Getting Started As A Freelance Editor

B.G. Dobbins

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I am a lifelong reader and writer. I developed a love of reading probably when I was a toddler, and even in my earliest memories, I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer. However, I personally edit and brainstorm with a writer friend of mine, and she has suggested I would do well as a freelance editor. The idea interests me since I'm already doing similar work and have experience with it, but I have no experience in a professional sense.

My main questions are:

-How does one get started freelance editing? Where are some good places to begin?

How does one provide editorial feedback professionally? I have a very casual set up with my friend; we text, email, talk on the phone, and send multiple documents back and forth. I'm aware a professional setting would require more structure and standard practice, so I'm curious about the general format of feedback. Do you make changes to the document and highlight the changes you've made, do you use a comment tool or add comments directly into the document, or do you make comments on a completely different document?

I have a BA in English and I worked as a peer mentor in the writing center while I was in college (2013-2014). Since then, I have done independent study mostly geared towards writing but with editing overlap.

A lot of the advice I've read and listened to date usually assumes you have to have a formal education in editing or a portfolio of work under your belt. Writers are usually saying don't trust amateur editors or editors who price low, because you'll get poor effort or feedback, so I want to figure out the best way to break into professional editing.

Thank you for reading this far, and I appreciate any helpful advice you can offer.
 

Maryn

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I don't edit for money, so I'll keep you company until those who do see your question. I can share what little I know, too.

After observing here over a long period of time, I know that some editors offer a free or deeply discounted edit of X number of words, so the writer understands what sort of edits they'd be paying for and seeing the result.

Most of the editors I've seen discuss their clients' work are doing LBL edits rather than developmental.

Some of the clients were poorly educated in writing, others have learning disabilities, and many are not native speakers. The editor's speed is greatly slowed by a semi-literate manuscript.

At least some of the people who edit for money have an educational and experiential background similar to yours, rather than education and experience directly in editing.

The editors who've gone over my writing did it entirely via email. I'd send pages, they'd send back a marked up manuscript with comments.

Some liked Track Changes, while others hardly changed the ms. at all, just told me how they thought it should be changed in the comments, leaving the decisions entirely to me. All corrected obvious typos, misspellings, subject-verb disagreement, etc.

Getting clients is often a struggle for at least some editors. It tends to be feast or famine, only with deadlines.

Don't let a client pay you only at the end; it's a good way to work for free without meaning to.

Maryn, trying to remember what else she's seen
 

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-How does one get started freelance editing? Where are some good places to begin?
Like @Maryn, I only edit pro bono for my friends and students. I do it via Track Changes in Word documents sent through email, simply because that's what I'm comfortable with (and since I'm doing it for free I get to call the shots :) ). But some places to start might be:

Editorial Freelancers Association
National Association of Independent Writers and Editors

Also, everything I've heard/read says that it's best to offer a free editing sample (first page of a short story, first 1000 words of a novel, whatever) before the client commits, so that they know your style will mesh with yours.
 

Maryn

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Oh, I thought of another thing: Clock yourself on manuscripts needing various levels of edits. You need to know how long it takes you per page for manuscripts that need a lot of editing, to average, to very clean, in order to set your rates without screwing yourself over.

Worth remembering, too, that women and young people too often tend to undervalue their work.
 

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My main questions are:

-How does one get started freelance editing? Where are some good places to begin?
Oh good, I can help with this 😃😃 I set up an editing business in the last couple of years.

Good resources to help you learn about the business are the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) and in the UK, the CIEP and Publishing Training Centre.

Places to get clients:

EFA jobs list (you have to be a member to advertise your services here).

Reddit (r/hireaneditor).

Fiverr. Some of the jobs don't pay too well, but the clients are chill and don't expect you to put in as many hours as they would if you were charging $2k
How does one provide editorial feedback professionally? I have a very casual set up with my friend; we text, email, talk on the phone, and send multiple documents back and forth. I'm aware a professional setting would require more structure and standard practice, so I'm curious about the general format of feedback. Do you make changes to the document and highlight the changes you've made, do you use a comment tool or add comments directly into the document, or do you make comments on a completely different document?
Honestly, you can do whatever you want as long as the client is happy with it. I'd say my editing style is very informal/conversational. I've had no complaints about it so far! With line editing (sentence-level editing) you do make changes directly to the document with Track Changes or equivalent. With developmental editing or MS critiques, I write an editorial report in a separate document, but I also leave inline notes on the original document.
A lot of the advice I've read and listened to date usually assumes you have to have a formal education in editing or a portfolio of work under your belt. Writers are usually saying don't trust amateur editors or editors who price low, because you'll get poor effort or feedback, so I want to figure out the best way to break into professional editing.
You don't necessarily have to have formal qualifications, but I think it helps to gain client trust. Either way, you definitely need to build up a portfolio (unless you want to start off by working with people who know and trust you already). You might have to work on a few novels for free or at a discounted rate to give you some testimonials for your website, which you can then hopefully parlay into paying clients.

I started with a proofreading qualification from the Publishing Training Centre (UK-based, pretty tough, took months). I also took a developmental editing course from Sophie Playle of liminalpages.com. I highly recommend it. Even though I've been interested in books my whole life and studied literature at college, editing other people's novels is a very specific skill, and this course really broke it down for me. However, I think she may be on maternity leave at the moment? You can check her website. I believe the written course information may be available to buy for anyone 🤔
Thank you for reading this far, and I appreciate any helpful advice you can offer.
No worries, and please send me a private message if you want to discuss any farther! There's probably lots of stuff I forgot.
After observing here over a long period of time, I know that some editors offer a free or deeply discounted edit of X number of words, so the writer understands what sort of edits they'd be paying for and seeing the result.
Yeah, this is a very good way to convince the clients that you know what you're doing even if you're pretty new. I do advise offering a sample edit.
Don't let a client pay you only at the end; it's a good way to work for free without meaning to.
+1 Definitely not.

50% first, 50% after the job is done. This is the fairest way to protect both parties as much as possible.
 

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Oh, I thought of another thing: Clock yourself on manuscripts needing various levels of edits. You need to know how long it takes you per page for manuscripts that need a lot of editing, to average, to very clean, in order to set your rates without screwing yourself over.

Worth remembering, too, that women and young people too often tend to undervalue their work.
Also, if the client can't afford big prices, you can do a less intensive edit/partial edit of a few chapters to give them an idea of how to self-edit the rest of their MS. Plenty of people are very happy to get some pro crit on their work. Sometimes the idea goes around that if you can't afford $2k, there's no point in hiring an editor at all, which I really don't think is true.
 

B.G. Dobbins

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Thank you for all the feedback and suggested resources! I'm definitely up for sample edits and building my portfolio with discounted services to gain the professional experience. I would love to see sample interactions between writers and editors for different levels of editing to study. That would probably be difficult to come by unless both parties were comfortable with sharing, though.
 

Maryn

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One jumping-off place might be our Share Your Work boards. Some people (raises hand) offer line-by-line feedback. When the person posting announces they do not have a thin skin, it's pretty close to an edit.