5 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Book Editor


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Find the right freelance editor

Today’s guest post is excerpted from the book The Editor’s Eye by Stacy Ennis (@stacyennis).


If you’re ready to hire and work with an editor, you may not know the first thing about how to start looking for one or how to evaluate candidates once you’ve found them.

1. Look for someone with experience.

First things first: If you’re going to hand over your manuscript to an editor, give it to a skilled, qualified editor. Just because someone teaches English or has a degree in English (or even writing), that alone doesn’t qualify that person as a professional editor. A qualified professional editor not only has appropriate academic credentials, but also, most importantly, has a proven track record of book-editing experience.

The experience part is particularly critical. I know many professional editors who are wonderful in their craft and have outstanding editing skills, but actually know very little about the book-editing process. They may have edited articles or shorter works, but book editing is a different game and requires a different level of expertise. An editor looking to gain book-editing experience may offer to do your book, and it may be tempting to take this low-cost option. But, unless he’s naturally talented or comes with excellent references, without the real experience of working on book-length manuscripts, he isn’t really the right editor for you. Don’t let your manuscript be practice.

2. Find a qualified editor that brings good energy to the process.

“An author and editor are on the same team,” says Pooja Lohana, a freelance writer and editor in Melbourne, Australia, who has ghostwritten three nonfiction books and edits several magazines and websites. “Editors who possess human relations skill and the art of negotiating and convincing with solid backup reasoning are authors’ favorites.”

Just like a good editor can substantially impact your manuscript in positive ways, a not-so-good editor can waste time and money—and might be a roadblock in your success as an author.

“Some people suck. In any profession that’s true, and editing is no exception,” says Jessica Stillman, a freelance writer based in London, who has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOm, and Brazen Careerist, among others.

“I’ve had nice editors who give lots of encouragement and engage with me on a friendly human level, and I’ve had some that can’t be bothered to type a two-letter salutation in an e-mail and are generally brusque (and I’m sure overworked). … I no longer work with the editors who stress me out with their gruffness and lack of human touch, and I’m happier for it. You’re not always in a position to choose, but if you can, avoid people who make your working life worse.”

3. Look in the right places.

Entering keywords into Google isn’t usually the best approach to finding the right editor for your book. Just like anything else, it’s always best to get a referral. Ask friends and colleagues for recommendations.

If you’re finding this to be a dead end, check the acknowledgments in well-written books, as editors are usually listed there. But be realistic: The editors of best-selling books or those published by the New York publishers might be out of your price range. It’s best to stick with regionally published books, if possible, as well as books published by partner publishers or small presses, since they tend to work heavily with freelance editors. Also, don’t be afraid to e-mail authors and ask if they were happy with their editors. Additionally, you can call local or regional publishing houses for a referral.

Finally, if you’ve exhausted these two options (really exhausted them, not just spent a day or two asking around), start looking online. A good starting place is the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). On the organization’s site, you can access their many resources, including guidelines for hiring and working with editors, a rate chart, and a job list where you can post your project. The organization is well-respected in the editorial field and has paying members, so you can feel more confident finding an editor on their site than, say, Craigslist.

4. Interview the editor’s past clients.

Regardless of which direction you pursue to find your editor, whether you get a referral or connect with a freelance editor online, be sure to talk to someone the editor has worked with in the past or, at the very least, look at a work sample (see next section). Be wary of any editors who aren’t willing to provide a reference, even if it’s just a written recommendation from a client.

As you talk to a previous client of a prospective editor, ask these key questions:

  • What type of book did the editor work on?
  • Were you happy with the quality of work?
  • Was there anything you were unhappy with?
  • Did the editor meet the agreed-upon deadline?
  • Did you end up paying what the editor quoted at the outset of the project? If not, did the editor communicate with you before charging you more?
  • Did the editor have a positive attitude throughout the project?
  • Was the editor willing and able to explain his changes? If questioned, did the editor have the attitude of a teacher and a willingness to go over details?
  • Does the editor live locally? If not, did you find working electronically relatively seamless?
  • Would you hire this editor again?

Note that it’s usually best to hire an editor who has worked in your genre or a genre similar to your own.

5. Interview the editor and work on a sample chapter together.

Aaron Patterson, CEO of StoneHouse Ink and best-selling author of four titles, adds, “[For] my first book, I hired a proofreader thinking that she was the creative and everything in one … it was a mess, and I still have the reviews on Amazon to prove it.” Learn from his mistake, and ask a lot of questions. Here’s a starting list.

  • What types of books have you edited (fiction, nonfiction, etc.)?
  • What is your writing and editing background?
  • What are your major editing accomplishments?
  • What is unique about your editing process?
  • What types of books do you enjoy working with?
  • Are you willing to provide an editing sample?
  • Prior to signing a contract, can you edit one chapter to make sure we’ll work well together?
  • What makes you a good fit for my manuscript?

“Don’t sign a contract with an editor until you have worked with that person on a sample chapter together,” advises Maryanna Young of Aloha Publishing. “It should either really work, or go ahead and find another editor.”

I couldn’t agree more, but don’t expect to get an editing sample for free, especially from busy or in-demand editors. A legitimate editor should be willing to do an editing sample (preferably the first chapter) for a normal or slightly discounted fee, prior to signing a contract. Then, when you discuss the overall project budget, if money isn’t a concern, don’t feel the need to broadcast this fact. If money is a concern, be sure to let your potential editor know.

If you have tips or experiences to share about finding the right freelance editor, please share in the comments!


The Editor's Eye by Stacy Ennis

Note from Jane: If you found this post helpful, I highly recommend you look at The Editor’s Eye, which takes you through the ins and outs of the book-editing process and teaches you how to work alongside professional editors. Click here to download a sample chapter at Amazon.

This post was excerpted from the book The Editor’s Eye by Stacy Ennis (@stacyennis). Copyright © 2013 by Stacy Ennis. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Night Owls Press.

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  • AllenaTapia

    Hmmm, Jane. I know you must be familiar with the editing industry of big publishers like HMH and Gale Cengage, where the turnover of the person who works with the freelancers is ridiculous. I’ve edited for large companies like these, and there’s no way I could find my contact again to provide a reference– it’s surely turned over 3 times since my last project in the fall (let alone previous, older projects)!!

    What I TRY to do to alleviate this, though, is to make sure my contact recommends me on LinkedIn before they move on (as soon after the project is over as possible).

  • AllenaTapia

    Oops- sorry- I see the author of this post is Stacy. My apologies.

  • Jacqueline

    As someone who does editing, I find your requirements for finding an editor rather . . . lengthy and involved. I’m going to edit their book, not marry them.

  • James Stevens

    Where are these organisms you call “qualified professional editors”? I’ve looked in every bar and library for one (and under bridges next to the libraries) and found either nothing or youngsters posing as editors. They are hard to find!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    I think Stacy’s advice is spot-on for people who are investing a considerable amount in development or content editing, say more than $1,000. Just as you would research any service or product before committing, I think doing the same with an editorial service, which could affect long-term book sales, is justified.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    That’s certainly an issue if one is freelancing primarily for companies/orgs.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    A couple places to look: PublishersMarketplace.com & BiblioCrunch.com

  • Mary DeEditor

    Informative post, nice plug for the book. As someone working in the field, may I add a couple notes.

    When editor hunting, *start* with the major online editing groups. EFA is great, so is Bay Area Editors Forum and the CEL-List directory (google ‘em). They all have searchable listings and you can post your job. I agree that craigslist and places like guru.com are *not* the best places, as the best editors don’t hang out there, and more than a few amateurs do.

    In addition to freelance editing, I work as an assistant for a bestselling author who is tops in her
    field. I get the incoming web queries. I’d consider an inquiry of “who is your editor” to be unanswerable. My author has been publishing for over three decades and publishers assigned her a different copyeditor each time. Who knows where these folks are now, as the publishing industry plays musical chairs.

    You also need to distinguish what type of editing you’re looking for: developmental, line, or copy editing. Some editors (like myself) can do all three at the same time, but others strictly specialize. Many clients think that they only need a light copy edit, when really they need the full monty. If you’re working in fiction, be sure to look for fiction editors; it’s a special breed.

    Good luck with your new book, Stacy! Looks like it has looks of good tips for new authors.

  • Mary DeEditor

    ah-hem, “lots of good tips”
    (there’s always one that slips by fast)

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  • Lauren

    I agree with just about everything Stacy wrote. But I don’t believe in providing same chapters. In what other field do professionals provide free samples? Do you get a free sample from your doctor or dentist? A free sample from the painter who paints your house? Ask all the other questions and interview past clients, but sheesh, don’t expect me to work for free!

  • Lauren

    I don’t know about the other organizations, but EFA doesn’t qualify editors. All you have to do to be listed on their site is pay dues. Doesn’t mean you have any particular skill or experience. Post your job there, but it’s a crap shoot.

    And by the way, I don’t really see how you can do developmental editing and copyediting “at the same time.” If the work is still in the state of flux, why would you attempt to copyedit. Surely “at the same time” is not what you meant.

  • Jamie Chavez

    Great article, spot on! As a freelance editor myself, I would add one more thing: don’t expect that a professional editor will be able to start work on your project immediately. I’m booked six months in advance. Thanks also for reminding folks that samples aren’t free.

  • Mary DeEditor

    It’s a little like juggling chain saws, plates, and cats, but yep, it can be done.

    A sample interior monologue of the working, versatile editor: Let’s rearrange this, trim way back here, your heroine lacks motivation for this plot twist, suggest more depth needed here, denouement ignores the issues you laid down in chapters 5-8 (developmental edits) … nice images, but notice you’re wandering far off narrative base, the rhythm is off here, this section is repetitive (line edits) … and the character names need to match through out, this date is incorrect, this bit is anachronistic, verb tense wanders here, dangling modifier there, subject/verb agreement alert, misspelling, wrong word, put dialogue in quote marks, interior monologue in italics, yes, every time (copy edits).

    When you’ve been editing a long time, these things just pop out and are hard to ignore. Of course it’s not the final polish, and the manuscript will change. Ideally a manuscript goes through several passes, and it must have a proofreader before publication. But few of my clients seem to have the budget for multiple editorial passes, so they appreciate the wide approach.

    I’m an active member in two out of three of these editing organizations, and have observed that the standard is very high. The clueless are not made welcome. Of course an author will still want to vet, discuss the project with several prospective editors, and choose carefully to find a good match.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Hi Lauren,

    Just to be clear, Stacy was NOT advocating that freelancers offer free sample editing. In fact, just the opposite. Writers should ask for a sample chapter, but of course expect to pay.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Lauren, do you know of any organization that does qualify editors?

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  • Mary DeEditor

    Editicetera tests its freelancers, checks references, and has strict membership requirements.
    http://www.editcetera.com/

  • Stacy Ennis

    Great point! However, this post is targeting independent authors looking for freelance editors. I would assume that freelancers working in this capacity would have references of some kind. It seems like you’re being proactive in getting recommendations on LinkedIn, which is great.

  • Stacy Ennis

    It’s sometimes easy to think of it that way, but as I go through this process with new clients, I always try to put myself in their position. They spend months—sometimes years—writing their books. Trusting someone with their precious work can be difficult.

  • Stacy Ennis

    Excellent additions! I especially like your comment about clarifying the type of editing; that’s crucial to finding the right freelance editor. I discuss the four stages of editing in detail in The Editor’s Eye. Thanks, too, for the nice words.

  • Stacy Ennis

    Definitely. Although, a caveat: Many editors will squeeze in a last-minute client if the author is willing to pay a rush fee. I’ve done it a time or two. I’m glad you liked the article!

  • Averill Buchanan

    In the UK, the Society of Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) only allows qualified editorial professionals to advertise in their online directory (with two levels of qualification – ordinary and advanced): http://www.sfep.org.uk/. The SfEP itself offers training, but also recognizes training from other organizations when members apply to upgrade from associate to ordinary or advanced

    Louise Harnby has a wonderful resource on her blog that lists all the editorial organizations around the world (English and others): http://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/editing–proofreading-societies.html.

  • Jamie Chavez

    Maybe I should have said “don’t be surprised if…” :) Agreed: sometimes I squeeze things in too.

  • Arlene Prunkl

    Or here: http://www.penultimateword.com. Yes, a little plug for me. Another great organization is the Editors’ Association of Canada at http://www.editors.ca.

  • Stacy Ennis

    I think most people will squeeze in work for the right price. :)

  • Arlene Prunkl

    The Editors’ Association of Canadian has a rigorous certification process that has been in place for about six years, but it is not a membership requirement. Hundreds of EAC members are now CPEs (Certified Professional Editors).

  • Linda Jay Geldens

    Hi, James,
    There are qualified professional editors — I am in that category — in organizations such as BAIPA — Bay Area Independent Publishers Association — and BAEF — Bay Area Editors Forum. I’ve edited more than 60 book manuscripts, in various genres, in the past three years and have a one-page Word document with recommendations from twelve authors I’ve worked with recently.

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  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    The one thing I seeing missing from this is genre – making sure the editor likes and is fairly familiar with your genre is important. I’m seeing more and more well edited books except due to editors lack of genre knowledge they missed critical trope issues or other things that are very important to genre readers.

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  • Amccordford

    So how would someone who wants to get into editing get a job as a freelancer? I have worked on one project (a short story) for a friend and loved it, so now I was looking into the world of being a proofreader/copy editor/line editor. How could I possibly gain the experience required to qualify as an option according to this article?

  • Shavon

    Mary, how do I get in touch with you? I will need an editor in September or October. I think my story is fine and I just need a line edit, but a fresh set of eyes might spot problems with the story as well. So it is good to know that there are editors who don’t ignore a problem because the problem isn’t the type of problem they were asked to look at. You can email me here: Intern at fortyorso.com

  • Shavon

    Stacy, great post. The more authors know about the editing process, the better our drafts will be, which should lead to editorial comments that go deeper than surface level remarks like ‘show don’t tell.’ Authors should address that type of issue ourselves and let the editor delve deeper.

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  • Angie

    I am looking for affordable resources for putting a book together(editor/printer/cover) in Oregon. Any direction wold be greatly appreciated!!

  • Colleen Kelly Mellor

    Question: Should a writer be careful about an editor’s particular expertise? For instance, I am working with one who is editor of top newspaper but I am wondering if she’s too journalism-slanted, since she “cuts my pieces to the bone.” Should I be concerned that her world generally revolves around 800 words per Op-Ed (and would hurt my chapters that tend to go longer?) At this rate, at her rate of condensing, I fear I’ll have a pamphlet in lieu of a book.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Yes, I would be concerned. Much better to choose an editor who has familiarity and expertise in your genre.

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  • Tim Riddle

    Hi I am almost done with my first work of fiction and am in need of a good fiction editor. Since you say they are a special breed, what are the best sources. I would prefer someone in the San Francisco bay area, where I live. Thank all of you for the comments, this is the first time I feel like I may be able to find a editor. Side note: the picture is close to 40 years old.

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  • Paul

    Mary, How can I get in touch with you? My email is palangkoohi at gmail.com
    thanks

  • Gabrielle Hull

    This may not be the place to network; however, I figured I could give it a try. I am 23 and trying to write my first book. I am in the process of finishing an Autobiography. So far, I have roughly 70,000 words. The book illustrates a sordid life of drug, alcohol, physical and sexual abuse while developing into a teenager. It is very graphic and probably can be compared in some ways to “A Child Called It” by Dave Pelzer. I have newspaper articles detailing the abuse that I would like to include, but still have to educate myself on the legalities. I am not sure whether I should pursue an agent or have it edited first. I have let several people read it and I have received nothing but great feedback. They couldn’t put it down and even brought a few of them to tears. If anyone has any advise on the first steps I should take, that would be greatly appreciated.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    I recommend finding a critique group (online or off) or a writing course to get some objective feedback. If the several people who have read it are people you consider friends and family, they won’t give you the honest truth.

  • Mayte

    Hi, I am currently looking for an editor for my non fiction young adult book. Please e-mail me maytelv@hotmail.com

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