How to Choose the Right Freelance Editor for Your Manuscript
About the Author: Sara Letourneau
Sara Letourneau is a freelance editor and writing coach at Heart of the Story Editorial & Coaching Services. She offers a wide variety of editing, critique, and coaching services for writers. Her specialty genres include speculative fiction (especially fantasy and magical realism), historical fiction, literary fiction, and YA. She also wrote the introduction to Alison Walsh’s Goodreads Awards-nominated cookbook, A Literary Tea Party.
Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Aurorean, The Avocet, The Bookends Review, Golden Walkman Magazine, Mass Poetry’s Poem of the Moment, Soul-Lit, and elsewhere. She lives in Massachusetts and can often be found performing her poems at local open mic nights, reading good books, and enjoying a cup of tea. In addition to the Heart of the Story website, you can connect with Sara at her writer website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram.
Looking for freelance editors is easier than ever, thanks to social media and the Internet. But choosing the right one for your manuscript? That can be tougher than you’d think.
So much goes into the process of contacting editors and weighing your options regarding budget, timetable, and other factors.
As both a writer and an editor, I understand how intimidating and complex this decision can be. It’s tempting to choose an editor who offers the most affordable package or is available to work on your manuscript right away. But what if her personality doesn’t mesh well with yours? Or if her emails give the impression that she’s willing to work with you but not that interested in your story?
In other words, don’t just hire any editor. Hire the right editor, the one that’s the best fit for your project. Here are six factors that can help you make this important decision.
Factor #1: Genre & Editing Specialties
First and foremost, look for an editor who’s familiar with your genre (literary fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, etc.) and target audience (YA, adult, etc.). Some editors specialize in a chosen few. Others are comfortable with a wide range of genres. Either way, it’s good to ensure you’re collaborating with someone who’s knowledgeable about your market’s expectations with plot, structure, reading level, and so on.
It’s also crucial to choose an editor based on the level of editing you’re seeking. Are you hoping for big-picture feedback on plot, character development, and world-building? You’ll want an editor who does developmental editing or manuscript critiques. How about edits that are limited to spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors? Then look for a copy editor or proofreader.
Some editors do multiple levels of editing, which gives you the chance to work with the same editor for different rounds on one project. However, don’t assume the copy editor you follow on Twitter would feel comfortable doing a development edit on your manuscript. Even if she remembers chatting with you, she’ll most likely decline because she doesn’t offer that service.
Most editors list their specialties on their websites. So before contacting anyone about your manuscript, review their Editing or Services pages and share your story’s genre and your desired level(s) of editing in your inquiry. This will show you’ve done your homework about the editor — and it will help your communications with them go more smoothly.
Factor #2: The Editor’s Reaction to Your Project
Let’s say you’ve reached out to two freelance editors about your project. In your email, you shared the genre, target audience, and three sentences that summarize the story. The first editor responds, “Sounds good. Send me a few pages for a sample edit.” The second editor replies, “That sounds SO COOL! I’d love to help you. Would you mind sending a few pages for a sample edit?” Right off the bat, which editor would you be more excited to work with?
Sure, an editor’s reaction to your project might not be the deciding factor. But you deserve to have an editor who’s passionate about your project and dedicated to helping you make your story as strong and compelling as possible. That eagerness can make your email exchanges more enjoyable and give you an extra boost of confidence in your ideas and abilities as a writer.
Factor #3: Your Budget
I’m often surprised by how often writers say they haven’t thought about the financials of their project before contacting editors. Maybe it’s because they’re not sure what to expect pricing-wise? Or because they want to see the range and options that several editors give them before deciding? Regardless, you should have an idea of what you can afford for a freelance editor — and, if you’re self-publishing, your overall production costs including editing — before you inquire with one.
Bear in mind that the prices you’ll get from editors will vary. Rate structures will differ as well. Some editors charge by the hour and others per word or per page. (An editor might also use different rate structures depending on the type of project.)
If an editor lists her rates on her website, you can calculate an estimate for your project if it’s a per-word or per-page rate. You can also ask any writer friends if they would be willing to share how much they paid for freelance editing. That way, you can get an idea of what to expect — and then estimate how much you yourself can afford.
Factor #4: Your Timetable – and Theirs
As Sarah Fox explains in this Well-Storied guest post, many editors book new projects weeks or months in advance. They might also be juggling multiple clients or projects at once. Plus, editing a manuscript takes time. Even on a tight timeline, an editor requires more hours than you might think to do their job well. If you email a freelance editor today to see if they can start a developmental edit of your manuscript next week and complete it within two weeks, chances are they’ll decline unless they can absolutely fit in.
So instead of waiting until your manuscript is ready, reach out to editors you’re interested in working early — maybe even now. Ask them what their schedule is like during the period of time you’re considering, and be prepared to submit pages for a sample edit. (Stay tuned for more details on sample edits.) The time it takes the editor to complete the sample edit can help them gauge how much time they might need to complete your project. And if you like a particular editor’s sample and their pricing fits within your budget, it might be worthwhile to rethink your schedule so you can work together.
Factor #5: Your Interactions with the Editor
Like with an editor’s reaction to your inquiry, their overall communication with you can sway your decision about working with them. If it helps, ask yourself these questions as you exchange emails with a freelance editor:
What questions does the editor ask about your project?
How does the editor respond to your questions?
Does the editor explain the process of working together?
Does the editor respond to your messages in a timely manner?
Does the editor offer to have a phone call or Skype / Zoom chat to discuss your project? (Not all editors do this, but it can add a personal touch to your interactions.)
How do the editor’s communications make you feel? Do you believe the editor is genuinely interested in working with you?
Ultimately, a freelance editor should treat prospective clients with fairness, respect, and compassion. And when that sense of integrity is paired with excitement for your project (see Factor 2 above), it might be all the persuasion you need to hire them.
Factor #6: An Editing Style that Fits Your Needs & Personality
A sample edit is as much for your benefit as it is for the editor’s. Yes, it allows the editor to demonstrate her technical competence and create a time estimate. But it also gives you an opportunity to see whether the editor’s unique editing style is a good fit for you.
For example, how does the editor phrase her questions? Do her suggestions for rewording demonstrate respect for your writing voice? Does she explain her changes, either in comment boxes in the manuscript’s margins, an editorial report, or both? Does she compliment you on what you do well? Does she notice errors or issues with the story that you weren’t aware of?
You’ll know if an editor’s style is a good match for you based on how you feel as you review the sample edit. If her approach makes you uncomfortable or frustrated, simply thank her for her time and effort, then move on to someone else. But if reading an editor’s comments and suggestions makes you encouraged – or even excited – about working with her, then maybe, just maybe, you’ve found the editor you’ve been looking for.