After I sold a new client’s proposal, she said to me, “Now that I’ve sold, I’m going to save some money and fire the freelance editor who helps me with my writing.”
This was not one of her better ideas.
A freelance editor helps authors make their work tighter and more engaging. Ultimately, the work will then sell better, both to a publisher and to readers.
Against DIY Editing
It’s difficult, if not impossible, for an author to perform a final edit of his or her own novel as effectively as an editor. An author is typically too close to their work, even after a period of several months or a year. It is particularly difficult for an author to remain impartial if he or she has spent years on the project.
Working with a freelance editor allows your novel to be seen with fresh eyes. A new perspective can be invaluable, not only for spotting errors in grammar, but also structural and thematic issues.
An editor may highlight opportunities for adding depth and solidity, making the most of a manuscript’s strengths and identifying problems that might otherwise get between the story and the reader (whether that reader is an agent, a publisher, or a potential fan of your work).
Freelance editors build relationships and careers
An editor with whom a writer already has a working relationship is precious. This person will be familiar with the author’s style and aims, making his or her advice more personalized than that of an editor who has never encountered the author’s work before. If an editor knows your work, it will be easier to identify recurring issues, which will improve your current project and your writing going forward.
The editor as a tutor
Working closely with an editor is a good way for a writer to develop his or her craft. Over time, authors can learn to see things from the viewpoint of an editor. Avoiding plot holes or weaknesses is far better than having to fix such issues in subsequent drafts. Editors can make better writers. Better writing saves time and money, in addition to satisfying readers.
Chuck Sambuchino, for example, is an inspiring editor over at Writer’s Digest Books. He also works as a freelance editor and has worked with many authors who have gone on to sign with literary agents. Chuck knows as well as anyone that writers who work with editors improve the general standard of their writing dramatically.
If a fiction editor’s job is to make a novel as good as it can be, then this is someone that authors want at their side. A good freelance editor is worth good money, because they can and will make your book more salable.
Here is valuable advice from Sambuchino:
“The cost for freelance editors varies greatly. It can be anywhere from $2-10 per double-spaced page. It all depends on the editor in question and what you’re getting out of the edit. If you want an in-demand editor with a track record of success stories, prices will be higher. The good news is that if you do your research and look around, you will find all kinds of options out there. You can find people who specialize in proofreading and copyediting. You can find people who pride themselves on developmental story editing. And you can find people who specialize in a certain area or genre, such as a mystery writing book doctor, or a picture book guru.
Since freelance editors cost money, here are three quick things you can do to protect yourself before spending a lot of cash:
- Ask other writers for referrals. It’s a lot easier to pull the money trigger when a writer you know vouches for someone’s skill and professionalism.
- Engage in a small edit before you engage in a big edit. Let’s say your novel is 250 pages. Perhaps you can arrange a small deal where the editor critiques your first 30 pages for a fee. That way, you can gauge their work on that small chunk of pages and decide if you want to move forward with a full edit, which will be more costly. Some freelance editors will even critique a few of your pages for free in an effort to show you their skill and vie for your business.
- Look for success stories, not necessarily just testimonials. A testimonial is when a writer says “Editor Bill Smith did such a great job with my story. He was worth every penny!” Freelance editors use testimonials such as this (from former clients) to attract new business. But these are surprisingly easy for freelance editors to drum up. All I would have to do is contact writers X, Y, and Z (perhaps they’re even my friends or acquaintances) and say “Hey, if I critique your book for free, will you write me a nice blurb of praise?” Of course they’ll say yes. Voila. I’ll have three fat testimonials real quick. So testimonials aren’t necessarily the telltale sign of an effective editor. This is why I don’t list these on my freelance editing website. I only list success stories, which is praise provided only after a writer signed with an agent, or got a traditionally published book deal. These are a lot harder to provide, but they go a lot further in terms of conveying the effectiveness of the editor. So look for success stories.”