Finding a Great Romance Editor

Romance Editor

“Good romance editors are worth their weight in bestsellers.”

Romance editors: it might be hard to find one who embodies all of the attributes below (I’m not sure I do!) but these tips will help you navigate your way to the romance editor of your dreams. Alternatively, if you already have an editor then stack them against the benchmarks below and see if they’re up to scratch.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#1: “Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove”

I love the description above, which is how my own editor was described to me. A good romance editor won’t be full of endless praise, nor will they beat you into the ground with unconstructive criticism. They should be firm, fair and provide feedback that highlights both your strengths and areas for further development.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#2: It’s a Wedding Cake, Not a Happy Meal

If you contact an editor for a quote and they immediately respond with a total, this should ring a major alarm bell. Editors need to see what kind of work the writing requires before they can even think of proposing a rate and timeline. After all, there’s no point in investing in a copy edit if there are major problems with the story and structure. If an editor isn’t interested in seeing your work then chances are they’ll do a quick, stock-standard job, instead of trying to make your book the best it can be.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#3: Try Before You Buy

If there’s one piece of advice you walk away with today, let it be this: Before investing in your romance editor, you need to sample the wares. I offer a $10 trial for 2,000 words, others offer different fees for different pages and word counts. Either way, you want to see an editor’s talents applied to your work before you commit to a project.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#4: It’s all About the Energy, Dude.

Yes we have the best job in the world, but the odd bad day is inevitable. Having said that, if your editor acts as if communicating with you is an imposition and they have better things to do, you might need to find someone who is ‘happier’ in their job. Editing is a creative, collaborative process, and building trust and camaraderie with a writer is vital. Self-important, arrogant editors have lost the passion for their work and will drag you down. Editing should be fun.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#5: Where to Find Them

By far the best method of finding a romance editor is word of mouth, and crowd-sourcing information through social media has never been easier. Go on Facebook and ask your network or writers group if they have an amazing editor they might recommend. You can also look in the acknowledgments section of books you love. Just beware that bestselling editors (or those from big publishing houses) will command higher rates, if they offer freelance services at all.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#6: Good Editors Fix. Great Editors Teach.

Recommendations are great, but it’s also important to explain why that change is required. If you see ‘SDT’ scrawled in the margin without explanation, you might assume it’s a herpes reference! In all likelihood your editor wants you to “Show Don’t Tell”, but they should also explain a) what the term means, b) how it can be applied to your work and c) why it’s important for the reader.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#7: Available, or Unemployed?

Discovering that an editor’s immediately available might seem like a stroke of luck; I see it as a red flag. The desirability of a service is based supply and demand. If an editor doesn’t have at least one to three weeks worth of work already schedulled, there’s probably a reason for it.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#8: *Crickets*

Of course, the flip side of the point above is encountering editors who are far too busy and important to get back to you at all. If they take three days to respond to your enquiry, imagine what it will be like exchanging the 30 or so emails required to work through a single novel revision? Editing is time and focus intensive, so a good romance editor will set themselves strict limits on their workload, leaving ample time for emailing and client care.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#9: Shoddy Shopfront?

Freelancer editors can often be divided into two camps: the hobbyists versus the professionals. The way an editor presents themselves to the world tells you a lot about how seriously they view their work. If their website is outdated and the copy describing their services is slap-dash, it’s a strong sign they aren’t fully committed to what they do.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#10: Strike a Chord, Make a Song

When you receive your first round of advice from an editor, you should find that their suggestions resonate with something deep inside you. The various changes should ‘click’ and make sense, allowing you to immediately see how the work will be improved. If the advice is confusing or contradictory, you might have found an editor who is either inexperienced, a poor communicator, or just doesn’t understand what you’re trying to achieve.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#11: What Are Their Top 3 Books?

If you’re writing commercial romance and your editor’s favourite reading genre is non-fiction, they aren’t going to ‘feel’ your book in the same way a target reader will. All fiction follows the same basic storytelling principles, but an editor working on a genre they love will be more impassioned by your novel and have more experience communicating in your niche.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#12: Past Works

 Ask for a list of books they’ve edited in the past, and take into account what role the editor played in the novel’s development. They might have worked on the book as a copy-editor, or only from an assessment perspective. This will affect whether you judge the book on tone and style, or wider elements like structure and characterisation.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#13: Red Lines Are Awesome!

I once lost one of my favourite clients to a fear of the Dreaded Red. We’d gone through an initial content edit, and after they implemented the changes I copy-edited the revised draft. Unfortunately, my polished words were not what they’d anticipated. “I thought my edit was great, but clearly it was terrible!” The truth is, every MS I edit is full of red lines. Not because the work is terrible, but because I’m employed to make it the best it can be. I could edit ten consecutive drafts and still find things I’d change. If your editor gives you a lot of red lines, it means they’re working really hard to make the draft sing. Never take it personally, and beware of editors that don’t change enough.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#14: Even Critics Have Critics

Web testimonials are always hand-picked, so  they’re not a truly fail-safe way to find a quality editor. Having said that they are better than nothing, and you can also go onto freelancing sites where an editor’s reviews will be listed in full: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#15: Avoid the Paper Mill

I’ve had at least three clients complain about the editing work they’ve received from agencies. Clicking on a team page and seeing ten names might feel reassuring; after all a company that size must adhere to professional standards, right? But don’t you want more than that? Some (certainly not all) agencies treat manuscripts like paper pulp that needs to go through a processor and spat out the other end.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#16: Are You On the Same Page?

How much money do you want to invest in to this project? Is it a memoir you’re writing for your family, or the next in a series of commercial novels? Editing means different things to different writers; from a small indulgence in a beloved hobby, to an important business investment. Your editor should tailor their service to your goals.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#17: Never, Ever, Choose the Cheapest Option

As with all service industries, you get what you pay for. If someone is charging below the standard rate then chances are they need to keep their prices low to get work through the door. And it goes both ways. You want to find a romance editor who’s in hot demand, but if they’re working on the next Fifty Shades of Grey you can kiss goodbye to your marketing budget. Aim for the sweet spot in-between.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#18: Let’s Make Friends With Skype

In this day and age there’s every chance your editor could be working in the same city, or located on a different continent. It’s easy to work over email, but ideally you have an editor who’s happy to hold coaching sessions over the phone or Skype, where you can hash out ideas quickly and effectively.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#19: On Time, On Price

If your editor is promising one thing and delivering another, you’ll need to find someone consistent. This applies to pricing too. All editors are guilty of under quoting at times; we’re an optimistic bunch. But if the quoted job turns out to be larger than expected, it’s our responsibility to finish on cost, not the author’s.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#20: Editor and Cheerleader

Email blasts, Twitter and Facebook are all great ways to connect an editor’s network of writers and readers with your novel. Having said that, I don’t promote every project I edit or critique because a) I don’t wish to spam my followers, and b) won’t endorse a project if I feel it’s gone to market unfinished. But give me a great book and I’ll shout about it from the rooftops.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#21: Accommodate, Don’t Dictate

Good editors work to tight schedules; after all, our services are in demand. But ultimately, you are the client and we are the provider. So if your editor is asking for a round of revisions or copy in an unreasonable time frame (because it suits their schedule) you need to find someone who takes your time into consideration, too.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#22: Teach a Man to Fish (and cook it for him too)

A competent editor will highlight an issue in a story and a good editor will explain the root cause of the problem. However a great editor will recommend how you can resolve the issue with an example or direct edit. This not only makes the writing stronger, but gives the writer a clear illustration of the technique being applied, versus theory alone.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#23: Nice Words Only, Please

If you find a romance editor who occasionally complains about their clients on social media, it’s a good sign to steer clear. When dealing with thousands of projects over one’s career, it’s inevitable that some sort of misunderstanding will arise at some point. But editors who complain about their clients are not in the right job.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#24: Walk the Talk

This might sound super obvious, but if your editor’s emails and web copy are full of grammatical mistakes, it’s a sure sign they’re a) over-worked, b) inexperienced, c) uneducated or d) all of the above. Of course, we’re also human and far from perfect. Editors are not proofreaders, unless that’s the service they’re offering. Once an editor has significantly altered a draft they’ve lost their fresh eyes, so it’s customary to have someone else look over the work prior to publishing.

Things to Look for in a Romance Editor

#25: Wind Beneath Your (Paper) Wings

What’s the number one challenge for any writer? Surprisingly, it’s not a shortage of talent or time, but the greatest virtue of all: dedication. Writing a book takes effort, and developing that book into its final form is hard work. Every writer has moments where the path ahead seems overwhelming, but a great editor will touch base regularly to see how you’re tracking. They’ll be a friend when you need support, and a drill sergeant when it’s time for a kick up the bum. They’ll hold you accountable to your deadlines, and pull you up when it gets too hard.

Have you had a good, weird or horrible editing experience?
Add your stories and suggestions below!


  • Reply July 20, 2015

    Cayenne Graves

    Not only does Cate discern what makes a great editor, she is one in every category! Cate edited my book through three rounds and we had a great time working together. She embodied all she talks about. She is knowledgeable, available, delivers everything on schedule as promised, is supportive in every way and skillful. The best part? I gained a friend for life.

    • Reply July 21, 2015

      Cate Hogan

      Editing a good book is such a pleasure, but making a dear friend is worth a great deal more. For anyone who wants to read about Cayenne’s fabulous journey from a vortex of loss into a life of joy, click here.

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