Six Ways to Vet Freelance Editors

(This post originally appeared on Jane Friedman's website at www.janefriedman.com.)

Today’s guest post is from author and freelance editor Maya Rock of Fresh Ink Book Editing.

Hiring a freelance editor is a significant investment, so you’ll want to do your due diligence before making your pick. To help with your decision, here are six ways to vet freelance editors.

1. Work experience

Freelance editors often don’t have traditional résumés posted on their websites, but they usually include a professional bio that says where they’ve worked in the past. Check to see if your potential freelance editor has worked at a publisher or literary agency. These are places where they’ll have been in close contact with the book editing process and have garnered the professional expertise that can help take your manuscript to the next level.

Additionally, consider whether the places your potential editor worked exposed him or her to books like yours. For example, if you’re writing a children’s book, you probably don’t want an editor who worked for a military history press, and vice versa.

You should also determine what kind of editing your potential editor did. He or she could have worked at a publishing house, but as a copyeditor, whereas you may be seeking developmental editing.

2. Testimonials and references

Another great way to vet freelance editors is by seeing what others have to say about them. Many freelance editors have testimonial sections on their websites, where authors describe their experiences with the editors. You can get big clues about the editor’s personality through these testimonials. Do their clients describe the as warm and hands-on? Technical and thorough? Consider how your personality and writing would gel with their work style.

If you want to know more, don’t be afraid to ask for references. Just be aware that the relationship between freelance editors and their clients is very private—many clients request confidentiality. Still, others are happy to give feedback.

3. Books they’ve worked on

In the book publishing industry, everyone has a list of books they’ve worked on. Agents have a list, publishing houses have a list, and individual publishing house editors have a list. Your freelance editor has a list, too, and it can help you decide whether to work with her. If the editor doesn’t have the books she’s worked on visible on her website, ask for one. Then research those books on Amazon. Do you know any of them? Are the books getting read? Are they similar to your book?

4. Sample edit

Many freelance editors happily give sample edits, for free or a small fee. Even if they don’t say outright that they offer them, you might want to request one before committing. A sample edit will give you peace of mind, as well as a very precise idea of what you’re paying for. If you don’t want to pay for a sample edit on your own work, they may have one they keep on file for this purpose. My website, for instance, has a sample editorial letter.

5. Professional organizations

Is your freelance editor a member of or affiliated with any professional organizations? I am a member of Publishers Marketplace and Editorial Freelancers Association. Both organizations require dues, which helps screen out some of the less serious editorial freelancers out there. Does your freelance editor mention writers organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Thriller Writers of America, or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators? If your freelance editor attends conferences or is a member of any of these organizations, it shows that he or she is in touch with editors, agents, and writers, and knows what the current trends are.

6. Terms

When choosing a freelance editor, pay close attention to the terms of your agreement with them. Because so many freelance editors are self-employed individuals, you might not have a formal contract, but there should still be terms agreed to over email before you commit to work with them. These include due dates, kill fees in case you decide not to move forward with the edit, method of payment, payouts, and a clear definition of what is to be delivered.

When you’re in the first flush of identifying that perfect match for your book, you might not be thinking so much about practical matters, but they should be in place to keep the project running smoothly and prevent misunderstandings.

One last tip: don’t underestimate the importance of personal chemistry or gut instinct. Writing is highly personal, and having a good rapport with your editor will go a long way toward making the editorial process a fruitful, productive experience.

When Should You Seek Professional Book Editing?

Often writers approach me with  uncertainty.  I think I’m ready . . . This seems like the time.  They’re not sure exactly what their manuscript needs.  Should they just send it out to agents? Is it time to start checking out self-publishing venues?  Or do they need professional book editing?

My post today tackles the last question.  Most everyone who writes soon realizes the importance of editing.  After all, for most writers, not a day goes by that they don’t do some sort of fiddling with their manuscripts—even if it’s only tweak to a title, a swift uprooting and resettling of chapter breaks, or, if nothing else, a change in fonts.  It’s not a big leap to move from self-editing to the idea of getting outside help.  At this point, some might try getting feedback from their well-read friends, which often leads to advice that may feel good, but not be the “real love” that’s needed.

But does that mean they need professional book editing?

Do you need professional book editing?

Here are signs you might be ready :

  • You have revised your manuscript on your own at least once.

There's no way your manuscript is ready to be seen by anyone until you have revised it yourself, at least once.

  • You can’t keep your manuscript straight in your head.

 Sometimes you get to a point with your manuscript when you’ve done so much rewriting and so much story evolution, that the details are  foggy.  You might have characters walking into the party with red curls bouncing and then flirting at the drinks table by flipping raven-colored locks.  Or you might have worked hard on the amazing reveal that your protagonist’s uncle didn’t die in the car crash but is alive and well has in fact been orchestrating the corporate takeover from his Mogadishu stronghold.  It took awhile for you to figure how it was all going to play out and you’re left with a manuscript that still has traces of past ideas—the uncle is in Morocco, the uncle is an aunt, the uncle has an amnesia.  You need an outside eye to get matters straight.

  • An agent gave you a bit of advice on how to improve your book and offered to take a second look if you revise.

A nice situation to be in, but  also a delicate one.  The agent sees potential, enough to give you some suggestions, but they don’t have the time to go into detail.  And you might need that detail to make sure you make improvements correctly.  At this stage, you could probably benefit from a substantive edit, which would give you more targeted advice than the sort of general comments one finds in an editorial letter or polite note from an agent.

  • You have an agent, but it can take him or her months to get back to you about your work.

Agents have a lot on their plate and sometimes they are unable to give you the close reading you need.  Working with their schedules can be hard.  They’re superbusy, and you feel guilty every time you check in with them.  Hiring a professional book editor can give you more control over the timeframe and quality of the criticism you receive.  

  •   You like people to meet deadlines.

 No matter how great a reader or editor the friends who offer to critique on your manuscript are, the only way to ensure that you’ll get a response when you want it is by hiring someone.  One might say, “You pay the cost to be the boss.”  If you hire a professional book editor, you’ll be able to keep a tighter grip on your schedule than if you rely on free labor.

  • You are ready, eager and willing to make the changes necessary to improve your manuscript.

If you’re sending your manuscript to a professional book editor, you will receive substantial commentary back that will necessitate major changes and a lot of work.  If you feel invigorated and excited about working to take your manuscript to the next level, you can really make the most of a professional book editing.

In today’s publishing world, more and more people are using freelance professional book editors, people unencumbered by the responsibilities of selling your book like agents and publishing house editors–whether to book chains, sales teams, or (in the case of agents) editors at publishing houses.  This new breed of editor is taking on the work that the harried house editors and agents cannot do.  See this incisive article by Marjorie Braman, which explains well how professional book editors currently fit into the publishing ecosystem and how their role may evolve.  If you think you may need the services of a professional book editor, check out my book editing services page.