by Jodie Renner
With so many authors self-publishing these days, the best freelance editors are in high demand. So if you’re looking for a knowledgeable, experienced professional editor to help you make your manuscript the best it can be – and improve your overall writing skills in the process – be sure to take some care with how you seek out and approach them.
Due to the high volume of requests, sought-after freelance editors turn down many more writer clients than they can accept. So it’s important to make a good first impression.
Don’t Send a Rough Draft to a Freelance Editor
First, make sure your manuscript isn’t still in rough draft. Try to find time to hone your craft by reading writing advice by experts such as James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, and Elizabeth Lyon. (Also check out my three award-winning fiction-writing guides on Amazon.)
Then go over the manuscript several times, looking for issues you read about and those listed below.
Use Beta Readers First
Enlist 3-5 voluntary beta readers who read in your genre to give you feedback on what excited, confused, or bored them. Also ask where plot points, dialogue, or character reactions didn’t ring true or make sense for them. Here are 15 questions for your beta readers.
If grammar and sentence structure aren’t your strong suit, make the first volunteer you send your manuscript to someone who excels at English. It helps if they are willing to proofread it for typos and grammatical and spelling errors.
That way your other beta readers won’t be distracted by those kinds of errors and can get right into the story.
After you’ve received feedback from your beta readers, do some revising to address any of their concerns.
Then search for a qualified freelance editor for your book. Be sure to do your research and look for editors with good credentials and reviews, who edit mainly fiction and your specific genre. Google “freelance editors, mysteries” or whatever. Or go through an editors’ association like EFA or lists such as this Best Book Editors.
Beware that there are some scammers out there, posing as editors, eager to steal your money. Read their web content carefully, looking for mistakes or other red flags.
Research Websites for the Right Freelance Editor
Read through the editors’ websites to find out about their services, process, and requirements. What kinds of problems/issues do they look for? If it’s only grammar and spelling, you can get a sharp-eyed friend to do that for a lot less money or even free.
To make the most of working with a professional, choose someone who (first) looks for other, more important potential issues. Such as….
- a shaky premise
- a boring plot
- cardboard characters
- confusing viewpoints
- stilted dialogue
- insufficient tension
- slow pacing
- author intrusions
- too much explaining
- plot holes
- info dumps
- showing instead of telling
- convoluted or too-formal phrasing
Follow Those Submission Guidelines!
Once you’ve determined that the editor is up on current fiction techniques and industry expectations, be sure to read and follow their submission instructions.
On my website, for example, I specifically request the following from potential clients:
- The genre
- Total word count
- First 15-20 pages
- 10 pages from somewhere in the middle
- A brief synopsis (a few paragraphs to half a page)
- A brief description of each of the main characters
Without this information, I have no idea whether we’d be a good fit or I’d be the best editor for you. I can’t assess the level of work required to bring your manuscript up to industry standards or provide you with an estimate of my fees.
The quality of writing and the storytelling skills vary hugely from one manuscript to another, so of course the amount of work (time and effort) – therefore, the cost of editing – will also vary hugely.
10 tips for attracting a top-notch, in-demand freelance editor
How to get the best possible edit or critique for your manuscript:
1) Search for experienced, proficient editors who mainly edit fiction and who also read and edit your genre.
Most nonfiction editors are unaware of critical techniques such as story structure, point of view, showing instead of telling, authentic dialogue, and more.
A fiction editor who specializes in romances and cozy mysteries isn’t the best choice to help you add tension, conflict, suspense, and intrigue to your thriller, for example. Or vice versa – you don’t want someone who loves horrors and thrillers editing your cozy mystery or women’s fiction.
Editors of course don’t need to live in your region, but it’s usually best to avoid a British editor for an American novel or vice-versa.
2) Peruse the editor’s website to find out about their editing process and services offered before contacting them.
Do your homework, rather than just contacting the editor and expecting them to explain all about their process and services to you, a potential client whose work they haven’t seen and may not want to or be able to take on. Check their testimonials/reviews and maybe contact some of the authors mentioned to discuss their process with that editor.
3) Follow their submission requirements
Also provide as much information as possible about your book when you first contact them.
If you just contact them and say, “How much do you charge to edit a book?” there’s a good chance you may receive no response or a quick rejection.
When you first contact them, include:
- Target readership
- Total word count
- Brief synopsis (in third person, present tense)
- Brief character descriptions
- Your first 2-3 chapters
Formatting: Attach your ms in a Word doc in Times New Roman, 12-point, justified on the left only, double-spaced, paragraphs indented, no extra space between paragraphs, and one space between sentences. For more, See Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript.
4) Indicate why you’ve contacted this freelance editor in particular.
Perhaps you noticed they edit your genre, you’ve heard good things about them, an author you know recommended them, or you’re impressed by their credentials and testimonials. Show that you’ve done your research and have concluded that they are your best choice/fit.
5) Ask for a critique or sample edit of at least 4-5 pages.
Be willing to pay for it if necessary. It’s money extremely well spent and will save you headaches down the road and could also save you a lot of money in the long run.
Sometimes I can’t do a sample edit because the manuscript needs significant big-picture or structural changes before it’s ready for a copy edit. For example, maybe the Prologue and first chapter should go – or at least be condensed – before a copy edit. Other editors may just work on it anyway, ignoring their misgivings. To me, it’s like asking a painter to paint the outside of a house that needs major structural repairs first.
Another service you could request is an initial critique and edit of your first 10-50 pages. This can be a real eye-opener to authors who didn’t realize how many different aspects of their story need work. Then you can use that information to improve the rest of your manuscript and get it edited at a lower cost because the rest won’t need as much work, which will save you a lot of money overall.
6) Be open-minded about the possible state of your manuscript.
Even if you’re an accomplished nonfiction writer, if you’re relatively new at writing fiction (or are changing genres), you may be unaware of issues in your writing style or fiction techniques that need to be addressed.
Your story may still need some or a lot of big-picture advice, even developmental editing, as well as content and stylistic editing, then rewriting/revising before it’s ready for the final copyediting stage.
An experienced editor will be able to tell quite quickly what level your story is at in terms of the editing process and where they should begin. So if you want a final product that can compete in today’s marketplace, it’s important not to be adamant that it “only needs a light final copyedit or proofread.”
7) Tight deadlines do not produce the best results.
Proficient editors are often booked weeks or months in advance, and some/many juggle more than one manuscript at a time, so start contacting editors well before your manuscript is ready, and leave ample time for the process once it’s begun. If you tell the editor you’re under a tight deadline and need the whole 90K edited and ready to publish within a month, don’t be surprised if they turn it down, especially if it needs a lot of work and input back and forth.
My editing is interactive, with sections going back and forth several times before moving on to the next section, so most of the time delays are because the author is too busy to go over the edits and consider my suggestions and accept or reject any changes I make.
I also ask for payments in instalments as we go along. That way, if things don’t work out for some reason, nobody owes anybody anything.
8) Don’t forget your social skills.
Be friendly and appreciative. If I have two queries for editing similar manuscripts, I’ll choose the pleasant author over anyone who’s terse or noncommunicative, as we’ll be working closely together for months.
9) The writer-editor relationship requires commitment on both sides.
Be sure to express your willingness to apply yourself and do any recommended revisions and even consider deleting or rewriting weak scenes.
If you tell the editor you don’t have time to revise those scenes to make them stronger and more compelling, it speaks volumes about your work ethic and motivation and the ultimate success of your project. That can be discouraging to the editor, who may feel that he/she cares more about your story than you do.
10) Learn to work with Track Changes
If you’ve never worked with Track Changes and comments in the margin, I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with this process before contacting a busy editor, who may not have the time to coach you on it.
Do ask whether the editor only does one pass, or will they do go through it again after you’ve made revisions (using Track Changes). I may be the exception in that I work in sections of 2-6 chapters and do one full edit, then send it to the author for revisions, and they can “accept” or “reject” my changes or suggestions. Then I do another full pass and send it back with additional suggestions. After that, I only look at changes clearly indicated through Track Changes.
The other advantage to working in sections is that if the author is making the same small mistakes, they have time to fix future chapters before I get to them, which then allows me the time to look for other, deeper issues.
What about you, Writers – do you have any questions or suggestions? And Editors – do you have any tips to add for writers who are seeking out an editor?
Freelance Editor Jodie Renner
Jodie Renner is a freelance editor who specializes in fiction. She’s also the award-winning author of three writing guides. Her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction includes FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER,.
She also has two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has organized and edited two anthologies. Here’s her Website, Blog – Resources for Writers, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.
JODIE RENNER’S EDITOR’S GUIDES TO WRITING COMPELLING FICTION:
Are you looking for techniques to really bring your fiction to life for the readers, so they feel they’re right there, on the edge of their seats, struggling with the hero or heroine? Staying up late at night, worrying, glued to the pages? Award-winning freelance editor Jodie Renner provide specific advice, with examples, for captivating readers and immersing them in your story world.
“A handy compendium of techniques that will also serve as a checklist for authors who aspire to write page-turning fiction.”
– James Scott Bell, author of Super Structure: The Key to Unlocking thePower of Story
“Jodie Renner’s books are packed with practical writing and editing advice. Get ready to improve your manuscript today.”
– Steven James, author of Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules
“Want to write solid, marketable fiction? Read this book. Regardless of your experience level, Captivate Your Readers gives you clear and concise tools that will help you create a believable story world and spin a good yarn.”
– DP Lyle, award-winning author of the Dub Walker and Samantha Cody thriller series
Featured Photo: Maxwell Perkins, Thomas Wolfe and friends. Wikicommons.