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?


  1. Great points again, Jody! I'm tweeting this one.


  2. I feel my settings are weak. Lately, I've been making it a point to beef them up.

    Whoa, intense edit feedback you got there. My ego, at this point, is too brittle for that kind of scrutiny.

  3. Great points! And I love the questions at the end. Because, really, this is the crux of a successful writer. Taking steps to grow. And yes, it is painful at times.

  4. I am still trying to grow, but stretching is reaching past trying to grow, I think. A good stretch is always helpful.
    Thanks for the examples!

  5. Your remarks sound like what I get from my crit group!

    I think, at the moment, I'm getting stretched a lot. I've thought about the whole "hire and editor" but money stops me at the moment. With the wee little one on the way, we're watching our pennies. But I DO feel like I get a ton of great feedback from my crit group at the moment, and it's meeting my needs for now.

    SOMEDAY I'd love to find a crit partner, just the one person to "trade" books with and crit away (can we say barter system???) and to help keep each other accountable. I see such GREAT examples of good crit partner relationships amount Christian Fiction writers, and for me, I think that far off "someday" I'd love to have that.

  6. Wow. That was some great feed back that you got. I am not yet up to this stage, but when I am I will look into it again.

  7. Great points & advice! I am currently in the process of really growing. I am reading several blogs *claps* and have gotten wonderful feedback and information.

    I am currently researching my character, finding out who she is and what she does, the in's and out's and I believe she is truly growing as am I!

  8. Excellent thoughts! I have one crit partner who is awesome at catching similar things your freelance editor did. Unfortunately, her schedule has changed and we've had to take a break. My other crit group catches a lot of great things, but I feel like my writing has been more stagnant lately (that could also be due to the fact that I'm in draft mode and trying not to think about rules too much right now). All that to say, I'm anxious to ramp myself up to the next level, so a freelance editor might be just the answer.

  9. I'm sold on the "infuse more emotion" bit. I remember almost a year ago when you wrote about your experience I wrote the name down and have it filed. Still an option for me.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with it!
    Have a peaceful weekend,

  10. Thank you for the information. I am still growing as a writer and still finding out who my characters are. I do have a great critique partner but it is good to know what other options to research. I will defiantely book mark this.

  11. effort - some days not so much to be honest.

    desire - much.

    conundrum ensues.

  12. This is a thoughtful, helpful post. Thank you for including your editor's feedback. Have never been close to that point, but it reminded me of what I might get from and English teacher (I mean that as a good thing)...albeit with no second chance to turn in the paper!

  13. I love that you included the editor feedback points! Thanks for this post.

    I'm learning so much!

  14. Thanks for the cool links! I noticed some have some other links on their sites too.
    Didn't know you were once a social worker. Is that what your degree is in?

  15. Unfortunately, it does cost money to hire a good freelance editor. However, if you are really serious about your writing, I'd chalk it up to a good investment. Even just signing up for a critique from a published author at the next ACFW conference would be a good first step, and not as expensive. Sometimes we need a little dose of reality. I know I did. The editors I have used have not only strengthened my writing, but strengthened me as a writer as well. I learn so much every time I allow someone who has gone before me to scrutinize my work. Yes, it's humbling. Yes, it can be expensive. (DO YOUR RESEARCH!!) But it's oh so worth it!

  16. I'm trying. I've found that if I listen to the perspective of those who've critiqued/edited my work, they help me look at it differently. I don't always use their suggestions, but trying to envision their intentions always makes me strengthen that line, scene, etc.--and makes me a better writer.

  17. I'm having blogging withdrawel, missing so many posts this week with life running rampant around here.

    Paid editors/critiquers, if found properly, are definitely a writer's aid for sure. Nothing good is ever cheap though, unfortunately.

  18. Thanks for the post. Makes me step back and be a little more objective about things.

  19. I will admit you make editor look appealing.

  20. Great post! Fortunately, my sis-in-law is a published author and an excellent editor. She has edited a few of my pieces and her help has proven invaluable. Two the the three pieces were published and I'll be hearing about the children's story I submitted, sometime in March.

    Good food for thought! Have a great weekend, Jody!

  21. I definitely need to stretch myself this year, I'm just trying to figure out the best way to do it. Thanks for sharing some of the notes the editor wrote. They sound very specific and helpful. Just the kind of advice a serious author needs and could use to improve their manuscript.

  22. Fortunately, I had some great crit group readers who were able to provide me with feedback much like what you described, so I didn't feel like it made sense to also go to a paid service. I might have felt differently if I hadn't felt like my readers were SO in-tune with what I was trying to acheive with the novel!

    I'm definitely hoping to grow. I'm looking for classes to help me: structure, plus in-person relationships with teachers & students.

    (FYI: You got a mention in my blog yesterday!)

  23. I am making a conscious effort to grow. I think that if writers ever stop trying to get better, they should stop writing.

    I'm so glad your free-lance editor worked for you.

  24. Jody, oh thank you, thank you! I am definitely taking your advice. Thanks so much for the guidance you sent to me. I will wait until I get feedback. I haven't queried yet. I am finalizing my synopsis and query and then I'll query the middle of February.

    What you say here makes so much sense. Wish me luck. I have already started compiling a list of editors. In case I decide to use one. So I'll be ready. I'm going to take a look at Ms. Gardner's list too.

    Have a super weekend Jody. BTW, it sounded exciting to be flown in for meetings. (^_^)

  25. I am always trying to grow as a writer. I'd love to get feedback like that from an editor.

    But I'm one of those 'beginners' so an editor would probably look at my first 5,000 words and say 'are you sure you can afford this?'

    Someday (hopefully!) semi-soon I'll be at that point. :)

  26. I finally feel I am at the point where I can take direct, concise feedback. I need it to grow and I'm ready to hear it...I couldn't say that a few year ago:)

  27. Very interesting blog. All best wishes from
    Daniel D. Peaceman, writer, book reviewer and editor of Contemporary Horizon Magazine

  28. Great, thoughtful post as always. It's a catch 22 for me. I'd absolutely love to have an experienced editor critique my mss. But because I stay home with the kids, while I may have more time to write, the cost is out of reach for me.

  29. i find sometimes I need outside comments to really grow.

  30. You mention more work the higher the cost. I have to say that I am only familiar with editors who charge a flat rate per page count.

    I utilized a former Pocket Books, Carolyn Tolley editor who gave great feedback and who actually is responsible for the final draft of a manuscript which did get me an agent. She did an entire manuscript edit and also gave me the option or resubbing it to her for no additional cost when I had inputted her suggestions and phone consultation if desired.

    Leslie Wainger of Harlequin also does freelance editing and has a web page.

    I lean towards editors and former editors for editing, however knowing Camy Tang she does an excellent job and I have been fortunate enough to have a first chapter edit by her.

    Great post!

  31. Great post, Jody! I have been getting some crits done on my WIP and it has been really good to see the areas I need help on. I would say that beginner writers, like myself, should wait a few years and get several manuscripts under their belt before hiring an editor. Having my editor/dad edit my first 6 chapters was eye opening and very instructional, but it almost made me give up my dream of writing. My father was very gentle with me and very kind, but since I was so new, there was so much that needed to be fixed. It was overwhelming and I thought there was no way I would ever be able to produce anything worth reading. It was through some encouraging online friends and God speaking through His Word that I was able to gather up my dream and begin again. I think new writers would benefit from critiquing and learning to handle criticism before being subjected to an editor's red pen. Just my two cents. :)

  32. Hi Jody -

    Thanks for the tips on hiring a freelance editor.

    I've been to about five large conferences, have two crit partners, read articles online, craft books, and...write.

    I'm not where I'd like to be, but my writing has improved.

    Susan :)

  33. Great post, Judy. Hiring a freelance editor is quite costly, but I think it makes a world of difference if you're at the right place in your journey and ready to make that final push toward publication.

  34. Excellent post, Jody! Years ago, when I was editor of a travel magazine, a top-notch copy editor who worked with me said, "Even the very best writers can improve with a good copy editor." She was right -- and I learned so much from her. The work of my best writers sparkled a little more after this editor had polished their pieces.

    Amazingly, grammar and syntax aren't taught as widely these days, even in journalism school. Which is why all of us could use another professional eye.

  35. Thanks for the tips! Need to bookmark these for future reference.

  36. Very informative post!
    Thanks! :)
    Best wishes. :)

  37. Am I EVER making an effort to grow? New agent has had me fill out a detailed questionnaire examining every possible aspect of my book PLUS a proposal PLUS the new chapters. The good part is I'm really working out big problems AHEAD of time. Now if she just LIKES it.

    I also want to get ahold of The Art of War real soon.


  38. Good, solid advice, and great connections. Thank you so much!

  39. This was a great post, Jody! (I'm behind again.) I, too, appreciate straight forward "do this" kind of editing. We don't have time to spend reading between the lines of soft comments.

  40. As always, this is so helpful. I really appreciate your sharing from your own experiences.


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