Tips Before Hiring an Editor with Donnell Ann Bell


Tips Before Hiring an Editor with Donnell Ann Bell

We love to welcome back Donnell Ann Bell to Romance University! Donnell gives us GREAT tips on hiring an editor – be ready, you’re going to want to print this one out!

DonnellandCoachHi, members and followers of Romance University, it’s great to be with you again! Last year I wrote an article for RU called, “A Good Editor―Don’t Leave Home without One.” It’s still a relevant topic, maybe more so this year, as Indy publishing continues to explode and authors want the best product they can put out there.

With that, I’d like to expand on last year’s topic with tips for what authors should look for when selecting an editor. Remember, you’re not just hiring someone to work on your novel, you’re hiring someone to work on your team—one with your name on it. Never has caveat emptor been so important to an author. Just as anyone can self-publish, anyone can hang up a shingle these days and say, “I’m an editor and I’m open for business.”
Following are some interview questions you might consider when choosing an editor:

1) How long have you been an editor and what is your educational and professional background?
Here I must remind you that while length of time in the business and education are important, this is a foundation question and merely the grout to your first layer before you add bricks to your decision-making.
Ten years, and a Masters in English Literature may sound impressive. But where have they put their editing skills to work must follow. Have they worked in the publishing industry or have they worked in the field of journalism? Have they edited fiction or have they edited newspapers and magazines? There is a difference, you know. (Note: I came from a journalism background—thought it would be a breeze when I turned to fiction. Wrong. In journalism, we’re taught to not editorialize. Fiction is all about emotion and how do your characters feel?)

2) After you’ve become impressed with an editor’s initial background, your second question might be: What genres do you specialize in and what genres do you enjoy reading?
Editing is editing, right? Au Contraire! If you’re writing fantasy and your editor specializes in historical fiction, she might be an excellent editor, just not the right editor for you. The second part of this question is important, also. If the genre you’re writing isn’t in your potential editor’s stable of nightstand material, my suggestion is to run, do not walk away from this person, and continue your search.

3) My goal is to submit to Publisher XX. If I hire you, are you familiar with that publisher’s style sheet and guidelines? If not, are you willing to familiarize yourself with its guidelines before I hire you?
The fact that an editor might not be familiar with a publishing house’s guidelines should not be your foremost concern. Whether or not they are willing to do their homework and give your manuscript the best chance of succeeding should entirely be of interest to you.

4) When editing, what do you focus on?
a) Grammar and punctuation
b) Author follow-through, e.g. threads to the story to ensure continuity
c) Logic and fact checking. (Is what I’m writing logical in the world I’ve created and will you note passages and text that leave you in doubt?)
d) Pacing, redundancy and repetition
e) Awkward phrasing

5) How busy are you? When I give you my work, how soon may I expect to see edits?
Careful here. Just as you want to give your editor polished material to work with, (and you never want to give your editor anything less than what you consider your best) you want your editor to return an even more polished edit. Just as writers miss deadlines, editors do, also. They have emergencies and life can get in the way. This is a great question to ask their references (No. 7 below).

6) Will we sign a contract?
This may seem overcautious, but writers and editors need to protect themselves in the event that one or both fail to meet any or all of the specified agreement(s). However, just as some agents refuse to sign contracts, some editors do as well. What should you do in that event? (No. 7 below. Check their references.)

7) Do you provide references? How many of your references are return clients?
I think the first part of this question speaks for itself, and my advice—check their references.
As for Part two, if an author uses an editor once, but has numerous other work out since that particular release date, I’d want to know why, wouldn’t you? Could be something as innocent as the editor had too many clients at the time of author’s release or maybe he was taking a sabbatical. Still, repeat clients speak volumes.

8) Do you offer examples of the editing you will provide?
Some editors provide a sample of their services, e.g. the first 30 to 60 pages, (paid of course—you don’t want to give away your writing for free; an editor doesn’t either). A sample edit ensures to both the author and the editor that they’re likely entering into a compatible working relationship.

9) What are your fees?
Shocked that I asked this question last? It’s up to you of course. You may ask it whenever you wish. But if money is the end-all as to whether you hire this person, you’re in the wrong business. Of course you have a budget and the editor might be out of your reach. You’re free to walk away and look elsewhere at that point. But you truly get what you pay for—particularly in this highly competitive world of publishing.


So how about you? Do you have any questions I’ve missed that we should add to this list? Without naming names, or badmouthing a professional you’ve worked with – we’ll leave that to the writer watercooler― any precautions writers or editors should take when forming this all-too important partnership? Just as you structure your novel, good luck framing and solidifying your writer/editor relationship.

Join us on Monday for Handsome Hansel!


A terrifying memory is locked deep inside her. A killer wants to keep it that way.
Deadly Recall - screenNine-year-old Eden Moran thought she was saying good-bye to her mentor that fateful day in St. Patrick’s. She had no idea she’d witness the nun’s demise, or that her child’s mind would compensate. Now seventeen years later, Albuquerque cops have unearthed human remains, and the evidence points to Eden as being the key to solving Sister Beatrice’s murder. When a hellbent cop applies pressure, Eden stands firm. She doesn’t remember the woman. Unfortunately for Eden, Sister Beatrice’s killer will do whatever it takes to keep it that way.

Bio: Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart® finalist who previously worked for a weekly business newspaper and a parenting magazine. Her debut novel The Past Came Hunting became an Amazon bestseller, reaching as high as #6 on the paid overall list and finaling in 2012 Gayle Wilson Award for Excellence, RWA’s® Greater Detroit Bookseller’s Best, and the 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Deadly Recall, brought to you by Bell Bridge Books, is her second published novel. Learn more about Donnell at

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34 Responses to “Tips Before Hiring an Editor with Donnell Ann Bell”

  1. Great list of questions. Hiring a good editor is an essential part of producing a quality product. I’ve read many self- pubbed stories that were very good, but riddled with errors, and other problems that even a halfway decent editor would’ve easily caught. After awhile it became really distracting. Sometimes I finished the entire story, sometimes I didn’t.

    My first experience working with my editor (or any editor) came late last year. I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. She totally got me, my story, and the characters. She asked the right questions which prompted me to go deeper, or make cuts where needed. Love, love, love her and hope to work with her for a long time to come.

    POSTED BY REESE RYAN | MARCH 1, 2013, 8:03 AM
    • Hi, Reese, so glad you found an editor that got YOU and that you love to work with.

      Human beings make errors and as I stated in my first post about editing a year or so back with Romance University, there’s few novels that don’t have errors in their pages.

      Our goal is to give it our best shot, right? Thanks for stopping by.

      POSTED BY DONNELL | MARCH 1, 2013, 1:04 PM
  2. Morning Donnell!

    Oh yes, this is being printed out into my keeper file. =)

    The only thing I can think to add, and not sure how important this is to everyone! but do you LIKE your editor? Granted, that might take some time, but you can kind of tell via phone calls and emails if you’re going to hit it off and think companionably.

    Best of luck with your new book Donnell!


  3. Great article today, Donnell! Thanks for the very helpful and tangible advice 🙂

  4. Hi Donnell,

    This is a great checklist for anyone looking to hire an editor. An editor with whom you share chemistry, understands your vision for your story and can help you become a better writer is a tough role to fill. Editors don’t come cheap but I’d like to think of the process as a needed and pricey workshop.

    Thanks for being with us today!

  5. Hi Donnell,

    A good editor is priceless. As the writer, you can’t be objective about changes. You need a professional’s opinion.

    Mary Jo

    POSTED BY MARY JO BURKE | MARCH 1, 2013, 1:55 PM
  6. I’ve just sold my first book and have been assigned an editor. She seems very nice and is the house’s senior editor. Your tips will be in the back of my mind while I work with her, but I expect we’ll work well together. Thanks, Donnell, and many sales to you.

  7. Great tips Donnell. It’s a great reminder that if you’re hiring someone to go with more than a gut feeling. 🙂

    POSTED BY AVERY FLYNN | MARCH 1, 2013, 2:21 PM
  8. Good post, Donnell. As an editor, I want each client to feel my edits match his or her style, voice, and rhythm.

    If the work I get is full of errors and needs depth, I will spend a lot of time making suggestions and corrections. I always need a second read-through to spot typos I miss or we create with changes.

    Authors must take time to look for typos and such, too!

    Authors should ask editors to share style sheets or grammar sources they use.

  9. Mary, honored that you stopped by. I know firsthand that errors occur in books no matter how hard we try to spot them. Do you have any tips that I missed? Any you disagree with?

    POSTED BY DONNELL | MARCH 1, 2013, 2:27 PM
  10. Love this. I have to post my error!

    Mary Marvella is a great editor and she caught that I should have written “au contraire” not ah contraire…. Must have slid in my Texas roots into the French venacular 🙂

    POSTED BY DONNELL | MARCH 1, 2013, 2:35 PM
  11. Thanks, Donnell! I will add that our critique partners and friends miss little stuff. I had 2 beta readers miss typos. They are both teachers and one teaches in college.

  12. Hi Donnell! This is a timely post for me since I’m considering the possibility of self-pubbing some of my work. You’ve touched on some brilliant questions to ask a prospective editor. It’s good to ask around your writing groups too. Is there a self-pubbed author you know and admire in your genre? Politely ask if they mind sharing the name of their editor (after you tell them how much you love their last book of course!).

    POSTED BY BARB HAN | MARCH 1, 2013, 4:38 PM
  13. Barb, I’m so glad you found it helpful. I’m keeping this list close by to (I’m prone to forgetfulness.) Thanks for sharing your ideas. Have a good weekend.

    POSTED BY DONNELL | MARCH 1, 2013, 4:42 PM
  14. Very interesting . I learned a lot . Thank You.

  15. This is great advice, Donnell – I’ve already bookmarked it! I’m sure I’ll be referring to this list before long.

  16. Thanks for joining us today Donnell! It was great having you back again! =)

  17. Great article! You hit all the key points from my experience. I rely heavily on recommendations. But even that is not a guarantee of a good fit. For this, I feel that the sample pages are critical. I didn’t do that the first time I hired an editor and I feel it was not the best move on my part. The next time, the editor herself offered to do free sample pages. I would not hire someone without them.

  18. I love the idea of sample pages, Candace. You’re looking for an editor, not someone to rewrite your work. Thanks for sharing your opinion.

    POSTED BY DONNELL | MARCH 2, 2013, 8:56 AM
  19. Wonderful article, Donnell. Excellent advice. I’ve found that connecting with the best editor for me and my project is a huge challenge. Even if I find someone who meets all my requirements in the beginning, things can change. Differing personal philosophies can emerge which affect the working relationship. I usually not only ask for a sample edit [and mostly editors I’ve worked with have volunteered to submit a short edit free of charge], but we also set a “trial” period to make sure we’re a good fit. And you’re so right about genres: make sure your editor reads/writes/edits what you write, down to the sub-, sub-genre. Thanks for your good insights.

  20. Lynda, how interesting that you bring this up. Here’s another question to add to your checklist in my opinion. What if you and your editor are on different sides of the political/idealogical spectrum?– can he/she still be true to YOUR vision?

    POSTED BY DONNELL | MARCH 2, 2013, 1:30 PM
  21. What an informative article. I had been thinking of self publishing if I don’t get a offer, and more and more I’m understanding how important an editor is… and one that is a good ‘fit’!

    I work full time in the creative field and can attest that it’s incredibly difficult to know how your work looks to people on the ‘outside’, another pair of ears and eyes makes all the difference!

  22. Helpful set of questions!
    I would want to share a quote/advice from one of the most successful CEOs in the world. I just think it might help a little bit more. 🙂
    “Hire from a diverse pool of individuals who are highly talented in their area of specialization and who have general-manager potential. Over time, they’ll become good insiders—learning to manage in the context of the company’s strategy, systems, and culture.”
    – A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble

    POSTED BY CONOR | MARCH 27, 2013, 9:36 PM


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