5 Things to Do Before Hiring a Freelance Editor

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

More writers are hiring editors these days, whether they’re going indie or just making sure the manuscript is polished before submitting to agents and publishers. If you’re a newer writer, unpublished, here are some things I think you should do before spending your hard-earned money on a freelance editor.

(1) Get objective feedback.

Run your work past a critique group or partner, if possible. Try to get the most honest feedback you can—not on grammar and punctuation, but on the overall content of your book. Are readers finding the book engaging? Are they reading to the end? Are they confused?

Self editing
(2) Edit & revise your book using reputable sources.

Find fiction resources HERE. My favorites for the revision phase are Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King, and Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell.

Non-fiction resources HERE. Writing a memoir or personal story? Click HERE.

Hiring an editor is like hiring a housekeeper. You don’t hire someone to clear your clutter and sort your mail. In fact, before the housekeeper comes, most of us run around like crazy picking up, because we pay the housekeeper to do the hard stuff. The “cleaner” your manuscript is, the more your editor can help you make it really shine.

(3) Understand and follow 3-act structure.

This is for fiction and memoir. PLEASE don’t underestimate the importance of story structure. If your editor has to spend the bulk of her time fixing your structure and educating you about it, you won’t get the best value for your editing money. You can learn structure on your own—and probably, your book won’t work without it. A couple of helpful resources are Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland, and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.

(4) Read your book out loud to catch awkwardness and poor phrasing.

This is especially helpful to make sure fiction dialogue is snappy and believable. But it helps with any kind of writing. Often when you read it aloud, you’ll catch problems you’d never spot by reading silently. Another trick is to print out your manuscript—again, you’ll catch things you might not have when reading on the screen.

(5) Make sure your editor has edited published books.

It’s difficult to verify the legitimacy and credentials of each editor. So do your best to verify that they’ve edited books that have been published by traditional publishers. It’s your best bet for getting a good edit.

Here are some freelance editors. There are a lot more out there in internet-land! Do your research.

Have you used a freelance editor? Tell us about your experience.


17 Responses

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  1. Great post, Rachelle, and thank you for the resources!
    * I’ve never used a freelance editor, mainly because I can’t afford a good one. I have heard glowing recommendations…and horror stories.
    * I guess that this might be worth adding – make sure that an editor you consider has worked with authors in your genre, and with a similar voice. For me, working with someone who’s edited for Andrew Greeley might be an ego boost, but it would likely be a disaster as while the genres are similar, the voices could not be more different.

  2. Rachelle, great points. Your last point makes a lot of sense. I’ve seen a lot of people who have opened up editing businesses without a whole lot of publishing/editing experience. I’m reluctant to hire someone who doesn’t have much experience to edit my work. Not because they won’t do a good job, but because I only have that kind of money to spend once, and I would rather not gamble on the kind of feedback I’ll receive. I want to use my money as wisely as possible as I work toward the goal of publication.

  3. I made the mistake of self-publishing my first novella without the services of a freelance editor. Never again! It’s not that expensive in the long run, and the results always make the finished work better.

  4. Jasen Flint says:


    I noticed editing is no longer lusted as a service on your website. Have you stopped offering those services?

  5. Rachelle, thanks for these things to ponder! I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to hire an editor once I have these main issues dealt with. I’ve heard that many agents prefer to see the manuscript before it’s been gone over by an editor, so they can see how the author writes, not how well they can follow editing suggestions. What are your thoughts?

  6. Carol Ashby says:

    I’ve used a free-lance editor before bringing my first novel to market last November. I heartily agree with the advice to do a lot of “pre-editing yourself. An experienced editor looks at your manuscript to see how much work it will require before quoting a price.

    Browne and King is one of the most valuable craft books I’ve read. I’ve read it more than once to refresh my memory on the details. An excellent resource for the more mechanical aspects of editing is “Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors” by Kathy Ide.

    I edit and re-edit and re-edit and (you get the idea) myself while I’m writing. I’m highly skilled myself in grammar (sounds braggy, but it’s true), so I only hired a content editor. When I’ve almost “finished,” I send the manuscript to my critique partner and beta readers to find any rough spots that still need polishing. They also catch any spelling and punctuation I may have missed.

    My editor works as an acquisitions editor for a small publishing house and freelances on the side. My budget allowed for a professional edit of a bit more than a quarter of the manuscript of Forgiven. Maybe the best part was the burst of confidence I got when she kept reading the rest of the manuscript as an ordinary reader because she had to find out what happened.

    She was a delight to work with, and I’ll be working with her again in March on number 2 in the series. If anyone wants her name, you can reach me through my website.

  7. Jennifer, we all (agents and editors) would certainly like to see how the author writes on their own. That said, many authors wouldn’t get the attention of an agent or editor without some help. So… you’re probably better off getting some help, and doing your best to use the editing as a learning experience so your writing continues to improve.

  8. Mary Felkins says:

    Very insightful, Rachelle. While it’s helped me to read comments from a paid editor in order to learn where my writing is weak (staging issues, etc.), no matter how many editors I paid to review even just one chapter, they’d all come back with different comments. I’m learning to be a student of my own writing, yet to choose objective sources ($) carefully. Because, from where I sit at my writing desk, there are no trees outside with money growing from the branches.

  9. Great advice. I often advise clients, especially those working on their first books, to put the manuscript away for a time–a month or more–and then read it again. We overlook a lot of errors because we’ve seen the words too much. A little distance helps.

  10. Leslie says:

    I LOVE editors! Mainly because they catch things I easily overlook like repetitiveness. I’ve had several I’ve worked with and while I’ve loved them all I’ve had my favorites. I particularly like it when an editor tries to keep my style as much as possible. What I don’t like is when an editor takes my style and book and try to make them theirs.

  11. Hannah Stone says:

    Great advice, thank you. The one about reading out loud is #1 to try this week for me. Also, I’ve noticed that every editor has his or her own style too similar to the author, so I agree that finding an editor within your genre is important.

  12. Great information. Thank you.

  13. Kate says:

    The editor’s help is an important step in writer’s work.

  14. I myself am blogging. I plan to write a book. I know how hard it is to find a good editor. Your advice very helpful for me. I ask friends and relatives to read my book. They are my best editors.

  15. Thanks for the article.Thanks Again.

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