6 Ways to Vet Freelance Editors

A blank checklist with a single checkmark

by Daniel Kulinski |via Flickr

Today’s guest post is from author and freelance editor Maya Rock of Fresh Ink Book Editing.

Hiring a freelance editor is a significant investment, so you’ll want to do your due diligence before making your pick. To help with your decision, here are six ways to vet freelance editors.

1. Work experience

Freelance editors often don’t have traditional résumés posted on their websites, but they usually include a professional bio that says where they’ve worked in the past. Check to see if your potential freelance editor has worked at a publisher or literary agency. These are places where they’ll have been in close contact with the book editing process and have garnered the professional expertise that can help take your manuscript to the next level.

Additionally, consider whether the places your potential editor worked exposed him or her to books like yours. For example, if you’re writing a children’s book, you probably don’t want an editor who worked for a military history press, and vice versa.

You should also determine what kind of editing your potential editor did. He or she could have worked at a publishing house, but as a copyeditor, whereas you may be seeking developmental editing.

2. Testimonials and references

Another great way to vet freelance editors is by seeing what others have to say about them. Many freelance editors have testimonial sections on their websites, where authors describe their experiences with the editors. You can get big clues about the editor’s personality through these testimonials. Do their clients describe them as warm and hands-on? Technical and thorough? Consider how your personality and writing would gel with their work style.

If you want to know more, don’t be afraid to ask for references. Just be aware that the relationship between freelance editors and their clients is very private—many clients request confidentiality. Still, others are happy to give feedback.

3. Books they’ve worked on

In the book publishing industry, everyone has a list of books they’ve worked on. Agents have a list, publishing houses have a list, and individual publishing house editors have a list. Your freelance editor has a list, too, and it can help you decide whether to work with her. If the editor doesn’t have the books she’s worked on visible on her website, ask for one. Then research those books on Amazon. Do you know any of them? Are the books getting read? Are they similar to your book?

4. Sample edit

Many freelance editors happily give sample edits, for free or a small fee. Even if they don’t say outright that they offer them, you might want to request one before committing. A sample edit will give you peace of mind, as well as a very precise idea of what you’re paying for. If you don’t want to pay for a sample edit on your own work, they may have one they keep on file for this purpose. My website, for instance, has a sample editorial letter.

5. Professional organizations

Is your freelance editor a member of or affiliated with any professional organizations? I am a member of Publishers Marketplace and Editorial Freelancers Association. Both organizations require dues, which helps screen out some of the less serious editorial freelancers out there. Does your freelance editor mention writers organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Thriller Writers of America, or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators? If your freelance editor attends conferences or is a member of any of these organizations, it shows that he or she is in touch with editors, agents, and writers, and knows what the current trends are.

6. Terms

When choosing a freelance editor, pay close attention to the terms of your agreement with them. Because so many freelance editors are self-employed individuals, you might not have a formal contract, but there should still be terms agreed to over email before you commit to work with them. These include due dates, kill fees in case you decide not to move forward with the edit, method of payment, payouts, and a clear definition of what is to be delivered.

When you’re in the first flush of identifying that perfect match for your book, you might not be thinking so much about practical matters, but they should be in place to keep the project running smoothly and prevent misunderstandings.

One last tip: don’t underestimate the importance of personal chemistry or gut instinct. Writing is highly personal, and having a good rapport with your editor will go a long way toward making the editorial process a fruitful, productive experience.

Posted in Guest Post, Publishing Industry and tagged , , , , , , .

Maya Rock is a freelance editor and author. She graduated from Princeton University in 2002 and has worked in book publishing ever since. She got her start at Writers House, where she worked for five years. In 2010, she founded Rock Editorial Services, which offers editorial assistance to agents, authors, and publishing houses. Projects she has worked on include the RITA-award winning YA paranormal romance Deception So Deadly by Clara Kensie, YA literary The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, and adult romance The Someday Jar by Alison Morgan. Rock is the author of the YA novel Scripted.

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Michael LaRoccaTop Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 08-25-2016 | The Author ChroniclesMonday Must-Reads [08.22.16]Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 08-18-2016 | The Author ChroniclesLari Bishop Recent comment authors

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Florence Osmund

Nice article, and I especially agree that once you’ve vetted and selected an editor, having a good rapport with him/her is important. An editor can be and should be your best friend when it comes to the quality and marketability of your book.

Lari Bishop

I think you’ve covered the essentials well. I would just add caution on two points. 1. I think a serious freelance editor will always use a contract. It protects both parties in the relationship, and is important for setting expectations to avoid any “misunderstandings” down the road. It can be very simple. 2. When looking at other books the editor has worked on, be careful about putting too much weight on sales. While it’s the editor’s job to offer guidance that will help readers engage, authors may not choose to follow all of the advice. Editors can help with marketability,… Read more »


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Michael LaRocca

Excellent advice. As a novelist, I’ve worked with some tremendous editors over the years. As an editor, I usually refer novelists elsewhere because I’m rarely the best fit. And some editors, I’m sorry to say, should be called “editors” because they really aren’t. Do your due diligence.