You’ve searched online. You’ve looked in annual directories such as this one. You’ve asked around. A personal recommendation from a published writer-friend who has used an independent editor may or may not do the trick. Every author has different needs, every author-editor dynamic a different chemistry.
Although sometimes an author and editor “click” very quickly, many editors offer free consultations, and it’s fine to contact more than one editor at this stage. A gratis consult may involve an editor’s short take, by phone or in writing, on sample material the editor asked you to send. But how to distinguish among the many independent editors?
Some editorial groups are huge, and they are open to all who designate themselves as editors; it might take some additional research to identify the members who are most reputable and best suited to your work. The smaller groups consist of editors who have been nominated, vetted, and elected, which ensures the high quality of the individual professionals. They meet with regularity, share referrals, and discuss industry developments. Your consultation, references offered, and the terms of any subsequent agreement can tell the rest.
Another way to find the right editor is to prepare your manuscript to its best advantage—structurally, stylistically, and mechanically. Jeff Herman’s annual guide, for example, is filled with directions on manuscript preparation, and it is a good idea to follow them. Asking the opinion of one or more impartial readers—that is, not limiting your initial reviewers to friends and relatives—is a great strategy as well. If you have the benefit of a disinterested reader, you may be able to make some significant changes before sending an excerpt to an independent editor. One more element to consider: editors often will take your own personality and initial written inquiry into account as carefully as they do your writing. Seasoned independents do not take on every project that appears on the desk; they can pick and choose—and, working solo, they must.