You’ve finished your masterpiece and want to get it professionally edited. If you have no access to brick and mortar editors, you might be considering using an online, freelance editor. Scrolling through freelance profiles on the many sites they populate sometimes has the same seedy feeling of looking through the personals section of a newspaper (we’ve all done it—let’s just call it morbid curiosity). How do you separate the amateur from the professional? More importantly, how do you ensure this person meets your expectations? Here’s a few basic tips to help you along.
Know how much you should pay.
A good place to start would be to check out the Editorial Freelancers Association website. This organization provides a pay rate chart which offers common rates for different types of editorial freelance work. While this chart provides hourly rates, you may want to pay a flat fee.
The danger of the flat fee is some people make the mistake of paying the freelancer everything up front. Don’t let this be you. If you agree to hire a freelancer based on a flat rate, most websites (Upwork, Freelancer, etc.) allow you to set milestones for the freelancer to meet. Money is not released until each milestone is achieved and approved by you. If the website doesn’t, or you are dealing with someone who owns their own business, you need to work this into a contract (more on contracts below).
Fees for work will vary. The more experience the editor has (which should be reflected in a portfolio and resume) the more they might charge. Knowing this, resist the temptation to take the lowest bid you see.
For example, if you post a contract to get your 80,000 word novel copyedited and someone offers to do the work for $50 (USD), know you are likely dealing with an amateur. In my opinion, no legitimate editor is going to offer to work for .000625 cents per word.
A legit editor should send you a contract of some sort.
If you select a person, start corresponding with them, and they never mention a contract—that’s a red flag. Freelancers get shafted by clients just as often as clients get shafted by amateur freelancers. By this I mean many people like the idea of being a freelancer (reading is fun, thus, reading in my underwear while imbibing and getting paid is more fun), but the application (long hours, lots of style guide searching, strained eye balls, formal training) causes them to throw the white flag up before they finish the work. On the other hand, plenty of freelancers have had clients disappear unannounced, rage quit, or simply lose interest before they could finish their work. For these reasons, a contract is essential.
The EFA website offers an example of what a contract could look like.
Also, for the purposes of transparency and education, here is a sample template I work with in my own business. Keep in mind this contract was specific to a client and not applicable to all situations. It blends together elements I needed for that specific job.
The contract should specify what work is required. It’s not good enough for it simply to say “editing” or “copyediting.” It needs to indicate exactly what kind of editing is required and what this means. Even among editors, there seems to be some disagreement about these definitions. With that being said, ensure you are both clear with what work will be done.
While I focus on general editing, as explained on my services page, there are many other types of editing out there. If you are unfamiliar with the different types of editing, I would encourage you to swing by North of Andover, The Sentranced Writer, and Dario Ciriello’s WordPress sites. They are all editors who I have corresponded with via my blog who I feel have intuitive breakdowns of their various services. They also do a good job of providing definitions of service.
Do a test run as part of the interview process.
You do a test drive before you fork out money for a car. Why not take your freelancer for a test drive before you pay them too? After all, it’s better to hire a professional once, then stumble through multiple amateurs who may still not make the grade. Personally, I don’t mind if a prospective client asks me to edit a chapter or two for free.
*Note. Before you ever send your manuscript to anyone, you should generate a nondisclosure agreement. This prevents them from farming the work out to a third party, or using your manuscript for nefarious purposes.
It’s also essential to check out profiles, resumes, and portfolios. Gloss over the soft sell information (lover of fiction, bibliophile, editor of the school newspaper) and hone in on formal training, established past work, or better yet, both.
Establish how you will communicate, and follow through.
Most, if not all, contracts between freelancers and clients stipulate some kind of timeline. It’s really unnerving to ask a client a question and not get a response for days, or to get a poorly written, one sentence response. It’s even more of a low blow to schedule a video or phone conference and have your client be a no-show.
Remember, you are entering into a professional contract with a professional person. The more of a relationship you establish with them, the more they will care about the work they are doing for you. Some freelancers might even have professional connections of their own to share. Start developing these pro habits now, because the next step may be courting agents and publishers—miss a meeting with them and it’s game over. *sad trombone*
Don’t take it personally.
I’m a writer. I get it. It’s hard to receive criticism sometimes. However, it’s far better to flush out the issues in private than to hire an amateur editor to tell you the work is amazing. I have friends who are editors who can rip my work to pieces, but somehow make me feel warm and fuzzy about it. On the flip side, I have friends who could edit, but I only ask to beta read because their editorial process makes me want to punch kittens—and I love kittens.
The point is, not all editors are good fits for all authors. There can be personality conflicts on either end. Try to flush these issues out in the hiring process by asking questions and paying attention to the responses. Don’t be afraid to do a video or phone interview.
Lastly, don’t rush into hiring.
Just because you posted a job, doesn’t mean you have to hire someone immediately. Check multiple websites, make multiple posts, or see if there are non-freelance options that might suit you better. In the end, no one is going to care about your work more than you will. It’s up to you to place that precious cargo into the best hands available.
That’s it for today. What have your experiences been like working with, or as, a freelancer? I’d be interested to know viewpoints from both perspectives. Given I have only been working as a freelance editor professionally for around a year, I am constantly learning and tweaking my process. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!