The modern freelance editor

By Kylie Mason

Behind every great book is a team of passionate, dedicated people who work with an author to get a manuscript to its readers: publisher, in-house editor, freelance editor, designer, typesetter, proofreader and many others. Freelance editors work independently from publishing houses and form part of the support team for in-house editors and writers; our role in a book’s journey to publication can involve anything from structurally editing an early draft of the manuscript to copyediting a later draft,from addressing the author’s response to the copyedit to proofreading the typeset pages. Freelance editors can also work for private clients, writers who want an expert eye cast over their manuscript before submitting it to a publisher, or who would like to self-publish and want a professional finish for their book.

Most freelance editors have worked in-house in trade, legal or educational publishing before setting up on their own. A freelance editor’s in-house experience means they have a good working knowledge of the stages a book goes through before it is published, including structural editing, copyediting, typesetting and proofreading, and so we are asked to do a lot of different jobs. Some trade publishers employ us to structurally edit novels or narrative non-fiction, while other publishers structurally edit manuscripts in-house and then send the manuscript to a freelance editor for copy editing. We are also asked to proofread and sometimes to project manage books for publishers. Jobs can range from a small tidy up of a short story or essay to a long, involved, close look at a novel or text book.

A typical day for a freelance editor might include checking email for updates from clients or offers of new jobs, a bit of light admin – chasing invoices or AWOL clients is particularly fun – and a quick look at Facebook or Twitter, both invaluable tools to help keep a work-at-home freelancer in the loop. Then it’s into the meat of the day: the structural or copy edit at hand, or the proofread that’s just landed on our desk.Freelancing generally means we can work without interruption from colleagues; there are rarely any meetings to attend and no office politics to negotiate. We can work at our own pace, within reason – there’s always the chance of an emergency job that might see us working longer hours to satisfy a client’s tight deadline. The best part of being a freelancer is being able to arrange your work day however you want, but this can also be the worst part: if checking Facebook and Twitter gets in the way of paid work, we can end up working unintended overtime at night or on weekends to catch up!

With the recent growth in the ebook market, there has been a corresponding demand for freelance editors from publishing houses with digital imprints and from writers who want to try their hand at self-publishing. Freelance editors have discovered we have to brush up on our onscreen editing skills and have even had to learn a handful of new skills, including coding, to adapt to the new wave of publishing. It has become increasingly rare for freelancers to work on hard-copy versions –printouts – of manuscripts, with most clients preferring onscreen edits using Word’s tracked changes function. This shift to onscreen editing enables a quicker turnaround for most jobs, as there’s no waiting for hard-copy manuscripts to be delivered by post or courier, and no waiting for corrections to be transferred from hard to soft copy by a typesetter. Editors, too, can work more efficiently by employing macros and other shortcuts to tidy a document before they begin editing it.

Most freelance editors find work through their in-house contacts and word-of-mouth recommendations. As a freelancer, you’re only as good as your last job, and that’s a great motivation to do the best job you can – within the confines of the client’s schedule and budget. Each state also has a Society of Editors, which lets member editors advertise in a services directory.Writers who’d like to hire their own editors can search the directory for an editor suitable for their manuscript.

If a writer is looking for a freelance editor to help them with self-publishing a manuscript, they should first consider what it is they’d like the editor to do. A freelance editor can read a manuscript and provide a report on what works and what doesn’t, concentrating on things like character, plot, narrative arc and pace. They can also do a more in-depth structural edit, to highlight problems and suggest possible solutions. A good editor will offer to work with the writer to develop their manuscript. Perhaps a writer hoping to self-publish only wants an editor to copy edit and tidy a manuscript prior to publication; the editor will cast a professional eye over their manuscript for grammatical problems, etc. While not as in depth as a structural edit, a good copyeditor can also help pinpoint structural problems and inconsistencies within a manuscript, giving the author the opportunity to correct them before publication.

It’s a good idea for a writer to get a quote from any freelance editor they approach, both for how long the work will take and how much it will cost. Most freelancers have an hourly rate but are happy to negotiate a set fee, depending on the work required. Freelancers will generally also offer to do a sample edit of a few pages so writers can see how the freelancer might approach their manuscript.