Hiring an Editor

Some things you plan to do for a long time, and when you finally get around to doing them, it feels like you’re taking a huge step forward.

There are, of course, reasons why it takes so long. But there comes a time when those reasons run out. You end up doing what needs to be done, or you get sent back to square one. Eventually, the risk becomes worth the price.

All of this is just my way of saying that I did something big this week.

Previously, on Mr. Horne’s Book of Secrets

Long time followers of this blog will remember that I committed to hiring a professional editor as far back as 2016. And, back then, I thought it would be easy. There are so many people offering editing services online that surely it is a buyer’s market, right?

Turns out that finding an editor isn’t as straightforward as finding a dentist or a car mechanic. With other kinds of services, you’re only looking for a decent worker. As long as they’re honest and competent, there’s no reason to look at other candidates. Most dentists, and countably many mechanics, are as good as anyone else in their fields.

But you don’t want competent with a book editor. You’re looking for something better.

A Problem of Credentialing

Even the best editors are fallible. And the worst editors are worse than fallible. But this has already been discussed ad nauseum.

Editors are extremely fallible people, all of them. Don’t put too much trust in them.


Only work with smart editors who are happy being editors.


Good editors are really the third eye. Cool. Dispassionate. They don’t love you or your work.


Sometimes editors don’t read the books they publish.


It is generally acknowledged that editors are created unequal, and it is better to have no editor than a bad editor.

And you would think, since this is common knowledge, that freelance editors for hire would go to great lengths to display their credentials. It would be good for business if they could point to a popular book and say, “I worked on this.”

Yet in my search for the right editor, I found remarkably few freelancers who could give me any such credentials. Some of them claimed a need for anonymity or non-disclosure (which, for all I know, might be 100% true; I’m not the expert with the kinds of agreements freelance editors normally make with authors; but it still creates a problem of confidence).

One place I also looked was in the “Acknowledgments” sections of books, since authors usually list their editors there. But few of these list freelancers. They mostly lavish praise on those editors who were under the roof of the book’s publishing company.

Quite simply, it’s almost impossible to verify the qualifications of a freelance editor. Hiring one is usually a shot in the dark.

Cutting the Gordian Knot

As perplexing as the problem is, there are still ways to solve it. But they generally require sidestepping the issue entirely.

Since it’s impossible to find a freelancer who is qualified, why not instead find a qualified editor who is willing to freelance?

Now that’s the kind of outside-the-box solution a cheater like me can really get behind.

This week, I finally screwed up the courage to make an inquiry with someone who, in my opinion (an informed opinion, too, I must say), is the best editor on the planet. He has a strong history in the industry, knows almost everyone and is known by all, and has a solid pedigree.

And by pedigree, I’m specifically talking about the authors that have sprang from him (his literary descendants) moreso than the authors he sprang from (his literary ancestors). It’s a star studded list that pairs well with his array of accomplishments.

Naturally, even having him edit the manuscript does not guarantee ultimate success. But he is a good person to have as a reference, and he is extremely familiar with what it takes to get any book published in today’s market. Realistically, there isn’t anyone better for this job.

Progress at Last

I must emphasize: there are still a million things that could go wrong.

And also, this will take some time. I don’t expect to get my edits back for months yet.

Still, it finally feels like I am making headway on my path to publication, if only because I was willing to put my money where my mouth is and assume the risk of hiring an editor.

Because there comes a point where one has to stop behaving like a hobbyist and start treating writing as a business. I only hope I have the maturity and humility necessary to accept whatever notes I am given, and make my book what it always should have been.

Naturally, I have stopped querying this book to agents. Hiring an editor is an acknowledgement that the book is not finished, and there is nothing to be gained by sending agents an unfinished book.

But when this step has been completed, I should have an easier time opening doors. If it only makes the process significantly smoother, it will be well worth the risk.

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