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Choosing an editor: Making sure you are on the same page

Academic authors often feel confident in their subject matter expertise when writing a book or journal article. Many authors, however, feel less secure about their writing and editing skills. In my twenty-five plus years of experience, this assessment is usually off base. Most academic authors actually have solid skills needed to express themselves and their complex material.

Nonetheless, authors many times want editorial support prior to their submission or while they are writing their work. I have previously written about whether to “Go it alone or with a Guide.” If you have decided to utilize an editor, this post will focus on how you go about choosing one.

To clarify, some editors may strictly work on mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.) while others may help with clarity of content or presentation (as well as mechanics). This second group may go by the name Developmental Editors (although there are other titles).

Whichever you are looking for, there some key elements to focus on. First and foremost is how you connect with them. Interacting and communicating with an editor is very important, particularly when it comes to changes to your content presentation. A phone or video conference interview is very valuable in determining if they are the one for you.

Provide a brief sample of your polished work for them to review. After they’ve reviewed the sample, request a call to discuss what they thought of it and how they would approach your work. Listen carefully and ask lots of questions. You are the consumer. It is important that this is a positive relationship built on respect and trust.

Of course, with any freelancer ask for references. Do not be shy in contacting references to ascertain if that editor’s style is right for you. Ask their references how they worked together and how the editor improved the work.

Ask the editor as well for a list of projects that they have worked on to ensure they are ones like yours.

When discussing a project with an editor, be specific. Is the editor being charged with improving just the mechanics or also helping to develop the content’s presentation or flow? Of course, have all your agreements in writing with the detailed price quote. Be specific with all expectations and deadlines.

If you choose to use a large editorial services company (which have become very popular), you may not have the same opportunity to interact with your editor before you sign on the dotted line (particularly if they are outside the US). Still consider asking to connect with your potential editor.

The academic author and editor relationship is a valuable one. You want to respect and value their suggestions, and it all starts with being on the same page. Spend time upfront to ensure this so you don’t regret the decision afterwards.

John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at