Oh, my poor, neglected, blog! Where have I been? Working very hard, for the most part, to get my first book (eventually) in the hands of you, the reader, and to get my second one in good enough shape to be seen by anyone at all. But I’ve also been picking up some freelance editing work to make ends meet while I wait, and while I do, for the most part, LOVE it, I’ve also had… let’s say a variety of experiences. I have worked with some amazing authors who are talented, passionate about their work, and willing to put in the blood, sweat, tears, and elbow grease to make it the best it can be.
And then there are those who just… don’t really seem to know how editing works.
Now, none of my clients have been bad people or bad writers, and I’m not 100% without fault. I learned very quickly, for example, to double-check as to whether a client and I were on the same page as far as what exactly was meant by developmental editing or line editing, for example. A lot of the people who have hired me have never worked with an editor before, freelance or otherwise, and have never been agented. It’s hard to blame someone for a tiny miscommunication when they simply don’t have the experience. So, I’m not complaining here! I love my clients! But for those of you thinking about hiring a freelance editor, there are a few things you should know before you begin your search.
- Be upfront about what you want
I cannot stress this enough. BE UPFRONT ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT. If you’re not sure what the different levels of editing are, a good explanation can be found here. If you ask for developmental editing, I’m not going to correct every typo. If you ask for copy editing, I’m assuming that you want your prologue exactly as it is, even if I personally feel you’d be better off starting with Chapter 1. If you’re not comfortable using a general label like that, then talk to your editor. We want you to hire us. We are selling our services. We are GLAD to talk to you before beginning the project, and to go over every little detail. Do you want typos checked? Do you want continuity issues pointed out? Do you want me to call you out (politely, of course) if your character’s being racist? Typically, in a full line edit, I would do all of the above… but you need to bring up any specific requests that you have. And I also need to be upfront about what my quote includes. Do not begin an editing relationship until you are confident that the editor knows what you want and is willing and able to provide it.
- Get a sample
Again, freelance editors (at least before you hire us!) are salespeople. It’s our responsibility to give you a sample of our work. Personally, I like to do a two or three page sample edit (for a full novel; I unfortunately can’t do a three-page free sample for a picture book or short story, simply because it’s too big a percentage of the total job!) of the author’s actual work. In my opinion, that’s the best way for both me and the author to know if we’re a good fit, and will also help me give an accurate quote as far as price and time! (Hint: More polished manuscripts are more likely to get a lower rate and a faster completion time, just because they’re less work for me!)
Not all editors do this, and that shouldn’t really be a red flag. It is, after all, giving away a bit of our “product” for free. But at the very least, you should be able to look at some of their previous work. A Word file with “before” and “after” made obvious in Track Changes is a great way to see how much was the editor’s work, and how much was polished before the editor got it… but again, I can understand that a lot of writers don’t want their drafts used as part of the editor’s portfolio! Sometimes only a completed story will be available… but if nothing AT ALL is available, that’s a big red flag.
If completed samples are all you’ve got to work with, be wary! Look at more than one project, from different writers, if they’re available. Why? Well, any editor’s going to look good if they were lucky enough to get a manuscript that didn’t need a lot of work to begin with. And on the flip side, just because an editor makes a good suggestion, that doesn’t mean the author’s going to take it. A lot of typos or grammatical mistakes are probably a red flag, but I wouldn’t disregard an editor because one of their books begins with a character waking up and then looking in the mirror. One of the nice things about self-publishing is that authors don’t have to change their books to fit the ideas of the industry, and it’s entirely possible that any given author simply felt strongly enough about their original version that they opted to keep it, regardless of what the editor had to say.
Bottom line: get as good of a sample as you can, and as good of a sample as you feel you need to trust your book baby to that particular editor!
- Send the full manuscript
There is certainly value to be had in first chapter, first 50 pages, or query letter critiques. That’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about authors who refuse to send the whole manuscript for “copyright reasons,” or who want me to edit starting with Chapter 11, because someone else already edited 1-10. That really doesn’t work.
Let’s talk about the copyright thing first. I will not steal your work. Let me repeat: I WILL NOT STEAL YOUR WORK. I will sign a non-disclosure agreement if you want, but even if I don’t, your work is protected by copyright law the moment you write it. And even if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, I WILL NOT STEAL YOUR WORK. Why would I do that? I want you to tell your friends how much you LOVED working with me. I want more clients. I want you to come to me with your next book. What I don’t want is for someone to go on Absolute Write or Twitter or wherever else and tell people that I stole their work. That would destroy my career, possibly as an author as well as an editor. Why would I do that? I wouldn’t. That’s it. That’s the bottom line.
Even if it’s not a copyright issue, I really need to see the whole thing. How am I going to know if your characters are in character or of your plot makes sense if I’m missing the first ten chapters of it? If it’s a pure proofreading job—typo checking, misplaced commas, things like that, then I suppose it doesn’t matter. But if you want any comments AT ALL about the plot, characters, setting, voice, tone…. Almost anything OTHER than typos, I really need those first chapters.
I see agents post about this a lot… that sending a manuscript with copyright protection gets the relationship off to a bad start. It says that you don’t trust them. And why would they want to work with someone who doesn’t trust them? Honestly, I feel the same way. I’m poor. I’m living in a country where I’m a second-language speaker, and my outside-the-house job options are limited. I will probably take your job, even if it comes with watermarks on every page. And I’m going to try to be objective, even though it’s going to rub me the wrong way when you do that.
But do you really want to rub the person who is EDITING YOUR BABY the wrong way?
- Know that editing is not ghostwriting
This is the most frustrating thing for me, personally: clients who expect to send me a rough draft and get back (in the space of a month or so) a completely polished, ready-for-publication book.
That’s not editing. That’s not how editing works. That’s book doctoring or ghostwriting, and some freelance editors will also do that. But “full line edit” does not mean that I will entirely rewrite your book.
If you ask for a line edit, this is what you will get: Comments like “The wording is a bit awkward here. How about something like: (suggestion I rattled off in about a minute or less)?” or “This seems out of character for John. Wouldn’t he be angrier like he was in Chapter 5? If this is supposed to be a change in his character, we need more hints that it’s happening earlier.”
See what I did in that last (non-real, by the way) example? I pointed out the problem as I saw it and offered two possible solutions: have John react the same way he has before in a similar situation, or add a few more hints that John is changing as a character so it doesn’t seem so out of nowhere when he does. I’m not going to choose which is better, and I’m DEFINITELY not going to go back and add those subtle hints myself. If the writer wants to talk to me and brainstorm ideas, I’m usually glad to help with that… but it’s the author’s job to fix the problem in the way that matches THEIR vision for the book… or not to fix it at all, if they disagree.
I have had clients complain about that. “Why did you say this sentence was awkward, and not rewrite it to make it less awkward?” The answer to that is simple: Because you did not hire me to ghostwrite your book. I am not the author. My voice is not yours. And you are not paying me ghostwriting rates, or giving me a ghostwriting-length deadline to work with.
The answer is also more complicated. Say I do rewrite your book. Say you take that book and query it and get an agent. And say that agent asks you to cut John entirely and to give that angry scene in Chapter 5 to Sally instead? Are you going to be able to do that? Or are you going to Skype me at one in the morning and ask me to rewrite that chapter again? Are you going to ask me to write the second book in the series when you don’t know how to write for your publisher’s market? At some point, I’m assuming that you want to be able to work with industry professionals and to have a long-term career. And agents and publishers won’t rewrite your book for you. You need to learn to do it yourself… and you are, in a sense, paying your editor to teach YOU how to be a better writer. Not to write for you. And if I DID write for you, I would be doing YOU a great disservice.
- Remember that you’re not your editor’s only job
You’re not. No matter who your editor is, I can 100% guarantee that. Personally, I try not to take on more than one novel-length work at a time, but I also edit and proofread academic materials for recurring corporate clients, and I have a couple of bloggers who have me “on call” for copy editing, too. I also have a part-time “day job,” kids, pets, and a husband who needs as much babying as any of them.
Some of my time is yours. Absolutely. I spend the amount of time it takes to make the number of editing passes we’ve agreed to, and to do them thoroughly. I will take time to Google things that are confusing me, or that I suspect are wrong but don’t really know. Assuming you’ve hired me to edit a long work and are paying an industry-standard rate per word, that absolutely includes a couple of email consultations and even Skype calls if you want them (don’t hold other editors to that, of course; this is ME). I’ve had quite a few clients who wanted to talk to me on the phone or on Skype before making a decision to hire me, and that’s fine. I know it’s a big investment, and a book that you care a lot about. An appropriate portion of my time will be devoted to your book. I don’t mind at all if you want to scroll through the timestamps on my Word comments and make sure I didn’t do them all the night before (spoiler alert: I don’t!).
But here’s the thing. Unless you’re going to book me months in advance and pay me enough to live on for the entire length of your edits, I’m not on call 24 hours a day. If I’m on Twitter, feel free to DM me! Feel free to talk about your book, if you like. But I might have to explain that I’m busy. And if the DM is “Let’s video chat NOW!”? Well, 95% of the time the answer’s going to be no. I’ll be busy, or my kids will be awake, or I’ll be in my pajamas. I’m happy to set a time, or to move the consultation to email.
I’m also not going to work on your book EVERY day, and I’m not going to check in every day. You’ll hear from me at least once a week, typically… but this falls under the “be clear about what you want” heading. If you need daily updates, that’ll affect my quote. (Hint: You don’t need daily updates). If I spend ten or fifteen minutes a day writing an email, that’s more than AN HOUR every week that I could have been working on your book! Also, if you’ve ever done self-edits, you’ll know that you can get burned out looking at the SAME page for a week and still not knowing how to make it work. When I take time away from your book, it’s still there, simmering in the back of my mind. And if you’re a writer, you’ll know that you get epiphanies at the weirdest times… in the shower, at the supermarket, in the middle of crossing a crowded intersection (yes, I almost died over a plothole once). That works for editing too. If I go out and do something else for awhile, chances are something will CLICK at some subconscious level, and I’ll have to email my idea FOR YOUR BOOK to myself and get to it ASAP when I get home.
Your editor should obviously meet your deadline. Buy they have no obligation to work seven days a week on your book and your book alone. If you have doubts that your editor isn’t putting in the time and effort on your project, then by all means talk to them about it. But “I saw that you’re on Twitter and you haven’t answered the email I sent you five minutes ago” is not a legit complaint. I’m on Twitter de-stressing and getting some of the energy I NEED to work on your book. Or I’m just networking with authors, agents, editors, bloggers, etc. I’m a writer too! 😉 Trust me, I’ll get to your email. It just won’t be in five minutes, unless you catch me at a REALLY good time.
- You don’t have to take all of my suggestions
And you don’t have to explain why you’re not going to take them either. I don’t think there’s a writer on Earth who takes EVERY editorial suggestion given to them. And that includes authors with book deals, being edited by big-name editors at famous publishers. No one takes every suggestion. I don’t expect you to.
Now, if you don’t agree with ANY of my suggestions, we’ve got a problem. But let’s say I tell you to delete that waking up and looking at yourself in the mirror scene, but you really really love it and think it’s vital to the plot. Well, you’re the author, and your version wins. I’ll tell you that you’re unlikely to get an agent if your first ten pages are the MC looking at herself and marveling at her own hotness, but what you do with that information is up to you. You can query it anyway. You can self-pub as is. You can email me and explain that you really need to keep this and this and THIS about the opening, and ask if there’s any other way I can think of to work those details in. I personally recommend option 3 in that case… but you’re paying me, not the other way around. It’s your book. Don’t take a suggestion that doesn’t mesh with your vision.
You also don’t need to argue with me about it. I’m not going to retract my advice. I don’t need to! You’re the author, and if you don’t like it, ignore it. Or take Neil Gaiman’s advice and recognize that there is a problem, but that you (again, the AUTHOR) have a better idea of how to solve it. That’s awesome. That’s great! That’s NORMAL.
I did two rounds of editing with an agent, and you know what? I didn’t take all of her advice, and she was fine with that. (I took MOST of it, because it made sense and she knew what she was talking about it, but as both of us are human beings, there were going to be a few places where our thinking didn’t mesh completely.) And this was an agent, who also had a stake in the success of the book. A freelance editor is getting paid whether you take their advice or not. That doesn’t mean I don’t want my clients to be successful! Your success IS tied to mine, in that you’re more likely to hire me again or recommend me to your friends if the book I edited sells well, or gets you an agent or a book deal. But again, you’re paying me. It’s not like working with an agent, where neither of you makes any money unless the book sells. It’s definitely not like working with a publisher, where they’re paying YOU. You call the shots. I’ll explain the reasoning behind my suggestion, and if it doesn’t resonate with you…. That’s great! You’ve got a strong vision for your book, and that’s not a bad thing. Just stet it and move on to the next comment, though. No need to argue. 😉
- ( BONUS! ) If you’re happy with the edit, spread the word!
As mentioned above, a lot of us have day jobs. But a lot of us also love working with words much more. The more income we’re able to make from freelance jobs, the more time we have to devote to freelance jobs in the future. Not all of us want to quit our day jobs specifically (spoiler alert: I totally do), but even if it just means being able to send our kids to daycare or paying someone else to wash the car or mow the lawn… all of that frees up time that can be spent on editing, which turns into more time to spend on YOUR next book!
Obviously, I don’t want you to recommend any editor to your friends if you don’t actually recommend them! But if you are happy, do let the world know! Your editor will appreciate it, and so will your friends. As writers, we’re also readers… and any reader knows how vitally important word of mouth is! 😉
Again, let me say that all of these tips are written with nothing but love and respect for my clients past, present, and future! It’s very easy to get overexcited about your book, to want someone to talk about every little detail with you at your convenience and to magically turn it from draft to bestseller. I completely sympathize with that (I think I talk my CP’s virtual ear off sometimes!), but realizing that your editor is a professional and fostering that business relationship will lead to a faster, smoother edit as well as a lasting relationship that will get you through not only this book, but all the wonderful ones to come!
Any more questions for a freelance editor? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer! (Although, as always, different editors may do things differently. All of my answers are guaranteed to be true… but only for me!)