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Working with a Freelance Editor

I’m a freelance editor after teaching high school English and having in-house editorial experience. Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of manuscripts at different stages. To me, editing is about partnering with an author. For any author to make the most out of working with a freelancer, the editor you choose is the best fit for the manuscript.

A freelance editor helps your manuscript be in its best form whether self-publishing or seeking traditional publishing. Skilled editors do not impose their preferences or ideas on your writing. The goal is to make your writing come alive by identifying your unique voice and style; then, the editor marks inconsistencies, errors, or anything that hinders your intended message to your target audience. To get the most out of your experience with a freelance editor, here are my suggestions.

When to Reach Out. Do not send your first draft to an editor or seek editing while you are still working on your manuscript. The writing and editorial process should be separated. Otherwise, it’s counterproductive. While drafting, it’s important to have the space and freedom for creative liberties. It’s just you and your manuscript. That’s not the time to be overly concerned about publishing, book covers, or editorial processes. Most authors can revise on their own after taking adequate break from writing their first draft.

As an editor, I find it difficult to edit a manuscript in parts—especially for developmental or “big picture” edits that focus on content and structure as opposed to grammatical errors. Keep in mind that developmental editing is not the same as taking a workshop since they serve different functions. A workshop or writing coach focuses on the writing process. On the other hand, developmental edit focuses on revisions and detailed review of a completed manuscript to fit your vision and standard for your target audience. After a writing class or workshop, the manuscript will be cleaner from a developmental point of view. However, workshop members or a writing coach will be familiar with previous drafts and your vision, so they may not be looking at the textual evidence with fresh eyes.

Choosing the right writer’s workshop also makes a difference. From my experience, I’ve had both productive and ineffective writer’s workshops. Some opt to use a writer’s workshop before approaching an editor or as a replacement for developmental edit. While that may sound like a cost-effective option, the quality of the feedback makes a difference. Also, the purpose differs, and you may not get a detailed developmental edit that you need from a workshop.

Experience. To find the best editor for your manuscript, consider his or her experience with the genre, past editorial experience, specialties, or interests. Then, take those factors and compare it to the needs of your manuscript. If your concern is chapter organization, voice, or characterization, you’re looking for a developmental or substantive editor.

If your concern is spelling, punctuation, or syntax, then you’d benefit from a copy editor. A copy edit should be done after the “big picture” issues of the manuscript are addressed through a developmental edit. For the most efficient editorial process, I do not recommend trying to do all the levels of editing at once.

Then, the question is whether you should hire an editor familiar with your genre. If you’re writing hard sci-fi or nonfiction nutrition advice, it’s beneficial to find an editor with a background in the sciences or health. If you’re looking for a content edit (called substantive edit), an editor experienced in your genre will be on the same page when it comes to tropes and conventions.

When it comes to copy editing or proofreading, I’m not as selective with manuscripts. Regardless of genre, a typo is a typo, a syntax error is still an error. When I’m copy editing or proofreading, I scrutinize the text closely. I have copyedited manuscripts of varying genres.

Some editors have a wide range of interests and can do all levels of editing (developmental, substantive, copy editing, proofreader), or even design your books. Some editors specialize in developmental editing. Even though I offer all levels of editing, I don’t proofread for an author if I performed another level of edit such as copy editing or substantive edit. The reason is because I’m too familiar with the manuscript to catch further errors. My advice is not to have the same editor copyedit and proofread your manuscript.

These are the questions to ask:

  • What is your experience as an editor?

  • What kind of books do you edit?

  • Have you edited books that are published?

  • What kind of an editor are you? (Developmental, substantive, copy editor)

  • What do you like about ______ (insert genre)?

  • What tools do you use to edit? (Track Changes, Google Docs, InCopy, or hardcopy)

  • Do you have any subject or genre expertise that could serve well in my project?

  • How long will take for you to complete this project with your schedule?

  • What’s your rate, billing methods, and other policies I should know about? (By the way, EFA also lists the common rates for different editorial services

Professionalism. When I was looking for wedding vendors, the best advice I received was to look for a person who communicates well or “gets you”, organized, and has the customer service skills and professionalism. Communication is important, because you want an editor who understands your needs and on the same page with you. You should also feel confident bringing up any issues that need troubleshooting. Trust your gut instinct and work with an editor you feel comfortable with.

Sample Edit. Ask for a sample edit of no more than 1,000 words or 4 pages. Most editors will be glad to provide you with a sample edit. A sample edit allows you to find the best fit for your manuscript. You can not only compare an editor’s competence but also her understanding of your character, scene’s mood, and style of writing.

A sample edit is beneficial for me, because I can assess the manuscript for a timeline and rate quotes. It gives me a better picture of the author’s style and manuscript’s editorial needs. Most importantly, the manuscript has to be a good fit for my skills and experience—which a sample edit allows me to determine. For instance, I’m not the best editor for a developmental edit for romance and will let an author know that. It’s not because I have anything against the genre. I’m not familiar with the tropes and genre to give adequate feedback. However, I’ll accept copy editing or proofreading of a romance manuscript.

Reference Checks. Contacting previous clients will give you an idea of a potential editor’s competence, professionalism, and personal confidence in knowing you hired the right person. 2 or 3 references will suffice. Ideally, these are previous clients in your genre.

Here are some questions to ask a reference:

  • What type of work has this editor done for you?

  • Were you satisfied with the work?

  • Would you recommend this editor? Why or why not?

  • How long have you known this editor?

  • What are the editor’s strengths and areas of improvement?

  • Would you hire this editor again?

  • Is there anything else I need to know?

How to find freelance editors. Ask other authors, your local writers’ organization, or libraries. Another resource I highly recommend is the member list and job listing page of Editorial Freelancers’ Association ( where you can either post an ad or search for editors according to skills, genre, location, and editorial expertise.


Biography. Indu Guzman is a Chelmsford-based freelance editor and book designer. She is also Boston Chapter Coordinator of Editorial Freelancers’ Association and SIPA member. After a career as an educator, she decided to pursue her love of books by pursuing publishing. Her experience includes editor roles at Ooligan Press. She decided to freelance because she enjoys partnering with writers to create books. Her clients include Harvard Business School and individual authors. Currently, she is working on her novel. More information about Indu and her blog, The Pen Life can be found here at

Twitter: Indu_Shanmugam


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