I implemented this way of working years ago and see how empowering it is for authors, and helpful for editors to boot. This doesn’t mean you’re asking your editor to do a free sample edit. (I discourage editors from doing this and caution authors who push for it as asking editors to work for free before you hire them may result in resentment.) Paying an editor for a few hours of their time to ascertain whether they’re a good fit for you is a great way to put your toe in the pond before submerging yourself. You can then see for yourself if the editor’s suggestions and comments resonate before moving forward with the whole project.

While you may (or may not) be correct in your assumptions, your tone in general is rude, and disrespectful. If you are indeed a true editor of distinct taste and experience, you should not feel the need to bad mouth others for their thoughts and opinions. Show a little decency, and realize that you are indeed speaking to a human being, who probably has thoughts and feelings, and is in my opinion, a much more intelligent human for having the intellect to not attack someone verbally for their thoughts. No one needs you to be rude, or asked you for that matter.
I usually ask for a 10-20 page sample – one page is a bit scant for a really accurate estimate. I’ll do an editing sample, too, but how long I’m willing to make it depends on the proposed length of the piece I’ll be editing. As for the “hidden message” strategy, if I saw something like that, I’d suspect the prospective client was fearful and suspicious and I’d probably run the other way. I willingly provide testimonials, references, and links to published work, so tricks aren’t necessary. It’s important to me to build a professional relationship of mutual trust with my clients, backed up, of course, by a contract that protects us both. I don’t think I’d like to work with a client who plays “gotcha!” Lots of good suggestions in this article, though.
Not that I’m not looking forward to seeing the author’s work. I am. Seriously, I am! Book editing, despite the sticker shock first-time authors often get when they hear the estimate, is not a profession anyone enters in hopes of getting rich. I truly love helping a writer make his or her work the best it can be, and I’m always eager to get started. But I realize the task of writing takes time, usually more time than the author (even many an experienced author) expects.
I have over 30 years' experience in the publishing/writing industry, working as everything from an in-house editor to an investigative reporter to a novelist to a medical/technical writer to a screenwriter. I've been an independent contractor for 24 years working as a freelance editor (developmental and line editing), writer (fiction and nonfiction), ghostwriter, and copy editor.
The greatest benefit of an editor is that he or she is not the author. An editor is someone else. Some editors are professional writers, but every single one of them is a professional reader. As a writer, you’re probably a voracious reader, but you can never be a true reader for your book. By bringing forth a book into the world, you’re asking other people to read something you’ve never read. If you sincerely want the book to be the very best that it can be, then you must ask someone else to read it first. You owe it to your book, to yourself, and to your readers.

I’m a first time writer. Today I’m about 60% done with a “novel” (a thinly disguised autobiographical account of finding romance and starting a family during the Viet Nam war). I believe that hiring a developmental editor at this time would help me complete the work in a better ‘voice’, ultimately saving time and money. The alternative would be to finish the work as this column advises before submitting for edit.
While you may (or may not) be correct in your assumptions, your tone in general is rude, and disrespectful. If you are indeed a true editor of distinct taste and experience, you should not feel the need to bad mouth others for their thoughts and opinions. Show a little decency, and realize that you are indeed speaking to a human being, who probably has thoughts and feelings, and is in my opinion, a much more intelligent human for having the intellect to not attack someone verbally for their thoughts. No one needs you to be rude, or asked you for that matter.
I am late to this discussion. But I would like to speak for all those authors starting out…editing, although a necessary evil, is very expensive. Let’s face it, writing a novel is not a paid venture. If you sell your book to traditional publisher, or self publish, you will rarely make this expense up. To spend $5.0-$10.0 on your novel is just out of reach for most. I realize that editors “work hard” and “put a lot of time” into their work. But there seems a disconnect in the market place. Writers are writing for free, and shelling out all the money for little return. And yet it seems the only ones profiting is the “market place” on services. It is more an “industry” for publishing, than a means for a writer to get published, or make a living. I wish there was a middle ground for writers: an editing service that prepares your novel for submission to agents and editors at publishers, but doesn’t cost your first child! There is a need, and is truly an untapped market. But what you have are editors, at all levels, “demanding” the market price, whether they are experienced, starting out, or good. There seems to be no heirarchy with an equal level of professionalism for new writers vs experienced who might have a bigger budget for editing. I liken it to buying cars. You can buy a car at $15.0 and still get a good, safe car that looks nice and is drivable.. Or, you can buy a car at $50.0 if you want more prestige, quality service, personal attention, more features. Both are acceptable and worthy, just at different levels of affordability. Although editors are arguably at different prices, as the comments have indicated, the less you pay is for limited services, not a varying level of editing. It’s like getting a car with three wheels. But new writers do need a full service of editing…at an affordable price. I am not sure how to get there, or the value to editors, but there does seem to be a gap that needs to be filled- reliable editors, who can help bring a novel to a professional level for submission, and it be worth their time in doing so, at a rate that is more manageable for a writer’s pocketbook.
This is basically like the “Quick Kill” service – or proofreading on steroids, and again we’ll hack, slash, rewrite, fix, tweak and improve anything we can, but this time we won’t comment on the bigger picture, and we’ll really hone down on the little details, eliminate repetition, trim the writing, and make sure everything is as good as it can be.

Join an organization, such as the National Association of Independent Editors and Writers (NAIEW) or ACES: The Society for Editing, to connect with others in the field. Publishing Professionals Network (PPN) lists jobs as well as other membership organizations. You can also subscribe to Editors Only newsletter to receive a directory of professional associations for editors, as well as current job openings.


Trish – I agree with your replies to this article and Carol, I agree with your comments too. And while I disagree with some of Natasa’s points, a sample edit is definitely good advice, not only for the writer, but also for the editor to ascertain what type of editing is needed. Many new, inexperienced writers still ask for a ‘proofread’, only to discover what they actually need is a developmental edit. I also agree with Natasa’s point that a good rapport is crucial. As to the suggestion that an editor shouldn’t be working on seven to 10 books per month, well, I never work on more than two (although I do fit in other small projects for regular business clients – they break up the working day and help me to refocus). I don’t know how anyone could work on such a large volume of books effectively — or at all — unless they were very short books!
Absolutely, Tom. Encrusted oldie, I like that one. Thanks for your thoughtful and positive comment. I think the heavier the editing, the more important confidence with a genre or niche is. For a developmental edit, I’d want someone with specialty experience in my genre, whereas with a proofread, I’d be comfortable with pretty much any competent editor.
Thanks Derek and Jane! To add one more thought, I think where we all agree is that the writer can’t get up from the operating table (this analogy is getting gruesome…), thank the doctor and walk away. The perfect recipe would include: an incisive (pun intended) editor, and a resilient, driven writer. By the way, Derek, I’m thrilled to have this conversation, as I’ve enjoyed your writing for quite some time (recently I loved your piece on Tomorrowland). Cheers, Teymour Shahabi For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28
This is great advice, Val! Thank you for sharing. I’m a freelance editor as well. I agree with the advice about giving a newbie a shot because I was a newbie freelancer four years ago, with newbie rates because of being a newbie. But I had already been editing for five years in-house and at professional competence level, so my early clients got a bit of a bargain from me!
We’ve set up a unique “first chapter critique” service which includes up to 5,000 words (which should actually include 2~3 chapters… or a prologue, preface or intro). This will be an deconstructive developmental edit, pointing out exactly where your weaknesses lie and what you can do to make them better, but will not include a full edit or proofread. We will, however, edit your blurb, bio or query, as long as they fit within the 5K word limit.
Freelance editors normally do not double as literary agents. Not only is it not our area of expertise, but it can actually lead to ethical quandaries. There have, unfortunately, been cases of literary agents saying that potential clients’ work “has potential” but needs to be edited (by them or their employee), for an exorbidant fee. It would also be possible for editors to give the impression that they are guaranteeing publication of a project, when that is something no one but a publisher can do. Many professional organizations forbid their members to combine these two roles, to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
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