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What Are Freelance Editors, and Why Are They So Useful?

by Laura Buckley

Alpha readers, beta readers, proofreaders, copy editors, developmental editors – the number of people you supposedly need to get working on your book can feel endless at times. But there’s good reason to work with an editor of some description. Whether you’re trying to smooth out the tricky spots in your plot or looking to make sure no sneaky typos have slipped through the net, hiring an editor gives you more than just another pair of eyes on your work.

Choosing the right editor gives you access to a wealth of experience and a new perspective. I’ve worked with authors on a range of different projects, but my objective in every one has been the same: To help the writer make sure they’re saying exactly what they want to say in their work.

But why might you want to go for a freelance editor specifically? And how can you choose one?

What is a freelance editor?

You probably already know what an editor does. They work to polish and improve your manuscript, catching errors or issues and helping you to make necessary adjustments. Editors don’t just come in and make a bunch of changes to your work – or, at least, a good editor doesn’t! They make suggestions and recommendations based on their knowledge and experience, and can coach you through the process of ‘fixing’ any problems for yourself.

So, what’s so special about freelance editors?

A freelance editor isn’t employed by a larger company. They work independently, getting hired directly by writers for specific projects. Freelance editors often offer different types of services, from developmental editing to copyediting or proofreading, although some will only carry out one specific type of edit, so it’s important to be clear on what you need before you go looking for an editor.

Why hire a freelance editor?

Editors are absolutely invaluable for improving a writer’s work, but there are some specific advantages associated with working with a freelancer.

First and foremost, freelance editors are all about your work and your goals. Because you’re hiring them, their contract is with you and nobody else. That’s not to say that an editor in a publishing house doesn’t care about what you want for your book, or that you can’t trust them to care about your work. But part of being a freelancer is having complete flexibility of approach. They’re answerable only to themselves and to you, and that makes for a unique relationship.

As for why you should be hiring an editor at all? That depends a lot on your aims. If you want to be traditionally published, you may not need to hire an editor, although having somebody to read through your query package and first chapter or two to offer feedback can be phenomenally helpful.

If you’re in the process of querying and you’re getting full manuscript requests that aren’t going anywhere, that can also be an indication that you need a professional set of eyes on your work.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to self-publish, you should probably invest in some kind of editing to make sure the quality of your work is up to scratch for selling. I don’t say that to cast aspersions on your writing ability, but just because I know from experience how difficult it is to catch every error in your own work!

Another great thing about freelance editors is that many of them offer developmental editing or, in some cases, writing coaching. These services can be helpful if you’ve got a partial or rough first draft that you want to finish or flesh out, helping you to really get to the heart of what you want the finished manuscript to look like and mapping out a way to get you there. This is the kind of flexibility that I think makes freelance editors so valuable for authors.

How should you choose an editor?

If you’re interested in working with a freelance editor, there are a few key things to think about.

What kind of editing do you need? If you have a polished draft that just needs a final going over, you’re probably looking at proofreading or copy editing. If you’ve got a first draft that might need substantial overhauling, perhaps you want a developmental edit. As mentioned earlier, many editors offer more than one type of edit, and some will advise you on what specific service they think you need after looking at a sample of your work.

What’s your budget? Freelance editor rates vary tremendously, as do the way they approach payment. Some editors charge by the hour, some by the word, and some by the overall project. Know what you can afford, and talk to any prospective editors about what they can do within that budget. Freelance editors can sometimes offer tailored packages of work to suit your specific needs and means.

How do you want to work with your editor? Some editors will schedule check-in calls with you, while others might prefer to communicate only via email. Some are more specific and hands-on in their feedback and suggestions, while others will highlight issues and leave it completely up to you how you address them. Talk to editors about how you prefer to communicate and receive feedback to make sure you’re a good fit for each other before starting to work together.

It’s also important to bear in mind that freelance editors aren’t necessarily vetted or regulated. Most editors will be more than happy to show you testimonials or references from previous clients, so don’t be afraid to ask about their previous experience.

Working with the right editor should be a useful and creatively fulfilling experience, so take your time finding the right person for you!

Laura Buckley is a freelance editor, writer, and blogger. She posts writing advice and book reviews on her website. She loves working with newer authors to develop their confidence and help them to find their voice, and equally enjoys helping more experienced writers to further hone their work. You can also find her on social media, either on Twitter or Instagram.