Freelance Editors: Frivolous or Essential?

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In the writing world, to Oxford comma or not is a near religious debate. The first time I saw a Twitter war on the subject I had to look up what it was, then check my manuscript to see which team I supported. (It turns out I’m pro-Oxford comma. Feel free to berate or applaud me in the comments.) My non-opinion made me realize a benefit of having no writing education is a total lack of pre-conceived notions surrounding what works and doesn’t work. I go by what feels easiest to read. A drawback is that I’m learning on the job.

My sister is my first reader. She tells me whether she likes the characters, cares about what’s going to happen, and if the ending is satisfying. When there’s a problem, she brainstorms solutions with me. When I make her laugh, she puts a little happy face in the margin. When something doesn’t make sense, she circles the section and writes WTF?!? on top, but she does it with love. Her support is unconditional, which allows my fragile ego to trust her with rough, rough drafts.

Once I have a completed manuscript, I hire a freelance editor before sending it to my agent and editor. I go this route over writing groups and critique circles for several reasons:

  1. I love, love, love to read, but I don’t love the idea of picking someone’s work apart. I’m not qualified to take on that role for someone else’s baby. I didn’t even know what the Oxford comma was for goodness sake.
  2. While I have thick skin and am hungry for feedback, I don’t care for public lashings. I know there are amazing writing groups out there, but I’ve also heard nightmares endured while trying to find them.
  3. Writing is wholly subjective. When I seek opinions, I need to be able to weight the value of the input. Having a well-respected
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    karendaleharris.com

    publishing professional edit my project gives me a high level of confidence in their feedback.

  4. I can be high maintenance because I’m the customer. This allows me to circle back, ask for specific areas of focus, etc.
  5. I want feedback from a professor not a study buddy. If I had an MFA, a freelance editor would likely be a waste, but I don’t. I consider the expense part of my writing education.
  6. You get one, educated opinion, instead of multiple, conflicting opinions.
  7. I’m at the bottom of the author totem pole. A complete unknown. I want to be thought of as easy to work with, which means submititng a manuscript that’s in great shape.
  8. It’s fast. As long as I’ve reserved a spot in advance, I get edits back in 2 weeks.

The barrier to this route is the added expense. For a clean manuscript in good condition where you’re looking for story feedback (not copy edits), it runs about a penny a word. (My freelance editor is shaking her head as she reads this because rates swing widely. They will ask for a sample chapter to help them determine how much effort your project will take.)

There’s not one right way, but, for me, a great freelance editor is a worthy expense.

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Abby Fabiaschi is the author of I LIKED MY LIFE (St. Martin's Press, February 2017). She and her family divide their time between Tampa, Florida and Park City, Utah. When not writing or watching the comedy show that is her children, she enjoys reading across genres, skiing, hiking, and yoga. Oh, and travel. Who doesn’t love vacation? Learn more at abbyfabiaschi.com.

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This article has 6 Comments

  1. This a fabulous post! Though I would like to emphasize that even with an MFA, an freelance editor is NOT a waste. I’m super happy I got my MFA–for me, at that time, it was what I needed. But I still take classes (hence Grub Street), need feedback (hence a writing group), and I still get rejections (hence this is my debut novel). Anyone could benefit from a freelance editor, and if I didn’t have my writing group, I would certainly be hiring one! Love that you had a completely different route to share.

    1. I think the biggest drawback to not going to school for writing is missing the opportunity to meet other writers. A point I forgot to make in the post is that when I finished my first book I didn’t know where to begin in finding a writing group.

  2. My recommendation? Flip the concept. Charge others for the privilege of seeing your work and commenting on it before official publication. This is a similar concept to taking the musical on the road before it debuts on Broadway.

  3. This is a great take on the topic of feedback. I hired a freelance editor, too, just before I sent my novel out to agents. I hired her to do a “big picture” read only, not line edits, because I was confident in my prose but thought I was too close to the work to see major flaws in structure, characterization, etc. The fee for that sort of read was quite affordable, and she was able to point out some pacing issues that were easy to fix. Most of all, her comments reassured me that even if nobody ever bought my book, at least it wouldn’t be laughed straight into the trash folder.

  4. Helpful info, Abby. For some of the same reasons you detail, I’ve considered hiring a freelance editor. And for an additional reason: as useful as CPs or other close readers can be, they’re less likely to understand editorial tastes, publishing trends or the market as a freelancer does.

    Oops. Left out the Oxford in that last sentence. Now you know how I stand on that one!

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