Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Editing Process: Interview of a Freelance Editor

Are you thinking of using a freelance editor to go through your novel manuscript before sending it off to an agent or publisher or publishing it yourself? Smart move! I asked our regular guest blogger, Jodie Renner, who is a freelance fiction editor, to give us some ideas of what to expect when seeking out and working with a freelance editor.

MP: How do writers go about finding a freelance editor?

JR: They can just Google words like editing, fiction editor, editing services, freelance editor, copyediting, copy editor, copyediting services. Or go to the websites of editors’ associations like The Editorial Freelancers Association, or the Editors’ Association of Canada, .

MP: How do I choose from several possible freelance editors for my novel?

JR: First, be sure they not only edit fiction, but also read and edit your genre. Visit their websites and check out their credentials and experience, and read about their process and editorial services offered. Ask the editors for references from former or current clients or check the testimonials on their website and consider contacting some of the authors who have written reviews there.
Also, it’s important to get a sample edit from several different editors. Many editors offer a 5- or 10-page free sample edit, or will edit several pages or your first chapter for a small fee. I would get at least 5 pages of your work edited as a sample. Be sure to send them all the same chapter— and your original, not one another editor has already gone through! This way you can see how each editor would handle your work. Also, if your spelling and grammar skills are a little rusty, get that aspect of the sample edit checked over by someone you know who’s good at that.

MP: What would you like potential clients include in an initial email to you?

JR: I often get this kind of email: “What are your rates for editing an 80,000-word manuscript?” There’s no way I can answer that without seeing at least 10 pages of the writing. In fact, before I can give potential clients a fee rate for their manuscript, I ask them to email me the genre, total (or projected) word count, a brief synopsis, a brief description of each of the main characters, the first 20 pages of the novel (double-spaced), and another 10 pages from somewhere in the middle. If the manuscript looks ready for copyediting and I have time to work on it soon, I do a free sample edit of the first 10 pages and send that back to the author, along with any other advice that may occur to me as I’m reading.

MP: What can writers expect from an editor and an editing process?

JR: Most freelance editors these days edit on-screen and online, using Microsoft Word Track Changes, so all of their changes are visible in red (or another color), and they add comments, suggestions and questions in boxes in the margin. You can accept or reject their changes and respond to the comments with another one of your own. At the end, you turn off the Track Changes function and delete the comments, and that becomes your final version – you don’t cut and paste it to another document, which could create new problems. Documents/Files are sent back and forth by email, as attachments.
But good editors will first assess the level of editing the manuscript needs to bring it up to current industry standards, which is almost always more than the writer realizes. Some manuscripts even need a major overhaul, starting with developmental editing; others need fairly heavy content editing for “big-picture” issues; others need stylistic help to smooth out the writing and make it clearer and more powerful; and some just need a final polish, to check for typos, grammatical error, and punctuation.
Often aspiring authors will contact me asking for a light final copyedit or proofread, when their manuscript really needs much more than that. It may be lacking in so many important ways that I can’t in good conscience take their money to just proofread it for grammar and spelling. In that case, I usually give the potential client some free recommendations of good books to read on the craft of fiction, as well as links to my articles on specific topics, such as opening, point of view, characterization, dialogue, scene structure, showing instead of telling, etc.

MP: What are the different levels of editing a novel manuscript could go through with freelance editing?

JR: These lines are fuzzy and vary within editing associations, and each editor has her/his own take on them, but here’s a general description of the various levels of freelance fiction editing in the order that they are carried out, from most extensive and expensive to final polishing touches. These levels are often carried out by different people. Developmental editors rarely do copyediting or final proofreading, and vice-versa.

1. Developmental Editing or a Manuscript Evaluation / Critique / Analysis
Developmental editors look at the big picture and the whole structure of your novel, including whether chapters and scenes should be moved, condensed, or even deleted. A developmental edit or critique / analysis will give general advice on premise, plot, structure, point of view, characterization, character arc, pacing, style, etc., as well as specific fiction techniques such as showing rather than telling, avoiding head-hopping and info dumps, etc.
Some editors like me offer an “initial critique” of the first 10, 20 or 30 pages, which is much easier on the wallet than an evaluation of the whole book, and will catch most weaknesses, such as problems with your opening, point of view, characterization, and dialogue, or recurring style issues.

2. Heavy Copyediting or Stylistic Editing
For fiction, this should include “big-picture” advice on the opening, point of view, characterization, plot holes, dialogue, pacing, and fiction techniques like showing instead of telling, avoiding “info dumps” and style gaffes, etc. May also offer suggestions to improve paragraphing, sentences, and words; cut down on wordiness; smooth awkward phrasing and transitions; comment on discrepancies and inconsistencies; and help with tone and mood—all while striving to keep the author's voice.

3. Medium Copyediting or Line Editing
Generally making the manuscript more readable. A line edit looks at the sentence structure, word choices, continuity and consistency. Often fixes awkward phrasing, smooths out rough or unclear writing, and decreases wordiness to make the writing tighter and more powerful.

4. Light Copyediting / Proofreading
For freelance editing, refers to final editing for grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other mechanics of style. Puts the final polish on a very well-written story or a manuscript for which all issues have already been addressed and solved.

MP: Editors seem to have different fee structures and methods of charging for their services. What are some ways we can expect?

JR: Many freelance editors charge by the page, which normally means double-spaced, 12-point, so about 250 words per page. Others charge by the hour. I charge by the word, as to me, a page can end after a paragraph, or have graphics that don’t need to be edited, etc. Be sure to ask whether their rate includes a final proofreading, or whether that’s a separate process with an additional fee.

MP: How much do editors charge for editing a fiction manuscript?

JR: Rates for editing usually depend on the amount of time and work a manuscript needs, which can vary hugely. No reputable editor will give you a blanket rate for editing 80,000 words, for example, or 300 pages or whatever, without asking to see at least a chapter or two of the manuscript first. Some manuscripts can easily take ten times the amount of work as others, in order to bring them up to current industry standards. Experienced editors know this, so they won’t give you a set rate, sight-unseen. Rates also vary depending on the experience of the editor / copy editor / proofreader. Just as in any kind of services, be wary of rates that are too low.

Generally, a final proofread or light copyedit is much cheaper than content editing, but there’s no point in paying for a final proofread if your manuscript needs bigger issues solved first, before it gets to that stage.

Authors and aspiring authors – Do you have any other questions about the freelance editing process that you’d like clarified? Please ask them in the comments below and Jodie will attempt to answer them all. Also, see Jodie’s interview of another freelance editor, Robb Grindstaff, on Jodie’s blog at


Jodie Renner said...

Thanks, Miranda, for interviewing me on the editing process and posting it here. And sorry, I got so busy with editing the last few days that I don't have that interview of Robb up on my own blog yet! Will do that today!

Jodie Renner said...

And writers, I'll be doing a follow-up blog on this, so please let me know any questions you may have on finding a good editor and working with him/her. I'll try to get more direct input from other editors for the next one, as each freelance editor's process and services are a little different.

Jodie Renner said...

That interview of Robb Grindstaff, fellow freelance editor, is up on my blog, at

Freelance editors - Do you have anything to add?

jenny milchman said...

Good advice, Jodie! I am a big proponent of more editing, not less. I think it's easy to underestimate just how many drafts a novel requires.

It's also good to emphasize the difference between the "easy stuff" (clean copy) and developmental or structural editing.

Thanks for sharing your advice!

CathyP said...

Good information Jodie. Thanks for sharing with us.

Many people hear the phrase 'find a good editor' or 'have your manuscript edited' without a clear picture of what they actually need.

Unknown said...

I liked the breakdown of each service. Very helpful. Thanks so much, Jodie.

Jodie Renner said...

Thanks for your comments, Jenny, Cathy and Miranda. My interview of a fellow freelance editor on my blog provides additional information.

Jodie Renner said...

Every freelance editor puts their own signature on the process, but my information here will give you a good starting point for your search. I have heard some horror stories, though, so be sure to check them out well and get that sample edit! Also, if all they do is proofread for typos and spelling and grammar, you may be wasting your money if your manuscript needs some big-picture advice first, which could entail some or a lot of cutting and rewriting. So the proofreading process always comes last. Be sure your manuscript is actually ready for that final step before spending money on it.

Ian Walkley said...

This is useful advice for any writer, even one who is looking for a publisher. It is important to have a MS professionally edited before submitting it to a publisher, in my view.
Before I engaged Jodie Renner as my editor, I was surprised at the diversity of skills, and different processes used for editing, including the basis for charging.
I had no idea about the differences between structural and copy editing, or of the very different approaches used by editors.
Some charged by the hour, others by the word or page. One would only edit the mailed MS hard copy, which to me was totally impractical given postage costs, and the important need for the editor to review what changes the writer has made based on their edits.
The need to check a sample (say 10 pages) of an editor's style is so important. I found the styles varied dramatically, and several potential editors made copy changes that I was not comfortable with at all.
On the other hand, Jodie's style to me was logical and improved the readability, while keeping my writing style and voice intact.
Jodie and I emailed Word chapters with tracking on back and forth, sometimes several times if there were issues to discuss beyond copy editing (such as suggested plot or character changes).
So I would support Jodie's comments and advise aspiring authors: 1) Use an editor regardless of whether you are self-publishing or approaching a publisher; 2) Definitely get a sample of potential editor's work on your own MS, even if you have to pay for it; 3) Make sure the editor enjoys reading (and ideally is experienced in) the genre you are writing in. If you are writing something for light entertainment, it might be better not to choose an editor who is devoted to literary fiction. In my case, Jodie is very experienced with other authors of thrillers, and is a specialist in that area.
Finding the right editor is fundamental to a good relationship between the writer and the editor.

Jodie Renner said...

Wow! Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Ian. I really enjoyed working with you on your riveting action-thriller, No Remorse.

D.F. Barrett said...

Thanks for clarifying the different
services offered.
Clear and to-the-point.
Just what I need in this,sometimes, confusing world of getting work published.

Jodie Renner said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting, D.F. I'm glad you found my post helpful in finding and working with a freelance editor.