Updated: Jul 17, 2018
My name is Brittany, I'm a freelance editor, and I'm starting this with the intention of sharing helpful things I've learned over the past few years of working with authors and publishers. I would also love to answer questions and open up a dialogue with other editors and writers, so please leave comments for me.
It's also serving as kind of a defense mechanism. Recently I attended a writers' conference put on by the Oklahoma Writers' Federation. This was the first writing conference I've been to, and I lucked out by picking this one. They had great speakers and I met some wonderful people. My primary reason for going was not to drum up new business, but to hear about what kinds of problems writers run into, how they deal with them, and what professionals are telling them to do. I learned a lot about these things, and also something I didn't expect: there are some major misconceptions out there about what editors do. So in this first post I'll try to counter some of these. If you're considering getting your work edited and you've never engaged with an editor before, or you have and it was a terrible experience, I hope this will help clear up what you should expect when working with a freelance editor.
Misconception number one: I don't need my work edited. My agent/the publisher will do it.
I didn't realize this before hearing an agent talk at the conference, but some agents are actually editors as well. This seems a little odd--agents are famously busy and editing is a specialized skill that takes a great deal of time, focus, and energy--but I'm sure some agents are marvelous editors and this works out well in some cases. However, contracting an editor is not something that only writers who plan to self-publish do, as a lot of people at this conference seemed to think. Every agent who spoke admitted that when going through submissions, they can usually tell they're going to reject a manuscript after reading the first paragraph, and sometimes the first sentence. So if you don't yet have a publisher or an agent, having an editor's help before submitting your work could make all the difference.
Misconception number two: Editors are grammar nazis and they'll change my voice to make everything grammatically correct.
Nope! This is actually not what an editor does, particularly with fiction. Of course a copyeditor is going to check for typos and mechanical errors, but also many, many other things, like character development, plot structure, consistency, tone, tension, emotion, and clarity. One writer said that she hired a freelance editor who corrected "who" to "whom" in dialogue. A professional editor would never do such a thing--unless there's a good reason, like the character is a pedantic English teacher. (Even then, I would probably suggest it in a query, rather than just change it.) In fact, if you've got a character who's saying "whom" all the time, that's a red flag, because that dialogue isn't exactly going to be natural. The bottom line here is that changing the author's voice is a cardinal sin of editing. It is not okay, and it makes me very sad that there are apparently people out there who do it.
Misconception number three: A freelance editor will take all my money, change everything, and never speak to me again.
By this time I was a bit overwhelmed--they were catching me off guard with these stories and I was having to defend my entire profession. So here's the deal: a good editor will have a good contract, and you should carefully read it. I've been a contract manager for several years, and that's helped me put together a comprehensive template, which I tailor for each client. There are other things you can do to protect yourself:
Check for memberships. Editors who pay dues to a professional organization, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association, are more likely to be legit.
Check their website and social media presence for testimonials, and ask for them if you don't find any.
Find out what training they have, and whether they have had much practical experience.
Ask them to edit a short sample, maybe a couple of paragraphs or a page, to get an idea of their style. Communication is incredibly important. Spell out exactly what you're looking for, and if the editor isn't being forthcoming about price, schedule, or the deliverables, run away!
I want you guys to have the best possible information, and I hope you will reach out to me if you have any questions. I may not post here too terribly often, but I'm always available on Facebook and by email.