Writers: Beware the False Editor

[Out of respect for the author involved, I will not be publishing his name.]

I recently read a self-published book that desperately needed editing.  I’m talking about grammar mistakes galore, poor writing quality, a nonexistent plot, one dimensional characters…basically everything that give self-publishing a bad name.  I emailed the author and politely suggested that he needed a good editor and his reply shocked me:

“I have already had a professional editor look over my work.” (Not a direct quote.)

His reply got me thinking and, by extension, researching.  What I discovered was not all that shocking: many self-published novelists have been taken in by either malicious or clueless freelance editors.  Now, there are some excellent freelance editors out there.  But the big question is: How do you find editors who are competent?

1.  USE SOCIAL MEDIA! (Yes, I’m shouting.)

For goodness’ sake, we live in the Age of Information!  People all across the globe are connected by the internet and social media.  If you’re an author, it’s never been easier to speak with other authors.  So if you’re self-published and are looking for an editor, ask your online community!  Once you get a recommendation from a fellow self-published author, check out reviews from book bloggers of that person’s work.  Hint: If the reviewers mention grammatical errors, obviously the editor is not doing their job.  Any editor worth their salt knows the fundamentals of grammar and will point out mistakes to their clients.  That’s their job.

2.  Check out the editor’s past work and other credentials.

Some of you are laughing at me because I seem to be stating the obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people just look at credentials but don’t check them out.  You can post anything on the internet.  Anything.  It doesn’t have to be true, so if a freelance editor has claimed to edit a particular novel, check out their story.  While you’re at it, check out the quality of editing.  If there are grammar or spelling mistakes in the first few pages on your free Amazon preview, that’s a sign.

Editors will often post formal academic credentials on their websites in addition to the works they’ve edited.  While a Bachelor’s degree in English or formal proofreading classes are not necessarily indicators of quality, combined with good examples of past work they can help establish credibility.  But if the books they’ve edited are poor quality and they say they have a Bachelor’s degree, they’re either lying or wasted 4 years of university.

3.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Trust your gut feeling about an editor—if it’s bad, it’s trying to tell you something your conscious mind hasn’t picked up on yet.  If you are discussing your manuscript with the editor and they’re making tons of spelling mistakes in their emails in addition to you getting “bad vibes”, that’s a hint.  If they are offering full content and line editing for prices below what seems to be industry standard (which can be $40-60 an hour according to the EFA), that could also be a warning flag.  Not all of these are necessarily big alarms on their own, but if they start to pile up…

Please, if you take nothing else away from this article, at least know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Trust your gut: I cannot stress this enough because at one point it likely saved my life.  While trusting your gut about an editor isn’t likely to save your life, it might just save your writing career.

As idealistic as it may sound, I believe the majority of freelance editors out there genuinely want to help writers.  However, it is important to avoid the malicious scammers and the misguided, ignorant ones because both can affect your book sales.  You don’t get a second chance with 99% of readers, so don’t risk annoying them on the first.

Just do us all a good favour: Get yourself a good editor.


  1. Pete Howorth

    “You can post anything on the internet. Anything.”

    Yeah you can, but I chose to leave the fact that I was the editor for Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History Of Time” off my resume. 😀

    I so want to read this self published book now 🙁

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