Here’s what NOT to do: do NOT post a general request for an editor anywhere on social media. You’ll become shark bait to the untrained and under trained faux editors. Also be wary of a general internet search. It takes very little to set up a business website and call yourself an editor. Instead, look for freelance editor associations and start there. Wherever you get names from, ask questions and check references. From my blog:
Very generally speaking, an editor is someone who reads and reviews your manuscript (MS) at a pre-determined level of detail to call out possible errors or weaknesses or to determine publication readiness.
By pre-determined level of detail, I mean you and the editor agree ahead of time what s/he will be looking for (Typos, spelling, usage, grammar? Style? Structure? Accuracy?). These types of editing have different names…. line editing, copy editing, structural editing, developmental editing… However (and unfortunately) not all editors define these types of editing in exactly the same way. This leads to some issues between writers and editors, particularly if both are inexperienced.
How do you know if the editor you are considering hiring is good or honest? As a freelance editor, how should you protect and conduct yourself to meet your own goals and the goals of the writer? Below are a few tips.
Freelance Editors should….
- ….have a clearly defined rate (price) sheet. Many freelance editors are moving away from charging by the word and have moved to hourly or flat rate. If hourly is the case, that editor’s rate sheet should indicate his/her rate using page per hour (PPH) (e.g., Copy Editing at 8-10 PPH/$). [My personal opinion: Charging by the word is a bit unfairly expensive for new writers and doesn’t relate to the level of effort of the editor. For example, 50K words at 1 cent each is already $500. Very few legitimate editors charge 1 cent (or less) any more. Further, whether the editor is editing a well-composed romance or a poorly written mystery novel, s/he is only getting $500 for his/her efforts. The former may be done in 5 days, while the latter takes 5 weeks. Hardly a good return on an editor’s time investment.]
- …ask for a writing sample or the first 5 pages in advance of any signed agreement. This is the sign of a truly experienced and honest freelance editor, in my opinion. Some writers are simply not ready for an editor. I have to be honest–some new writers are torture to read. They don’t need an editor; they need help with English, with grammar, or with storytelling. Editors are not writing instructors (well, okay, some of us are–but are you contracting for that?) An editor should look at a writing sample and determine whether s/he is prepared to deal with a writer at his/her current level of expertise.
- …work with a written contract that defines the type of editing that will be done and other services provided; includes a price/cost, an exact duration, cancellation policy, liabilities, and indemnity. That contract also has an addendum of defined terms, including definitions of the types of editing that the editor does.
- ….understand that editing is an experience-based skill. I have yet to see a full-fledged degree in editing, so beware of folks who claim to have one. Editors are usually, but not always, degreed in writing or English, or at least somewhere in Liberal Arts. An English degree or a writing degree does not necessarily make you an editor, though. Where did s/he learn to edit? Someone can learn to edit on the job, via workshops and classes, apprenticeships, and even online training.
- …understand that the TYPE of editing experience is as important as YEARS of experience. Writers should ask the editor what kind of editing s/he’s done, for how long, for whom, and the last time s/he did that sort of editing. A journalistic editor, a tech editor, or a business editor is not necessarily a good literary editor–unless all s/he’s doing is editing for typos, grammar and facts.
- …deeply understand the craft of writing and be able to look beyond the trite never/always writing advice typically found online. For example, a less experienced editor will tell a writer to “remove all adverbs” or uses of words like “got,” “than,” and others. An experienced editor will recognize that the use of those words often indicates a weakness in sentence structure. An experienced editor will be able to clearly articulate why a particular sentence, paragraph, passage, scene, chapter or concept isn’t logical or doesn’t flow. She won’t just say “this didn’t work for me” or some such. Beta Readers can do that–an editor should be more exact.
- …practice good business. Both editors and writers should conduct themselves professionally and adhere to the contract. I think this is obvious, but it must be stated. Editors should meet their deadlines. Writers should NEVER add things to their manuscript (MS) or make changes midway through the editing process. Once the editor has your MS–leave it alone on your end.
- …use editors that use a style guide, preferably the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS or CMS) or some derivative. At the VERY least, s/he should have a company or house style guide that s/he uses. Ask about it. This is important because a style guide ensures clarity and consistency within a manuscript, and across all of your novels (especially sequels). Publishers look for consistency. Some readers do too. Most of, but not the entire, literary industry uses the CMOS specifically and those who don’t will not reject you for using it. They are less forgiving when the formatting is all over the place (e.g., inconsistent comma or semicolon use, the incorrect use of royal or political titles, over or incorrect use of italics, inconsistent use of words having variant spellings, etc.) “This lack of consistency looks unprofessional and lazy—two traits that could potentially cost you a deal. To a writer it may seem like nitpicking, but in reality it shows discipline and an author who values the craft.” (Brian A. Klems, managing editor; Writer’s Digest magazine). A freelance editor who doesn’t understand this, does not understand the industry. Avoid him/her, particularly if you are looking to sell your novel to an agent or publisher.
Number Six is a bit harder for writers to determine about the editor they want to hire–at least until after. But writers should not be afraid to ask for an editing sample and references from an editor. While it is not your fault if an “editor” misrepresents his/her skill level or knowledge, you are indeed RESPONSIBLE for understanding what your craft requires–and this includes an understanding of how to hire a professional whose purpose is to help you improve your manuscript. You are about to spend a lot of money–do your due diligence.