5 Things to Ask Your Freelance Editor So You Don’t Get Suckered


Finishing a book is a huge accomplishment. You’ve invested time, emotion, and tears for months if not years on end, and the fruit of your labor is now complete. Now, what do you do with it?

Whether you traditionally or self-publish, your book needs professional editing. Without it, your chances of success in the marketplace are very slim.

Why Your Book Needs Editing 

It's rough out there for new authors. Publishing houses have less and less money to spend, and it's absolutely crucial to put your best face forward and show the publisher that it won't have to invest in heavily developing your manuscript.

And wouldn't any author want to show his or her work in the best shape it can be, under any circumstances? The amount of submissions publishers receive every day is astronomical. Don't give them an easily avoided reason to pass on yours.

What to Ask Your Editor

When you both know what to expect of each other, the writer–editor relationship can be a beautiful thing. But the Internet is crawling with scammers trying to make an easy buck, and finding a freelance editor without a recommendation is daunting.

To help you sort through all the posers and find the legitimate editors, here are 5 questions you can ask so you can find a qualified editor who can take your book to the next level.

1. “Can you give me a reference?”

Not every editor has been in the game for decades, and most authors needn't expect this. But it shouldn't be difficult—or unexpected—for your editor to furnish you with the names and numbers of people familiar with his or her work.

If your editor cannot offer you a single professional contact from his or her entire career, it’s due either to a lack of experience or a lack of favorable review. Take your manuscript elsewhere. 

2. “What style guide do you use?”

With novels, The Chicago Manual of Style is industry standard. But this isn't a deal-breaker; a skilled and knowledgeable editor will be able to work under another style guide's conventions with little difficulty.

But while there isn't necessarily a right answer to this question, there certainly is a wrong answer: "Huh?"

Don’t write off a qualified editor who is more familiar with AP than CMOS. Do write off an editor who can’t tell you what they are.

3. “Where do you fall on serial commas?” 

This is, admittedly, a bit of a trick question—but I wouldn't ask you to push your editors any harder than I would expect to be pushed myself. And I’ll talk about serial commas any day.

Serial commas are universally cherished among both Chicago enthusiasts and the word-nerd population at large. They look like this:

Kirk, Spock, and Bones remained on the bridge.

There's a comma before the “and”—you know, showing that “Spock” was just another list item like any other. As is logical.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to give your editor a written exam on serial commas—you just have to make sure the understanding is there. The consistency of your manuscript depends on it.

4. “Can you give me a style sheet?” 

Quick disclaimer: "style sheet" isn't necessarily CMOS terminology, so don't slam any doors if your editor doesn't recognize the phrase. But it should eventually be determined that your editor can provide you with a list of notable words, phrases, and style conventions he or she encountered in your manuscript.

Basically, a style sheet is a list of terms the editor refers to while working through the manuscript: hyphenated terms, proper nouns, special rules pertaining to numbers, and other editorial shorthand.

Whatever your editor calls it, it's important that there is some sort of a system by which terms in the manuscript can be checked for consistency on the editor’s way through.

5. What do you charge? 

Editing is a valuable skill that deserves professional rates. It takes focus, concentration, an excellent grasp of grammar, sensitivity to an author’s unique voice and perspective, meticulous care, and vast patience. I speak to people who shudder in horror when I tell them what I do for a living; it’s not for everyone.

There will always be someone who can do it cheaper. But those who fall over backward to meet a price far below professional rates only reveal that there are no more tempting offers for them on the horizon. Smart authors ask why.

Go Forth and Prosper

These are just five arbitrary questions that can help a new author wade through the sea of potential editors out there and settle on one that is qualified, experienced, and professional. Make sure you prepare a list of your own, and make sure you’re comfortable with your final choice!

A good editor won’t make your writing career. But a bad one just might break it.
Guest post by Sarah Kolb-Williams, a writer, editor, and serial comma enthusiast from the Twin Cities. Find her at kolbwilliams.com


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