Note: If I were signed to a publishing house-- small, medium, or large--then the editor assigned to me by the publisher would be my developmental editor (among the many other hats the House Editor wears).
In addition to the great list Jeffe gave on Sunday about 5 Traits of an Ideal Development Editor, here are...
5 Things to Look for When Hiring a Dev Editor
- They're upfront about rates
- Look for per-word rather than per-hour rates. You have no control over how quickly the editor does their job. Going rate for a dev editor is $0.025/word for two passes--one for the original submission and one post-first-round edit.
- Some editors offer per-project rates. Do the math, if the project cost is more than the per-word cost, negotiate or find a different editor.
- It is not uncommon for an editor to ask for a percent of the total price up front. This secures your slot in their schedule and confirms commitment from both parties. Paypal is the most common transaction platform.
- If you're like me, your word count will increase--possibly by 10k words--during the editing process. Make sure you've negotiated that probability when talking rates. You may well owe the editor more money in the final payment to cover that bump in word count.
- They have experience in your genre(s)
- This is imperative. An erotica dev editor is not suited for your space opera. An epic fantasy editor should not be futzing with contemporary horror. You are paying for an expert who knows your genre's tropes and your genre's audience expectations. They're also on point with the past, present, and dawning trends in your genre (regardless of whether you've written to a trend).
- Check their client lists. If they're not posted on the website, ask. Then take the extra step and go to the library and/or buy a few of the books on which they worked by different authors. If you don't have time to read the whole book, then read the opening chapters, random bits from the middle, and the endings. You're not reading for author voice, you're reading for quality of story construct. Keep in mind not every author takes their editor's advice, and not every manuscript can be salvaged by two editing passes. This is why you have a random collection.
- Beware of "all-in-one" companies that offer dev edits but do not disclose the editor or the editor's verifiable qualifications.
- They communicate in an effective and timely manner
- They should be responsive from the initial inquiry straight through to final edit and invoice. At no point should you ever have to hunt down your editor. A big part of this is a matter of professionalism and applies to any freelancer. It still has to be said because it still applies to a dev editor. If they can't manage their email, imagine what they're doing (or not doing) to your 100k book.
- By contrast, a dev editor is not there to be your therapist or to rewrite the book for you.
- Phone Calls & Web Chats: Don't assume phone-call reviews of the edits are part of the service provided. Web chats for brainstorming fixes may not be included either. If you are the kind of writer who needs or expects those services, negotiate that up front with the editor. Some dev editors are totally fine with it, some aren't. It's on you make sure your needs are understood and will be met before you agree to employ the editor.
- They provide more than a paragraph of summary comments
- The value of a dev editor directly correlates to the quality of feedback provided. This is what sets them apart from the avid reader, book critic, grammarian, or academic who might be a fan of your genre (or you) but is not qualified to be a dev editor.
- The final product they send back should include a summary that hits on the big picture things including themes, plots, character dev, and even particular stylistic tics you have of which you may not be aware. If you're writing a series and you're using the same editor, the summary should also include comments about the progressing arc of the series.
- The summary should include what works well along with opportunities for improvement. They should be able to communicate this clearly without being an asshole and without being too timid.
- (You should also be able to take said feedback without being an asshole or too timid.)
- A dev editor should be able to articulate why things work and why they don't. Again, the difference between a beta reader and a professional dev editor.
- It's okay to ask for an example of a summary letter when contacting a potential editor. Similarly, some editors may ask you for your first chapter so they know whether they want to take you on as a client.
- They provide more than line-edits in the document
- Note: your dev editor is not your copy editor, but they will call-out glaring issues.
- Beyond noting grammar flaws, there should be comments in the document about what is working and what isn't. "Pacing falls flat here." "Action not true to character here." "Complex setting used only once in story here. Restage?"
- If you receive a document with nothing more than homophone catches and punctuation fixes, they haven't done their job.
- Most editing is done via MS Word's Track Changes and sent electronically. I know a few trad publishing houses who still send hard-copy edits. That's atypical in the self-publishing world.
Scheduling: As in all aspects of self-publishing, schedule 2-3 months in advance of needing the dev edits and bake in wiggle room for date slippage during the editing process. Sometimes the edits you get back are WAY more time consuming to address than you'd initially planned. Sometimes, life happens--whether on your end or theirs--and dates have to slip. An extra week is wise.
Bonus Benefits: Many dev editors have teamed up with copy editors, which makes life easier on the author. Often the per-word edit cost includes one copy edit pass. If you're availing yourself of that, make sure the copy editor is a different person from the dev editor. You want fresh eyes on that detail-oriented task.
Where to Find Dev Editors: Networking with other authors. Trade Organizations. Writer's Associations. Publisher sites (many publishers employ freelance editors). As always, check WRITER BEWARE before hiring anyone.