Getting started as a copy/line editor for fiction

LaurieDelancey

a magpie mind
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 15, 2022
Messages
228
Reaction score
462
Age
55
Location
Florida, USA
I am looking at many possibilities for my future work, among them the possibility of turning my years of editing experience to fiction editing. My work has only been in nonfiction (journalism and tech writing, primarily), but I want to take on fiction editing as a part-time source of income. I wouldn't presume to be a style editor at this point, but I am more than capable of proofing and finding grammatical and usage errors.

I'd like some advice from people here on what I might need to do before offering my services in various online spots. Are there specific craft books or online courses I should look into in order to add to my skill set?
 

ElaineB

Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 4, 2022
Messages
324
Reaction score
674
Location
Three Pines
Website
elaineburnes.com
Sounds like you're looking to do copyediting/proofreading. I've done both as part of my career (not fiction) and built up enough on-the-job training that I could probably offer my expertise. I just haven't bothered. I did work as a temp in the field and had good luck getting work. For fiction and putting out your own shingle, I expect some certification would be helpful, and I know there are courses, but I don't know how good or respected they are. The one class I took, at Northeastern University no less, sucked. Teacher was an old newspaper guy and just talked anecdotes about the news business. This was decades ago now. But I had it for my resume!

Is your website empty of content or is it not working correctly for my browser (Firefox)?
 
  • Like
Reactions: LaurieDelancey

Maryn

Baaaa!
Staff member
Super Moderator
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
49,967
Reaction score
16,507
Location
Pasture
I don't edit for others except as part of critique, but there are people here who do, and people who used to be here who still do. I'm sure they'll be along to recommend specifics.

A few things editing friends have mentioned in passing:
  • The editor suggest changes and corrections, but it's the author who makes them, or chooses not to.
  • Non-native speakers' work may take much longer to correct than that of poorly-educated native speakers. If you base your rates on word count or pages, you can effectively screw yourself over real thoroughly. Ouch!
  • Offering a free or low-cost sample edit to potential customers can pay off. They'll understand what they're paying for before they commit to paying it.
  • If you edit for a small press rather than private individuals, make sure you stay on top of their financial well-being. Along with authors not receiving their royalties, failing presses don't pay their editors and cover artists.
  • When editing a long work like a novel, give consideration to getting partial payment for partial work--maybe a quarter or a third of the whole at a time, payment received before edited text sent. This can prevent the worst case scenario in which you edit the entire novel and the author admits they cannot pay you as the contract says.
  • Have a contract. The attorney won't be free.
  • Word of mouth is powerful advertising. Be a known presence where writers might be, both online and in your community. If there are local colleges or universities, include them as part of the community.
  • Teach an editing class at the local rec center or community center if the option presents itself. Your students will be better at self editing, and some may opt to hire you because they like and trust you.

Maryn, who likes some editors' work very much
 

LaurieDelancey

a magpie mind
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 15, 2022
Messages
228
Reaction score
462
Age
55
Location
Florida, USA
Sounds like you're looking to do copyediting/proofreading. I've done both as part of my career (not fiction) and built up enough on-the-job training that I could probably offer my expertise. I just haven't bothered. I did work as a temp in the field and had good luck getting work. For fiction and putting out your own shingle, I expect some certification would be helpful, and I know there are courses, but I don't know how good or respected they are. The one class I took, at Northeastern University no less, sucked. Teacher was an old newspaper guy and just talked anecdotes about the news business. This was decades ago now. But I had it for my resume!

I've done both professionally, just not for fiction. Certification, hrm, will have to dig a bit for that.

Is your website empty of content or is it not working correctly for my browser (Firefox)?

My website is currently not working and I should really take down the link until I have the spoons to make it work properly.
 

LaurieDelancey

a magpie mind
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 15, 2022
Messages
228
Reaction score
462
Age
55
Location
Florida, USA
  • Non-native speakers' work may take much longer to correct than that of poorly-educated native speakers. If you base your rates on word count or pages, you can effectively screw yourself over real thoroughly. Ouch!

I learned this the hard way. I used to edit manuals written by Japanese-speaking writers. It was... an adventure! :) I wound up having to make a glossary of common mistranslations to speed up the process.

  • Offering a free or low-cost sample edit to potential customers can pay off. They'll understand what they're paying for before they commit to paying it.

That's a great idea. I could blow through a 5 page sample pretty quickly, tbh.

  • If you edit for a small press rather than private individuals, make sure you stay on top of their financial well-being. Along with authors not receiving their royalties, failing presses don't pay their editors and cover artists.

Yeah, that's a lesson I learned from nonfiction, too. Always take the reliable source even if it pays less.

  • When editing a long work like a novel, give consideration to getting partial payment for partial work--maybe a quarter or a third of the whole at a time, payment received before edited text sent. This can prevent the worst case scenario in which you edit the entire novel and the author admits they cannot pay you as the contract says.

That's another really good idea. I imagine that people do this never intending to pay, and my time has value.

  • Have a contract. The attorney won't be free.

The attorney is worth the cost for that. :)

  • Word of mouth is powerful advertising. Be a known presence where writers might be, both online and in your community. If there are local colleges or universities, include them as part of the community.
  • Teach an editing class at the local rec center or community center if the option presents itself. Your students will be better at self editing, and some may opt to hire you because they like and trust you.

Maryn, who likes some editors' work very much

These are some great points, Maryn -- thank you! This is really helpful!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Maryn

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
2,478
Reaction score
3,044
Location
Northern Ireland
I feel vaguely qualified to advise for once. I have a proofreading qualification from the Publishing Training Centre, with is UK based. In the UK, the PTC and CIEP are the two organisations that offer well-respected certificates in proofreading and copy-editing. To be honest, some publishers won't accept proofreaders with one from anywhere else. If you're based in the US, it's be worthwhile finding out if there's a US equivalent, because you don't want to waste time getting a piece of paper that no-one recognises. Even if you're intending to work with self-pub authors, they do talk among one another, and I've noticed people advising each other on internet forums, reddit etc., to stick to editors with recognised qualifications.

The PTC qualification was quite tough, and also focused on some technical issues such as page layout for traditional print books, some of which you mightn't need if you just want to proofread novels for self-pub, or for submitting to agents. Although bear in mind that a lot of authors who plan to go down the traditional publishing route say they wouldn't hire an editor/proofreader first, as the agent or publisher will take care of it if an agent sees enough promise in the work.

I strongly advise you to stick to the respectable companies for qualifications. And here's why... cautionary tale incoming. I spent £275 on another proofreading course that I kind of suspected was a scam, but wasn't 100% sure. Even though I already had the PTC qualification, I decided to risk it because of their guarantee of 'work', and because I was lucky enough to be able to write off the £275. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to name the company, but basically they promised guaranteed work if you got over 80% or 90% or something in their test.

Well anyway, I passsed the test, and they sent me a contract. The rates of pay were pretty low, but the real kick in the teeth was the fact that I wouldn't be allowed to work for anyone else while I worked for them, or within a year of quitting!! So obviously I didn't sign the contract, since they were in no way guaranteeing me a living wage. Watch out for companies like that.

Here are a couple of websites that might help you.

https://aceseditors.org The homepage of the editorial freelancers association. https://aceseditors.org/ An international society for editors.

On these websites, you should be able to find minimum recommended prices for work, etc. It can be tempting to sell yourself short at the start, but you can get caught in a trap and then it's 'never the right time' to raise prices. I agree with Maryn that a contract is important. I also read on another editor's blog that sometimes a polite follow-up email reminding the client that they 'have not yet paid' can work wonders. You'll probably get people trying to haggle you down by saying that so-and-so from fiverr or upwork will line edit their entire novel for $200, which is obnoxious, since so-and-so is clearly intending to farm out most of the work to low-cost, unskilled workers or their kids or something.

If you choose to take payment by paypal, I'm not sure how much protection you have if someone refuses to pay. I think I've heard @ChaseJxyz talk about that before. Maybe he'll come along and advise on that.

At the beginning of your career, some editors get a foothold by advertising their services on fiverr, but again you'll be competing with some low-pricers. But once people start to see that you're good, you should be able to raise your prices. Unfortuately, reedsy seems to only take on editors with a lot of experience, unless it's changed since the last time I checked.

And that's all I can think of right now, but if anything else comes to me, I'll be back! Best of luck 😁
 
Last edited:

LaurieDelancey

a magpie mind
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 15, 2022
Messages
228
Reaction score
462
Age
55
Location
Florida, USA
I feel vaguely qualified to advise for once. I have a proofreading qualification from the Publishing Training Centre, with is UK based. In the UK, the PTC and CIEP are the two organisations that offer well-respected certificates in proofreading and copy-editing. To be honest, some publishers won't accept proofreaders with one from anywhere else. If you're based in the US, it's be worthwhile finding out if there's a US equivalent, because you don't want to waste time getting a piece of paper that no-one recognises. Even if you're intending to work with self-pub authors, they do talk among one another, and I've noticed people advising each other on internet forums, reddit etc., to stick to editors with recognised qualifications.

Looks like the Editorial Freelancers Association here is a good start -- they have seminars and the like, so I'm going to check them out more thoroughly.

The PTC qualification was quite tough, and also focused on some technical issues such as page layout for traditional print books, some of which you mightn't need if you just want to proofread novels for self-pub, or for submitting to agents. Although bear in mind that a lot of authors who plan to go down the traditional publishing route say they wouldn't hire an editor/proofreader first, as the agent or publisher will take care of it if an agent sees enough promise in the work.

Of course. I mean, I'm actually hiring a dev editor for mine despite the cost, because I'm still shaky on plotting and hitting story beats. I'm used to writing in a more freeform way, so I figured that having the work DE'd would help me see exactly what I'm doing. I don't have to do so, but I figure it will help me get to where I want to be with the book.

I'm expecting that a lot of clients would be self-publishers, and I'm fine with that. Why not? My spousal unit is a self-published author of something like twelve books.

I strongly advise you to stick to the respectable companies for qualifications. And here's why... cautionary tale incoming. I spent £275 on another proofreading course that I kind of suspected was a scam, but wasn't 100% sure. Even though I already had the PTC qualification, I decided to risk it because of their guarantee of 'work', and because I was lucky enough to be able to write off the £275. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to name the company, but basically they promised guaranteed work if you got over 80% or 90% or something in their test.

Oh, yes. Making sure they are reputable is a must. I can't even tell you how many fake professional orgs used to contact me back when I was in corporateworld.

Well anyway, I passsed the test, and they sent me a contract. The rates of pay were pretty low, but the real kick in the teeth was the fact that I wouldn't be allowed to work for anyone else while I worked for them, or within a year of quitting!! So obviously I didn't sign the contract, since they were in no way guaranteeing me a living wage. Watch out for companies like that.

No-compete clauses are bullshit. I won't sign anything with a no-compete, because how am I supposed to support myself if the company and I part ways? Noooo sir. I came up against those during a job hunt long ago, turned down an otherwise good fit because of it.


Here are a couple of websites that might help you.

https://aceseditors.org The homepage of the editorial freelancers association. https://aceseditors.org/ An international society for editors.

Checking these out -- are they supposed to be the same address?

On these websites, you should be able to find minimum recommended prices for work, etc. It can be tempting to sell yourself short at the start, but you can get caught in a trap and then it's 'never the right time' to raise prices. I agree with Maryn that a contract is important. I also read on another editor's blog that sometimes a polite follow-up email reminding the client that they 'have not yet paid' can work wonders. You'll probably get people trying to haggle you down by saying that so-and-so from fiverr or upwork will line edit their entire novel for $200, which is obnoxious, since so-and-so is clearly intending to farm out most of the work to low-cost, unskilled workers or their kids or something.

I don't care what Joe X from Fiverr charges. If someone contracts with me, they will be charged the rate they agree to. Freelancing is a familiar thing, and I've dealt with so much malarkey that it makes me irritated to think about it.

When it comes to freelancers, you get what you pay for -- you might find a hidden gem on Fiverr who's just starting out, sure, but check back in six months. Their rates will have gone up, for certain.


If you choose to take payment by paypal, I'm not sure how much protection you have if someone refuses to pay. I think I've heard @ChaseJxyz talk about that before. Maybe he'll come along and advise on that.

I'm curious about that, too. I know there's a difference between using PayPay F&F and PayPal G&S, at least over here, but I'll want to look into it. Usually, I just get checks. Yes, physical checks. People still do that.


At the beginning of your career, some editors get a foothold by advertising their services on fiverr, but again you'll be competing with some low-pricers. But once people start to see that you're good, you should be able to raise your prices. Unfortuately, reedsy seems to only take on editors with a lot of experience, unless it's changed since the last time I checked.

And that's all I can think of right now, but if anything else comes to me, I'll be back! Best of luck 😁

I'm not going to compete on Fiverr -- I have too much experience to do that. I can check with Reedsy, but I strongly suspect they'd only want me for nonfiction. It's worth checking, though.

Thank you -- this is a lot of really good info and it's so helpful!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jazz Club

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
2,478
Reaction score
3,044
Location
Northern Ireland
Of course. I mean, I'm actually hiring a dev editor for mine despite the cost, because I'm still shaky on plotting and hitting story beats. I'm used to writing in a more freeform way, so I figured that having the work DE'd would help me see exactly what I'm doing. I don't have to do so, but I figure it will help me get to where I want to be with the book.
Yeah, I can understand that. I think an editor could be worth it expecially if you feel that you have one particular area of weakness, whether it's plotting, voice, or whatever.
I'm expecting that a lot of clients would be self-publishers, and I'm fine with that. Why not? My spousal unit is a self-published author of something like twelve books.
Yeah I have a lot of respect for self-pub. I'd seriously consider going down that route if I get no bites on my YA query, but I figure I might as well query first since it's a shot to nothing, and you need a lot of business acumen for self pub. I need to try to acquire that somewhere!
Oh, yes. Making sure they are reputable is a must. I can't even tell you how many fake professional orgs used to contact me back when I was in corporateworld.



No-compete clauses are bullshit. I won't sign anything with a no-compete, because how am I supposed to support myself if the company and I part ways? Noooo sir. I came up against those during a job hunt long ago, turned down an otherwise good fit because of it.
The annoying thing about this contract was that they were allowed to fire me for no reason at all, and I still couldn't work with anyone else for a full year afterwards. And the 'guarantee' of work wasn't a guarantee of a full wage. So yeah, it was a no from me!
Checking these out -- are they supposed to be the same address?
Nope, one was meant to be this. Sorry.
I don't care what Joe X from Fiverr charges. If someone contracts with me, they will be charged the rate they agree to. Freelancing is a familiar thing, and I've dealt with so much malarkey that it makes me irritated to think about it.

When it comes to freelancers, you get what you pay for -- you might find a hidden gem on Fiverr who's just starting out, sure, but check back in six months. Their rates will have gone up, for certain.
Yep, sure, you don't have to try to match them. I've read so many sob stories on reddit of people who paid like $300 dollars to have their 150k novel line edited (not proofread, line-edited), and they're moaning because the 'editor' did a bad job. What on earth did they expect? Honestly, some people seem to expect editors and proofreaders to work for absolute peanuts. After their bad experience, some are looking for a legit editor next time, and some have been put off the idea entirely, unfortunately. They're just going to 'do it all themselves in future'. It's irritating that the dodgy editors give the rest a bad name.
I'm curious about that, too. I know there's a difference between using PayPay F&F and PayPal G&S, at least over here, but I'll want to look into it. Usually, I just get checks. Yes, physical checks. People still do that.
lol that's great. I actually wish more businesses would still take cheques. I hate everything going through paypal these days. The thing is, if the cheque doesn't clear you can still be in trouble.
Thank you -- this is a lot of really good info and it's so helpful!
You're welcome!!