The Inside Scoop: Working with a Freelance Editor

March 27, 2014 | By | 16 Replies More

Editing Set-Up.medYour draft is done. You’ve re-read it a dozen times and you can’t stand to be near it another minute. Cleaning the bathroom is starting to sound more appealing than revising your book yet another time.
Well, it sounds like you’re ready to work with an editor! Hiring a freelance editor is one of the most important steps in the writing and publication process.

An editor will work with you on:
• plot and character development and point out any inconsistencies
• massage clunky sentences and smooth out awkward grammar
• correct typos, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word choice errors

Great, but how does this work exactly? What’s the play-by-play once you are ready to work with an editor?

This brief overview will explain what to expect when working with a freelance editor:
1) Making Contact: Once you’re in contact with an editor, be clear about what you want done with the manuscript: Copyediting for typos, grammar, misspellings, punctuation, etc.?

Substantive editing to resolve minor inconsistencies and reflow awkward sentences? Developmental editing to resolve plot and character issues?

If you’re not 110% sure, ask if the editor will edit a sample of your work. A sample edit of even just a few pages will provide you and the editor with a more clear idea of what your manuscript needs. You may think that your book only requires copyediting when in fact it needs substantive, and the editor will say so.

Trust the editor’s judgment here—she wants to help you put your best book forward. Part of it is self-preservation: the editor wants to be proud of her editing work and of her client’s book. No harm in that!

2) The Proposal and Negotiation: Once both you and the editor have a clear idea of your manuscript’s needs, the editor will provide you with a proposal or editing agreement. An editing agreement will detail the manuscript’s needs, the editor’s rates, the time frame for the job, and any disclaimers for performing this editing work. If anything is unclear, be sure to ask! Rate too high? Consider breaking up the editing job into segments with a pay-as-you-go plan.

For copyediting and substantive editing jobs, this is a reasonable request. However, I highly recommend having your manuscript edited in one piece should it require developmental editing.

Another item to consider when working out the details of the editing agreement is how much communication you want to have with the editor. If it’s a longer project, do you want weekly check-ins? Do you want to have the opportunity to review changes with the editor? Both of these options are considered billable hours by most editors and will need to be factored into your budget and included in the editing agreement.

3) The Editing Work: So what’s the editor actually doing over there…? I wish I could tell you but the Editor’s Oath won’t let me. Kidding, of course. While I can’t speak for all editors, I can tell you at least what my process looks like:

a) Receive manuscript in a Word document from the author. Open file and scroll through to check that the number of pages/words is as expected and that there aren’t any issues with fonts or images being corrupted.

b) Mark start & finish dates on calendar, a Post-It, and set a reminder on my phone (procrastination and I have a long history…).

c) Print out the manuscript and set out red pens, a highlighter, Post-Its, and WhiteOut.

d) Make tea/coffee and a snack.

e) Burrow in and start editing. God help anyone who interrupts.

f) Repeat steps D and E until manuscript edit is complete.

g) Insert all changes to the manuscript’s Word doc, utilizing the Track Changes feature. Then, don’t look at the manuscript for at least 24 hours.
h) Now with fresh eyes, give the manuscript a final read through and make any remaining changes.

AlexZamorski.med4) Ta-da! Once the editor is finished editing and reviewing your manuscript, she will send it to you in one-continuous document (typically a word doc with Track Changes enabled) along with your invoice. Then the editor will fret over whether or not the author received the edited manuscript (Did I send the right file?!) and invoice until she hears back.

5) Questions about the editor’s work? Unhappy with something? Let the editor know! Trust me, the editor wants you to be happy, so if something isn’t sitting right, or if there are errors, tell her.

We all make mistakes and any good editor will be happy to make adjustments within reason. It never hurts to ask!

Freelance editors care about their work and care about your book – they want you to find success and put your best book forward! And remember, the best compliment you can serve an editor is a referral 🙂 Happy editing!

Alex Zamorski is a freelance editor and writer obsessed with reading, writing, and discovering new authors. She is the founder of Calamus: Editing & Marketing Services (, has worked for two publishing houses, and holds a degree in Creative Writing.

When she’s not obsessing over the written word or raving about a new author, she’s probably watching hockey or finding new trails to run. Follow her on Twitter @AlexZamorski and read her blog about all things writing, marketing, and indie publishing.

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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Publishing

Comments (16)

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  1. Carol says:

    A very clear explanation of the editing process, while retaining a little of the mystery of the editor’s craft. As a freelance editor, people are always asking me what I actually do: it’s hard to convince them there is more to it than adding in commas.

  2. I am a freelance editor who finds few clients who can afford a complete edit including copy, substantive, developmental editing and proofreading. To save them money, I offer an analysis of their work for a low fee, which lets them know how much editing work is required. They are then free to make as many changes and corrections as they can on their own so I have as little to do as possible.

  3. Hollie Overton says:

    This was really insightful. Having spent the last year completing my first novel, I knew I needed fresh eyes to edit the manuscript before I sent it to my agent. I recently hired a freelance editor and I had a great experience. She provided great insights but didn’t overstep when it came to offering creative suggestions. I’d definitely use a freelance editor again.

    Of course now I’ve gotten notes from my agent. Back to the drawing board… Writing is rewriting isn’t it? 🙂

    • Hey Hollie, Congrats on completing your first novel! I’m glad to hear that you found a freelance editor that you enjoyed working with and that you felt provided type of feedback you needed. Keep up the great work and THANK YOU for reading this article! -Alex

  4. Shelby says:

    THANKS for this easy-to-understand article about your process. I am close to the edit point and, while I still have fears about finding the right editor, at least I have an idea of what to expect through the process. Your information on this site is incredible.

    • Hi Shelby, Gosh, that’s so nice to hear! Thank you. I am so glad that you found my little article helpful 🙂 Best of luck to you finding an editor. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me direct.

  5. Very nicely done, Alex. I edit nonfiction only, but the process is the same. I always ask for a sample chapter to see if it’s actually ready for editing. Very often I find that it’s not far enough along, and make suggestions for strengthening the work before I look at it again.

    Sometimes there’s a kernel of an idea, but it’s not fleshed out enough or there’s not enough content for me to do even a substantive edit on it. I always try to say something positive and encourage the writer to come back to me once they’ve done some more work.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Elaine. Sample chapters are definitely important for both the editor and the writer. If I receive a sample that I know needs major developmental work, I send it on back with constructive feedback for the writer and invite them to come on back when they’re ready for the next step.

  6. I wish you’d edited my book. I’ll leave it at that. 🙂

  7. Jo Carroll says:

    This is a timely post for me – I have a manuscript looking at me and it’s almost time to decide what to do next.

  8. Although, as you mentioned, Alex, each editor may have a slightly different process, I thought you laid it out quite well. From one editor to another, I agree…we want our writers to be happy and have writing success! Well done.

  9. Thank you, Marialena! I’m so glad you found this post helpful.

  10. Marialena says:

    Great post. Thanks, Alex! I like how you broke down the steps and explained the different types of “editing” services. Very helpful. Dare I say demystifying?

    And thanks Women Writers, Women’s Books for the variety of useful and inspiring posts!

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