As a relatively new freelancer, I’m very aware that my authority here is far from absolute! Even as a newcomer though, I’ve already worked on several manuscripts which indie authors have previously paid to have edited, only for a horribly shoddy job to have been done When working on these ‘clean-up’ cases, I always feel bad for the author who’s paid out either money for nothing, or at the very best, money for very little.
In my own experience, such as it is, there are three basic factors you should look for when choosing an editor or a proofreader ‘cold’. And I should add that this comes not only from my experience on the editorial side, but also from my own time writing and stumbling through the minefield of available editors myself.
Firstly: find an editor who will work on a sample of your writing free of charge. Editing is a hugely subjective business, and you need to make sure that you and your editor are a good stylistic match. If you have an MS ready for edit, you can ‘shop around’ to find the best-fit professional for your own personal style. Being able to look through samples of editors’ work without having to spend a fortune in the process will let you find someone who works well with your ‘voice’, and enable you to move forward with confidence. That’s not to say that you should expect them to edit thousands upon thousand of words at no cost, but a sample of a reasonable length should be relatively simple to agree on.
Secondly: ensure that your editor will be happy to read through your MS again for you once you’ve made any alterations. This is the part of the editing process that I enjoy the most. You’re extremely unlikely to want to blindly accept any and all suggested changes to your MS. Many changes made by your editor will spark questions and discussions that can have an impact not only on your current MS, but also on your writing moving forward. Without that ‘conversational’ element at the end of the process, a huge amount of value can be lost.
Thirdly: be wary of editors who request full payment in advance. Please note my use of the word ‘wary’. This is absolutely not a concrete sign that anyone is out to scam you. Many editors have suffered bad experiences and will request full payment as the only way to be sure of not repeating said bad experiences. However, in my own experience, knowing that your editor will not ask for full payment until they’re absolutely sure you’re happy with their service can give you a huge confidence boost.
I can’t stress enough that these are just personal opinions. In the instances of unacceptable work that I’ve seen so far, none of the above principles were followed. I would suggest at the very least that an absence of all three should set a small warning bell ringing.
One of the best ways to get a feel for the legitimacy of any professional online is to check through their portfolio and look for testimonials. Where testimonials are supplied there should be an easy contact link provided to enable you to check with the writer who has taken the time to leave feedback.
Above all though, entering into a conversation with your potential editor of choice, and asking questions is the absolute best way to not only find out everything you need to know about the way that they work, but to see how the two of you get on as individuals. Never rush into hiring an editor, and always ensure that your confidence is a high as it can possibly be before moving forward.