Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
As we turn our attention to free-lance editors and how they fit into the publishing system, I’d like to start out with a description from Beth Adams at Guideposts as to the training she received before she became an editor.
“I started out as an editorial assistant at a big New York publishing house,” Beth explains, “and worked my way up. This is how most editors in the ABA world start out. You’re mentored for a few years by an experienced editor (meanwhile, you’re answering her phone, making photocopies, reading submissions, and learning the business firsthand), and then you start to take on projects of your own. Eventually, you have enough experience to go out on your own. There weren’t any tests or shortcuts (and I know, I looked for them!); it takes time, perseverance, experience, and skill to learn to do the job right.”
Knowing how to do the job “right” is a big part of what an in-house editor brings to an author. These editors are surrounded by experienced pros and are mentored in the role. Of course, some publishers choose to hire freelance line editors, copy editors and proofreaders. What those publishers look for in these freelancers can be instructive for a writer who is thinking about hiring a freelance editor.
Carol Johnson got it right when she said: “I believe the “editorial eye” is born, not made–a person either ‘has it’…or not. For example, my husband reads a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, and he often knows something is wrong with a passage or sentence, but he wouldn’t know how to fix it. Not to say that a book fixer’s skills can’t be improved–certainly they can! I’m still learning and improving my craft. But there has to be that inate ability to recognize the problem and figure out some ways to improve or correct it. A personal anecdote: I read Little Women as a 12-year-old, and I bought a Kindle last year, and this was the first book I downloaded (it was free!). In rereading it, I came across a passage with a writing glitch I had been bothered by during that first read years before.”
Vicki Crumpton of Revell Books spoke to the issue of qualifications when she wrote: “In twenty-two years, I’ve personally seen one copy edit that was so bad we simply started over. The outside editor had personal visions of what the project should have been, which were totally contrary to what we had contracted. Our book was essentially hijacked. I do believe my managing/project editors have seen inadequate copy edits and didn’t always tell me. They just brought the project up to our standards. The managing/project editors I’ve worked with over the course of my career have cared as much about projects and their authors as I do, and I’ve always felt like the manuscripts I turn over to them have been in the best of hands.”
How do publishers vet freelance editors? They:
- Ask for references from others in publishing who have used that editor’s services
- Have the editor take an editing test, which is designed to show if the editor understands the Chicago Manual of Style (which all the publishing houses I know use); if the editor knows how to smooth out a rough writing spot; if the editor picks up on grammar, punctuation and spelling errors; if the editor sees inconsistencies; if the editor knows when to question whether a source needs to have a footnote or endnote; if the editor has a heavy hand and really is more of a writer than an editor, etc.
- Take into consideration the editor’s resume. (Note: Being an author seldom is sufficient to qualify. That just means that person has been through the publishing process, not that the individual is qualified to edit.)
So how can that list translate into something helpful to a writer looking for a freelance editor? The main point is to hold the editor to a high standard. Don’t hire someone who doesn’t have the experience to really benefit your manuscript. Yes, such a person will cost you more money. But this truly is a situation of getting what you pay for. Look for a person who can offer you recommendations from publishing houses, not just other authors. Give the person a small sample of your writing and ask him or her to take an editing test with it. If you know someone (a grammar teacher, a creative writing instructor, etc.) who could look it over for you, that would help.
Before you hire an editor, know why you’re doing so. What goal do you want that person to achieve for you? Knowing your goal(s) will help you to decide the qualities you’re looking for. If you know you’re weak in grammar and punctuation, then concentrate on finding someone who can upgrade that aspect of your manuscript.
Also, I have to say that it’s not imperative you have your manuscript professionally edited to place it with a publisher or to find an agent. I’m always concerned when I see an edited manuscript. I don’t know where the writer left off and the editor stepped in. Did the editor save a bad story and turn it into something good? Did the editor take an unfocused manuscript and give it focus?
Agents and publishers like to know what they’re committing to. Will the writer always hire someone to cover the flaws? Probably not. But relationships are being formed based on a manuscript that has benefited from an editor’s work. It can prove to be a significant problem.
But you give me feedback.
Have you hired an editor?
How did you find that person?
What did you want the editor to achieve for you? Were you satisfied or disappointed?
Have you been told you need to hire a freelance editor? For what purpose?