Jane Friedman

4 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Editor

Local Japan Times / Flickr

Today’s guest post is from author and copyeditor C.S. Lakin.


Whether you plan to submit your manuscript to an agent or publisher, or intend to self-publish, you’ve probably heard considerable advice about hiring an editor. (If you’re still wondering if the investment is worth it, read Jane’s post on the matter.)

This post assumes you’ve decided you DO need an editor. Here’s how you can find the best one for you.

1. Get a referral.

Getting a personal recommendation from a trusted author is usually the best way to go. But even in those instances, you may find one author’s choice may not be your best choice, especially if you write in different genres. Also, personality comes into play, and sometimes the fit just isn’t right.

Personality aside, any editor that doesn’t answer your e-mail, ignores your specific questions, or pushes you to hire her should set off red flags.

2. Look for testimonials and ask for references.

If you have no means of getting a personal recommendation, you can post to online discussion boards—or put out a call on your social networks—that you’re looking to hire editorial assistance. When you have some candidates, look for testimonials on their site, then ask any editor you’re considering for a few references.

A great editor doesn’t need to have a lot of letters after their name, nor do they need to be able to give you a list of New York Times best-selling authors they’ve edited for. But they should have background or experience that makes them suitable to edit the type of work you have.

3. Ask professional agents and editors who they would use.

Some literary agents offer a list of recommended editors, such as this list on agent Rachelle Gardner’s site. If you know any agents or editors, or have the opportunity to speak with them at a writers’ conference, they can often refer you to someone they’ve worked with or can recommend. And speaking of writers’ conferences—what better place to chat with lots of authors and ask them for an editor recommendation?

You can also look for independent editors at Publishers Marketplace, a book industry news and community hub ($20/month). Because it requires members to pay a monthly or annual fee, it’s a good way to quickly access a high-quality list of industry freelancers.

4. Go through an established and reputable editing organization.

Editcetera, in Berkeley, CA, is one example of a group of very proficient and experienced editors that not only teach online and on-site workshops on editing, they also have a pool of editors who have gone through rigorous testing and application to become approved as their editors for hire. Some companies allow you to specifically choose the editor you want to work with; others do not. So be sure to read up on what they offer and how their service works.

How job cost is determined

Some editors charge by the hour, while others charge either by the page or word. I would opt for editors who charge by the hour, and here’s why. When an editor sets a rate per page or word, they are usually figuring an average regarding the time they will spend editing a page or a certain number of words. That means if you are a proficient writer and self-edit your material well, you get charged the same as a sloppy or inexperienced writer who may require a complete rewrite of every sentence.

The flip side to this, of course, is if you are truly inexperienced and feel your book is a train wreck, and an editor is willing to do massive reworking of your material for a reasonable price. In that case, paying by the word or page may be a great deal for you.

However, you may wonder if an editor faced with a lot of messy material might rush to make his hourly rate. Surely he’s not going to spend an hour on a page or two when he aims to edit eight pages an hour. An editor paid by the hour will not feel rushed and will spend just the right amount of time needed without that clock ticking in the back of his head. I may be generalizing here, but the professional editors I know charge by the hour.

A final note

If you’ve found someone who might be the right editor for you, but you’re still hesitant, hire her to edit a few chapters. See how it goes—not just the editing but the overall communication and support. If the results are favorable, give her the rest of your manuscript to edit. Clearly tell her your concerns and needs, and ask questions if you don’t understand something. Hopefully, it will be the beginning of a great friendship as well as a professional relationship.