Choosing a Freelance Editor

By Fay Lamb

Hiring a freelance editor may be one of the most important decisions you make in your career, but there are precautions you should take in order to find the editor most suited to your needs.

First, I want to say that the most effective use of a freelance editor is not to rewrite or to revise an author’s work but to catch the mistakes that might have been made or the areas that might have missed because the author is too close to the work.

Now, with regard to the qualifications of an editor, I do not believe that an editor needs to have a degree, but I do believe that they need to have studied the craft of writing and have the ability to show forth a knowledge of the specific area in which they are being requested to offer an edit.

Editors who claim to be able to edit everything should be viewed skeptically. For instance, if I were writing a college thesis on a highly specialized field, I would search for an editor familiar with that field of research, not an editor who would simply look for comma placement or spelling. In fact, I’d be worried that the spelling would be a problem for someone unfamiliar with the subject.

Let’s bring it down to our scope, though. In fiction, there are genres, and each genre requires specific techniques. Thrillers are fast paced, barely leaving time for the reader to breathe while romantic suspense will speed up and slow down depending upon the type of suspense being portrayed. Romance, well, it lingers, but it is often formulaic, and an editor will need to know the formula. Historical fiction is another beast altogether, and nothing can be taken for granted, even word choice. I know, historical fiction is not my expertise.

Overall, though, fiction has elements such as plot, conflict, suspense, proper use of dialogue, showing and not telling, deep point of view, and characterization. An editor who is unaware of this canvas upon which an author creates can do little to help the author should the brush stroke be imperfect.

There’s also non-fiction. In fact, this editor will only edit non-fiction if the author is requesting proofreading and nothing more. Why? I do not have the expertise in this format either, and my lack of knowledge will harm an author.

Another important thing to know when it comes to hiring a freelance editor is the going rate, and many authors will be surprised at what it will cost because most freelance editors don’t care about the author’s return on investment. They’re rightfully concerned with their return on investment. Thus my reason for stating why an editor should not be used to revise or rewrite.

Before agreeing to a contract with a freelance editor, an author should ask for a free chapter edit. This will be of benefit not only to the author but to the editor. As a freelance editor, I often use those free edits to determine if the author is ready for publication. If not, I will refuse the edit and will offer suggestions on how they might improve their writing. If I find that the author has a command of the story, I am then able to determine the length of the manuscript and offer my estimate, which is always the highest fee I will charge, and sometimes if the edits take less effort, I charge less.

This leads me to the most important advice that I can give to an author seeking a freelance editor: never agree to an open-ended hourly contract. An editor who has given you a chapter edit may estimate high in case the story falls apart somewhere along the line, but agree up front to the total cost and to the terms of payment. If an editor is unwilling to provide the cost up front, run away.

Again, it is important to note, in order to utilize the freelance editor’s time and the money you pay most effectively, send the editor your cleanest manuscript. Utilize an editor’s expertise to find the mistakes you missed and not to clean up the mistakes you didn’t want to remedy.

Click to tweet: Choosing a Freelance Editor by Fay Lamb. “Editors who claim to be able to edit everything should be viewed skeptically.” #editing #amwriting

Writing Prompt: In leiu of a prompt, tell us whether you use a critique group, a critique partner, or hire a freelance editor? Why?

5 thoughts on “Choosing a Freelance Editor

    • Greg: I very much agree, but editors who work with authors also need to realize that authors need a return on investment. An ethical editor will inform a would-be author if the investment required to editor their product has the possibility of getting them into print. Taking a writer’s money is easy. Being honest with someone and telling them they aren’t ready for an editor and need to put more of their own work into their manuscript is very hard.

      • I can imagine but it’s also appreciated as hopefully most if not all editors provide that feedback. I am sure there are a small percentage that are only looking for the money, which is why finding a right editor is an important part of the process.

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