AVOIDING EDITORIAL SCAMS
I wrote and published this blog post for Mash Stories. See the original post here.
You’ve worked hard on your manuscript and, like a juicy red apple you’re about to leave on your favourite teacher’s desk, you want it to be polished to perfection. Now that it’s time to relinquish the fruits of your labour to a professional editor, how do you avoid getting ripped off? How do you know the editor you’re about to rely on closely is sufficiently qualified?
It can be a real headache to navigate the hundreds (thousands) of people and companies vying for your hard-earned buck. Luckily, I’ve Mashed together a panel of expert editors to hold up a light and help guide the way.
MEET OUR PANEL:
BA in English and Creative Writing from Bloomsburg University
* Jennifer is the editor of my novel DISEASE
BA in English, graduating Magna Cum Laude
BA in philosophy
MF Wahl: Please take a moment to introduce yourself: who you are and how long you’ve been editing.
Jennifer: Stories have always been an important part of my life. Not just reading and writing them, but deeply contemplating the elements that make them powerful enough to resonate long after you put the book down. I’ve been working as a freelance editor for the last seven years. I’ve worked hand-in-hand with numerous authors over the years, and have worked with corporations to ensure the promotional materials they present to the world are accurate, professional and error-free. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, which is why it’s so important to make sure the first words people associate with your brand are clear, concise and properly spelled.
Lisa: I fell in love with grammar in the midst of taking the most difficult course in my college career. I’ve been editing for four years, having gotten my feet wet teaming up with Thomas in jobs contracted out through companies such as Editor Live.
Thomas: I have a BA in philosophy and spent a few years studying political science in graduate school before enrolling in a certificate programme in copyediting at UC San Diego.
MF: If an author has never worked with an editor before it can be intimidating to find one. What is the best way to do so?
Jennifer: Word of mouth among writing peers is a great way to find editors seeking clients. I recommend asking for several recommendations and contacting each one to see if they offer a sample. A strong sample edit gives you a chance to review the editor’s style and see first-hand what it might be like to work with that editor. A good working relationship between any writer and their editor is tantamount to putting the best book out into the world together.
Lisa: The best place to find qualified editors (predominantly in the US but also worldwide) is the Editorial Freelancers Association. A good editor will offer to do a short sample edit of your work, which will give you a good idea of her or her style, whether you’re compatible, and what price range the editor feels comfortable charging for the work.
Thomas: A simple Google search is probably not the way to go.
MF: What qualifications do you think a quality editor should hold (e.g. education, experience, awards, and so on)?
Jennifer: Education is definitely important because it generally means the editor has a strong understanding of the English language. Work experience is the mark of a quality editor, especially if you notice they have several return clients in their repertoire. It means they’ve established powerful work relationships, and their clients are eager to continue working hand-in-hand with them to put their best possible product into the world.
Lisa: Education and experience are both important. References are helpful, but many writers lack the grammatical foundations necessary to gauge an editor’s actual skill level and thus might not offer the most accurate of assessments.
Thomas: Editors should have acquired their skills through their education or work experience. They should have backgrounds in English, journalism, technical writing, etc. Many self-taught editors lack the knowledge base necessary for effective editing.
MF: What is the minimum amount of experience an editor should have and what type of experience is it best for an editor to have?
Jennifer: I think education is a huge factor, but there are a lot of strong, established freelance editors who don’t have an educational background. They started at the bottom and built up their experience, which is an education unto itself.
This is why it’s important to sample several editors, review the advice and recommendations they give on the piece you ask them to sample for you.
You can usually gauge an editor’s experience by the advice they give in that first sample.
Lisa: That depends on the editor. Some people pick up on the various tricks of the trade and editorial choices quickly, while others might understand the grammatical rules but are slow to learn how (or when) to apply them. It does take time to learn when to leave a grammatically incorrect sentence for stylistic purposes or when it’s more appropriate to leave the author a note instead of making a change, but that’s where talent for the art trumps knowledge of the science. Also, a person should have experience in the genre(s) he or she is editing. A person skilled in editing horror might not be the best choice to edit a romance or YA urban fantasy story.
Thomas: The amount of experience is less important than the type of experience. For example, an inexperienced editor with a strong background in journalism or publishing might be a better choice than an editor who has edited numerous books. I think any editor needs to have experience working with other highly skilled editors.
MF: Should an editor have experience working with both traditionally and self-published authors?
Jennifer: Working for a corporation gives an editor insight into the publishing industry, and that gives them an edge when they take on independent clients, so it is definitely helpful to have experience in both areas, but I don’t know that it’s a necessary qualification.
Lisa: An editor should have experience working in at least some kind of professional capacity, be it with a publisher or an editing firm. Both will have vetting processes—tests that gauge the editor’s knowledge and abilities. Anyone can claim to edit well, but a freelancer should have the previous experience to back his or her claims. Also, an editor should understand how to use Track Changes and the various editorial options available through Word, which most people learn how to use when working through a professional organization or under another editor.
Thomas: I think having experience with both types of authors is beneficial. Editors today should be familiar with the needs of a variety of clients.
MF: How important is it for an author to get a client list from a prospective editor?
Jennifer: In some ways, reviewing an editor’s clientele can be helpful. It allows you to survey work they’ve helped put out into the world, but it’s impossible to judge solely based on their body of work, especially if they’ve worked with a lot of freelance authors. The independent author always has final say when it comes to changes and they don’t always follow the advice of their editor. That’s their prerogative as indies, but for that reason alone you can’t always base the quality of the editing on the client. This is why it’s important to test the water before you commit to working with someone. Samples help you make an informed decision without relying solely on the merit of other writers.
Lisa: Again, just because a person has a client list, that doesn’t mean he or she has been a good editor for said clientele. Also, some authors do not want to be contacted, or even mentioned, as references.
Thomas: I don’t think they’re very useful. A few references are fine, but ultimately, a sample edit reveals more about an editor.
MF: What about price lists? An author always has to watch the wallet, so should a price be agreed upon at the start, or are estimates okay?
Jennifer: Estimates are sometimes necessary, especially if an author has very specific rates. Many times when you’re booking an editor, you do so several months in advance, occasionally before the work is even finished and polished. Word counts change. Chapters get added, scenes get deleted, and what may have once been a 100,000 word novel when you first booked time with your editor may reach said editor 20,000 words lighter. An estimate means you’re not paying for work that isn’t done.
Lisa: The price should always reflect the level of editing a given work is going to require. The Editorial Freelancers Association has a list of professional rates.
Thomas: I never give estimates. Price should be agreed upon at the beginning. That being said, I notify authors that any significant redrafting that requires additional editing may result in additional charges.
MF: There are a lot of people and organizations looking to take advantage of authors. What are some of the major red flags to look out for and how does someone avoid them?
An editor who centres their concerns around the financial issues, rather than the work they will be doing with you, is a huge red flag for me.
A passionate editor who loves her job definitely wants to get paid, but it can’t be all about the money. If they aren’t asking insightful questions about the story, your vision and your goals, chances are they aren’t going to be thinking about those things when they’re working on your manuscript.
Lisa: I’m always wary of people who use writing awards as credentials. An exceptional writer might not necessarily be a good editor, and anyone who believes the two are one and the same does not understand what it takes to edit well. Moreover, there is a great editor behind every great writer—even if that writer is also an editor.
Thomas: Grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors on social media, in emails, on websites, etc. People who are unable to catch errors in their own writing will likely be unable to do so in their clients’.
So, you’ve worked hard on your manuscript and you need to be sure your editor will take the care needed to bring it to its full potential. By following the advice of our panel of experts you’ve got a road map in your pocket and a leg-up on finding the right editor to work with.
Have you previously worked with an editor? Share your experience of finding and working with them in the comments below!