By Nancy Peske
When you search the Internet looking for advice and information about hiring a freelance editor, you’ll find many myths floating about. Too often, I’ve been called in to help out an author after she’s plopped down several thousand dollars for editorial services only to find herself not much closer to a publishable manuscript because she unwittingly hired the wrong type of editor. That’s why I’d like to bust seven common myths I’ve come across. Educate yourself so you can avoid hiring the wrong freelance book editor, because they are not all the same.
MYTH #1: Any editor can help you with any type of book you’d like to publish.
REALITY: Excellent editors may work in several genres, but for the most part, editors specialize. They can’t be experts on everything, and an editor with integrity will tell you flat out if he’s not the right person to help you with your book. He may be able to recommend a trusted colleague, but not always. Editors tend to have colleagues who work in a similar genre. Ask questions and review his credentials before you commit to working with him (or her).
MYTH #2: Editors at book publishing houses don’t edit these days.
REALITY: Traditional book publishers who carefully choose which books they’ll publish, and pay you for the right to publish your book, do include editing as part of the process. If a “book publisher” doesn’t edit your book for free prior to publication, you’re probably working with a self-publishing service, formerly known as a “vanity press,” not a traditional book publisher. A self-publishing service prints your book for you, helps you design a cover and the interior, ensures that the book is available in online bookstores as a physical book and a digital eBook, and more as part of a standard package. In addition, it offers add-on services; for example, many self-publishers have an option for hiring a publicist. If you self-publish with a publishing service, you have the option of hiring a freelance editor on your own rather than using someone from the company’s stable. The myth about editors not editing may have originated in the fact that traditional book publishers are set up to work with manuscripts that only require light editing, not a major overhaul. If you get a book deal, you and your literary agent may decide that you need to hire a freelance editor, book doctor, or writer to edit your manuscript so that it’s in tip-top shape before submitting it to the in-house editor. Your agent may offer some editorial advice as well, but you will be the one to pay the outside editor or book doctor. Sometimes, book publishers will specify in a contract who the freelance editor will be because they feel strongly about your working with that professional. Working with a freelance editor doesn’t mean your in-house editor won’t have some editorial ideas as well. Note that most book publishing contracts actually spell out that you will submit a second draft after incorporating edits suggested by your in-house editor.
MYTH #3: A freelance editor or writer who helps you prepare your book proposal to sell to a traditional book publisher does not need to know the marketplace.
REALITY: If you’re saying to yourself, “I want a book deal!” you need to hire a freelance editor who is knowledgeable about what publishers are looking for, someone who keeps up on the latest trends and may even be aware of books that are “in the pipeline” (not yet published but under contract). Working with a savvy freelance book editor, especially one who has ties to book publishers and perhaps even worked in a publishing house previously, will maximize your ability to get your book proposal sold. Keep in mind that even if you have written the entire manuscript for your nonfiction book, you need a book proposal in order to get a book deal.
MYTH #4: All editors do the same type of work.
REALITY: There are several types of editors. Some editors are in-house acquisitions editors at book publishing houses. They buy the rights to books and oversee their publication, acting as a liaison with other departments. Their duties may differ somewhat from house to house. The in-house acquisitions editor may or may not be the person at the publishing house who does the actual line editing or structural editing of your book. Freelance editors are often developmental editors who restructure manuscripts, clean up writing to make it less awkward and more consistent in tone, and add in transitions and headers. Developmental editing is also called heavy line editing, structural editing, or book doctoring. Developmental editors often, but not always, help you develop your ideas and are likely to be involved before the manuscript is written. There are also freelance editors who only do light line editing or copyediting. They don’t address the structure of the book, the voice, or the tone. Instead, they fix grammar and punctuation, decide on styling (such as choosing whether to hyphenate a word), fact check, and note inconsistencies. A copyeditor or light line editor doesn’t necessarily do developmental editing. A developmental editor will often only do minimal copyediting. When you hire an “editor,” be clear on what type of “editing” you are seeking.
MYTH #5: A great editor can proofread, copyedit, and do heavy structural and line editing and you can hire her to do all these tasks.
REALITY: Freelance developmental editors do a little copyediting as they work to get the book into shape for the publisher, but then the editor will turn over the manuscript to someone whose expertise is copyediting and proofreading. Even if the developmental editor happens to be a great copyeditor as well, she knows it’s better to have that second set of eyes looking at text that has become extremely familiar to her as the “big picture” editor. And remember, copyediting is the least of your concerns if you’ve got a manuscript with major problems. If you’re looking to get a book published, or get a literary agent to represent your work and submit your book proposal or novel to publisher, you need to focus on marketing concerns, structure, and voice first before you turn your mind to whether your headers are styled consistently or you misused the pluperfect tense on the top of page 172. It’s a waste of time to bother proofreading or copyediting a manuscript that needs major structural changes and extensive line editing until that work is done.
MYTH #6: A great copyeditor or line editor will have passed an online copyediting test administered by an online editors’ site.
REALITY: I’ve always found that the best freelance copyeditors (light line editors) are so busy juggling all the work that comes their way that they can’t be bothered proving themselves to every editorial mill by taking yet another copyediting test. When I have a client looking for a terrific freelance copyeditor (or proofreader, for that matter), I recommend a trusted professional I’ve worked with, or I simply send the client to check out the experienced professionals at http://www.the-efa.org (the Editorial Freelancers Association). That way, the client can look at a list of books a copyeditor has worked on and get a sense of whether that professional is the right one for the project, based on his or her previous experience.
MYTH #7: You can always find a terrific freelance editor of any type at the last minute because there are so many of them out there.
REALITY: Professional freelance editors are often booked up months in advance and, like everyone else, they enjoy some time off in the summer or around the holidays! If your dream is to hold in your hands a fabulous book with your name on it, plan ahead and procure a professional freelance editor early.