Hiring a Freelance Editor: A Step-by-Step Guide

    This is definitely the eBook age.

    So what does this mean for you if you’re one of the many authors who plan on writing and publishing an eBook?

    Now, more than ever, you’ll need a freelance editor.

    Unfortunately, there’s already a large amount of people who associate eBooks, definitely self-published ones, with a lack of editing (or no editing at all).

    Of course, you can ask friends or family to look at your work. Getting their opinions certainly wouldn’t hurt since their input could give you more to consider during the edits. However, there are a lot of downfalls to only turning to people you know.

    First, because they may be afraid to hurt your feelings, they’ll probably sugarcoat their comments. Even if you tell them to be honest, that doesn’t mean they won’t hold back.

    Then you have to take into account that editing a story involves more than just a couple of general comments. Fiction books essentially need three types of editing – content editing, copyediting, and proofreading – and they should go in that order.

    When editing nonfiction books, the focus is usually on formatting, accuracy, copyediting, and proofreading. Whether the book is fiction or nonfiction, the chances of your friend or family member being as well-versed in those forms of editing as a professional editor is low.

    How to Get Your Money’s Worth

    First, it’s personal. You need to have a tight grasp on yourself and your work before you do any amount of freelance editor hunting:

    Since prices can vary so widely, and rates are usually by the hour, you need to know how much money you’re willing to spend.

    You need to consider just how rough your work is before submitting. If you’re sending an editor your first draft (which I don’t recommend; it’s always better to at least self-edit first) and the editor charges by the hour, consider how expensive that will be.

    Last but not least, you need to know when you’d like the edits back, since a lot of editors will charge extra if you tell them, “Oh, I absolutely need this done in 1 week!”

    After getting your money’s worth on your end by understanding yourself, it’s time to get your money’s worth on the editor’s end by understanding them. Hiring someone off of the internet can very easily be disastrous without enough research and investigation, so please don’t waste your money or time because you didn’t stop to learn more. Here is a step-by-step guide to investigating a freelance editor:

    • Explore their website. Check if they have a page for their biography/resume, testimonials, prices, and submission guidelines. If they have helpful content, like articles, skim through a couple.
    • Read their biography or resume and look for the credentials that matter most to you. Said credentials could be a degree, publications or other literary positions.
    • Look at the payment page. If you really don’t think there’s any way you can afford it, you should either go on to another editor or figure out if you can pay in snippets.
    • If the biography or resume impresses you, go to the testimonials page. Even if the biography or resume doesn’t really impress you, go to the testimonials page. Sometimes reading from others about how well that editor did can trump what a bio says.A good testimonials page will have a link or two under each testimonial. This way you can easily contact previous clients and personally ask them what working with that editor is like.If the editor has a sample or two that shows what their edits look like, you should look through those samples. If the editor will edit a thousand words or so of your story either for free or for cheap, take advantage! This is a great way to learn what working with that editor will be like.
    • Whether or not you or the editor has a contract, it’s still very important to make sure you save all conversations and transactions between you two in the chance that something goes wrong.

    In conclusion, it’s important you ask for editing assistance once your book is finished. Spending a day or two on understanding yourself, your work, and the editor(s) you’re considering will at least lessen the chances of you choosing someone who is not the right fit for you.

    Tiffany T. Cole is the creator of  Reader’s Den, a book blog dedicated to reviews and all things literary.


    About the author

      Tiffany Cole

    • Gillian says:

      You can also go to the Editors’ Association of Canada: http://www.editors.ca to find freelance editors. The association is nearly 2,000 strong and members’ experience covers every level of editing. Authors need to educate themselves about editing because a whole new world of ebooks is mushrooming and if you don’t have an editor work on your writing, you’re really limiting your success. Every writer needs an editor.

    • Great article!

      I’m a freelance editor, and usually when I see article headlines like this one float across Twitter, I roll my eyes and click through expecting the article to be full of non-specific, useless, touchy-feely advice. But you actually hit a lot of important points that are rarely mentioned.

      The one absoutely critical thing I wish you had mentioned was for authors to make sure they know _what kind_ of editing they need. I swear, when signing up a new clients, I spend more time helping them understand the differences between developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing than anything else. So much so, in fact, that I broke down last week and wrote it all up in my blog:


      Authors, seriously. Learn the difference, because not all editing is alike. Asking for the wrong kind of editing for the stage of development your project is in, is just a recipe for wasting both time and money.

    • Great article. Thanks for the info! I’ve hired a freelance author going through the steps outlined here but I was wondering: once the book is completed should you give your for-hire editor credit in the legal/copyright page of your completed book? I wouldn’t think so, but I’m not that sure.

    • Heather says:

      Nice post and I love the extra advice in the comments. I’m definitely going to check out the Editorial Freelancers Association, I’m working on a manuscript and am just about ready to hire a freelance editor to attack it with their trusty red pen.

    • TNeal says:

      Good advice. My wife is a freelance editor so I’ve watched her growth from one friend, who also happened to be an award-winning author, to a solid stable of authors and three publishers who consistently request her services. Since her editing has grown, she typically is cautious about taking on an unknown author (a lot of us authors are less ready than we think we are).

      I would agree with the repeated thought to not go cheap. Price is a secondary concern. Quality of the edit is primary. That doesn’t mean a less expensive choice won’t work. It simply means to check out the editor’s credits then the price charts.

      Ellen was willing to edit a half dozen authors for free in order to build up a resume. Look for that resume when you’re searching for an editor. Whatever choice you make, don’t let “I can’t afford an editor” be one of them.

      • Congratulations to your wife! I hope to one day reach her status. I’d love to have a solid stable of authors and publishers, but, though I’ve been editing for at least five years (mostly for free, then for cheap, now for a reasonable price), I’m still not there yet. I wholly agree with you about quality being primary. Most editors are smart and kind enough to offer a payment plan anyway.

    • I agree with Daphne, even editors need an editor to go over their work. When we’re writing we have a different hat on. Great article.

      • So very true! I’m currently writing a self-help book tentatively titled ‘The DIY Guide to Book Promotion,’ and I’m already searching for an editor or two to help me with it.

    • Sharon says:

      It doesn’t pay to cheap out on editing. I speak from experience! Thanks for this insightful post.

      • When I first started editing, I sold my services very low and instantly felt as though I were devaluing myself. I invest a LOT of time and energy into every edit I do, definitely Substantive Critiques. However, definitely with bidding sites like oDesk, I see more and more writers expecting freelance editors to edit for little to nothing. I can understand from both sides (authors often don’t have much money to spend; ‘competition’ as far as freelance editing goes is immense) since I started off as an author and later became an editor, but I still heartily agree that it doesn’t pay to cheap out on editing. Than again, just because an editor is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean their services are any better than a cheaper one. That’s why it’s important to compare many editors first, regardless of price. Most editors offer a payment plan authors can work with.

    • Ashley says:

      That’s great advice, thanks Daphne. Although, what if you live abroad (I live in Japan)? Other than networking and possibly coming into contact with editors, and maybe doing some online searches (which are a bit overwhelming) I’m curious if there’s a better way to find someone in my kind of situation.

      • Online searches are definitely overwhelming. I actually wrote this article for people who’d have to turn to online searching to find an editor. I can’t really think of anything other than what you’ve mentioned when it comes to living abroad, but if it turns out that you have to find an editor through online searching, I’d make sure to choose at least 5-8 editors and carefully compare them all using the step-by-step guide above. It may be time consuming, but at least that way you’re better exploring your options (that’s how I started my freelance editor career).

    • Hiring a freelance editor is absolutely essential! I’ve been a professional writer and editor for more than 25 years. I also had 16 trusted friends, many of whom were professional writers, comment on the manuscript for my book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. (http://www.publicationcoach.com/my-book/) As a result, I expected my editor’s corrections and suggestions to be fairly modest, given how much work I’d done before sending it to her. I was ASTONISHED by how she bled red ink over my pages. It was fantastic!

      To answer Ashley’s question, above, I suggest going to the editor’s association in your town. Many book editors work freelance and the association can put you in touch with them. I heartily endorse Tiffany’s suggestion of checking the testimonials and FOLLOWING THESE UP with a a phone call or email to see what they really thought of the editor.

      • Wow, 25+ years of experience? I’ve got about 5 years under my belt. You’re exactly the type of professional editor/writer I look up to when I need hope. I’ll make sure to check your book out! I am currently in the process of writing a self-help book tentatively titled ‘The DIY Guide to Book Promotion’ and, in spite of the fact that I spend loads of time editing, I’m certain there will be plenty of red ink too.

        That’s why, on my testimonials page (http://www.honestcrits.com/p/testimonials.html), I made a big deal of putting links. I want anyone who is considering my services to know they can talk to previous clients. ^_^

    • Ashley says:

      This is great! Thanks so much for sharing this, as it comes at exactly the right time for me.

      Now my only question is: what is the best way to find a good freelance editor??

      • I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found it helpful!

        The first thing I did when I became interested in freelance editors was do a Google search. Wading through all of those websites and pages was both wary and interesting. That’s when I decided to write this article; I wanted to help authors get through the oftentimes overwhelming process of trying to find a good freelance editor through Google.

        Another great place to find good freelance editors is the Editorial Freelancers Association (http://the-efa.org/dir/search.php). In due time, I’ll be a member of this association. Word of mouth is also a good idea. You can ask your author friends what editors they’d recommend and go from there.

        May I ask what type of editor you’re looking for (fiction, nonfiction, substantive, copyedit, etc)?

    • >