So you have written a book or other major work, and need someone to edit it. Many authors make costly mistakes when working with an editor, and by understanding the process, they could avoid those mistakes and save themselves thousands of dollars of costs in the long run.

An editor should not have to be the person to correct spelling and grammar mistakes. That should already be done by the author. If you are an author, and your spelling and grammar need work, don't pay for editors to do the job of correcting mistakes for you. Instead, it is a much better use of your time and money to go to college for a semester or two, and this time, really pay attention in English class. Ask questions, and make sure you understand the answers. Otherwise, you may pay upwards of $50 per hour to correct your mistakes. If you habitually make a lot of mistakes, consider hiring a ghostwriter who already possesses excellent writing skills.

What should you expect from an editor, then, if not to take on all that work? Yes, one will catch the occasional grammar mistake in your manuscript; the editor's real job is to clarify both your thought processes and your writing. It is the editor's task to find out where your thinking is fuzzy or uninformed, to identify where you get sidetracked, and to discuss these items with you and offer suggestions for correction. Some editors will also work to spot continuity errors and a few will even fact-check items. 

The editor's job is to take your thoughts and turn them into a work that a publisher will not reject out of hand. To make the most efficient use of their time, and your money, therefore, you will need to ask yourself the following questions:

How do I work best with someone else? Find an editor who will agree to work with you in your preferred mode: in person, email, by telephone, or whatever works for you.

How important is this work to me? If having your work edited is very important, hire the very best person you can afford. Some editors will work on a royalty basis; most want upfront payments.

When is my deadline? Be sure to allow plenty of time for the editing phase, as you will most likely need extensive rewriting, and you will probably have to have your editor read through multiple versions.

Now that you have established your requirements, you should select an editor who will meet them. Make sure that you have budgeted for editing in your overall plan, and be prepared: editors charge about two cents a word for documents that don't need much work. If your work will require extensive reworking, that is called "book doctoring" and you can expect to pay at least double, if not more.

Ask to see a sample of the editor's work. Some editors will refer you to books already done; others may have signed a non-disclosure agreement, and so will offer to mark a random page or two at their usual rate, without having you commit to the whole work.

Sign a contract. This is for your protection, so that you understand what the price will be, how your editor will perform the work, and when the work will be completed.

If necessary, sign a non-disclosure agreement. This will prevent the editor from discussing your work, or using your work as a reference. Most of the time this is not necessary, as reputable editors would not dream of plagiarism. However, sometimes you may wish to have this agreement as part of your contract.

On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of May 30, 2015)
Recommended by Tim Ferriss of 4-Hour Workweek fame, this book is well worth adding to your library. While this may not be ideal for those who focus on rigorous academic writing, or literary nonfiction, for the average nonfiction writer, On Writing Well is a great place to begin.

Reducing Your Costs

Chief Photographer's Mate Wayne Edwards proofreads a rough draft of pages from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) cruise book.Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Christopher B. Stoltz.Chief Photographer's Mate Wayne Edwards proofreads a rough draft of pages from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) cruise book.

Proofread: go over your document with a fine-toothed comb. If necessary, take an English class at a community college or online (many courses are offered free), and really study. It won't hurt to take a few writing classes, too. If time or cost is a factor, you can download English textbooks that have expired copyrights and use those.

Write from an outline: I know, everyone hates outlines in school. There's really no better way to keep your thoughts on track. When you are proofreading your document, make sure that you have followed your outline!

Have your book in final form: Don't plan to add or subtract material later without letting your editor know beforehand. Otherwise you are in for multiple revisions, each at the same price as the first.

If you work from electronic documents, always use the editors's latest marked copy: Make the corrections, but do not materially change anything not marked. Otherwise, your editor has to start from scratch. Proofread your corrections! Do not use your own copy, as it may vary from the editor's copy, and again, the editor will have to begin all over.

Do not spend time arguing with the editor. If you have hired a professional, 99% of the time they will be right. Very occasionally, they may be wrong. Remember, you are paying for their opinion, not for yours! The more you argue with them, the higher your bill will be, because you are paying for the expert's time.

Put aside your ego: Corrections don't mean you're a bad person, or even a bad writer. Like doctors, most editors review each other's work for free, so even editors need help on their own writing. Sometimes you just can't see your mistakes, and you need a second pair of eyes.

I wish you the best of luck with your writing!