Guest Post: Beginners Guide To Hiring A Freelance Editor

Billy here! Today I have freelance editor Cassandra Marshall here to discuss the ins-and-outs of hiring one!

So you’ve got a book that you’ve worked hard on and you’re thinking of hiring a freelance editor, but where do you start?

Hopefully you begin looking a month or two before you actually need an editor (which should be after you’ve done your own revisions first). As you can imagine, editing takes a while and editors frequently book up months in advance. For some of the higher profile editors, it’s not unusual to have a six-month or longer wait time. But I don’t recommend contacting an editor until your book is completed. If you try to just work out how long it’ll take you to finish your book you run the risk of life getting in the way and not finishing on time. If you rush the last bits, you’re not presenting the editor with your best work. If you don’t make it and can’t get the MS in on schedule, the editor loses a week or more of work. So make sure everything’s finished first so that the process goes smoothly.

To find one, you can Google “Freelance book editor” (I’m result # six!) and search through the one million, six hundred eighty thousand results for one that fits you. A better way is to hop on your blog or twitter or email and ask your friends for recommendations. There’s no greater recommendation than one from a satisfied customer.

When you’ve found a couple of editors, check Google for feedback, scour their websites, and narrow your choices down to those with whom you think you could work well. Some editors specialize in a specific type of editing like copyediting only, or just do YA books, so make sure they offer what you’re looking for. Ask for references; CV’s; look them up on Predators and Editors; don’t be afraid to ask questions and follow up on qualifications. Another thing to keep in mind is that you can often find independent editors that charge far less than the big shot names.

It’s important to know going in which type of edits you’re looking for and to let them know. When I get emails from authors asking for help with their books, most list problems that they have, ranging from things as basic as spelling and grammar issues to more comprehensive things like wrapping up storylines, beefing up characters, and striking a balance between rest and action.

The first group, the people that need help with the mechanics, are in need of what most freelance editors call copy edits, or substantive edits. It’s the small picture stuff, like spelling, grammar, sentence structure, repeated words and phrases, continuity, etc. This closely resembles proofreading and line editing.

The second group, the ones that are looking for developmental help, are in need of what freelance editors call developmental or exhaustive edits. This is for those tricky things like plot, pacing, character development, and other “big picture” issues. These are more like the kind of edits an agent or house editor would suggest.

Be sure to ask about discounts for multiple edits, repeat client edits, swaps for credit, payment plans, etc. It’s sometimes hard for families to justify spending upwards of $1000 for a non-tangible service, but spread that out over a few weeks or months and it becomes palatable. If you’ve got a blog with big traffic numbers, ask for a discount if you put up an ad. If you want both copy and developmental edits, ask for a reduced rate if you purchase them both at the same time. Ask for a swap of services, like if you’re a wiz with website building or graphic design or crafting and the editor is in need of something you can offer, you could build a mutually beneficial relationship. It never hurts to ask.

Excepting the money aspects, an editor sounds a lot like a critique partner doesn’t it? So why hire a freelance editor?

There are multiple reasons, and they vary. A writer who decides to not use a freelance editor will be responsible for doing his or her own editing. Maybe their beta-reading friends will catch most of the mistakes, most of the developmental errors… but maybe not. Maybe the friend’s not experienced enough to know what needs fixing, or how to put that into words. Maybe they’re dealing with a big family and a sick pet and don’t have time to really devote themselves to your book the way that you need them to. Maybe they don’t want to hurt your feelings and don’t mention the really icky-to-deal-with things. (And if that last one is true, get new beta readers.) Or maybe the writer doesn’t even have any writer friends. Then it would be up to them to do everything. And that’s a tough job because of how easily a writer can become blind to their own errors after staring at the same pages for months. I’m a freelance editor myself and I hired another editor to work on my book.

Freelance editors are also great for people that are considering self-publishing. Those people won’t have a house full of editors and copy editors and agents that can tell them how to make their book better. Self-published authors gain fans and get recommended to others because their books are awesome. But if their spelling is all over the place, or the work just doesn’t, well, work, no one will recommend their self-published book, and word-of-mouth promotion is especially key in that field.

If you plan on publishing traditionally, writers only get one shot to impress an agent or editor or reader. Hiring a freelance editor is setting yourself up to present the best book possible. Who wouldn’t want that?

Now the rates. Rates can vary. New editors may undervalue themselves, older and more experienced editors may charge more because they can.  Rates also depend on what sorts of edits you want, how long the book is, and how much work needs to be done. $1500 for a longer work with a bunch of errors could be about right, but if it’s for a shorter book, under 65k, and it’s fairly clean, $1500 could be kind of high. Some editors will have fixed prices based on word or page count and service required. Others will give personalized quotes. That second group will typically ask for ten pages and a query or short summary and will charge you for only what you need. Still others may charge by the hour. (You can also check the basic EFA rates to see what the prices might look like.)

Take some time to get to know the editors that come within your budget. Follow them on twitter, read their blogs, and get to know their personalities. It can be a significant investment and, like finding an agent, you’ll want to make sure that your respective personalities and expectations are going to fit with each other.

As far as payment goes, some editors ask for payment in full before edits are even started, some ask for payment in full before completed edits are released, and some do net 30 (payment due in full within thirty days) especially if they’re billing per hour.

Caveat: Be sure that you have a contract and that you read it carefully before signing it. Like publishing contracts, editing contracts are often written to benefit the writer. Do not be afraid to ask questions and negotiate different wording so your contract is clear. Be sure to save all communication with your editor in case something goes wrong. If the editor is also a writer as so many are these days, be sure that there is a clause that protects your ideas from being stolen. It may seem counter intuitive to be so wary of someone you are trusting so completely with your book, but the sad reality is that anyone can slap the words ‘freelance editor’ after their name and set up shop.  Best to be safe than sorry. This is why recommendations and thorough research are so important.

So you’ve picked an editor and have hired them. What then? Well, you wait. Work on another book. Read a lot. Take some overtime hours at work. Keep yourself busy. Some editors can turn things around within a week, days if there’s a rush (and an extra fee), or some might take months to work through it.

And this next bit is important, so listen carefully. When you get your edits back, do the requisite jig and quickly scan through it. Get that initial excitement or dread out. Then, read it again thoroughly. Then close your email. Take a couple of days to digest what they said, to think about the things that they brought up, and to think of things that you may need clarified.

And please keep your editor updated on things like agents and book deals and other milestones. Trust me, they will celebrate with you, would love to help promote your books, and will greatly appreciate a recommendation.

The lovely Cassandra is giving away two $35 gift cards for her services! To enter, leave a comment discussing her post!
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CASSANDRA MARSHALL is a freelance editor, lit agent staff, YA writer, and loves to play with her dog Mollie. She dreams of one day owning a small house near the water, preferably in England, with a shelf full of books she has written and has helped others to write. She can be found in Emmett, MI, at for writing, for editing, and on twitter @CA_Marshall.


25 Responses to Guest Post: Beginners Guide To Hiring A Freelance Editor

  1. Ryan Casey Jul 18 2012 at 4:31 am #

    Good post Cassandra. I believe that it’s our responsibility as self-published authors to make sure we get our work properly edited. I think too many people probably rush the process, eager to get their book out, when in fact the content suffers greatly as a result. It might be costly, but in the long run, it pays off!

    • Cassandra Jul 18 2012 at 6:15 pm #

      Yeah, that ‘publish’ button is a double edged sword. I love that’s it’s so easy to do now, just a few clicks, but it’s also too easy to just upload a book into the meat grinder and be on your way. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. dchamp Jul 18 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    very well job.

  3. Julie Jul 18 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Hey Cassandra! GREAT INFO!!! Hiring someone to edit “your baby” can be a scary thing. Thanks so much for breaking it down and making it easy to understand. 🙂

    • Cassandra Jul 18 2012 at 6:16 pm #

      Thanks, Julie! It was scary for me too, and I knew all about it! <3

  4. Alexa @ Alexa Loves Jul 18 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    I found that this post was very informative and helpful. Will definitely be thinking about it when/if I finish my first MS.

    • Cassandra Jul 18 2012 at 6:17 pm #

      I’m glad you found it helpful, Alexa!

  5. Gretchen Jul 18 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    I’ve heard a lot about Freelance Editors, nice to have some more in depth information.

    • Cassandra Jul 18 2012 at 6:18 pm #

      Thanks, Gretchen! If you have any other questions you’d like answers too, please ask! 🙂

  6. Hwa Sun Jul 18 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    No… but I’m a beta reader.

    • Cassandra Jul 18 2012 at 6:21 pm #

      I hope you’re the kind of beta that knows their stuff, has the time and focus, and isn’t afraid to tackle the hard issues. If so, any writer would be lucky to have you as a beta!

  7. Sarah Marie Jul 18 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    Wonderful post, Cassandra! I’ve read about freelance editors before, but only bits and pieces, and it was great to have all of this information in one place. If someone is very serious about writing, I see why it would be a good idea to have a freelance editor go over a manuscript before it is sent out.

    • Cassandra Jul 18 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      Thanks, Sarah, I’m so glad you found the info helpful!

  8. Rachel D. Jul 18 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    This was a perfect post for me to read. I’m have only a few revisions to make and I’m then looking for a copy editor. Thank you for the information. It is really helpful!

  9. Lisa Jul 18 2012 at 7:40 pm #


    The whole freelance editor thing is one I’ve wondered about for a while. I’m a poor student, so regretfully can’t afford an editor, but the work they do is clearly exceptional. The info above was fantastically helpful! Thanks for the post.

  10. Lauren Harris Jul 24 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I’ve been waffling about my book, but more and more in leaving toward getting an editor. After tons of full and partial requests with positive feedback (but no takers) I know I need to work out some problems, and i think someone with a professional eye will definitely be the best option at this point, so…thanks for the advice!

  11. Lauren Harris Jul 24 2012 at 11:21 am #

    I forgot to mention that the predators and editors site is really great, and I’m glad you pointed that out!

  12. Kate Jul 24 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Great post Cassandra! Definitely informative for aspiring published authors!

  13. Stephanie Scott Jul 24 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    Thanks, this was definitely helpful. Sometimes I’m not sure what type of edits I’m looking for; I tend to be more of a line editor myself, meaning I usually need help on the bigger picture stuff. I didn’t realize paid editing services went into character and plot development. It seems obvious now that you say it, but I assumed editing meant the line edit stuff.

  14. Rachel Schieffelbein Jul 24 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    I don’t have any real expirience with freelance editors, but I have been tempted to save up for one! I do have a (little) expirience with Cassandra, though. She gave away some critiques (I believe it was ten pages) on her blog awhile back and I was lucky enough to win one. She was honest, brutal, and very helpful!

  15. Aldrea Alien Jul 24 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    I’ve been tempted from time to time to have a couple of my novels edited, just give them a final polish. Then I see the price … there’s no way I could afford that. Maybe after years of saving …

  16. Kaitlin Branch Jul 28 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Great post – I was fortunate to find a lovely freelance editor on the first try. It really is worth the money and effort!

  17. Kisa Whipkey Jul 30 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    This is an excellent article! I’ve recently begun freelancing as an editor myself, after doing it for several years as favors to other writers. I was very happy to read that I’ve been on the right track in terms of rates, contracts, and approaching the industry in general. A lot of the advice you’ve included are things I’ve said myself when asked how someone should go about finding an editor. Thanks for posting this, and boosting my confidence for heading down this new career choice. 🙂

  18. Roy Dec 10 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Great article Cassandra, thanks for sharing this with us. There are lots of different sites where you could look for a freelancer to hire. However, it does not guarantee you to hire the right person for the job even you got them from a legit freelancing site. One way that could help you is to test freelancers first before hiring this way you could see their skills and talent to do the work. Lately, I hire a freelancer from and before I hire one I conduct an interview first, which is also a good way to determine if the person I choose is the right one for the job.

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