Freelance Editing—Fallacies and Facts
Copyright 2004; 2016 by Patricia Anderson
When deciding whether or not to hire a freelance editor, you owe it to yourself to distinguish fallacy from fact.
As an informed author, you want to be clear in your own mind about misconceptions and truths before you trust a stranger, however professional, with your manuscript. It is, after all, the product of your hard work, creative energy, and most likely, some sleepless nights now and then.
What follow are five common beliefs about freelance editors and editing that might, or might not, be accurate. Now is the time to sort out which is which. And afterward, if you still have questions about editors, read “Meet Your Destiny: What Writers Should Know about Editing and Editors” and “Book Editing—More than Meets the Eye.”
1) A manuscript edited for spelling and grammar is a publishable manuscript. For most first-time book authors, this is a fallacy. In addition to being grammatically correct and free of typos, a manuscript must also meet the standards of style, structure, and originality that today's book trade demands.
2) Providing authors with introductions to agents and/or publishers is not typically part of the freelance editor's job. This is a fact. The editor is responsible for the sense and correctness of the manuscript. If the editor has done competent work, this will undoubtedly enhance the appeal of the manuscript, and the author can thus feel more confident about shopping it around or self-publishing it. In some cases, freelance editors will go further and connect clients to agents or publishers if there seems to be the possibility of a successful match. Depending on the editor and the situation, this might appropriately be a courtesy or a for-fee service. It is inappropriate (though not illegal) for the editor to ask for a commission.
3) Every author needs a freelance editor. This is a fallacy. There are in fact authors whose command of language, proofreading skills, and ability to stand back and assess their own work with some degree of objectivity are such that they can get published or represented without the help of a freelance editor. If you are not sure whether or not you are such an author, you do not necessarily have to pay for a full editing job in order to find out. A less-expensive alternative is an assessment (also called a critique or evaluation) of your writing and current project. This will usually establish clearly whether or not you require further editorial assistance.
Note: The above remarks apply to authors seeking conventional publication. All self-publishing authors, however proficient, should always hire an editor to ensure that their work is error free and meets professional publication standards.
4) A competent editor can edit anything competently. This, too, is a fallacy. Many experienced editors have considerable versatility and can properly edit a range of both fiction and nonfiction of varying lengths from article or short story to book. Others, such as technical editors, might be more highly specialized. The editor to watch out for is the one who claims to be able to tackle absolutely anything.
5) You get what you pay for. With editing, as with most services and products, this is a fact. Of course, the majority of editors do their best to charge fair fees, and many of us do all kinds of extra courtesy services. If you've done some comparison shopping, be wary of editors who are markedly less expensive than most others. They may mean well, but they could lack experience or work too fast to be meticulous—or both.
In short, these five points add up to what you might already be thinking. When you're looking to hire an editor, the old "buyer beware" maxim applies.
At the same time, there is a less tangible issue that goes beyond the cost of editing or the competency of the editor. Your manuscript is a part of you—inevitably, at some deep level, it is inseparable from who you are. An editor that can't appreciate this in a way that makes you feel comfortable might well be a fine editor for another author. But as your instinct is no doubt signaling, he or she is not the right editor for you.
And that's a fact!