the book doctor: what to look for in an editor




Finding an editor that you can work with comfortably can be a difficult exercise. Most of us don't know if an editor is doing a good job or a shoddy one, any more than we know if our mechanic or doctor is. The difference is that mechanics and doctors are trained and certificated; not all editors are .

Did you know:

  • there are no national industrial standards regulating editing practices
  • there is no regulating body to investigate complaints about editors or editing jobs
  • anyone, of any ability, may offer editing services
  • anyone claiming to be an editor may join editing organisations and advertise through them
  • there is presently no Australia-wide qualification for on-line editing.


Thirteen questions to ask before you engage an editor...

1. How long have you been editing professionally?

2. Do you have qualifications in English?

3. Do you have formal editing qualifications?

4. Have you done any work before on projects like mine?

5. Have any of them been published?

6. Will you give me some clients’ names so I can speak to them?

7. Will you give me a sample edit so I can see what I’ll get?

8. How many words/ pages do you edit per hour?

9. What do you charge?

10. Will you give me a quote per word or per page instead of per hour?

11. Will you do the work yourself?

12. Will you give me a firm price or an estimate?

13. Will I get back a copy guaranteed perfect?


...and the Book Doctor’s answers:

1. For over twenty-five years.

2. Yes: BA (Hons); Dip Arts; M; PhD (distinction), all in English.

3. No (there is not yet a formal Australian qualification for on-line editing). But I taught editing at university level for ten years.

4. What is your project? Call me and we’ll talk about it. If we don't think we are the right people for you, we'll pass on your details to other editors (with your permission).

5. See 4.

6. No; we live in a confidentiality-obsessed world, and we will not give out clients’ names. But we do list comments on our website; you can see them here.

7. Certainly; but conditions apply. You can find out more here.

8. It depends on the project: fiction is usually faster than general non-fiction; academic work is slower. If English is not your first language it will probably take longer to edit your work.

9. Our charges are listed here; they are reviewed at the end of each year. They are well below the average rate set by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, who recommended $215 per hour in 2011–2012.

10. No, we charge by the hour. We don't charge by the word because some people need far more editing than others, and it isn't just how many words you have, but how they are strung together. And some people can get far more words on a page than others! So the time it takes to edit the work is the time you are charged for (but we will give an estimate before we begin).

11. Yes. We do not outsource work.

12. If we edit a portion of your work, we will give you the option of a set quote or an estimate, whichever you prefer (a quote is a set fee, binding on both parties; an estimate is a general guess at the final cost, which may end up being higher or lower). Conditions apply, and you can find out about them here.
If we do not edit a portion first, we will give you an estimate. Generally (not always) fiction comes in cheaper than the estimate, and non-fiction a little more expensive.

13. No— but we will get as close as we can. We will inevitably miss some things, and if we use Track Changes the choices you make may affect syntax or grammar as well. No sensible editor will promise perfection. (did you hear the story about the major publishing company who had to recall a set of cooking books because none of their editing staff caught an instruction to use 'ground black people' instead of 'ground black pepper'? —We all make mistakes.)



the book doctor
69 Sandville Place
Tasmania 7020

(03) 6239 9423