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.

Five Basics of Nonfiction Book Proposals

1. Many, if not most, nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.

Juliet, a development coordinator at a major nonprofit, has a nonfiction book idea. After years of being resigned to flats, she has trained herself to glide in heels across the roughest terrain: cracked sidewalks, dirty subway steps, and lawns formerly occupied by Canadian geese. She has insights that she wants to share to what she’s sure is a vast audience of flat-wearers desperate to prowl the world on heels.  

Juliet sets her alarm for five a.m. and every morning wakes up and groggily makes her way to her desk to churn out her masterpiece, a practical nonfiction book on how to wear heels. She triumphantly Tweets her achieved word targets before she heads out to her day job.

Juliet’s dedication is admirable, but she’s lucky when a Twitter editor friend intervenes and informs her that, “Many, if not most, nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.” Huh.  What's a book proposal? Juliet goes on to Google to find out.

2. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted.

Juliet is a little panicked when she sees just how many components there are to book proposals. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted. A nonfiction book proposal isn’t just a truncated manuscript. In addition to a sample chapter, a nonfiction book proposal typically includes an Overview as well as Competitive Books, Audience, Specifications, Chapter-by-Chapter Outline, and Bio sections.

Juliet’s overwhelmed and asks her editor friend for help. The editor friend recommends that she buy Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposalthe classic guide to writing book proposals. Juliet orders the book and is happy with its clear directions. She’s beginning to warm up to the idea of a nonfiction book proposal. She's especially excited that the book proposals range from between thirty to eighty pages--much shorter than book manuscripts.

3. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals.

As Juliet delves more into the world of nonfiction book proposal writing, she hears the term platform bandied around a lot. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals. Platform refers to the author’s ability to gain attention for their book due to their fame, connections, and/or credentials. Juliet has good shoe taste, but it’s not like she’s Sarah Jessica Parker. After putting some thought into it, however, Juliet’s delighted to realize that she does have a small platform: she has a blog where she writes about her shoe choices, and moreover, that blog has a sizable, loyal audience, many of whom also follow her on Twitter. Plus, she minored in fashion history in college, so she has a recognized level of expertise in the field.

4. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals.

Juliet loves her development job, but much of her time is spent on the phone or at events. She hasn’t really written a lot since college, and she’s worried about whether her writing is good enough for a full-length book. Her worry is legitimate. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals. She realizes that some experts write their own books, but there are also many who employ ghostwriters. She’s doesn’t think she can really afford a ghostwriter, though she daydreams that if she got an advance large enough, then she could pay one. She resolves to ask for an honest opinion on the quality of her proposal from her editor friend. She also considers hiring a freelance editor to assist her in developing the proposal, which is more affordable than a ghostwriter.

5. The sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal.

Juliet had already written Chapter One when she was told to do a proposal. The first chapter was about the night she chose to walk around barefoot on the streets in her twenties one night rather than teetering along (and toppling over) in Louboutin heels. When she reads that the nonfiction book proposal contain a sample chapter, she’s ecstatic since this one is nearly done, but then she realizes that, while the chapter is interesting, it might not be the best she has to offer. It’s kind of negative and doesn’t offer the reader any concrete takeaways. That's no good since the sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal.

Juliet looks at the chapter-by-chapter outline she created for the proposal and decides instead to write Chapter Four, The Met Gala. Chapter Four, in addition to offering several anecdotes of celebrity-mingling, gives tips on how to keep going in Prada stilettos from dusk until dawn. Julie slaves over the chapter, making sure it's as good as she can get it.

Summing up: Five Basics of Nonfiction Book Proposals.

1. Many, if not most nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.
2. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted.
3. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals.
4. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals.
5. The sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal

Hopefully Juliet's journey will help you with yours. Good luck writing!