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.
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 camarshall.com for writing, editorcassandra.com for editing, and on twitter @CA_Marshall.