The lighter side of editing

The lighter side of editing

Friday, September 22, 2017

Should You Hire Your Own Freelance Editor or Buy the Editing Package from Your Publisher?

These days, indie authors have choices upon choices to make when it comes time to have their work edited. One of the first is this:

Should you contract directly with an individual freelancer or buy an editing package through a self-publishing company?

The short and not very helpful answer is yes. That makes for an awfully short blog post though, so let’s try for a longer and more helpful response. I can’t respond to this question with a simple, one-size-fits-all answer, because there isn’t one (although “Hire me!” does come to mind). What I can do is give you some pros and cons to the two options from the editor’s perspective.

Finding Your Own Freelance Editor: Pros and Cons

  • Getting to know you. When you contract directly with a freelancer, you know who you’re dealing with. You can ask about that person’s experience, skills, and interests, and you can often request a sample edit that will show you what kinds of changes the editor will make, how he or she will make those changes, et cetera.
  • Access. If you have questions before, during, or after the edit, you can email your editor and get answers, often the same day.
  • Consistency. If you like the way an editor handled your first book, you can turn to the same person for your second book. This is especially important if you’re writing a series and want the editing choices to be consistent from volume to volume.

Smiling woman at computer
Want to know who your editor is? Hire a freelancer.
Photo via Adobe Stock.

  • The search. It’s not easy to find the right freelancer. There are roughly a bazillion of us, and we’re all on the internet, just waiting for you to google “freelance editor.” I just did that, and Google came back with 21.1 million results in 0.78 seconds. If you’ve recently written your very first book and are looking to hire your very first editor, those numbers can look pretty darn intimidating. Try narrowing things down by plugging in more specific search terms; a search for “freelance science fiction editor” brought up 482,000 results. Better still, try going to the Editorial Freelancers Association ( and search for a freelancer in the member directory, or post your job on the job list (but be prepared for a lot of replies).

Buying an Editing Package from a Self-Publisher: Pros and Cons

  • It’s easy. Click a button, answer some questions, pay the fee. No searching required.
  • Quality control. When I do contract work for a self-publisher, the edited book goes through two rounds of quality control before it goes back to the author. No, that doesn’t guarantee perfection (nothing does), but it gets you a little closer. When I contract directly with an author, I have my own list of things to double-check at the end of an edit … but if there’s something I was blind to when I was knee deep in editing your book, I might still be blind to it when I’m in double-check mode.
  • Speed. In a hurry? Some freelancers are booked months in advance, but with the self-publisher there will usually be an editor ready to start on your book right away. Also, the deadlines are tight, at least in my experience. This means you can get your edited book back quickly (but read on to the “cons” section).

Hands on computer keyboard
The editor without a face.
A potential con to buying an editing package.
Photo via Adobe Stock.

  • Speed. Those tight deadlines mean editors work quickly, which, in my experience, means being less able to pay attention to nuances of language and usage and less engaged with the manuscript as a whole.
  • The editor without a face. One thing that has surprised me about editing is how intimate it can feel. Plunging your hands into someone else’s writing, adding punctuation, changing words, moving sentences, all while trying to get inside the author’s head so you don’t inadvertently change his or her meaning—that is something I do not take lightly. Because I know what editors actually do, I would be reluctant to turn any of my fiction writing over to a nameless, faceless “Editor.” I just wouldn’t be comfortable with it.
  • Consistency, lack of. This one is for those of you who write series. When you submit your second, third, or fourth book, you can request the same editor who worked on your previous book(s), but what if that person has moved on from that company? Your new editor will turn in a good, solid edit, but some of the little things, those little decisions editors make—whether to capitalize a certain word or retain a certain alternative spelling, for example—might be different. Not wrong; just different. Even if you do get the same editor, that person’s decisions could be different, simply because he or she likely will not remember or have any record of specific choices made in the past. When I edit for private clients, I always hang on to the style sheet I create, and I also send a copy to the author. When I do contract work, I still create a style sheet, but I don’t keep it after the job is finished, and the author does not get a copy. That means less consistency if I happen to edit for that author again in the future.
  • The editor does not work for you. An editor who works for or contracts with a self-publishing company works for the publisher, not for the author. Why does this matter? Well, it means that when I edit for a self-publisher, I follow their rules, and that means following The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition) very closely. For most authors, this is fine. But for nonfiction manuscripts originally written in another style (MLA or APA, for example), this can mean lots and lots of fiddly changes that don’t do much to enhance the work. For some fiction manuscripts, it can mean imposing style guidelines that don’t quite fit. (Note that I said “for some fiction manuscripts”; in most cases, Chicago style works just fine for fiction.) When I work directly for an author (and specifically for authors of genre fiction), I don’t get all loosey-goosey with the style guidelines, but I do apply them a bit more flexibly.

The Takeaway

What does all this mean for the indie author? Well, if your work is straightforward, not very complex, not part of a series, and needs only light editing, then buying the editing package from a self-publisher could be a good choice for you. You’ll likely get a quality edit with a quick turnaround and at a fair price. But if your work is more complex—say, if it is written in dense language, has hundreds of footnotes and an extensive bibliography, or uses lots of special formatting or a quirky style that you want to keep—I would recommend taking the time to find your own editor. Same thing if your work is part of a series and you want the tenth book to have the same style as the first: find your own editor. Again, you will likely get a quality edit at a fair price, and you will potentially be starting a long-term relationship with a professional you’ll be able to turn to again and again.