ROUND ONE: We’ll start with a manuscript review – a quick read-through to identify any major problems, boring parts that need trimming, conclusions that can be made stronger, suggestions for rewrites, plot improvements or problems, story arc and structural analysis. We’ll ask lots of questions and provide tips and recommendations. Your editor will be like a personal writing coach. We’ll send an editorial report on the big issues that can be improved. After you’ve rewritten to your satisfaction, we’ll move on to part two.
Reach out through an editor’s professional website. Many professional editors offer their services on a freelance basis or use their website to advertise their press’s opportunities. Perform a simple search online using the editor’s name and look for a professional or personal webpage. There will be information about contacting an editor on their website.
When you’ve found someone who seems like a decent candidate so far, make first contact. (The contact form on the website is fine as a first step.) Introduce yourself and state what you are looking for (a developmental critique, copyediting, etc.). Give a very brief description of your project, including its genre and approximate length. Give an idea of your planned next step and any deadlines (even if only approximate ones). For example, have you already signed a contract with a subsidy press for publication next fall? Are you planning to submit the manuscript to publishers and/or literary agents after editing?
Another great resource is Reedsy; a platform for finding freelance editors, writers, and all things book related. You can also use the Editorial Freelancers Association to help narrow your search. These websites are fantastic because they vet their members, meaning you will only be viewing the best of the best when it comes to editing. Keep in mind, Reedsy prices will typically be higher than going to an editor directly because the website, rightly so, takes a commission (from both the editor and the author) for finding, vetting, and then managing your contract.
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Hm, I’m a longtime freelance book editor and have a few thoughts to share. I think one page of editing is not enough to gauge much, and that you should be able to get a sample edit of 10 (double-spaced 12-point) pages from a potential editor. You’ll have a better idea after a complete chapter has been edited, and you should have a contract that allows either you or the editor to opt out cleanly at various stages. Another thought: sometimes authors don’t know what level of edit they need, and a good editor can assess this based on reading a few pages of your ms. and spot-checking the remainder. Also: a lot of book editors (like me) work primarily for publishers rather than for individuals. It’s just easier. I know I’ll get paid, I don’t need to educate publisher clients about the process itself, and they send me regular work, so we get to know each other’s needs and preferences. Lastly, I wouldn’t really expect a newcomer editor to be able to handle a booklength manuscript very well (I was that person once — eek). If it’s someone really new, they should have had good training somewhere imo. Book editing is a technical undertaking. It’s also about knowing what to leave alone. Inexperienced people often tamper with authors’ work unnecessarily. Anyhow, I’d be happy to answer any questions.
My facility with words derives from a love of literature and a background in French, teaching English, and editing. Throughout my academic and professional experiences, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of texts, from academic papers to blogs to web content to novels while respecting English grammar and mechanics within the context of various style guides, including AP, CMoS, APA, and MLA.
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.
Editors are an integral part of content generation at any level. A quality editor is responsible for the final, polished look and feel of any written content produced by a client. Freelance editors provide a flexible and talent-driven way to manage multiple products in a professional way. They can be used for a wide variety of projects, from editing for syntax and grammar on regular blog posts to providing structure, pacing, and style feedback for nearly finished novels.
I would add the suggestion to be prepared for the editor to request a look at the manuscript (not just a short sample) to prepare an accurate estimate. This has been my practice for some time, and it allows me to provide a flat fee for the entire project. This makes budgeting much less complicated for the author, although of course I am willing to bill by the hour if preferred.
An extensive critique of my first novel led to major changes in the format. I was very fortunate to have an experienced novel writer to give a detailed analysis, with corrections. I did not fully appreciate, at the time how valuable this process was, but do now. You need to acknowledge that there are likely to be inconsistencies leading up to the final manuscript and be prepared to make drastic changes. An editor is attuned to picking up on these, where you have accepted the script , even after numerous re-writes!
Good article. I especially like to see mention of the different types of editing. I find that a lot of new writers don’t know this; they get a copy edit and think everything is nicely edited only to discover once they’ve published that people are saying the book needs a good edit. That’s because it needed developmental and line editing as well. I often find that indie books could do with a line edit. I think it’s the most neglected area of editing.
Thank you for this most timely article. I’m a newbie writer that is writing a history book on a small WWII town. It is a little unique in that it will have many newspaper clippings and historic construction photos. The narrative will only be there as a clarification to these items. I want to be sure that this narrative is smooth flowing and comprehensive. I’m not certain to what degree editing will be involved. You article certainly helped bring to light things I should consider.
A professional editor will not only help improve your manuscript, but they should be able to provide guidance for you as a writer to help you improve your writing skills. A great editor will tell you what areas you should be focusing on to improve—things like using the right point of view (POV), avoiding filler words, writing dialogue properly, character development, and more.
Stephen, I’m not sure what you mean by “time wasted matching a style guide.” Any professional editor of trade books knows the Chicago Manual of Style well and as a matter of course automatically makes changes that are in line with it. What you said is akin to “They waste time correcting spelling errors.” They’re not wasting any time; they’re doing their job and it’s a basic and automatic part of that job.
Next, it is possible to follow the road to traditional publication without hiring your own editor, with editing being done at the publisher’s expense. However, you have to be a very good writer and self-editor to get on that road, and what you write has to fit into a very marketable niche. You also need to be very patient and willing to weather plenty of rejection along the way. Don’t jump too quickly to the conclusion that this option is closed to you. Do your research carefully. There may be a small press that is just right for your book and that will be happy to help you make it the best it can be while paying YOU rather than making you pay them.
I’m sorry you had a bad experience on Fiverr. I feel like their cheerleader right now but I know there are some terrible sellers there … always have been. You can’t even always tell by the gig description because some sellers simply copy the description of someone else. But reviews do not lie. Hire someone with no fewer than 500 reviews, I would say, and all positive.
Ebooklaunch rocks! I have published with HarperCollins and Chronicle Books and I am such a fan of Ebooklaunch. Anyone looking to create a stand-out book cover and a beautifully formatted book should stop right here. They are so creative, responsive, and supportive, and they make the whole scary prospect of self-publishing completely doable. The response to my cover has been fantastic. I can't recommend this company more highly.
Hi Sean, as an editor I run permissions for authors. It’s a case of contacting each right-owner (author or publisher) where the quotes are not deemed public domain, and provide them with context for approval. You can do this yourself or I’d be happy to quote for the work, if you’d like to contact me directly? My email address is email@example.com.
Thanks Sangeeta! I’m glad you enjoy the videos! (New episode, with 3 weird tips on self-editing, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28) Book doctors are such an interesting phenomenon… As are ghost writers, come to think of it. On one hand, self-publishing gives an indie author a chance to share his or her vision with little to no outside interference, but on the other, we’re seeing more and more books written “by committee!” What’s tricky is finding the right balance, which is why the search for the right editor matters so much. Cheers, Teymour For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode:… Read more »
Just launched my new novel "Who is Waldo Wiggins?" this past weekend and the response has been great. Ebook Launch did all the cover art (front and back) for the paperback and ebook, and they knocked it out of the park. The first thing people mention is the cover art and the great job that was done on it. Personally, I couldn't be happier. The end result was beyond my expectations.
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