Writers: Tips for Hiring Freelance Editors

For writers who are developing a manuscript and considering hiring a freelance editor themselves—either before having a signed agreement with a publisher or as part of their self-publishing plans—here is what I suggest:

  1. Think hard about what you have written so far and what you want the project to become, where and how you imagine it being published, what work you anticipate it needs, and who you think does that work. In other words, critically examine your work and your beliefs about publishing.
  2. Research editors to find someone who is experienced with the type of publication you are working toward. (The Editors’ Association of Canada has an online directory of editors. Recommendations among fellow writers are useful also.) Look for a combination of experience and training (formal training in editing and/or on-the-job training) plus ongoing professional development. Some editors will have professional memberships and certificates, degrees, or diplomas in editing and/or publishing. Recognize that there are many types of editing and editors. Some editors are generalists and some focus on one or more subject, genre, publication, market, or style manual; for example, an editor who copy edits academic papers for science journals would apply certain style manuals and standards, but might have no interest in, nor aptitude for, editing fiction. Watch for signs that someone is basing an editing business entirely on liking books and acing grammar tests 10, 20, or 40 years ago; that is not enough.
  3. Prepare a summary of your manuscript’s subject and target reader, your publishing hopes, and your experience as a writer.  Include an estimate of how long your manuscript is or how long you expect it to be when finished. Describe very briefly what you think your manuscript needs, but don’t overdo this. (How an editor responds to a brief inquiry will tell you a bit about their experience with your type of manuscript.) You can use your summary to approach one or a few editors at a time. (If you are approaching multiple editors, please let them know that.)
  4. If, with one particular editor, you have an initial conversation (or email exchange) that seems promising, ask for a sample edit or an initial evaluation of your manuscript. Some editors will do a short sample edit on speculation (for free) but others charge a small fee. Editors charge a fee for manuscript evaluations.
  5. Based on the sample edit or manuscript evaluation, decide if you would like to hire the freelance editor for specific tasks and with the understanding that you/the author must do your part as well.
© Laura Edlund 2010