“I fell in love with your submission immediately. What you sent me is incredibly well-written, so much so that I wonder if you’ve started querying yet?”
I read the words over and over. After two rounds of querying my novel with no agent interest—and little actionable feedback—I was thrilled to receive praise from a freelance editor after I’d participated in a Twitter contest. Here was someone who got what I was trying to do and who could help me improve, maybe even find an agent.
Yet, what happened next made me second-guess ever hiring a freelance editor again.
Freelance Editor — or Savvy Online Marketer?
After complimenting me, the editor offered a discount.
I didn’t have the money for a full developmental edit but I could afford editing of my first three chapters. I wrote back, asking if she was amenable to this. She was.
I wrote once more. “Agent feedback suggested I should add more characterization. Since there were only a couple comments and a deleted comma on my submission, I’d need to see more sample edits to understand what to expect from working together.” Could we come up with a fair solution that gave me insight into what I could expect, while respecting the editor’s time?
Apparently not, because the editor became a ghost.
My Facebook writers’ group turned up another horror story that scared me off freelance editors. One writer paid an editor $500 to polish her submission package. A month later, she was still waiting for feedback or acknowledgement of her emails. Facebook stalking revealed the editor was on vacation. She’d paid upfront. What could she do but wait?
I grimaced at her predicament. While I didn’t know the whole story, it seemed like this editor was hustling vulnerable writers seeking any advantage in a competitive industry, as was the one who dangled the discount offer in front of me.
How to Hire the Right Editor
I believe editors can help writers improve their craft, but the partnership must be entered into with care. It falls on you as a writer to do your homework when interviewing editors so you won’t get scammed.
Learn about different types of editing services – from developmental editors who’ll improve your story structure, to copy editors who’ll check grammar and spelling. By knowing what you need help with, you can use your money wisely. Review the qualifications of potential editors. It can boost your confidence and trust to work with someone who belongs to a professional association, like the Editorial Freelance Association.
Consider also your personality and level of resilience. Would you rather pay for someone who’ll be honest, knowing the truth may sting, or hire someone who’ll affirm what you’ve gotten right, but won’t critique your work? One writer in my online sphere found her dream editor after working with an editor who couldn’t critique her manuscript’s weaknesses. However, since she didn’t assess her needs first, she couldn’t afford to keep working with the dream editor.
Another writing acquaintance researched the decision carefully, and credits her editor with pushing her writing to the next level. Unsure what type of editing she needed, writer Ann Griffin turned to a Facebook writers’ group. One respondent gave her such thoughtful advice, she figured its author was an editor. She was right. Ann reviewed the editor’s services and read her published book to see if their styles were compatible. The fit seemed strong, so Ann then requested help. The editor asked for a sample of Ann’s work before committing to the project.
Ann wrote, “Two months and about $1800 later, I received the manuscript and 36 pages of single-spaced notes from her. I can’t describe to you how useful it was. She was teaching me a lot about novel construction and where my manuscript had gaping holes. [We] have become friends although we have never met in person, and I feel as though she is my own personal cheering section…. Because of her, I attended the Writers Digest 2017 Conference in New York City this summer, [where I] pitched my manuscript to seven agents, all of whom requested partials.”
When researching editors, trust your gut. Walk away if something doesn’t feel right. Never pay the whole fee upfront, and never hire an editor without discussing their turnaround time, and getting a contract. It’s your work, so protect your rights.
In my case, I took the money I would have spent on developmental editing, and put it into a weekend workshop with a literary agent. I figured another agent, not an editor, would best help me position my work to catch an agent’s eye. This helped me polish my first chapter. The first round of queries after the workshop got me to the next step—requests for partial manuscripts.
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- There’s One In Every Crowd: The Unethical Editor By Rich Mintzer
- Why Beginning Writers Need an Editor By Rickey E. Pittman
- POD Authors Need To Hire Editors By Dougie Child
- When To Fire Your Editor By Barbra Annino
- Editorial Service Kickbacks? Reading Fees? Protect Yourself! By Diane Craver
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Lindsey Danis (@lindseydanis) is a writer living in the Hudson Valley who covers food, LGBT, travel, essays and commentary.