creating a style sheet for each of my stories/series. That could come in handy!

    Great post!


    • Hi, Denise! I’m glad the post was helpful for you. Yes, James Scott Bell has a number of useful books on writing. That’s great that his Revision and Self-Editing helped you out of a jam!

      Most editors I know perform sample edits, so if you’re looking at hiring an editor and you’re not sure whether that’s the case, just ask. I like doing sample edits because it helps me determine fit, too. I certainly have no issues referring a potential client to another qualified editor if I can see I’m not the right match for a specific manuscript. We all have our specialties!

      All the best to you in your writing. 🙂


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