- Writer Unboxed - https://writerunboxed.com -

Freelance Editing: How to Hire an Editor for Your Book or Query Letter

Photobucket [1]
photo by 4BlueEyes Pete Williamson

GIVEAWAY: I am (again) so very excited to announce the Nov. 2012 release of my newest book: CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM [2]. It’s a book all about how to build your visibility, brand, network and discoverability so you can better market yourself and your books. I’m giving away 1 copy to a random commenter based in the U.S. and Canada; comment within one week to win. Good luck! (Update: Joe Levit won.)

During the past few years, I have started doing more freelance editing for query letters and books/novels [3]. And during that time, I’ve definitely started to notice some tips that I think would help writers who are seeking to get their work edited by a professional. With that in mind, here are 6 pieces of advice for hiring a freelance editor as well as the answers to 4 frequently asked questions on the topic.


1. Get a test edit. Hiring a freelance book doctor costs money, and you don’t want to plunk down a large chunk of change before you’ve seen the kind of services an editor will provide. So ask for a test edit. A test edit basically means you pass along a few pages and get them reviewed to see what kind of notes and ideas the editor is making in terms of proofreading and content work. Test edits usually work one of two ways: 1) You pass on 1-2 pages and the editor reviews them for free; or 2) you pass on a more substantial number of pages (10-50) and simply pay the editor as normal for those pages. If you like what you see from the test edit, then you can move forward on a bigger deal.

2. Look for referrals and success stories. These days, everyone lists “freelance editor” on their qualifications. Scan the ads of writing websites and publications to see dozens of people vying for your business. That’s because “freelance editor” is a desirable profession, as the work can be done from anywhere. So when you’re seeking out a freelance editor, seek not only an impressive bio and qualifications, but also referrals and success stories. Talk to writing peers who have used editors and find out if they liked what they received in the exchange. And, of course, nothing succeeds like success — so look at what projects the editor has worked on that 1) got published by a traditional publisher, 2) secured literary agent [4] representation, or 3) had notable success after being self-published. That will be a big clue if the editor is truly helping people get published and achieve their goals.

3. Be upfront about what you want out of the edit. This is a big one. Know if you’re in a hurry to get feedback. Know if you want an edit that’s heavy on copyediting and proofreading, or an edit specifically to analyze the pacing/tempo of your writing. Know if you want the editor to take a closer look at some section that’s bothering you. If you’re seeking a nonfiction book proposal edit, for instance, it would help if you knew that you wanted the review to mostly focus on your marketing plan and platform, provided you felt that was the weakest section. If you do not give specific instruction, the editor will take a broad approach to the work.

4. See about getting a second look for a little more. After I edit someone’s query or synopsis, they sometimes ask if I will review the revised version for free. Unfortunately, this is something I cannot do. It would be like working overtime and not getting paid. At that same time, I didn’t feel good about asking them for a double fee to review the revision, because reviewing said revision is less work than the first go-round. So I started saying upfront to clients that if they wanted a second query edit (an edit of the revision), it would simply be a little more than the original edit price. Some people really desire this second look, while others don’t need it. If you’re in the first group, ask upfront about getting a discounted second review. (Please note that just because an editor can’t do a free second review, that doesn’t mean that they can’t answer questions about the notes given. An editor should always want their suggestions to be clear and easy to follow.)

5. Beware anyone who charges way too little or way too much. Several years ago, I got an angry e-mail from a writer who had almost gotten scammed by someone claiming to be an “independent editor.” The writer and editor had a simple back-and-forth dialogue, but when it came time to issue payment, the editor asked for “$5,000U.S.” (Asking for “U.S. dollars” is almost always a red flag!) The writer quickly surmised she was being scammed and backed away. The flipside of this coin is anyone who promises you everything for way too cheap, with a response like, “Sure, yeah, I can do anything you want! I can do everything and anything to your 120,000-word novel for just $150!” This latter editor is likely just skimming work at best and giving generic, pre-packaged remarks in their feedback. Avoid both of these types of scammers.

6. Always speak of your novel in terms of word count, not pages. The font you choose and the margins you use can drastically affect page count. So always speak in terms of the novel’s completed word count (e.g., 78,000 words).


1. “How much do freelance edits cost?” It varies on the editor, their level of expertise, what you’re asking of them, how fast you want them to work, and, naturally, the length of the novel. All those figures make the final fee vary greatly. To get a novel edited, you could be looking at anywhere from $400 – $2,000, depending on the factors I mentioned. Some editors charge by word while some charge by page. Those who are doing proofreading or editing a nonfiction book proposal usually work at an hourly rate. Query and synopsis edits are typically a flat fee.

2. “Do freelance editors do proofreading for grammar and spelling? Or do they edit the content of the novel?” Some do the former; some do the latter; some do both. Proofreading is generally cheaper than content/story editing. Ask upfront about this. Different editors have different fortes, and, again, it all depends on what you want to get out of the edit.

3. “Do I really need an editor before submitting?” I can say with absolute certainty that you need someone to look over your work and give you blunt, constructive feedback. People need outside perspectives on their writing to show them the flaws they cannot see. With that in mind, a lot of people seek out beta readers (writer peers and friends) to edit their work. Beta readers are a good way to go — but these readers must be intelligent, capable, and blunt (and hopefully published, themselves). Otherwise, you may just get a lot of positive reviews from people who love you but can’t objectively edit your work. It’s typically writers who don’t have a reliable cadre of beta readers that seek out a freelance editor [3].

4. “Is a contract signed?” If you want one, the editor should definitely provide one. If the editor puts up a big stink about a contract, that, to me, sounds like a red flag.

Anything I’m missing? A helpful tip or the answer to an FAQ? Please feel free to share in the comments. Happy holidays to all! I’ll see you back on WU in 2013. Know that I’m also speaking at a lot of writers’ conferences in 2013 if you can get out to meet me personally. Look here for a list of writers conferences [5], or here to see my column on “What are the BEST Writers Conferences to Attend? [6]

GIVEAWAY: I am so very excited to announce the Nov. 2012 release of my newest book: CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM [2]. It’s a book all about how to build your visibility, brand, network and discoverability so you can better market yourself and your books. I’m giving away 2 copies to random commenters based in the U.S. and Canada; comment within one week to win. Good luck! (Update: Joe Levit won.)





About Chuck Sambuchino [7]

Chuck Sambuchino [3] is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS [8] and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. [9] His Guide to Literary Agents Blog [4] is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK [10], which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM [2]. Connect with Chuck on Twitter [11] or at his website [12].