Freelance Editing Services Booming?

red pencil, grammar, comma

(photo: Martijn Nijenhuls, Creative Commons license)

Is there a bit of wishful thinking behind Simon Owens’s article from Mediashift on how self-publishing has been great for freelance designers and editors? I read so much—even real books with covers and an actual publisher—that clearly escaped a firm editorial hand and would have benefited from one. Self-publishing, he says, has created “a rising need for the kind of editors who offered the feedback that could be found at traditional publishing houses.” Recently, I bit the bullet and sent the manuscript of one of my novels to a freelance editor who specializes in mysteries and thrillers—and is an award-winning mystery author in her own right. It was one of the best writing decisions I’ve made. A terrific experience.

Perhaps Owens hopes his words will encourage more editors to enter the author support services field. The numbers are certainly there: An estimated 3,500 new books are published every day in the United States, not including ebooks. This estimate is based on the number of new ISBN numbers, which many ebook authors don’t bother to obtain. The first response to this need was a deluge of unqualified or barely qualified editors and designers, overpriced services of marginal value, and discouragement and frustration among authors. If an editor is not well qualified (including familiarity with genre considerations) or if the author is unwilling to make changes, an expensive and frustrating experience is in store.

If the numbers are there, the dollars may not be. The majority of self-published authors make less than $5,000 a year on their writing. Even established writers (i.e., members of the Authors Guild) are earning 24% less from their writing now versus five years ago, says a new survey.

The acute need for author support services and the highly variable quality of what was out there led to development of invaluable websites like Reedsy and Writer Beware. These sites are true author advocates—pointing out bad actors, scams, and other traps laid for those hopeful souls who say, “I just want to write. I don’t care about all this businessy stuff.”

Owens’s sources say competition among books actually requires “more emphasis on producing a professional product, both in design and editorial standards” and, I’d add, faith that the audience knows the difference, for which evidence is scant. And, of course, if an author isn’t looking to self-publish, a solidly edited product is essential for attracting agents and traditional publishers.

Two reputable-sounding sources for editorial assistance cited by Owens are Reedsy and New York Book Editors, whose freelancers generally are former employees of traditional New York publishing houses. Ideally, says freelance editor Rebecca Heyman, “There should be no gap in quality between independently-published work and traditionally-published work.”

10 thoughts on “Freelance Editing Services Booming?

  1. Would you be willing to share the name of the mystery editor with whom you had a good experience? So many times finding a freelance editor feels like pulling a name out of a hat – a very expensive hat.

  2. I am a proofreader and I can’t tell you how often I am given a manuscript that was supposed to be in final form and to just look for those typos, only to find gross errors in grammar, text that appears duplicated in two chapters (“oops–I had moved that from Chapter 1 to Chapter 3, but instead it got duplicated!”), to just name a few problems. Unfortunately, since I am the last set of eyes, some authors seem to think I can be their editor (at proofreader rates). So this is a problem for we proofreaders as well. It is best to budget for both an editor and a proofreader if possible.

    • I totally agree. They are different skills! The book review I posted today (7/1/15) got marked down in part because the huge number of errors “destroyed the dream.” Such carelessness carries over into other aspects of the work and, ultimately, shows disrespect for the reader.

  3. I am spotting more and more grammatical and stylistic errors in traditionally published books over the past several years. Are you seeing this, too? Having published both traditionally and as an Indie author, I know that my DIY book went through a much more rigorous editing process than the traditionally published one. So, yes, self-publishing has made it very easy to push unedited content out into the world, but I think poor editing is a big problem across the board.

    • I agree, Kim, errors of subject-verb agreement, homonym problems, and stylistic anachronisms–all things good editors should catch in their sleep–are rampant. And if editing is rare, proofreading seems to have vanished altogether! As you say, glaring errors turn up in all publishing contexts. Just finished a book that toward the end (proofreader ran out of time?) there were run-on-words, misspellings, and other problems. Some of these come from electronic file conversions, which make certain kinds of format errors–lines broken in the wrong place, for example–that even a quick skim should reveal. I feel like an old fogey about this, but it’s distracting! And I feel for the authors who put so much into creating their books. They deserve better!

  4. I’ve certainly noticed this problem in the one niche market I’m especially familiar with: grief. Too often, the self-publishing writers deal only with their personal experiences without doing much (or any) research into the latest professionally accepted views and descriptions of the grief process. I especially recoil when someone quotes Kubler-Ross’s stages, which she used to describe the DYING process and later said that she regretted it because too many people applied that description rigidly, not to mention co-opting it over to grief where it was never intended. Additionally, there’s the problem of unfamiliarity with grammar, writing techniques, language use or basic composition skills. On the plus side, nevertheless, there is now a far larger library for the bereaved than the six books that were available when my son died 40 years ago.

  5. The money aspect can make using an editor difficult. Editors need to make a living, but sometimes authors, especially new ones, simply can’t afford the service. But by not being able to put money into their work upfront, their final product won’t be as good as it could be, and that could hurt sales. It can be a bad cycle. I know a lot of people rely on beta readers and critique groups or switching manuscripts with other authors to find the problems. But not every author or beta reader will have the same skills as an editor, and the final product shows it. Perhaps the solution is to finish your manuscript and save up your money. Better to wait and save for an editor who can help make that manuscript great than to rush to put the book on the market and have mediocre sales. (Of course, I’m biased. I’m an editor.)

  6. Victoria, You make excellent points about hiring/using freelance writers – especially in genre. To me, the use of them beats beta readers for consistent editorial comments and accuracy. In a mystery field, a good editor can be invaluable. Too many writers today mention a gun, but don’t really know if the one cited is one the police, a bank robber, a sniper, or the eighty-five yea old lady who lives in the Bronx would use. By the same token, we all hate to kill any of our words, but a good editor doing a developmental edit will address pace, characterization, repetitive passages, etc.

    • And don’t those kinds of discrepancies spoil it for the reader! People think fiction writers have it easy, because we can “just make it up,” but that’s so not true!

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