Desperation and/or frustration send many writers to writers’ loops and to Google in search of a freelance editor. Which may or may not be a good thing depending upon the writer’s expectation.
Freelance editors charge anywhere from $4/page up to . . . I don’t know what, but it’s far from inexpensive. For a 350-page manuscript, that’s $1,400. And that’s on the cheaper side.
Anyone considering using a freelance editor must understand three key things that should help build realistic expectations for the experience. Firstly, there are no guarantees. It is HIGHLY unlikely that any freelance editor can guarantee that after having worked with her, you will produce a work that will definitely be bought. Not immediately or even in your lifetime. Too many unpredictable things go into the purchase of a book for ANYBODY to guarantee you that they can help you improve your book enough to sell it.
Secondly, you must consider your ROI—Return On Investment. Selling your book puts you in business. You have a commodity—your book, and you sell it to a publisher. You are going to give a freelance editor a LOT of money to help you whip your story and your writing into shape, but how much will you most likely sell that book for? The grim reality is that most authors are offered an advance of less than $10,000 on a first book—and more often the advance is closer to $3,000. If you paid the freelance editor $1,500 to help you whip your story into shape, you’ve eaten up most—if not all-- of your advance. Don’t forget the $3,000 is pre-tax dollars and the editor’s fee is post tax dollars.
Lastly and most importantly to keep in mind is the subjectivity element. You simply can not beat subjectivity. The publishing market is a very fluid entity, meaning that editors are constantly looking for something new and fresh that they think will be the “next big thing”. And each editor has different tastes. You could revise a story such that one editor thinks it’s absolutely perfect. But you give that exact same story to another equally qualified editor and I guarantee, she’ll want to see different things emphasized, and will have suggestions to improve the “perfect” edited work.
Now throw agents into the equation, because if you want to sell to a major publisher, you’ll need to get to the editors through the gatekeepers. The agents are another whole level of subjectivity. Another whole level of important people who may not agree with the edits your freelance editor felt were absolutely necessary.
So when considering employing a freelance editor, one needs to go into it with her eyes completely open to the reality of the situation. Sure, your freelance editor can open a few doors for you by recommending you to an agent or two. She can guide your story towards industry professionals who might enjoy it, but that’s still no guarantee. To not accept or downplay the importance of the truths of the three points above is a recipe for disappointment and bitterness.
I have used a freelance editor years ago and it worked out just fine. I did not get a publishing contract from the experience, however she was helpful to me. When we finished, her recommendation opened a few doors and got the work read by agents, however the agents had a different opinion of the story than my editor—and that’s okay. That’s just the nature of the business. You cannot beat subjectivity. You can’t.
What about you guys? Has anybody used a freelance editor before? What was your experience like?