Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Finding–and Hiring–a Freelance Editor

By Lourdes Venard

You’ve finished your novel and now you need an editor. Some writers turn to an English teacher they know or a friend who was always good at spotting errors. But these may not always be the best sources. A professional copy editor has training and years of experience behind her, and will give your novel a far more thorough look.

How do you find this editor, and how do you go about hiring her?

One of the best ways of finding a copy editor is to ask for references from other writers. There’s also a very large pool of talent at the Editorial Freelancers Association ( A posting there will generate dozens and dozens of applicants. Some regions may have their own groups, such as the Bay Area Editors’ Forum in San Francisco (

Now that you have a pool of applicants, the best way to winnow them is to ask them to complete a sample edit (anywhere from six to 12 pages). This is probably the most important step you can take. This will give you an idea of their editing strengths and, just as importantly, their bedside manner. Most editing inherently feels like criticism, and you’ll be reading page after page of this, so make sure you understand (and can stand) an editor’s comments.
A sample edit of this length is also enough to give the editor an idea of how long it will take her to complete the project, and she can base a price estimate on this. You can find common copy-editing rates at, although individual rates vary considerably. Just remember, as in most everything else, you get what you pay for sometimes!

Editors also vary on the way they like to be paid. Some editors ask for a deposit, then a second or even a third payment later on, and a final payment. Other editors will charge you weekly, or as they finish sections of the book. Make sure all this is spelled out in advance in a contract.
Here are other important questions for you to ask:
  • When can you start my project, and how soon can you complete it? Editors often juggle several projects at once, so if you need it soon, make sure you spell that out up front. Be careful, though, of an editor who promises to edit your manuscript much more quickly than the other editors you’ve contacted. Editing, by nature, is a slow, methodical process. Editors who rush or do only one pass will miss things.
  • What is your experience editing books, especially mystery novels (or whatever genre you are writing in)?
  • Do you have at least three references I can contact?
  • What is your editing method? Most editors will edit a manuscript in a Word document, using the "Track Changes" feature. However, I had one author who wanted his manuscript edited on paper and mailed back to him; I complied.
  • How do you prefer to communicate if I have questions? If the editor only wants to communicate via email and you have questions or concerns you want to address in a phone call or in person, this could create problems down the line. 
  • Do you provide a contract or letter of agreement? This protects both you and the editor. The contract should spell out rates, timelines, the length of the manuscript, and the type of editing (substantive versus line editing). It should also give you an “out,” if you feel the editing relationship is not working. Generally, an editor expects to be paid for work done up to that point.
  • Do you provide other services? If you are happy with your editor, the relationship may continue, with the editor reviewing letters to agents/publishers, editing your blog posts or website, etc. Some editors now also prepare manuscripts for publication, although this is not usually considered a part of editing services.
The next step

This is part two of a three-part series on editing. The series concludes on Friday, with a look at maintaining a good relationship with your editor.

About the author
Lourdes Venard, a Long Island, N.Y., newspaper editor, also freelances and teaches an online copyediting course. She’s edited mystery, science fiction, memoirs and nonfiction. You can find more information on editing and self-publishing at her website at


Dana Stabenow said...


Ricky Bush said...

Whew! That's a pretty comprehensive list of question, but it certainly will avoid any mis-communication.

Tracy said...

This is a helpful post - thank you. I'm forwarding the link to a friend who is thinking about hiring an editor. I know she'll want to read your advice.

Ian Walkley said...

Before I chose my editor (Jodie Renner), I checked around and was quite surprised to find a diverse range of people and different processes used, including the basis for charging.
Some charged by the hour, others by the word or page. One would only edit the mailed MS hard copy, which to me was totally impractical given postage costs, and the important element of the editor reviewing what changes you have made based on their suggested edits. Jodie and I emailed Word chapters with tracking on back and forth, sometimes several times if there were issues to discuss beyond copy editing (such as suggested plot or character changes). I could not imagine doing this with paper and postal services.
The other important difference is the actual copy editing undertaken. Several editors offered to edit a sample (say 10 pages) free to show their style. This is so important. I found the styles varied dramatically, and several potential editors made copy changes that I was not comfortable with at all. On the other hand, Jodie made changes that to me were logical and improved the readability substantially.
So my advice to other writers is: make sure you get a sample of editor's work on your own MS, even if you have to pay for it; and make sure the editor enjoys reading (and ideally is experienced in) the genre you are writing in. If you are writing something for light entertainment, it might be better not to choose an editor who is devoted to literary fiction. In my case, Jodie is very experienced with other authors of thrillers, and is a specialist in that area.

Rita Breedlove-Wolf said...

Great summary. I recommend asking the editor to review your query letter if you are still in the query stage. Also, exposure to the fiction industry is important for an editor even if they have edited many books. She should know the trends and the common concerns of publishers. Regular attendance at writers conferences and workshops is essential for good editors.

Algernon Grayson said...

Thanks for the helpful information!
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alina mark said...

carry on, don’t stop...very nice… i really like your blog. freelancer services