Finding an editor

As stated earlier, we have a list of trusted regulars we work with, and will be happy to put your manuscript out to an appropriate editor; but you may of course choose to find your own. If possible go for a recommendation. With the rise of self-publishing there has also been a rise in online editing courses, which means there are a number of people out there who claim to be a qualified editor, but may lack experience. If you’re picking an editor based on their stated credentials, do ask what projects they have worked on before, and if possible look for editors who have freelanced for trade publishers. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample edit (of, perhaps, the first chapter). You need to feel happy with their work, comfortable that it’ll be a good working relationship, and confident that you’ll have a good line of communication to finish the project. Again, note that some editors may excel at structural editing, others at copyediting, and some can do both equally well.

Costs vary hugely – from a three-figure to a four-figure sum – depending on the service you require and on the length and nature of your MS, so it is essential to ask for a quote first. To do this the editor will need to see at least a sample of text. Email is the best way to send this, and by return email they should be able to give you an idea of the services that will be required, and a ball-park cost. (Talk to your editor, too, about WP software; the industry standard is Microsoft Word, and while we at Smartwork do accept Word, we also work with Google Docs.)

Do you have an editor you like to work with? Why?

A quiet word on the law

We’re bringing this up here because it affects your working relationship with editors. Self-publishing isn’t a ticket to write any old thing. Your freedom of speech is governed by laws on copyright, libel, obscenity, etc., and it’s wise to think seriously about what you want to publish before going to the great expense of having your manuscript checked by a lawyer (or the even greater expense of a lawsuit).

What does this have to do with editors? Contrary to some people’s expectations, it is your duty, not theirs, to ensure your text complies with the law. But because they will have some prior experience of these issues, an editor may be able to help you by pointing out passages that are likely to infringe the law. Make sure you have an early chat with your editor to set out your expectations of their role.


Copyright is all about protecting intellectual property. It applies automatically to original creative works of art, music and writing. In other words, if you write a book, or a song, you don’t have to apply to have it copyrighted; protection is automatically bestowed as soon as you commit your creation to paper (or e-book, etc.). In New Zealand it lasts for the duration of the creator’s life plus 50 years following the end of the year of their death. (So for an author who died in February 1945, copyright expired at the end of December 1995.) In many other parts of the world the term is 70 years, not 50.

Copyright cuts both ways. It is there to safeguard your intellectual property, so if someone steals your work, and you can prove that you had the idea first, then you can claim redress. At the same time, you need to respect the intellectual property of others. You are not permitted to quote text or lyrics, or use photos or artwork, without prior permission of the author/artist. There’s a ‘fair use’ clause in copyright that does allow you to quote short passages for editorial use (for instance, to advance an argument), but the best advice is to contact the copyright-holder, or their publisher/agent/estate, beforehand. Many will give permission if you ask, either at no cost or for a small fee.

Some fees are larger. If you quote, for example, the lyrics from a modern song without seeking permission, you could be in for a surprise when the owner of the song (which is often the music publisher) requests that you either pay them a hefty fee or destroy all the books you printed since you didn’t have permission. (Even if you do seek permission, song lyrics are usually expensive.) Similarly, if you want to publish a big, glossy modern art picturebook, make sure you budget plenty for permission fees!

For further information on copyright, contact Copyright Licensing New Zealand (

It would be great to hear about your copyright experiences.

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