Can you update my website content? Can you write something from scratch?
Can I see some writing or editing samples?
What kind of editing do you do?
What if I just want you to check for typos? My book’s in pretty good shape already.
Why do you need to review my manuscript before you’ll tell me how much editing will cost or how long it’ll take? How long does it take to edit a book?
Do you charge for manuscript review?
How can I be sure you won’t alter my manuscript in ways I don’t like? Can I disregard or undo your revisions to my electronic file? It sounds like a lot of work.
How do I choose an editor? There are hundreds of freelance editors out there.
What are your qualifications as a professional writer and editor?
Where can I learn more about the craft of writing? Can I learn to edit my own work?
How important is it for an editor to be familiar with the topic of my book?
What if I want you to edit a printout of my book instead of working onscreen? I only have a paper copy.
Why do I need a freelance editor in the first place? When a publisher accepts my manuscript, their in-house people should fix any typos or grammatical errors.
What is a style sheet? Why does my book need one? Do I have to do anything with it?
I’m going to self-publish. Some POD publishers offer editing services, and they seem to be pretty inexpensive. Why do freelance editors charge more than PODs? Don’t you all do the same thing?
I’ve started my book and am stuck. I don’t have an outline either. Can you help me move forward? What does that cost?
How do you handle working with long-distance clients?
Do you ghostwrite?
Q: Can you update my website content? Can you write something from scratch?
A: Yes, I can help. I’ve written and edited text for websites and have completed coursework on creating effective Web content (Information Mapping’s “Making Web Content Work”).
I can refer you to a couple of trusted webmasters if you need a website created or hosted (that’s not something I do). Note that Web designers don’t usually write content for their clients; they format and upload the text you give them.
Q: Can I see some writing or editing samples?
A: This website is my writing sample. For editing, the best sample is one made from your project that addresses your specific needs, for example, copyediting or developmental editing. Email me to request a brief sample edit of your project (a few paragraphs to a page or two).
Q: What kind of editing do you do?
A: “Editing” can mean a number of different things, but editors who work closely with the content of a piece of writing generally fall into two categories: copyeditors and developmental editors. Copyediting is also known as mechanical editing, content editing, line editing, and substantive editing. Note that proofreading and editing are different functions, though people unfamiliar with the terminology and processes often confuse the two. For more about copyediting (and proofreading), see the Bay Area Editors’ Forum website or read my article in Ink Byte online writer's magazine.
Not every editor does every type of editing, and the definitions can vary depending on whom you’re talking to. For additional information see relevant sections in The Chicago Manual of Style. (You should be able to find a current copy of Chicago at your library; you can buy the book in the usual spots; or you can subscribe to the online version.)
Q: What if I just want you to check for typos? My book’s in pretty good shape already.
A: Unless you are a fairly experienced writer with a number of successfully completed manuscripts, chances are that your book needs a bit more than typo eradication: it probably needs at least a light copyedit (see “What kind of editing do you do?”).
Fiction usually requires a sensitive, almost invisible touch from the editor. Additionally, fiction editing is a specialized field and not every editor will tackle novels. (I will consider fiction on a case-by-case basis.) See Resources for some excellent books on fiction editing.
Q: Why do you need to review my manuscript before you’ll tell me how much editing will cost or how long it’ll take? How long does it take to edit a book?
A: Because each manuscript is unique—even category romances aren’t as cookie-cutter as their reputation—the only equitable way to estimate time and cost is to look at your project and hear what you want done. Also, sometimes it’s hard to determine exactly what your manuscript needs before the editor reviews it and discusses the options with you.
Here’s what Chicago Manual of Style has to say about estimating time: “The amount of editing a manuscript needs depends not only on how it has been prepared but also on the audience for which the work is intended and the publication schedule. Estimating how long the editing will take, which requires looking at all parts of a manuscript and, often, editing a small sample, can be based on page count or on total number of words; in either case the editor should take into account any complexities in the text, documentation, or illustrations as well as the medium in which the editing will be done—on paper or in an electronic file. The nature of the material, along with the capabilities of the software and the editor’s own skills, will influence the choice of medium. Editing online, which often involves certain typesetting functions such as coding or tagging, may take longer than editing by hand, but production time may be shortened. Also pertinent is information about the author’s availability, amenability to being edited, propensity to revise, and so forth. As a very rough estimate, a 100,000-word book manuscript, edited online by an experienced editor, may take seventy-five to one hundred hours of work before being sent to the author, plus ten to twenty additional hours after the author’s review. (If an author has made substantial changes to the edited manuscript, as much as a week’s additional work may be needed.)”
In other words: 75–100 hours, plus 10-20 hours (or more), might go into editing a 100,000-word (400-page) book. The maximum, then, might be some 150 hours, and the minimum about 85 hours.
Q: Do you charge for manuscript review?
A: I don't typically do paid manuscript reviews with a detailed, written analysis. That is a skill set all its own. Reviewing your manuscript in order to come up with a cost/time estimate is free.
Q: How can I be sure you won’t alter my manuscript in ways I don’t like? Can I disregard or undo your revisions to my electronic file? It sounds like a lot of work.
A: You’re the author and you always maintain control of your manuscript. You can individually accept or reject each change, although “revisions” that correct indisputable errors should be retained. Every editorial addition or deletion will be redlined or struck out, every query carefully noted—all changes are marked for your review. Nothing will sneak into (or out of) your manuscript without your knowledge.
That’s why Word’s Track Changes is such a useful tool. Check out your Word toolbar and give Track Changes a whirl to see what it can do. Just turn on Track Changes, start typing, then delete a few words and retype—and watch the redlines/strikeouts appear. Magic!
Q: How do I choose an editor? There are hundreds of freelance editors out there.
A: Referral is the ideal way to find any professional, but if you don’t happen to know someone who’s had a book edited, where can you look? Start by searching the EFA’s member listings. You can also post your job request, for free, on the EFA Job List, which will produce a deluge of editors eager to help with your project.
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a couple candidates, my suggestion is to (a) request a sample edit, (b) ask for a cost/time estimate, (c) compare the responses, and then (d) go with your gut.
I prefer to have at least one phone conversation before commencing a new project, and if you feel the same, make sure you talk to your potential editor. Of course, if you can find someone in your area and meet in person, so much the better. But many satisfying and long-term author-editor relationships blossom just fine via email, Internet, and telephone (or Skype).
Q: What are your qualifications as a professional writer and editor?
A: I have a BA in literature as well as a copyediting certificate, and I have worked on more than forty-five book projects. Please see the Home page and my résumé for more information.
Q: Where can I learn more about the craft of writing? Can I learn to edit my own work?
A: See my Resources page, website section; the Writer’s Digest school and others are listed there. For a crash course in editing fiction, read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne & Dave King). Other helpful books are listed in Resources.
Q: How important is it for an editor to be familiar with the topic of my book?
A: That depends on several factors. Who is the intended audience? If your book is aimed at a general readership, a copyeditor without particular subject matter knowledge might be better than a specialist, because the nonspecialist editor can serve as your prototypical first reader. For more specialized audiences, an editor who is also a SME (subject matter expert) may be desirable but not mandatory. In many technical fields it would be difficult for a copyeditor without some familiarity with that field to edit a long manuscript, or even a shorter one. A good copyeditor will assess each manuscript and determine his or her suitability for the task. There are some subjects I wouldn’t tackle because my learning curve would be too great to do a competent job and do so in a timely manner.
Q: What if I want you to edit a printout of my book instead of working onscreen? I only have a paper copy.
A: Hardcopy book editing isn't a viable option anymore. If you don’t want to key it yourself you can find someone to create a Word document by searching online for “data entry,” “word processing,” or “secretarial” services. In rare instances I've edited hardcopy for shorter pieces, but I wouldn't for anything longer than a few pages.
Q: Why do I need a freelance editor in the first place? When a publisher accepts my manuscript, their in-house people should fix any typos or grammatical errors.
A: Yes, they should. If you have an agent or publisher already, I congratulate you. If you don’t…having your book professionally edited may well increase your chances of getting accepted by an agent, a publisher, or both. Even if you are a strong writer with impeccable self-editing skills, and your writing group has helped you hone your book, I still suggest hiring a professional copyeditor. As John E. McIntyre said, "The best writers benefit from editing; the less-accomplished require it." And Ken Atchity, as quoted in Marcia Meier's Navigating the Rough Waters of Today's Publishing World, states baldly: "In today's consolidated New York publishing industry, little time and money is spent on editing. If a manuscript comes in that requires editing to any degree, it is usually rejected in favor of the hundreds that...are well-edited."
See Resources for books to help hone your editing skills.
Q: What is a style sheet? Why does my book need one? Do I have to do anything with it?
A: A style sheet is a mini-style guide created just for your book. The style sheet contains a list of words specific to your book (proper nouns, character names, place names, jargon) and specifies how those words are treated (hyphenated or capitalized, etc.). If there’s more than one option (email or e-mail?), the copyeditor chooses in accordance with Chicago or another style manual, the dictionary, or a publishing house’s style guide. When guidelines conflict, the copyeditor must resolve the conflict and apply the chosen option throughout. Both email and e-mail may be correct; the important thing is to maintain consistency within your book, so that you don’t have email on page twenty-seven and e-mail on page 210.
Creating a style sheet is an essential function of the copyediting process. The Chicago Manual of Style describes style sheets in section 2; The Copyeditor’s Handbook contains a lengthy discussion of purpose and function as well as the process of creating a style sheet. There’s more to a style sheet than a word list, though that is an important part of it.
An exhaustive style sheet is a copyeditor’s best friend, and it may be used as a reference by proofreaders, typesetters, designers, and other individuals involved in your book project. The style sheet is usually for informational purposes as far as the author is concerned—and sometimes you may not even see it.
Q: I’m going to self-publish. Some POD publishers offer editing services, and they seem to be pretty inexpensive. Why do freelance editors charge more than PODs? Don’t you all do the same thing?
A: I’ve researched copyediting fees on POD websites and in The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, and most are lower than the lowest rates typically charged by freelancers (see EFA Rate Chart). One publisher charges $.01/word for copyediting/proofing (“We will have a professional brush up your manuscript”). At that rate, copyediting a 100,000-word book (400 pages) would cost $1,000. Sounds like a good deal for the author, but I am always cautious when something seems to cost less than it should. Per Chicago’s rough estimate, it could take 100 hours to copyedit a 400-page book, which means your editor would earn a whopping $10 an hour.
Another example: a different POD includes light editing (with spell check!) in their basic publishing package—not to exceed two hours’ work. Can someone even read your manuscript in two hours? Other PODs offer “red-line editing.” Redline is a description of electronic markup, not a type of editing.
Every copyeditor approaches the job individually, but certain best practices, procedures, and standards should be common to all. The ability to properly use references—to find out what should be done in a given situation, and why—is the backbone of this profession. We can’t memorize everything, but thankfully there is a plethora of solid reference books. Current editions of The Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate or another collegiate dictionary, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, Garner’s Modern American Usage, the AP Stylebook if working with journalism copy, and a couple of good grammars should be the minimal load on any copyeditor’s bookshelf. The longer we work, the more books we collect (see Resources for some favorites of mine). I won’t say I know Chicago cover to cover, but I am very familiar with it and was tested on a majority of its sections during classes at UC San Diego. If you’re considering a copyeditor whose main style manual is the classic Strunk & White (Elements of Style, published 1918), you might want to reconsider.
Before hiring any copyeditor, including one referred by or on staff with a POD, make sure you understand what is supposed to be accomplished during editing. Obtain an agreement specifying the functions that will be covered. Request a sample edit, preferably from a middle chapter or a section you’ve had trouble with; the sample should give you an accurate preview of what your edited manuscript will look like. If you have any doubts once you’ve signed up for the service, ask to see the first twenty or thirty pages of edited text, then the next twenty or thirty pages, and so on, so if the work isn’t satisfactory, you can stop. Then go to the EFA and find an experienced freelancer, who will, no doubt, charge more than the POD’s editing service.
Q: I’ve started my book and am stuck. I don’t have an outline either. Can you help me move forward? What does that cost?
A: This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all question. I would do nothing whatsoever without talking with you over the phone or in person, and then I would probably want to review your manuscript, too, before making any suggestions. If I can’t help you, I can give you some pointers on where to go next. See my Resources page for a list of books and other references to get you started.
Q: How do you handle working with long-distance clients?
A: Through the miracle of the Internet, I’ve worked with authors in Canada, North Carolina, and Italy as well as closer to home in California. We communicate primarily via email and send manuscripts as attachments. We can also exchange manuscript files through FTP or other services such as box.net. Track Changes in Word records every keystroke when I'm editing a document, and all changes are easily visible for the author's review. Skype has become a useful communication tool as well, enabling me to "meet" and confer with authors in a videoconference type format.
I rarely edit on hard copy, and for proofreading will usually print out a manuscript for review and markup. Snail-mail or hand delivery must suffice for exchanging proofreading work.
Q: Do you ghostwrite?
A: I have contributed ghostwritten chapters to books and written many business communications on behalf of colleagues.
© 2001-2018, Catherine Viel, WriteCat Communications, Santa Barbara, CA, firstname.lastname@example.org