I recently interviewed fellow freelance editor and Facebook friend, Robb Grindstaff, about his take on the freelance editing process.
JR: What should authors look for in an editor, and expect from an editing process?
RG: Look for compatibility in work style, a good working relationship, a good “fit,” for lack of a better term. Editing is a collaborative process, but with a freelance/independent editor, the writer is ultimately in charge of all decisions. If you don't understand why your editor made a change or suggested something, ask. You should get a reasoned, rational explanation, which may or may not agree with your instincts. Listen to your editor, but in the end, you have to be true to yourself, your work, your voice, and make the decision that's right for you. Your editor shouldn't be offended by that. Your editor should always be trying to edit to improve YOUR story in YOUR voice, not rewrite it the way he would have written it.
JR: What do editors hope for in clients or expect from clients?
RG: I hope for clients who want to learn, who have thick skin and don't get offended if I write a cryptic comment in the margin that might say, “This doesn't make sense,” or “This sounds awkward,” or “I'd drop this, it's too _________ (fill in the blank).” And writers who will ask for an explanation if I'm too cryptic and don't tell why or give a suggestion on how to make something better. And it’s okay if, after listening to me, you say, “I get what you're saying, but I'm going to leave that word/sentence/paragraph/scene as is.” I won't be offended. I try to go back to writers and ask, “What are you trying to say here?” or “What is this scene trying to accomplish?” I want writers who come back to me and say “Why did you strike this sentence? I thought it went to portraying the character's state of mind.” The most important work will come from that back and forth discussion on points of either disagreement or lack of understanding on either part.
JR: What level(s) of editing do you provide? Do you charge one overall fee or different fees for different processes?
RG: I provide three basic levels of editing, or any combination thereof.
Lowest level is a basic proofread, which is just to correct typos, punctuation, spelling, and grammar errors—purely a technical, mechanical edit. This should always be the last edit in the process before sending your manuscript out to agents, publishers, or uploading to the self-publishing process.
A line edit or copy edit is a much more in-depth, detailed line-by-line editing of the manuscript. A line edit looks at the writing, the prose, the word choices, sentence structures, continuity and consistency. A line edit can also look at some larger issues such as pace and flow or organizational structure of the novel.
The highest level edit is an analysis/critique—also called a manuscript assessment or evaluation. This doesn't provide a line-by-line edit, but a detailed report that looks at the major issues in crafting a novel: narrative arc, plot and subplots, point of view and perspective, characterization, voice, use of setting, pace and flow, organization, and will provide an analysis of any recurring issues with the writing itself.
The best way to remember these is that a line edit looks at the writing quality, and an analysis (or critique or evaluation) looks at the story (although there is certainly some overlap).
A developmental edit is a customized combination of all three levels of editing in a longer process, designed for each writer's specific needs. It starts with a first or early draft, then progresses through rewrites and revisions.
Prices are also customized for each client because every manuscript is different, based on the level or type of editing and how involved that editing will be. Before taking on a client, I read the opening chapters of a manuscript, provide a sample edit of the opening pages, make a recommendation for what type of edit (unless the writer has specifically requested a particular level), and provide a firm price quote at that time with no surprises later. General rates can run from $1 per manuscript page (approx 250 words per page) for light proofreading, up to as much as $6 per manuscript page for full developmental editing over a period of weeks or months.
JR: Do you charge by the page, hour or word? Why did you choose that method? And what are some pros and cons of your method of charging.
RG: I use a combination of methods to determine a price quote in advance, customized for each manuscript and each writer. On my website, I publish price ranges based on per manuscript page, estimating 250 words per page, so writers can estimate a general price based on the size of their manuscript and the type of editing needed. When I do a sample edit, I estimate how much time I think the edit might take, compare that to my per page rates, and then try to come up with a firm price quote that is fair to me and the time I'll need to invest in order to do a professional job, as well as fair, reasonable, and affordable to the writer. As a writer first and foremost, I understand that most writers don't have gobs of cash lying about in which to hire editors. I'd rather have three clients at modest rates than quote higher rates and have no clients. I compare my rates and prices against the “industry standards” chart on the Editorial Freelancers Association website to ensure my rates are well below "industry standard."
JR: Do you do a free sample edit or edit a chapter or section at a low fee, as a sample of how you’d handle their work?
RG: As noted above, I always do a free sample first—no charge, no obligation. I usually read the first 20-30 pages of a manuscript, then do a sample edit of the opening 10 pages or thereabouts. That's the only way that I can get a true feeling of what type of editing is needed, how involved it is, how much time it might take me, in order to quote a fair price to the potential client. It's also a key factor for the writer to determine if I'm the right editor: Do I edit the voice out of the work? Do I “get” the story and what the writer is trying to accomplish? Do I catch little errors and big issues in the opening pages? Do I have sound recommendations and suggestions that help the story and the writing? Does the writer get the impression from my sample edit that she would enjoy working with me or find me annoying?
JR: Fees and payments – how do you work that? Half at the start and half at the end? Pay in installments as the editing proceeds and edited sections are sent to client?
RB: In most cases, I request half in advance to schedule the work on my calendar. The remaining half isn't due until I complete the work and send the finished product back to the writer. So we both have to have a measure of trust, of course. For most edits, I edit the entire manuscript and send it back all at once. After I complete the edit, however, the writer has me on retainer for up to 90 days as she goes through her manuscript and my edits, for questions, clarifications, for me to read revised scenes as needed, or to discuss different ways to handle any particular issue. For the longer (and more expensive) developmental edits, I can customize the payment schedule based on the milestones in the development process, and break it into three or four payments as appropriate and as meets the writer's needs and budget. In all cases, I'm flexible, and have worked out a variety of arrangements to meet the writer's needs.
JR: Do you have any tips for writers looking for a freelance editor?
RG: When looking for an editor, I recommend a three-step process, and I recommend checking with more than one editor so you can get a feel for how each one is different in order to select the one with the best fit for you and your work. The three steps to follow: 1) get references, 2) get a free, no-obligation sample edit, 3) get more references.
Also, keep in mind that at any given moment, I (or any other editor) may have clients lined up on the calendar for weeks or even months in advance, so don't wait until the last minute and expect to find an editor sitting around with no work, ready to start on your manuscript tomorrow. If you do find an editor with no work, let that raise an eyebrow. Sure, there are times when I might be available to work in another client this month, but there are times when I am taking reservations 90 days in advance.
JR: Thanks for dropping by, Robb! Always interesting to hear about the process and services of other freelance editors.
For an interview of Jodie Renner about the freelance editing process, please go to this link at The Thrill Begins Blogspot.
Writers - do you have any questions for Robb or Jodie about the freelance editing process and their approach, process and services?
Robb Grindstaff's info: