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Meghan Ward

I'm a freelance writer and book editor represented by Andy Ross of the Andy Ross Literary Agency. You can read an excerpt of my memoir, Paris On Less Than $10,000 A Day, and visit my website for more info about me.

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5 Tips For Hiring The Right Freelance Editor

As a freelance editor and someone who has hired several freelance editors, I wanted to give my two cents about if/when/how you need to hire an editor. Anne Allen wrote a wonderful post about this topic Sunday as well. Be sure to check it out when you’re done reading this:

1. Do I need a freelance editor?

If you’ve completed your memoir/novel/nonfiction book and plan to upload it to Amazon or Smashwords or one of the many other self-publishing websites, YES, you need an editor. Before you self-publish, your book needs to be as perfect as it can be, and that means—at a minimum—hiring someone to copyedit your manuscript for grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors. You may first want to hire a developmental editor to work on the tone, story arc, character development, etc. of your book. That depends on how long you’ve been writing, whether you’ve had your book critiqued by other (successful) writers, and what type of feedback you’ve received. Whatever you do, make sure you have at least two writers or one editor read your book all the way through before you submit it to an agent or upload it for self-publishing.

2. When should I hire a freelance editor?

That depends. If you’ve got a strong network of writing friends reading and critiquing your manuscript, you may not need one. If, like I did, you sent your book through a writer’s group (twice), queried agents, and got several manuscript requests but no book deal, you may want to hire a developmental editor to help you figure out what’s wrong with your book and how you can improve it. Several times I thought I was “done” with my memoir, only to realize after working with an editor that it still needed a fair amount of work.

Do NOT send your book to an editor after the first draft unless you are okay with getting feedback on content ONLY and doing some major rewrites. Do NOT ask an editor to copyedit your first draft. That’s a waste of money. Like I tell my clients, there’s no point in having me correct the spelling and punctuation of chapters that may get deleted. Wait until it’s gone through several rounds of revision before you hire a copyeditor.

3. Where can I find a good freelance editor?

There are many great resources for hiring freelance editors. Editcetera is one. Media Bistro is another. In the Bay Area, we have the Bay Area Editors Forum. And, of course, there’s the Editorial Freelancers Association. Canada has the Editors Association of Canada, and the Pacific Northwest has the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. Asking a friend for a recommendation is probably your best bet. If you’re not sure which editor to hire, interview him/her. Ask for rates and whether (s)he’s willing to give you a sample edit.

4. How much can you expect to pay?

That varies. Like Anne mentioned, the go-to resource for editing rates is The Editorial Freelancers Association. My rate is $75/hr, and some editors I know charge significantly more than that. Overall, you can expect to pay a minimum of $1000 for a full-length manuscript edit—I typically charge $1500-$2000. I know editors who charge $6000-$7000. More expensive isn’t always better. And less expensive isn’t always a better deal. If you spend $500 on a cheap editor and need to have your manuscript edited all over again, that’s $500 you’ve thrown down the drain. Ask around. And ask potential editors for references.

5. What can you expect from a freelance editor?

There are several different types of editing. Here are the ones you need to know:

A. Developmental editing is the first type of editing you need. Some developmental editors also line edit and copyedit. Some do not. A developmental editor reads for story arc, character development, POV, voice, description, etc. This type of editor is most valuable at the early stages of your writing process—after you’ve written a first or second draft. You want to get the basic elements of a great story nailed before you spend months perfecting each chapter. (EFA rates: $60-80/hour. 1-5 pages/hour.)

B. Line editing is line-by-line editing for consistency, tense, tone, clarity, etc. If the manuscript needs developmental editing, a line editor should also provide feedback on the story arc, POV, character development as well. (EFA rates: $50-$60/hour. 1-6 pages/hour.)

C. Copyediting means editing for grammar, punctuation, spelling, typos, etc. Proofreading is a lighter form of copyediting and assumes that the manuscript needs little more than a quick read-through. I recommend all authors planning to self-publish hire someone to copyedit their manuscripts before uploading them for sale. (EFA rates: Basic copyediting: $30-$40/hour; 5-10 pages/hour. Heavy copyediting: $40-$50/hour; 2-5 pages/hour. Proofreading $30-$35/hour; 9-13 pages/hour.)

The important thing to remember about freelance editors is that it is not their job to rewrite your book for you. If your characters are one-dimensional, if your descriptions are clichéd, if your story lacks conflict, you’re better off taking a writing workshop or enrolling in an MFA program than hiring an editor. An editor can point out what’s wrong with your book and give you advice about how to fix it, but (s)he can’t write your book for you. It’s your job to hone your craft every way possible—by writing every day, by reading great books, and by soaking up every bit of writing advice you can through books, classes, workshops, and articles.

What about you? Have you hired a freelance editor? Were you happy with the results? How much are you willing to pay an editor to do a developmental edit on your manuscript? A line edit? What sources would you recommend for finding a good freelance editor?

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