How To Spot A Bad or Unskilled Novel Editor

Thanks to self and digital publishing, freelance editors can now find more work. Unfortunately, this has opened the door for unskilled and bad freelancer to take advantage of writers. There are a lot of bad editors on the Internet, and writers now have to struggle to find professional and honest editors. Bad editors leave writers with bad experiences, and they give good freelance editors a bad name. You should never have to spend any time or money on a bad editor, but sometimes you don’t know you have a bad editor until it’s too late.

Some of these editors just want your money. Some of them have their hearts in the right place but don’t have the skills to help you. But how can you tell a good editor from a bad one? Well, here are some signs of a bad or unskilled editor, just based on their website and a few email interactions.

1. Makes Ridiculous, Far-fetch Claims and Promises
This is a given. If an editor makes over-the-top promises, that’s a sign that he’s a scammer. Professional editors are honest about what they can and cannot do.

Far-fetch claims are like:
“You must have your novel professional edited before you send to agents and publishers.” (This is false)
“I can edit 50 pages in an hour.” (Not possible, even for proofreaders.)
“I can make your book a best seller!” (We can never guarantee that your book will be a hit.)

If an editor makes promises that are too good to be true, you’re probably facing a scam or an editor way over his head. Run away.

2. Provides No List of Services
There are four types of editing:

1. Developmental editing or content editing– editing for plot, characterization, and story
2. Line editing– editing for paragraph structure, sentence structure, word choice, voice, and anything involving with the writing itself
3. Copyediting– editing for grammar, punctuation, spelling, fact checking, and consistencies
4. Proofreading– editing for typos, missed grammar and spelling issues, and sometimes formatting

Good editors list what services they provide. They will also explain how each service works. If you don’t see a webpage devoted to what services the editor offers, that’s a red flag.

A good editor will NEVER offer all four types in one round. They may not even offer all four types of editing. Most editors only have skills in one or two particular types. There are some who only perform developmental editing. There are some who only offer line editing. Some, like me, will offer both developmental and line editing and offer a package deal. Each good editor tells you what he provides.

A sign of an unskilled editor is misusing these terms. If someone says he provides a developmental editing but also says he’ll be checking for sentence structure and misused words, that’s a sign that he doesn’t understand the different types of editing. Stay away from these kind of editors too.

Also, not all freelance editors edit novels. There are freelancers who edit magazines, newspapers, academic papers, etc. You need to find someone who specifically edits novels.

3. Provides No Preferences in Genre or Age Category
Editors are readers. We have certain genres that we like, and the books we like to read are usually the books we edit. Good editors list what genres and age categories they edit, and they also list what genres they don’t consider. There are very few editors who read and edit everything (and yes, I envy those people), though they will state that. They won’t try to hide it. Some editors may even say they won’t edit anything with gore and sex.

You need an editor who reads and edits your genre and age category. Why would you hire someone who only reads mysteries when your book is fantasy? And do you really think someone who only reads adult books has the knowledge to help you with your young adult book? That doesn’t make sense at all!

4. Has No Knowledge in Marketing
Time for business talk. Marketing is a big deal in publishing. We have genres and age categories to target the right readers for each book. If a publisher were to publish an adult sci-fi, they would not target middle graders or people who only love romance books.

I know people advise writers to read all the time. Editors need to read too, but more importantly, they need to be reading books that are current and have been published in the last five years. Good editors know what is going on in the market and what is going on with the genres they edit. They know what is popular, which genres are oversaturated, which tropes are popular, which tropes agents and publishers hate, current book clichés, clichés in specific genres, etc.

You need someone with expertise in your genre so he can help you make your book stand out. You don’t want your book to be the exact same as all the others, right? You need someone to help you avoid clichés and steer you away from overused tropes in your genre. I’m not saying you can’t use popular tropes, but it’s important to be original. We want to help you make your book stand out. Someone who doesn’t read and is not up with the market won’t be able to help you.

It’s hard to know if an editor is up-to-date with the market. If you want to know how current I am, check out my twitter. I like to tweet pictures of my dogs with the books I’m reading. Yes, I read old books and classics, but I make it a priority to keep up with the market.

5.) Has No Experience in the Publishing Industry
Lots of writers believe that the best editor is a former librarian or English professor. Sorry, those are not the best people to edit your book, especially for developmental and line editing.

If you’re planning to hire a freelancer, it’s best to hire someone who has experience in the publishing industry, whether s/he be a former intern, editorial assistant, editor’s assistant, literary agent’s assistant, literary agent, in-house editor, or so on. These guys have the insight of how the editing process in the publishing industry works, and they will have that marketing knowledge you will need.

For copyediting and proofreading, you can hire someone who is fantastic with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and fact checking. Just make sure your editor really has the skills.

6. Is Unwilling to do Revisions and Multiple Rounds
When writing a book, you will spend more time editing and revising than the actual writing part. Good editors and writers know a book undergoes MANY revisions, and good editors understand that you may need more than one round of their editing services. They are willing to help you until you reach the point where you no longer need their help. This does not mean you pay the editor only once. You have to pay for additional rounds, and for many editors, they accept clients on a first come, first serve basis. You will have to confirm that you want additional time slots with your editor if you’re considering multiple rounds of editing.

When an editor claims that he won’t do multiple rounds or at least a second round, I find that suspicious. Good editors want to help you. If an editor won’t do at least a second, I don’t believe he has best interest in you.

7. Refuses to Provide Sample and Client List
Good editors know hiring someone is a big investment, and they want you to be comfortable when you’re hiring them. They are willing to provide a sample so you can get a taste of their service. You can also ask for a list of their past client so you can contact them and discuss about their experiences.

Bad editors won’t do that. If they’re scammers, they won’t even have past clients, just writers who had their money stolen from them.

Other Signs of a Bad Editor:

Unprofessional, sloppy website-
If an editor has an unprofessional and sloppy website, he is probably an unprofessional, sloppy editor too.

Poor grammar on website-
Bad grammar, many spelling errors, and misuse of punctuation show the editor doesn’t have the skills to help you.

Special deals-
Most good editors are set on their prices. Special “limited time” offers are rarely ever good.

No Articles-
Some editors write articles or blog post to show their expertise. Not all editors do this, but if you find an editor who can show she knows what she is talking about, then great.

You should never be pressured to hire a particular editor. If someone is pressuring you, he just wants your money. Run!

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