Monday, August 29, 2022

What to Include When Contacting an Editor


Looking for a Freelance Editor for Your Novel? 

Here's what to include when you first contact them.

In-demand freelance editors, like agents, are very busy people. A well-respected editor will receive a lot of submissions for editing, more than they can take on, so it's important to send them everything they need when you first contact them, rather than just introducing yourself.

Be sure to check out their website first and see what they specialize in editing and what they need from you before they can consider taking on your work. If they don’t include that info, just use the guidelines below and send them all the information listed, so they can see the subject matter and quality of the writing right away.

Here’s an email I received a few months ago that gives me no information whatsoever about the type of project it is or the quality of writing, i.e., how much work it will need to bring it up to industry standards and sell well.

Dear Jodie

I want to ask you if you have time to help me with a project that I need to submit next month. If you can help, that will be great. I need proofreading, copy-editing  too. 

Let me know if you can help and how much you charge. 


How can I respond to this query, with no further information included or attached? I really need to know what kind of project it is and see a sample of the writing as well. (Never mind that they misspelled my first name!) When I’m busy (which I am now), I just don’t have time to email them back and list the items they need to send me. And I certainly can't give a fee, even if they had included the word count, without seeing at least some of the project and doing a sample edit.

If you want to get a timely response from an editor, include everything they need in your initial inquiry. A brief email asking if I have time to take on a project, with no additional information, is a bit frustrating. What if I say yes and it turns out it’s not the kind of thing I want to edit at all. How do I turn them down diplomatically when I’ve just said I have time to take on their project? I want to see at least some of the project first, before I say whether I’m available or not. 

Here’s what to include when you first contact a potential freelance editor for your novel or short story:

Your full name. If your author name is different, best to include both.

The genre of your novel or story. 

This is the main category it would fit into, where it would be shelved in a library or bookstore. Mystery, romance, fantasy, literary, sci-fi, historical, suspense, thriller, YA mystery, middle-grade fantasy, romantic suspense, action-adventure, horror, etc.

Total word count. 

(Or projected word count.) For a novel, should be between 75K and 100K words, usually 80-90K. Don’t need the exact number of words – round it out to the nearest 100. 

By the way, if your novel is over 95 thousand words, it very likely needs tightening up. See "How to Slash your Word Count by 20-40%, without losing any of the good stuff."

Character sketches

Give a brief description of each of the most important 4-6 characters, in order of importance, in list form. Begin with the main viewpoint character of the story. Give the full name of each character, bolded, and their age (or approximate age). Include the love interest if there is one and the antagonist or villain, as well as anyone else who plays a significant role, such as a spouse, boss, partner, close buddy, or confidante. A line or two for each is fine. What is their strongest desire or motivation or their biggest problem? What is their role in the story?

A SYNOPSIS (Plot Outline, Story Outline)

A brief description (usually a paragraph to half a page is fine) of the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Unlike with a blurb or back cover copy, which just gives enough tantalizing detail to pique the reader’s interest, a synopsis for an editor or agent needs to reveal the ending as well. 

Include the title (or working title) of your book and your name at the top, and the word "Synopsis" or "Short Synopsis."

Start with your protagonist and his/her main goal, desire, worry, fear, or secret, and tell what or who is standing in the way of him reaching his goal. Who or what is the antagonist? Also mention any other significant characters, like maybe a love interest. No need to mention subplots or minor characters. Mention the setting or story world if it's significant.

For the first mention of each character, give their full name in all caps or bolded, followed by their age in brackets. After that, just use normal font for their name. Tell the main points of your story in third-person (he/she/they), present tense, even if your novel is written in first person (I, me, we, our), past tense. Try to convey the tone and voice of your novel in the synopsis.

Individual editors and of course literary agents may ask for a longer synopsis, in which case you might include the main subplot or subplots.

A short bio. 

A little about yourself. Rough age would be good, maybe family situation and where you live, plus any relevant experience, etc. A sentence or two is fine.

~ Your preferred timeline, if you’re in a rush. (I highly recommend not being in a rush if you want the best job possible. I usually turn down people with a tight deadline as I'm already very self-motivated and I don't need the added pressure.)


The first 20 pages (roughly) or the first 3 chapters of your novel. 

*Be sure to include the title (or working title) of the book and your name at the top.*

Don’t include the front matter or Table of Contents. No photos, maps, diagrams, or any of that fancy stuff you may want to include in the book.


  • Times New Roman font, 12-point  
  • double-spaced 
  • paragraphs indented 
  • no extra space between paragraphs 
  • left-justified 
  • one-inch margins on all sides

You can change it to your preferred font after the editing process. Sending it in Times New Roman, double-spaced is a courtesy to editors as that's what we're used to looking at and it means we can get into the story right away without reformatting it first.

If you have time, change any incorrect paragraph indents that you’ve made using Tab or the space bar to proper indents using Word’s Paragraph function.

For more on formatting a manuscript to send to editors or agents, see Formatting 101.

Good luck!

For more on this topic, see my guest post on Anne R. Allen's award-winning blog, "How to Snag the Best Freelance Editor for Your Writing Project."

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling FictionFIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLERas well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website: Author Page.