eFingertip – Editors galore

Types of freelance or independent editors

Sometimes called a book doctor, is someone who, for a fee or without, will undertake to read your manuscript for structure, style, plot, character development, continuity, and grammatical and technical errors. They may rewrite your manuscript. to fix problems, or provide notations and detailed advice so you can address them. But me sure they fall within your timeline for the print project.

What’s the difference between a freelance editor and an in-house editor (an editor employed by a publishing company)?

  • An in-house editor works with authors on a publisher’s behalf, editing books prior to publication.  He edits to his own taste but also to the publisher’s standards. This is part of the publication process – the author should not be charged for it.
  • A freelance or independent editor is an independent contractor working directly for, and paid by, the author. What kind of editing is done, and how extensive  it is, is entirely up to the author.

Most freelance editors offer different levels of editing. These may include:

  • Manuscript assessment or critique. A broad overall assessment of your manuscript, pinpointing its strengths and weaknesses. Specific problem areas may be flagged, and general suggestions for improvement may be made, but a critique won’t usually provide line editing or scene-by-scene advice on revision.
  • Developmental editing (also known as content or substantive editing or other names could be given) focuses on structure, style, and content. The editor flags specific problems – structural difficulties, poor pacing, plot or thematic inconsistencies, stiff dialogue, undeveloped characters, stylistic troubles, flabby writing.
  • Line editing. Editing at the sentence level, focusing on paragraph and sentence structure, word use, dialogue rhythms, etc., with the aim of creating a smooth prose flow. Software can do this automatically.
  • Copy editing. Correction of common errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation), incorrect usages, logic lapses, and continuity problems. (Software)
  • Proofreading. Checking for typos, spelling/punctuation errors, formatting mistakes, and other minor mechanical problems. Generally done just prior to printing.

It’s important, before hiring an editor, that you’re clear on exactly what services they provide.

Why do you need freelance editing

Hiring a freelance editor can be an expensive proposition. A thorough content edit from an experienced, credentialed editor can cost four or even five figures. Is this an expense you really need to incur?

If you’re self-publishing, and are serious about building a readership, I think the answer is “yes.” The self-publishing field is highly competitive, and if you want to stand out, not to mention give good value to readers, it’s essential that you present a professional product.

A qualified freelance editor may also be a good investment if you’ve written a nonfiction book on a subject in which you’re an expert, but you aren’t a professional writer. Especially if you’re seeking traditional publication, an editor may make the difference between publishable and not.

If you’re just starting to submit for publication, though, or are self-publishing but don’t care about starting a career, the benefits are less clear. Before you pull out your wallet, investigate alternatives–a friend who’s not afraid to criticize, a local writers’ group or critique circle, an online writers’ group, a creative writing course or teacher, a professional writer with whom you’re acquainted. Any of these may be able to give you the help you need, free of charge or at a fraction of the cost.

One thing is sure, you should be seeking such sources of feedback anyway. No writer is capable of being completely objective about his or her work.

How to safeguard yourself

Be wary if you encounter any of the following.

  • A referral from a literary agent or publisher.

This is not necessarily questionable. Reputable agents do sometimes suggest that writers consider hiring independent editors–usually for projects they believe may be marketable, but need work the author may not be able to provide. They’ll often recommend a few names, qualified editors they’ve previously worked with and trust to do a good job.

You should always think carefully about such a recommendation, though, because it’s an expensive gamble that may not pay off. And be on your guard if the recommendation comes from a publisher (publishers provide their own editing at no charge), or from an agent who doesn’t have much of a track record or charges fees. Some sort of kickback arrangement may be involved, a la Edit Ink, or the agent or publisher may own the editing service (possibly under a different name).

  • Recommendation of a publisher’s or agent’s own paid editing or assessment services.

This is a clear conflict of interest. If the agent or publisher can make money from selling you editing or critiques, how can you be sure that the recommendation is in your best interest?

  • Extravagant praise or promises

No reputable editor or assessor will tell you that your book has huge commercial potential or that it’s likely to become a best seller. Nor will they claim that an edit or assessment will improve your chances of selling to a major publisher. Why? Because these are promises that can’t be guaranteed

  • Assurances that agents and publishers prefer manuscripts that have been professionally edited

Dishonest or ignorant editors sometimes prey on the anxieties of aspiring writers by saying that agents and publishers give preference to manuscripts that have been professionally edited. In-house editors, they say, no longer have the time to edit and they want books that are letter-perfect and ready to publish, and it’s impossible for authors to get their manuscripts to that point on their own.

There are many resources other than paying for editing that can help you get your manuscript into marketable shape–critique groups, colleagues, writing courses (and don’t forget the importance of being able to self-edit). Most traditionally-published writers do not use freelance editors.

Your manuscript needs to be as perfect as you can make it–finished, polished, and properly presented. But no one will hold it against you if you accomplish that yourself or a beta reader.

  • One-size-fits-all editing or assessing, all comers accepted

Expert editors and assessors have areas of specialization that reflect their experience. The skills required to edit or critique a romance novel, for instance, are quite different from those needed for a work of narrative nonfiction. That’s not to say a single editor or assessor won’t possess both skill sets–but it’s unlikely that one person will be able to edit any and all subjects and genres with equal effectiveness.

  • Anonymous editing or assessing.

Some editing and assessment services don’t post staff resumes on their websites, and don’t tell you in advance who will be assigned to you. This makes it impossible for you to verify the credentials of the person you’ll be working with, or to ensure that he or she has experience appropriate to your work.

  • Direct solicitation.

Independent editors or assessors may maintain websites or advertise in industry journals. But they don’t cold-call writers. If you’ve registered your copyright or subscribe to a writer’s magazine, you may be a target: disreputable people sometimes purchase mailing lists from these sources.

  • Refusal of reasonable requests for information.

Like a reputable agent, a reputable editor should have no problem providing a resume, references, and samples of their work. Be wary if you encounter resistance in any of these areas.

  • Vagueness about specific services.

Editors should be willing to say exactly what they will do for you. If an editor won’t give you a firm price, or doesn’t want to specify what your fees will cover, or won’t tell you exactly who will be working on your manuscript, move on.

Hope all this helps …

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