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.
You draw distinctions that use idiosyncratic definitions of some fairly standard terms. For example, Chicago defines the terms “manuscript editing,” “line editing,” and “copyediting” as synonymous with each other, and none of them as synonymous with “mechanical editing,” although that is one element of them. Certainly, I agree that an author has a right to expect more than merely mechanical editing unless that is specifically what they have requested. However, I cannot agree that the only route into competent and appropriate freelance editing is internal employment within a publishing house, and that the only clients who should be counted as a relevant part of a freelance editor’s curriculum vitae are those who are traditionally published.
I have over 25 years of cumulative experience as a technical editor, proofreader and writer. In addition, I can add another 8 years to my resume acting as the head of a corporate word processing division and also as an administrative assistant. I am an expert in the use of MS Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook), Adobe Acrobat and equation entry/editing using Word and MathType. I have extensive experience formatting and laying-out text for publication.
If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.
For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
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.
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.
As one person who “woke up and decided since I’m published and an English major, I should be an editor,” I can see your point of being only one type of editor. I’m not a good copyeditor at all and don’t offer my services for that situation. It’s funny that you would say a traditionally published type editor would be better than the independently published editor. I found this to be totally untrue since I have worked with both. My traditional editors from St. Martins Press and Bantam books working a total of 35 years in the industry, was the worst editor of all. My independently published editor/book coach, is the most knowledgeable. So there is a bit of a disparage. It’s not an absolute science, editing.
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I cannot speak for all editors, of course, but I know I and many of us would be open to editing just part of your book at first, say, a particular chapter or two that you sense needs a lot of work. That is often enough to show you mechanical errors that you tend to make repeatedly. You can then go through the entire manuscript yourself looking for as many of the same kind of errors as possible. You will sharpen your basic writing skills in the process, and it will pay off in all future projects.