Have you thought about working with an editor? Deb Hartwell, from Hartwell Editing, visits us today and provides us helpful tips for choosing and working with a freelance editor. Thank you Deb for your insightful comments! You may also wish to check out our Editors and Proofreaders List for Indie/Self-Published Authors.
By Deb Hartwell
Hiring a professional editor is the best investment you can make if your end goal includes publishing your work. Let me explain why.
For authors self-publishing their own books, a freelance editor can provide much-needed feedback both on a story’s plot or character development and its use of proper grammar and spelling. A writer often does not have proper perspective to edit his or her own work. Feedback from a good editor can make the difference between whether a published book turns out polished and professional or slipshod.
Obtaining editing help is equally important if you are planning on publishing through traditional channels. Literary agents receive countless submissions each week. For every 100 queries, they might request 8-10 full manuscripts from authors to review more closely. They don’t have time to read through every word of every manuscript. If you make it past the initial test, but your work is riddled with grammatical mistakes and inconsistencies, it will get tossed back in the pile faster than you imagine. You should be sending out copies of your work in the best condition possible. Hiring a professional freelance editor to get your work there is the best way to do that.
So, where do you start? I’ve compiled some quick tips to help guide you through the process of choosing and working with an editor.
1. Determine your needs.
Before you can even beginto look for an editor, you need to decide what type of editing you need. There are different types and levels of editing, and not all editors are specialized in them all.
- Developmental editing usually begins once your first or second draft is completed. A developmental editor will work with you to identify holes in your story, help you with character development, dialogue, pacing, and other “big picture” issues. It is generally assumed that once a developmental edit is complete, the author will revise the manuscript to rework content and address any glaring problems. This is not to say your development editor has the final say or is always right by any means—but try to take the advice constructively. A good editor wants your book to succeed just as much as you do, and you should consider her (or him) to be a partner in this journey.
- Copyediting, or line editing, typically takes place after the developmental edit and revision is complete. This is a chance for your editor to review your changes as a whole and edit your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word choice line-by-line. Some authors may decide to forgo the developmental editing step, but I highly recommend you never skip copyediting before publishing or sending your manuscript out to agents. This is your chance to really turn your manuscript into a polished work of art. If you are a generally good writer, you may only need a light copyedit. Others require a much deeper, time consuming copyedit, or several passes of edits. You can work with your editor to determine the level of copyedits your work might need.
- Proofreading is typically done once you are ready to publish or have found a publisher that has laid your pages out in designed proofs, or once your work has been formatted as an eBook. A proofreader is working on a facsimile of your work and really only looking for superficial mistakes at this point—formatting mistakes from the conversion to the proofs, missed spelling or grammatical mistakes from previous edits, and errors in formatting of any headers, footers, and page numbering. A good proofreader is also looking for odd word-breaks between lines and things like unnecessary repetition (for example, maybe the first 3 lines on one page all begin with the same word). Since this step takes place in the proofing stage, any corrections that are made should be relatively minor and steps should be taken to avoid reflowing text onto the next page (as this would cause repagination).
Ok, so now you have an idea of what sort of an editor you need. Now what? There are some editors who will perform all of these tasks, but some may only specialize in one or two. Spend some time researching. There are many trustworthy sites online that have created a database of freelance editors and their services. Take some time to browse through these lists, look at those editors’ websites, and narrow your list down to a few that you think might work best for you. Maybe you are looking for an editor who specializes in your genre, or perhaps you are looking for someone with a proven published success rate.
3. Make contact.
Next, I would suggest you reach out to a few editors on your list and ask for availability and an estimated quote. Explain the type of work you are looking for, the genre of your work, a brief synopsis, and most importantly: include your word count. Many editors do work on an hourly rate, but they may also be able to quote you an estimated price based on your word count. Some editors may also ask you for a sample chapter to estimate the level of editing needed and how much time it will take. You will find that rates will vary, but quality developmental editing and professional copyediting typically run between about $40-$60 an hour. Proofreading is not as time-consuming and often takes less time, and for a lower rate. In addition, you may only need one or two types of editing to begin with.
4. Try before you buy.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample edit! In my opinion, if an editor is not willing to edit your first 1,500 words for a small fee (or even for free), this editor is not worth your time. Hiring an editor can be a terrifying process, and you want someone who understands this and will work with you to ensure that the editor-author relationship is a good fit. Additionally, actually seeing how an editor marks up your work can help narrow your decision.
5. Sign a contract.
This might also be a good time to ask about a contract, payment schedule, and method of preferred payment. If an editor is not willing to draft a contract highlighting the details of the work you are paying for, you might want to reconsider your pick. A professional freelance editor will put everything into writing for you—what you are hiring for, the types and level of editing to be completed, total (or estimated total) payment, and payment schedule. Many editors will ask for a portion of the payment upfront, with the remainder of the balance due upon completion. Putting all this into an agreement that you both sign upfront is an important step for both of you.
6. Set Parameters.
Congrats, you’ve hired an editor! Before you submit your full manuscript, it’s a good idea to let your editor know what you’d like him (or her) to focus on. Let’s say you know that you need help with character development, or maybe you have difficulty writing believable dialogue. Be upfront about this from the beginning so your editor can keep an eye on it and help you work through those issues. If you aren’t sure about what you need here, that’s ok too. But don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good editor will never give you a suggestion without explaining the reasoning behind it. And, because editing can often be a back-and-forth process that continues over a length of time, developing a good rapport with your editor is a must.
7. Write a testimonial.
I cannot stress this enough. If you are pleased with the work your editor has done once you have gone through this process, offer to write a testimonial about your experience. This will go a long way in helping your editor branch out and find additional work. And if your book goes on to be published, please inform your editor! We are so proud when our clients succeed, and it means so much to us to know that we helped you get there.
So, there you have it! I hope this checklist has helped you find your footing as you embark on this journey of hiring an editor. This is your book – your pride and joy – so take the time to find an editor who will help you make it shine the way it should. Good luck!
Our guest contributor, Deb Hartwell, is a development editor with 9 years of experience in higher education publishing who enjoys freelance editing and copyediting in all genres during her spare time.