What to Expect When Working With a Freelance Editor

In recent months, I’ve had the privilege of working with two freelance editors to prepare my upcoming book for writers, Build Your Best Writing Life, for publishing. 


First, I worked with Sara Letourneau of Heart of the Story Editorial to complete a line edit, which helped ensure I was using the best possible language to convey each point in my book. I then worked with Sarah Kolb-Williams of KolbWilliams.com on a copy edit to further polish my writing. (I’ll also be working with Sarah later this month on a final proofread of the book.)

Before these occasions, I hadn’t worked with a professional editor in any capacity. Because I knew so little about the process, I was nervous to dive in. Still, I braved the experience because I knew that working with professional editors was essential if I wanted to prepare the best possible book to share with the world.

In the end, I couldn’t have asked for two better first experiences, which were in large part due to choosing the best freelance editors for me and my manuscript — but that’s not what we’re going to discuss today. (If you’re looking for tips on choosing a great editor, make sure to check out Sara Letourneau’s recent guest post on this subject).

Rather, today I’m going to help you have a fantastic first time working with a freelance editor by breaking down everything you need to know before getting started. If you’re feeling nervous or confused about the process, this is the blog post for you.


WHAT DOES WORKING WITH A FREELANCE EDITOR LOOK LIKE? 

Querying Editors 

After compiling a list of editors who may be a great fit for your project, it’s time to query your top pick(s) to determine whether they’re interested in working on your project and have the availability to do so. A query can also provide insight into how much an editor’s services will cost and whether their particular editing style is the best fit for your project. 

Some editors provide submission forms on their websites that make querying easy. These forms often include prompts for each piece of information an editor needs in order to send you a comprehensive reply. Other editors post a written list of the items they’d like you to include when getting in touch. If an editor provides an email address but no contact instructions on their website, here’s an email template you can use to take the overwhelm out of querying:


Hi {EDITOR’S FIRST NAME},

My name is {YOUR NAME}. I’m looking for a {TYPE OF EDITOR} for my {TYPE OF PROJECT}. After reviewing your website, I think you would be a great fit for this project.

{TITLE OF PROJECT} is a {SHORT BLURB}. The manuscript is approximately {WORD COUNT} and has been {LIST ANY PRIOR PROFESSIONAL WORK OR FEEDBACK}. {INSERT PREFERRED START DATE OR DEADLINE FOR EDIT HERE IF YOU HAVE ONE}.

If you’re interested in this project and have availability, I’d love to talk more about a potential collaboration and receive a quote for your services. I’ve attached my sample edit for you below.

If I can provide any further information, please don’t hesitate to ask. Thank you for your time and consideration!

Best wishes,
{YOUR FIRST NAME}



Receiving a Sample Edit

During the querying process, most editors will offer what’s called a sample edit. This is, quite literally, a sample of the editor’s work. The editor will complete your desired service on a small portion of your manuscript, which should help you determine whether their editing style is a good fit for you and your project. (Note: Sample edits should always be provided free of charge. If an editor wants you to pay for a sample edit, run the other way.)

Some editors request a specific portion of your manuscript for a sample edit, so be mindful. When seeking sample copyedits for Build Your Best Writing Life, one editor requested the first chapter of my book, while another asked for one chapter each from the beginning, middle, and end of the manuscript. Yet another editor asked me to provide a 5,000-word sample from any portion of the book. Each of these sample edits provided me with enough insight to determine whether the editor’s work was a good match for my project.

If an editor doesn’t explicitly state that they offer sample edits on their website, don’t be afraid to ask. Most editors are more than willing to provide them. Sample edits serve the editor as well as potential clients, helping the editor determine whether they’d like to work on your project and what the best quote would be for the services you’re seeking. Speaking of which…

Rates & Quotes

Editors structure their rates in several different ways. Some editors charge by the hour while others charge a set rate per word, per 1,000 words, or per page, among other pricing options. Editors frequently charge different rates for individual editing services as well. In any case, you’ll want to receive a firm quote for your project before committing to an editor. 

If you’ve completed a submission form on an editor’s website or sent them an email based on any contact instructions provided, the editor will likely include an estimated or exact quote in their reply. If you’re querying an editor who didn’t provide any contact instructions, make sure to request a quote (such as I did in the query template above). 

If you’re interested in working with a particular editor but can’t afford the rate listed on their website, consider contacting them anyway. After reviewing your sample edit, an editor might provide an adjusted rate for the work that needs to be completed for your unique project, such as Sarah Kolb-Williams did for my copyedit. 

Other editors are willing to negotiate rates to accommodate your budget—within reason, of course. Here’s an email template you can use if an editor provides a quote that’s a bit outside your budget.


Hi {EDITOR’S FIRST NAME},

Thank you for this quote for {TITLE OF PROJECT}. 

Based on your sample edit, I know your editing style is a great fit for this project. Unfortunately, the quote you provided is a bit outside my budget at this time. I respect the work you do and understand if your rates are firm. However, if you’re open to negotiation, I’d love to discuss how we could reach a rate that works for both of us. 

Thank you again for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,
{YOUR FIRST NAME}



Further Communications

The primary mode of contact when communicating with editors is email. However, some editors also offer the option of a live call during the query process to discuss your project and their services. Some editors also offer to schedule a call to answer any questions you might have during or after the editing process. (More on this in a moment.)

If you’re uncomfortable with calls as a form of communication, simply let your editor know that you’d prefer to stick to email. This is something I’ve done several times with editors and other online creatives, as calls, webinars, and other live events tend to wreak havoc on my anxiety, and I’ve never had a single complaint. 

Legal Contracts

Most editors will have you sign a contract before working together. This contract benefits both parties, establishing project expectations (e.g. deadlines, the exact services that will be rendered) and protecting the work and rights of all those involved. 

Before signing, read this contract carefully. Don’t be afraid to bring any questions or concerns you might have to your editor’s attention. Then, after signing, save a copy of this contract for yourself, preferably in a cloud-based storage system so it can’t be lost.

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You’re unlikely to need the contract for legal matters down the road, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. All that said, some editors don’t use contracts. If you would prefer to have one, let them know. 

Payment Options & Installments

Editors frequently use third-party apps like Paypal and Quickbooks to issue invoices, which you can then fulfill using the payment option of your choice (e.g. credit or debit card, bank transfer). However, before paying an invoice, always double-check to ensure it matches the rate you agreed upon during the querying process.

Editors frequently charge for their services in installments, issuing two or more invoices during a project’s timeline. This not only makes editing more affordable but also helps hold editors accountable to their work since they won’t get paid in full until they’ve completed the project and their client is happy.

If paying in a greater number of installments would make the total cost less financially stressful for you, don’t hesitate to ask if your editor can accommodate this need. Most freelance editors are willing to work with you on nearly any aspect of your project so long as your request is within reason.

The Editing Process

Most editors work in Microsoft Word, leaving feedback in the form of comments and using the Track Changes feature to (quite literally) track the changes they make to your manuscript. Upon receiving your edited manuscript, you can work through every tracked change, accepting or rejecting it as you see fit, and make revisions based on your editor’s comments.

If you’ve never worked with Track Changes, have no fear. It’s much simpler than you might think. You can click here to view comprehensive instructions on using this feature compiled by freelance editor Sophie Playle.

Don’t have Microsoft Word? No worries! Most word processors, like Scrivener and Google Docs, allow you to export a file as a Word document that you can then send to your editor. You can also open Word documents containing comments and Track Changes in Google Docs, so you don’t necessarily need to download Word to work with an editor. (That said, Google Docs did have trouble loading my line-edited manuscript due to the sheer volume of comments and Track Changes it contained. In the end, I did have to download Word to process the edits.)

Post-Project Follow-Up

After receiving your edited manuscript, take the time to review your editor’s comments and changes. If you have any questions about a particular suggestion (or any other pertinent part of the project), don’t hesitate to reach out. Editors want to help you create the best version of your manuscript, and that means ensuring you understand the work they’ve completed.

Some editors offer to schedule a call so they can address your concerns directly, while other editors prefer to answer questions via email. Determine the communication method that’s best for both you and your editor so you can process their work with confidence and clarity.

And, voilà! Just like that, you’ve learned to navigate your first professional editing experience. Congratulations! Working with an editor is one of the very best things you can do for both your manuscript and your growth as a writer.

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