Posts Tagged ‘Do You Need a Freelance Editor?’

In Defense of the Freelance Editor

Monday, May 18th, 2015
Do you really need a freelance editor?

A freelance editor is your friend in times of writerly uncertainty.

In a May 2012 blog posting, Vetting an Independent Editor, author and blogger Victoria Strauss makes a compelling argument against hiring a freelance editor. At Beaumont Hardy, I have long argued for the benefits of a freelance editor. However, Ms. Strauss’s argument makes several points that are worthy of further discussion. In the Comments section after her blog, several freelance editors disagree with the author’s argument, and I explain some of my own disagreements below.

The main point of Victoria Strauss’s argument is that authors should beware of fly-by-night freelance editors who charge—often very high fees—for services they are ill-equipped to provide. She warns of the people who try to capitalize on the recent self-publishing boom by setting themselves up as online editors. She recommends that authors verify the skill level of potential editors by asking about their membership in professional editing associations or by requesting a list of past clients and projects. Underlying Ms. Strauss’s argument is her assertion that many authors do not need a freelance editor at all.

Writers and editors often disagree about the type of training or certification a reputable freelance editor should have. Some claim that only people with advanced degrees or degrees in a particular subject are qualified to edit in a freelance capacity. However, while degrees are commendable and impressive, they do not necessarily indicate that the degree-holder appreciates the fundamentals of good writing. Academic study, even in a particular field, does not automatically confer an ability to edit. Similarly, membership in a freelance editing association, while indicating a level of interest and commitment, also does not conclusively prove that someone is a good editor.

I believe that what determines a good editor is the ability to efficiently spot the weaknesses in a text and correct them in such a way that the author’s voice and ideas remain fundamentally unchanged. It is the practice of editing, not the preliminary degrees or certificates, that determine an editor’s qualifications. For that reason, at Beaumont Hardy, I offer a free sample edit to every client. Usually five pages in length, the sample edit shows the client exactly the type of changes I will make to their work and, I believe, is far more illustrative of my abilities than a certificate or degree. In fact, I make no mention of my degrees on my website, and few clients have ever asked me for this information. I will, of course, willingly provide it.

As Ms. Strauss indicates, a freelance editor’s former clients and past projects can be very helpful to a prospective client who wants to know about the editor’s success rate. However, some editors are unable to provide much information about former clients. For example, I work with academics and job applicants who prefer not to publicize the fact that their work has received a final professional edit. Similarly, people whose business letters I write and edit often request that their projects—many of which contain sensitive information—remain confidential. Most prospective clients, I believe, understand the importance of confidentiality in the world of editing and might realize that full client lists are impossible to disclose.

Fundamentally, though, I differ with Victoria Strauss in her notion of the purpose of a piece of prose. She suggests that only self-published authors need to consider the option of hiring a freelance editor. I agree about the importance of a freelance editor for self-published books; too many readers have been disappointed by the unedited text in self-published books they have bought. But self-published work is not the only work that benefits from the objective eye of a freelance editor. I have edited the autobiographies of clients who write only for the purpose of leaving a personal, unpublished history for their families. They do not intend to publish but want to leave behind a piece of informative, well-edited text. Similarly, owners of restaurants seek editing help for their menus and flyers, even though nobody will ever pay to buy this written work. And students at all levels ask me to proofread or edit their assignments, destined only for a course instructor. These writers all recognize the enduring quality of text, regardless of whether anyone ever publishes it. They hire a freelance editor to leave behind a record of polished and streamlined text, even if it will only have a few uncritical readers. While Victoria Strauss might not argue with the need for an editor in each of these situations, she believes that a writer can usually find a friend, relative or fellow writer who can provide a solid edit for free. Effective, unpaid editors of this type probably do exist, but I believe that no friend or colleague can replace the objective eye of an experienced freelance editor who knows how to efficiently read and deftly improve a piece of text.

Hiring or not hiring a freelance editor is, of course, a personal decision that each writer must make for him or herself. But the hiring decision need not be as complex or as fraught with pitfalls as Victoria Strauss suggests. A writer need only find someone with a clear understanding of the written word. Many honest, scrupulous editors exist online, waiting to help writers create their best, most compelling written work. Beaumont Hardy is among them.

Do You Really Need a Freelance Editor?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

glass2I say “yes,” and here’s why.

Writers often tell themselves that hiring a freelance editor is a needless expense. Most editors charge between $20 and $30 per hour, and editing can take several hours. Many writers think they ought to be able to edit their own work and feel that they are undeserving of publication if they need the help of an outside editor. Writers also know that publishing houses edit–for free–the work they acquire for publication. These writers prefer the free editing an in-house editor provides over the pre-acquisition expense of a freelance editor. Still other writers argue that their friends and family read their work and give them editing help at no charge.

These arguments are valid in some cases, but most writers really can benefit from the help of a freelancer.

Self-editing is certainly a valuable skill and one that all writers should develop. However, self-editing is not always enough. Writers often describe the feeling of being “too close” to a manuscript—reading it over and over so many times that they lose their objectivity. Once a writer reaches this point, he or she can easily skim over errors that an outside reader would spot. Plot choices and content might also make sense only to the writer; an outside editor can find logical inconsistencies that the writer can no longer see. There is a limit to the efficacy of self-editing, and a good freelance editor can step in when a writer reaches this limit.

The argument that publishers provide free in-house editing fails to take into account the cutthroat nature of book publishing. An unsolicited manuscript rarely reaches the free-editing stage. For the most part, editorial assistants are the ones who read unsolicited manuscripts, and they look for every reason to reject a manuscript. Only a select few manuscripts ever reach the eyes of the acquisitions editor. Thus, a writer counting on the free editing of an acquisitions editor might never move past the gatekeeping editorial assistants. Because rejections are so likely at the gatekeeping stage, I argue that writers should present their cleanest, best-edited manuscripts when making unsolicited submissions. A freelance editor is an invaluable aid at this stage of the submission process.

Friends and family are wonderful, supportive readers, but they are not necessarily the most critical. Unless friends and family members are very familiar with the publishing industry, they can rarely make the kinds of editing suggestions that a well-informed editor will make. And of course, friends and family put their relationships with the writer before their literary comments, as they should. An objective outside editor is in the best position to make the kinds of comments most helpful to an author, because the editor and author have a strictly professional relationship.

Although a freelance editor can, at first, seem a daunting expense, a freelance editor can also be your best ally in the battle for publication.

Write to me, and let me know what you think.