Can a Freelance Edit Give Writers an Advantage?

Hiring a freelance editor may not be a viable option for every writer or even a necessary one (especially for beginners, as I mentioned in the last post).

However, with the ever-increasing competition in today's writing industry, we're often looking for anything that can help give us an advantage in our quest for publication.

I used a freelance editor for two completed manuscripts. Did it help me get an agent or book deal? Maybe, maybe not. I really have no way of knowing whether I could have succeeded without. It's possible.

Regardless of whether the professional edit helped me get an agent or not, it DID help me become a better writer and gave me the objective feedback I needed. In other words, getting a professional edit is never a guarantee that our writing will automatically be ready for publication. But it can help take our writing to the next level.

Paul Greci's comment on the last post summarized my thoughts exactly, the idea that a writer might want to consider an editor "especially if you have already taken classes, been in critique groups, exchanged manuscripts w/other writers, written several books and are in search of representation but not finding it. Or, maybe you've found it, but your book hasn't sold and you're stuck."

How do we find a qualified editor?

Like anything else in the writing industry, we have to take the time to do our research. My agent has a list of professional freelance editors which is a great place to start. (Click here for the list.) Read editor blogs, ask for client recommendations, check with other writers in your genre.

If you want the name of the person I used, send me an email. But. . . what was a good fit for me, might not be for you. So I still think everyone needs to do their own initial research. You may even want to check the comments on the last post. There were many who had very positive freelance editing experiences.

What exactly does an editor do?

As most of you know, there are different levels of edits. Here are the most common:

  • substantive: big picture of the story, plot, characterization, etc.
  • line-editing: scene/paragraph structure, language usage, dialogue, etc.
  • copy-editing: grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization

I like how Meredith Efken of Fiction Fix-it Shop breaks down each of the various kinds of edits. For more specific details on each type and which one might be appropriate for you, click here. (As a side note, she wasn't my editor but she is one on Rachelle's list.)

An editor will not rewrite problem areas for us. They will point out weaknesses, perhaps offer suggestions for change, but then let us do all the hard work to improve. The more work a manuscript needs, the higher the cost (which is why I caution beginners).

My editor did a line-edit and used the Microsoft Word revision balloons to make notes in the margin. Here are some of her exact notes at various points in my manuscript, The Preacher's Bride:

  • "Help me experience this more."
  • "Feels a little clunky--like you're trying to jam too much information into a short space."
  • "Infuse a bit more emotion or show this more."
  • "This is very passive. This could be written less convoluted."
  • "Too abrupt. You need to wrap up the conversation more fully."
  • "This is too long. I ran out of breath reading it in my head."
  • "Info. dump. Can you weave this in? You could even make it more effective by making it dialog."
  • "Telling. Don't use the word 'feeling' unless she's touching something and even then try to be more descriptive."
  • "This transition isn't strong enough. It doesn't build the intensity. We should be worried that it might not work. This is letting us off too easily."

What about the working relationship?

My editor did an initial critique of the first 5,000 words of my manuscript. This gave me a very good feel for how she worked and whether I wanted to pursue her services further.

I personally like a straight-forward edit. I'd rather have a blunt "This absolutely doesn't work here" versus "sweetie, um, maybe you need to think about switching this." As you can see from the comments my editor made, she gave me raw, objective, concise feedback. She didn't worry about hurting my feelings and that's why I liked working with her so much.

Of course we all want an editor who can point out our strengths as well as our weaknesses (and mine did compliment me at times). But we're paying an editor to tell us what's wrong and not to hold our hand and pat us on the back. It IS painful at times. But then any growth usually is.

The point is that we should always be looking for ways to grow in our writing skills--whether that means hiring a freelance editor or pursuing other avenues.

Are you making a conscious effort to grow? If so, how? And is it enough? Or are you at a place where you need to consider a new way to stretch yourself?

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