Developmental Editing for Academic Writers: 5 Questions to Help You Find the Right Fit
A few years ago, I published a post outlining the 8 Signs You Need a Developmental Editor for Your Academic Book. At the end of that post, I promised a future post that would cover what else to look for in a good developmental editor and how to find one who’s right for your project. Well, it took me a while, but here’s that post!
The profile of scholarly developmental editing has risen a lot over the past several years. Many more scholars are aware that developmental editing is even a thing, and I’m happy to see many published authors sharing that they have worked with developmental editors on their books. But once you’re sold on the idea of hiring a developmental editor to push your writing project forward, you still have to find the actual person who’s going to be a good match for your specific needs.
There’s no central directory of all academic developmental editors. My first tip, then, is to start asking around in your networks about which editors people have worked with or heard good things about. You’ll probably shake out at least a few names that way. Once you’ve got name or two, you can start checking them out to see whether they seem like an apt fit.
If you’ve never worked with a developmental editor before, you may not be sure how to evaluate a given editor whom you’re considering. My first stop would be the editor’s website, but you may also want to email or speak with the editor directly before you make a decision. Every author’s criteria will be specific to them, but here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you research editors:
Do they have experience with manuscripts like the one you want to produce?
If you’re working on a book, you’ll want an editor who knows how academic books are structured and how to solve common problems in book manuscripts. Ditto for journal articles and book proposals. The area you’re writing in matters as well; because writing and publishing conventions differ across academic fields, you’ll want someone who is intimately familiar with what is expected in yours.
“Experience” with manuscripts may come in a few forms. An editor might have a long track record of working with clients on similar manuscripts to the one you’re writing. Or they may have published books or articles of their own. Or they may have an advanced degree in your field, which would point to, at the very least, their having read a lot of published work of the kind you want to produce. Many developmental editors will tick all three of these boxes.
Do they have a track record of helping authors get published?
Not all editors publicize the projects they’ve worked on (I do because I’m very proud of them and my clients are cool with it), and some editors are just starting out and won’t have a track record to show yet. But an editor should at least be able to assure you that they know what it takes to get published at the kinds of places you want to get published. Keep in mind that different presses have different norms and expectations, so if you want to publish at a specific press, it may behoove you to find an editor who’s worked with that press’s authors before.
Can they accommodate your timeline?
Many experienced developmental editors book up months in advance, especially for long projects like book manuscripts. If you don’t have time to wait, you may want to narrow your search to people who are more flexible in their availability. Some editors will take jobs on short notice but charge a rush rate, which, if you have the money to throw at the problem, is a great way to get on someone’s schedule right away.
You may decide that you can push developmental editing back in your timeline, if it means being able to work with the best person for your project. See this post on the different stages when authors and developmental editors can collaborate to see if a later stage might work for you. (If think you may want to look for a developmental editor but you’re not sure when you’ll need them, my advice is to start looking now.)
Can you afford them?
Developmental editors are professionals who charge for their time and expertise. If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to look for editors who are just starting out and hoping to build a portfolio (hopefully they have other kinds of experience that cause you to trust their advice). Not all editors post their rates publicly, but a rough cost is something you should be able to ascertain with an email or initial consultation. While you may not be able to determine exactly how much your job will cost when it’s all said and done, the editor should at least be able to give you an estimate or range based on what your needs are.
If you find an editor you love but you have budget concerns, you can mention what you’re working with financially to the editor. Personally, if I really want to work on a particular project and my schedule allows it, I’ll often find a way to alter the scope of my work or offer a different service that will align with the funds the client has available.
Do you like their vibe?
Editors have different personal styles (we’re human, so duh) and you might need to check out a few before you find one who just feels like the right fit. Some editors are very businesslike and direct, some are more warm and nurturing, some are quirky and awkward (just like a lot of writers out there). Because sharing your unpolished work with someone can put in you in a vulnerable emotional spot, you need to feel safe with your editor. For some people, “safe” means “won’t sugarcoat their feedback,” while for others it means “will make sure to encourage me and keep my morale up” or “won’t judge me for being quirky and awkward myself.” No one style of editor is better than another, it’s just a question of what you’re most comfortable with.
If you’re talking with an editor who doesn’t seem like quite the right fit, that’s ok. You can thank them for their time and move on. Many editors will be happy to provide referrals to their colleagues as well. If I can’t accommodate a prospective client’s timeline, budget, or disciplinary needs, or if I just don’t think I’ll be able to do their project justice for whatever reason, I’m always eager to suggest an editor friend or two whom I believe will be a better match.
I hope you now understand how to get the fit right when seeking a developmental editor for your academic writing projects. Any questions about finding a developmental editor that I didn’t answer here? Shoot me an email and I’ll try to help! You can also sign up for my newsletter to get more tips like this sent directly to your inbox.