Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, February 1, 2016

How to find and work with a freelance editor

Nathan here! My good friend Christine Pride is a talented freelance editor who has worked for Random House and Hyperion and edited eight NY Times bestselling books. Oh, and I also hired her to edit my guide to writing a novel.

Christine has a wealth of experience, and I'm excited to share her post on how best to work with a freelance editor. 

Thank you Nathan! It’s so nice to be “here” in this vibrant community of writers.

When I decided to leave the “cushy” comforts of corporate publishing in the fall of 2012 to strike out on my own as an editorial consultant, it was with the idea of, among other things, ditching all of the less appealing aspects of the job (endless meetings, office politics, etc.) to focus more on what I love: the actual editing. And true to my wishes, the purity of the work has been a real treat, and incredibly fulfilling and meaningful—beyond what I could even have hoped.

(The freedom to wear loungewear in the office is icing on the cake.)

In the past three years, I’ve worked with more than a hundred writers, across many different genres, to help them refine their projects and improve their craft; to commit to their goals and deadlines, and to navigate through the publishing process, which let’s be honest can be both mystifying and intimidating. I’m so proud of the successes so many of them have experienced and are cheering them the loudest knowing just how hard they’ve worked and how much they’ve invested.

It’s no secret that getting an agent or a book deal is no easy feat. That’s true today more than ever given the changes in the industry, which have left agents and publishers with less of the time, resources and inclination to take a chance on a flyer or to invest in what we would sometimes call, “fixer uppers,” the books that show promise but need quite a bit of editorial work to be ready for primetime. So it’s more important than ever before that when you approach an agent with your work it is as polished, perfected and as salable as possible for you to have the best chance at success.

Meanwhile, the self-publishing marketplace is growing exponentially, and gives writers a wonderful (and often lucrative) pathway to bring their books to readers. But in that landscape too, the bar is high and readers have come to expect that the quality and caliber of the product will be on par with those coming from a corporate publisher.

A professional can offer you the unbiased feedback and narrative insight in terms of what readers, agents and editors are looking for that can take your book from good to great.

That said, though the benefits might be clear, it’s a big decision, and it’s a big investment, of hundreds or thousands of dollars, not to mention your precious time in addressing the feedback and suggestions from your editor. So you want to carefully consider whether it’s right for you and if you decide that it is, to go into the process armed with as much information possible to make the most of the process.

With that in mind, I offer you these tips:

Do your research

As you would if you were looking for a doctor, contractor or nanny, hiring any professional requires you to vet them in terms of their experience, expertise and fit with your particular needs.

It’s always nice to start with a referral, if you know any fellow writers who have successfully worked with an editor. You can also be in touch with literary agents you admire to ask them (or someone on their staff) for a recommendation. Agents often have a team of “go to” independent editors to whom they refer clients (because as I said they often don’t have time to do the editorial shaping themselves, even if they see promise in a project). You can also comb through other resources like writer focused websites (like this terrific one!) or publications like Poets and Writers or Narrative where editors may advertise.

Once you have a name, or a few, you’ll want to Google them and make sure they have solid credentials, a professional presence online and testimonials. Bear in mind that not all editors have the same level of experience. An editor or agent who has worked in the industry is going to have an insider perspective, along with keen editorial insights honed from working in the trenches. Which is not to say that you wouldn’t have a wonderful experience with an editor who hasn’t worked at one of the big publishing houses, but that experience does offer a premium.

It’s always nice to have a chat with the editor (or editors) you’re considering as well, to talk a little more about your project and to get a gut feel for him or her. Do you enjoy talking to this person (after all you will likely be doing a lot of that)? Is this someone you could trust with your work? Do they have experience and/or in interest in the type of book you’re writing?

Many editors will also agree to do a sample edit of ten or so pages. I, personally, don’t think sample edits are a very useful tool since edits are so holistic and it’s the bigger picture feedback on the plot, characters, etc. that’s going to make the most impact on your book. But if you just want to get a sense of what an edit from this person will look like, this could be helpful to you.

Be clear about your needs, goals and expectations 

There are many different points in your writing journey that you may want to consult with a professional editor. Don’t be afraid to tailor the services to exactly what’s going to be most helpful to you; most editors are happy to be flexible in terms of services and collaborative style.

Maybe you’d just like a topline read and some overall honest feedback. Perhaps you need a review of your query letter to make sure it hits the mark. Maybe you’d like to talk through a new book idea before you get too far down the road with it. Or, as is the most common, maybe you have a finished draft and would like the editor to provide detailed margin and line notes and an editorial letter (known as a development edit) to guide your next revision.

Make sure your editor knows your ultimate goals—to get an agent, to self-publish, to hone your craft, etc. Being clear about your goals and expectations will make sure you and your editor have the most productive collaboration.

Be mindful of your budget

A comprehensive development edit is likely going to run you in the range of $1500 and up, depending on a variety of factors. Some editors will charge by the hour and some will offer a flat fee; it’s typical that half will be due when you start the scope of work and half will be due when it’s complete. Don’t be afraid to say to your editor, “Look, I have $2000 to spend here, what’s the best way to maximize that?”

There are ways to cut corners and an editor will often give you different options that are within your budget. You can also shop around because prices can vary from editor to editor based on their level of experience and demand. Also remember that this expense could be tax deductible in most cases—check with your accountant or the IRS.

One way to keep costs down (and to work most effectively) is to polish and perfect your project as much as you can before you invite the help of an editor. This is where your writing group comes in handy or your friend who’s willing to read. This initial (free) feedback can help you address obvious trouble/blind spots, getting you that much farther down the road. Or you may approach an editor for top-line feedback first and then do a preliminary revision for returning to them for a deeper edit. 

Be open-minded and willing to do the work

Any collaboration with an editor is only going to be as good as the work you put into it. Revising and responding to feedback is JUST as important to being a successful writer as raw talent itself. I would argue even more so.

When I was an in-house editor the average book I acquired would still go through two to four more rounds of edits and that was after the author got a book deal! So imagine the rounds of revisions to get it to that point.

Prepare yourself for that and know that a good editor is going to give you a lot of notes, thoughts and ideas and you should have an open mind in terms of any and all feedback and options presented. A teacher, a coach, a friend, a mentor and a writing adviser, the best freelance editors are all of that rolled into one (with a dash of therapist thrown in for good measure!)

The right collaboration can be meaningful, productive and get you closer to your writing goals and I hope this information and advice gives you a better understanding of the process and how to make the most of it.

Good luck out there and happy writing!


Marta said...

What a wonderfully thorough and helpful post. I'm a freelance editor, too, and this is one of the best descriptions I've seen of how to seek one. said...

Great advice, Christine! I second you on the importance of being open-minded. The best authors to work with are those who love their manuscript but still remain open to feedback.

Ricardo Fayet said...

Excellent post, and very accurate according to several editor friends of mine.
Christine, take a look at Reedsy when you have a minute, since we'd love to have you on our marketplace.

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

I really appreciate this advice.

As a networking indie author, I am often asked about the process of working with a freelance editor. This insightful and informative article is the perfect addition to my handy list of author resources.

My thanks to Ms. Pride for providing a detailed look at the process, including the cost as well as the benefits. Many indie writers may hesitate to contact a good editor simply because they are unsure of the process itself. Ms. Pride helped to alleviate much of that mystery.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Ms. Pride, I saw that you like women's fiction and memoir. Do you also edit middle grade? If not, can you recommend some good middle grade editors? Thanks!

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