Hiring a Freelance Editor (Writers Series #4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts to provide perspective on the business of writing, leveraging a marketing professional’s experience. In this installment, learn about hiring a freelance editor!

Along my writing journey, I recognize that there’s much to learn. It’s a new industry, with unfamiliar terminology, new people, and most excitingly, new opportunities. My business and marketing savvy nudges me after I complete a first draft. “You need advice from writers,” my intuition counsels.

I turn to resources that help in my business life: online information, books by experts, classes and organizations. I read about writing. I absorb varying approaches and opinions. I try techniques, writing prompts, character studies and scene synopses. I enter contests to get feedback, and participate in online classes that include agent critiques. I join writer’s groups, discover critique partners, and attend writing conferences. Each step teaches me something valuable. Each step provides new appreciation for how much more there is to learn.

Leveraging my experience, I publish articles, judge writing contests, teach author workshops, and pitch my premise.  My pitch is well-received. All the agents and editors I meet request a full or partial manuscript.

Still, there’s some critical component missing. Critique partners and writer’s groups give feedback on chapters at a time. What I crave is a partner to discuss the full arc of the story. I want to debate the merit and consistency of the major and minor characters. I need perspective. I need an editor.

First, I hire an adhoc writing consultant. For a fee per hour, she advises me on synopses and early chapters. Her advice is helpful but still at the sentence, paragraph and chapter level. I desire a partner to shape the arc of the narrative.

So I take an analytical approach. I assess what I need and weigh the options. I’m willing to invest funds to respond to submission requests with a polished manuscript. For me, it’s worth the cost for the professional perspective. Even if I don’t publish, I’ll have learned from the experience.

I clarify my priorities and objectives in hiring an editor. Then, I seek recommendations. I contact editors to learn about their process, experience and pricing (usually quoted in cents per thousand words).

I interview several editors who’ve been recommended by other writers, and assess them for:

  • Their philosophy, style and method of working
  • Personal rapport. Did we connect and understand each other?
  • Experience level, scope of work, contractual terms and cost
  • Industry knowledge and contacts

After refining my selection to multiple seasoned editors, my final deciding factors come down to chemistry and intuition. I’m thrilled with the combination of professionalism and approachability of Ellie Maas Davis, the editor I hire at Pressque LLC.

Ellie caveats her process as “organic,” which means that it’s non-linear and unable to be detailed in advance. This echoes the trial-and-error method taken to develop new products, so I instinctively trust her approach. I dive into each element not worrying about subsequent steps.

She starts with a developmental edit, in which phone calls alternate between candor about what’s not working and encouragement for what is working.

Ellie Maas Davis

She’s a master coach, planting seeds of ideas that sprout later as if they’re my own. “When do you plan to write? How many hours a week?” she asks, genuinely curious. “Do you think there’s benefit to submitting before agents and editors get busy for the holidays?” While she demands nothing, I find myself volunteering vacation days and school holidays for writing.

She only offers what’s needed in the moment, wise enough not to overwhelm me with the entire process up front. She gives me individual assignments, meaty enough that they’re substantial, but not so onerous that I shirk them. “Think from each character’s point of view, search for their dialogue and tweak it to be true to their individual voice,” she says one week.

She asks me questions about the book’s premise that leads me to continue my research. I interview more sources until I’m a subject matter expert. I recruit beta readers who provide new perspective.

Following a productive and thorough developmental edit, she lets me know that there will be significant thinking and changes during a copy and line edit. “Find words you’ve used more than half-a-dozen times and create a fresh way to say the same thing,” she instructs.

She undertakes a copy and line edit in which each paragraph and sentence is scrutinized, polished and, sometimes, debated. She shares this reminder:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell. “ – William Strunk and E. B. White

Either consciously or subconsciously, her method of alternating between criticism and praise strikes the ideal balance of keeping me motivated but not satisfied.

At one point, she shares this encouragement:

“Your job as a writer is making sentences. Your other jobs include fixing sentences, killing sentences, and arranging sentences. If this is the case — making, fixing, killing, arranging— how can your writing possibly flow? It can’t. Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer.” – Verlyn Klinkenborg “SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING”

At the end, I step back to see the manuscript we’ve culled and crafted. I feel as accomplished as when I’ve launched a new product. The hard work, the push and pull, and the collaboration have yielded tremendous growth, a holistic story well-told, with authentic emotion and transformed characters.

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