If you’re a writer hoping to self-publish, choosing a freelance book editor to help fine tune your manuscript is a crucial step.
As a freelance editor as well as a , I’ve worked with many indie writers. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that finding the right author/editor fit is crucial to your finished product.
But how do you find that fit? It sometimes seems like a gamble.
When I take on a new book-editing project, I’m always slightly nervous.. Often, a book edit can take weeks, if not months, depending on the shape the book is in to begin with, and that’s a lot of hours spent collaborating with someone I may never have met before. What if we don’t like each other?!
I conduct a “sample edit” before I ask myself or the author to commit. A sample edit means I edit a small portion of the book — perhaps the introduction or one chapter — tracking my changes and inserting comments in Word or Google Docs so the client knows exactly what I’m doing.
Here are a few ways a sample edit helps an author determine whether an editor is a strong fit.
Different editors come from different schools of thought when it comes to grammar and punctuation.
I use the Chicago Manual of Style as my editing bible and honed my craft through a UC Berkeley editing program, both of which preach simplified language and insist upon serial commas. I can omit a serial comma if it’s the preferred style, but my natural inclination is to include it.
Other editors adhere to the and always omit serial commas.
It’s a personal preference, but if you have an opinion, make sure you’re very clear with your editor up front.
The type of book
Most editors tend to specialize in editing a general category of books.
In my case, I generally edit non-fiction books like memoirs, self-help and cookbooks. Sometimes, authors will approach me wondering if I have any experience editing a very specific type of book, like bento-box cookbooks or memoirs of horse lovers. If you can find an editor with a portfolio full of books about the exact thing you wrote about, by all means, go with that person!
But in general, the same basic editing rules apply to most books, regardless of topic.
On the other hand, it’s great if you can find an editor who specializes in the type of book you have written — within a broad category. For instance, I don’t typically edit fiction, so if someone approaches me to edit their novel, unless the subject matter feels comfortable and familiar to me, I will often defer to someone who specializes in fiction.
The estimated cost
Cost, of course, is the crux of the matter. What indie author has thousands and thousands of dollars to throw at an editor?
A sample edit helps me create a ballpark estimate of how long it will take to edit an entire manuscript. I bill by the hour, but most clients understandably like to know roughly how much they’re going to be spending before they commit, so I time myself on a chapter in order to estimate my hours on the whole project.
Some editors charge by the word, and can therefore give you an estimate up front without having to assess your manuscript.
You think you need your manuscript proofed, and you hire an editor who charges by the word for proofing. But when he or she dives in, it turns out your plot has some pretty serious holes (you need developmental edits) or your grammar is shoddy (you need a line editor).
Now, you’re spending way more money than you initially anticipated.
The thing is, you’re not all that familiar with the nuances of these types of editing, and you’re also way too close to the book, at this point.
All of this said, there is one caveat: If you are looking for potent feedback on the overall plot arc and narrative development , any editor will need to read all or at least most of your manuscript. That’s another thing to keep in mind when doling out your dollars.
Communication cannot be ignored.
How you prefer to communicate is so important when working with an editor — or any other freelancer, for that matter.
Personally, I tend to work best over email, with occasional phone calls, and rarely meet clients in person. Partly this is because I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and my clients are scattered all over the country. But even when I lived in the Bay Area and had a client base that was 90 percent local, I still rarely left my house. (It requires putting mascara and shoes on — two of my least favorites activities.)
I do like to have at least one initial verbal conversation with a client, either over the phone or by video chat, so we can “meet” in a more intimate way than email allows. But I generally find email to be a highly effective way of communicating amidst dueling schedules.
If you’re a phone person and prefer the intimacy of auditory and in-person connection, respect! Find an editor similarly inclined.
Hiring an editor is an investment in your writing. A sample edit helps ensure you and your editor’s working style jives and sets you up on the path to publishing sucess.
Have you ever worked with an editor on a sample edit? Share your experiences in the comments below.