How to find a good editor or proofreader

Having your story professionally proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In a publishing world where your story faces heavy competition, pieces need a second eye to make sure they are more marketable and to give them the edge. Even if your story is never published, having that second eye can provide insights that help you master your craft.

Before going on, full disclosure here: I’m an editor, and I run an editing and proofreading service.

Should you decide to have your self-published book professionally edited, you’ll first need to develop a list of potential editors for hire. That actually is easy enough. Type “editing proofreading service” into any search engine, and you’ll find a number of editors and proofreaders in business. A search through Craigslist likely will yield a few living in your area. You also can post your project on websites like or to solicit bids from freelance editors.

Once you’ve got a list of potential editors, the question then arises: What should you look for to ensure you have a good editor or proofreader? Consider these qualities:
• Experience – How many published books has the editor worked on? Are those books similar to yours (You wouldn’t want someone who’s only handled novels take on your nonfiction book; further, you wouldn’t want an editor who’s only worked on romances edit your science fiction novel). How long has he been in the business? Ask to see a portfolio of his work.
• Can bring own creativity and knowledge to the fore – While you may not want an editor to rewrite your book, you do want him to be talented enough to suggest how you might solve various problems, such as how to better develop a character or how to improve the organization of chapters in a section.
• Knowledge of basic software – If your editor doesn’t know her way around Microsoft Word or the word processing program you use, you’ve got a problem. You probably don’t want the editor to make proofreading corrections on paper only for you to have to make those changes to your book on the computer.
• Human not a machine – Many online editing companies, especially those that are 24/7 and national in scope, simply run your book through a souped-up spell and grammar check program. You could buy such software and do that yourself for much less money. You want an editor who will read your manuscript line by line.
• Corresponds regularly with you – Editors are busy folk, but if handled as a freelance contractor, they should be able to keep you updated on their progress. When you have concerns or questions about specific sections or your book, they should be willing to discuss those matters.
• Ethical – An editor should neither be a literary agent nor a publisher and will not offer such services as they represent a conflict of interest. No referral fees should be paid to an editor by any agent or publisher, and the editor should not pay others to recommend them. Indeed, some online editors essentially run a scam in which they receive work from a friend who is a literary agent or publisher and who without reading your book suggests that you seek an editor (and guess who gets recommended) to spruce up your manuscript. Each party – editor, lit agent and publisher – gets a kickback for “referring.”

Finally, recognize that editors have different views on how much rewriting they should do of your manuscript. Some editors are very hands-on with the submissions they accept for publication and have no ethical qualms about rewriting whole sections of it. In the hands of the right editor, such changes actually can improve a writer’s work. A case in point are the works of short story writer Raymond Carver, which saw significant changes after passing through the blue pen of his editor, Gordon Lish. Arguably, Carver owes his success and fame to Lish’s keen eye and rewording.

In contrast, some editors (myself included) are much more hands on, preferring to respect the integrity of the work. Such editors usually make proofreading corrections so that your book meets the publisher’s standards, which usually means conforming to the Chicago Manual of Style. On other matters, such as writing style, character development and plotting, they will suggest and discuss changes but leave it up to the writer as to whether or not to implement them. Given this, you’ll need to decide which editing style you prefer.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.