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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.

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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61 comments to 5 Tips For Hiring The Right Freelance Editor

  • http://www.editors.ca/ The Editors' Association of Canada is another valuable resource for the seeker.

  • I appreciate this post as I hope to use an editor once my manuscript is in proper shape. In my first attempt to write my memoir, I enrolled in some classes that involved feedback. I think some of that random feedback hurt my momentum. Now that I wrote the full draft without feedback, I think I may try an editor once I have it in proper shape (several revisions, etc). I think that's a wonderful point about not submitting a draft. It's a waste of time and money.

    • meghancward

      Stacy, I'm still looking for my ideal editor – one that I can work with on project after project. I haven't found him/her yet. And congrats on finishing your first draft! You may want to consider what Anne mentions below, a "manuscript consultation." These can run around $500-$600. Instead of having your whole manuscript edited, you'll receive several pages of notes telling you what works and what doesn't.

    • kblack2011

      I made the mistake of using a avid reader for my editing and uploaded my fantasy novel to Amazon and createspace. I received my first review and it was a bad one. I am feeling completely defeated right now._

  • Anne R. Allen

    Thanks much for the shout-out. This gives much more detail on a number of issues, so I'll link to this. Your definitions are probably more up to date than mine. What you call "developmental editing" I've always called "content editing" but you add a more in-depth level with "developmental". Some editors also offer a "manuscript evaluation" which gives an overview, which can cost considerably less and comes with broad suggestions without specific edits.

    Great information here. And I do hope people will take heed and not send raw first drafts to editors and expect miracles.

    • meghancward

      Thanks so much for your comment, Anne. And you're right – a manuscript evaluation can run as low as $500-$600 and is what many writers need at the earlier stages of writing a book. Thank YOU for a great post Sunday. Tons of great information.

  • Jackie

    Thanks for this! This is something I tell people over and over…it doesn't matter if you're a skilled editor yourself or you're "just self-publishing." You absolutely must hire an editor, period. You cannot catch all your own mistakes, and those of us who are proponents of self-publishing have a duty to raise the quality of our work to the highest possible standards.

    • meghancward

      I so agree, Jackie. When I buy a self-published book, I expect it to be just as error-free as a traditionally published book. Another point someone made is that hiring an editor is a great way to cut down a manuscript that is too long. We may think all 140,000 words of our manuscript are brilliant, but we'd probably sell a lot more copies if it were 80,000 words.

  • Great advice, Meghan. After getting constructive feedback on early drafts from several "family-and-friend" beta readers, I've worked with Robin Martin of Two Songbirds Press for manuscript evaluation and critique and on the final draft, context editing. Robin's professional advice has been invaluable for greatly improving my first book. She has also contracted a proofreader on my behalf, the final step for me before typesetting and publishing.

    My goal as a self-published author is for the quality of my books to be indistinguishable from traditionally published works. To that end, I'm also working with Mike Mahan of Shelf Life Creative for cover and interior designs. Mike is a talented graphic designer who also teaches at Kent State University. He has a great eye for typography and I'm excited to see the final product!

    • meghancward

      Rob – Are you friends with Brian Meeks? (I feel like I should know this by now). I know he uses Robin Martin, too. How much does she charge for a manuscript evaluation? And are you related to Mike Mahan? Do I smell a little nepotism going on here? :)

      • I don't know Brian, but for being Extremely Average, he's a smart fellow for using Robin Martin's editorial services. I found Robin through the EFA website. She offers many different services and her fees are very much in line with the EFA guidelines. Everything she has done for me, I have felt that she has provided excellent value.

        Yes, Mike is my nephew . . . how did you ever guess we might be related? :) Nepotism? ME?? Absolutely.

        • meghancward

          I need to list myself on EFA! And ha – yes, Brian's a smart fellow. And good for you for helping your nephew out. I like having a good long list of graphic designers to refer people to.

  • [...] 6 Tips For Hiring The Right Freelance Editor, by Meghan Ward – “If you’ve completed your memoir/novel/nonfiction book and plan to [...]

  • Thank you for this post! I've just applied for BAEF membership today. I copyedited my first book recently and charged a bargain price for the experience. I still think it was worth it, and the author certainly seemed pleased.

  • A great resource for writers looking for freelance editors in the Pacific Northwest is the Northwest Independent Editors Guild: http://www.edsguild.org/.

  • [...] Ward of the Grotto writing consortium in San Francisco has just posted a terrific little piece on tips for hiring a freelance editor–including costs associated with a professional edit. Highly recommended. Filed under: [...]

  • marshaprescod

    Really, really good blog post. The kind of information that's invaluable, in this age where so many of us are going by the self publishing eBook route. I hadnt really understood the various kinds of work attached to the title 'editor', this clarifies things. I'll be posting a link to this post on Twitter, if that's ok with you :)
    Do you know of any freelance editors/editors associations in the UK? Or would editors in the US or Canada take clients from the UK – British spelling and all?

    • meghancward

      Marsha – I don't know editor associations in the UK, but I bet you could find them easily by googling them. And if you hire an editor in the US, I would just ask to make sure they are comfortable with British spellings (and some British punctuation is different, too). I did edit a memoir for an Irish man, and left all the British spellings and punctuation in because that was the choice he made.

  • Great post, Meghan!

    As someone who does a lot of line and developmental editing, I'd like to add that when considering an editor's hourly rate it is helpful to consider how fast the editor works (sometimes a factor of experience) and whether the manuscript will be ready to publish when the editor is done. It might be worth paying higher rates if the editor gets the work done efficiently and gets the manuscript to a professional standard.

    Another way of putting this is, Are you looking for an editor who will work with you to improve a piece or a manuscript, or who will prepare it for publication? It's helpful when a writer has a good sense of whether he or she wants coaching, lots of feedback, and a sense of collaboration, or a more cut-and-dried approach.

    • meghancward

      Great point, Connie. It's worth asking an editor how many hours they think a project will take. One problem I encounter is that writers often just want a copyeditor when their books still need developmental work. There's a tendency to want to rush a book to publication (especially for self-published authors) before it's ready.

  • A. Victoria Mixon, Editor

    Meghan, thanks for being clear about the very different types of editing it takes to make a book publishable! Three years ago when I started this work it was commonly misunderstood that all editing was copy-editing. These days of course we have lots of new copy-editors rolling up their sleeves and anxious for their first clients, but the developmental and line-editing aspects of the work aren't always well understood.

    I'd like to mention that a good developmental editor can, indeed, help a writer if their characters aren't fully-dimensional, their writing depends upon cliches, or their story lacks conflict. This is the heart-&-soul of the developmental work I do.

    My clients and I spend a great deal of time discussing the story in the early stage, asking and answering all those difficult questions that dig to the very core and illuminate in the writer's mind exactly who these characters are and why they matter so very much—exactly what story the writer, deep inside, really means to tell.

    It's a fabulous phase of the writing, and even the most apprehensive writers always wind up loving it. :)

    • Thank you, Victoria, for your comment. And yes, hiring a developmental editor early on is a great way to prevent problems in the later stages of writing a book. It's no fun to get through your third draft only to discover that you have major developmental revisions ahead (although that may still happen.) Better to head those problems off at the pass.

      • A. Victoria Mixon, Editor

        "although that may still happen"

        Oy! Yes, there is always so much to excavate in a really good story.

        Well, it is incredibly difficult work to do well, this whole writing thing. You have to truly love it to go the distance.

  • I have hired a freelance editor in the past when I was working on a book. I found it to be reasuring because I knew anything I missed they would pick up on. I am one of those people who keeps to themselves so finding another set of eyes was not a easy task. I did some digging around online and found a company that helped really bring my book to life. They did what I could not. I would recomend hiring a freelance editor to anyone. Ther is also a great post on freelance editors here you should check out. http://www.contentforconversions.com/web-content-… The post also bring up some other point that I think add to yours.

  • Jeff Cochran

    Is the sixth tip to hire an editor to proof your blog posts? The title is six tips, yet I see tips 1, 2, 3, 5 and 5.

    :

    Jeff

    • meghancward

      Ha! You’re the first person to have noticed. I can’t remember now if I combined two or switched from 6 to 5 and never changed the title. Anyway, the edit has been made. Thanks for pointing it out!

  • Matt

    Great article, Meghan I’m planning to hire some freelance editor maybe by next month for a small project. It helps me a lot on how to choose the right one for the job. Social media is also a great way to look for freelance editor to hire. I also have come across on a freelance site Staff.com https://www.staff.com/ where I hire a virtual assistant. It is also a great freelancing site where it allows you to conduct interview or have a 10 hours trial in order to determine the potential of a the freelancer you are going to hire.

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