New freelance editors (copy editors, proofreaders, developmental editors) pop up every day. Often, a writer published or not, or someone with an English degree will try his/her hand at this trade. Is that a bad thing? No. Should you hire a newbie? Well… That depends.
A new editor should be cheaper. If not, run very fast to the next editor in line. After all, a newbie doesn’t have the experience or proven worth that others who’ve put their time in have acquired. Does that mean editors who’ve been in the business for years will be better than this new editor? Well… That depends, too.
If you’re good with words, you can probably learn the ins and outs of The Chicago Manual of Style (the preferred style guide for most publishers), so from a proofreading or copyediting point of view, it would be possible for a new editor to have the same skills as someone already in the field. However, an experience editor would probably be faster, an asset if he/she charges by the hour and if you’re on a tight deadline.
But, there’s one thing in particular an experienced editor should have over a new editor. Experience. Seems obvious, right? Here’s the thing. When I decided to make changes to my editorial business, Labelle’s Writing on the Wall, I interviewed copy editors. One of the criteria they had to meet was that they needed experience copyediting novels. While some can say grammar is grammar, and spelling is spelling, that’s not entirely true. There are certain “rules” that publishers and agents follow, even if not doing so wouldn’t technically be incorrect. But following those “rules” will make the piece read better, which should be every author’s goal.
For example: If an author used the word “look”, or a form of it, a handful of times on a page, that wouldn’t be grammatically incorrect, so an editor with less experience might not know to flag the issue. Even if the word “look” is used in different ways like “glance” in one sentence and “appeared” in the next, as a reader, this is still going to bump me out of the story, because the word looks the same. While there are instances where an author will purposely be repetitive, to make a point, I don’t mean that. I’m talking about lazy writing or poor revisions. Any good writer should be able to find another way to say “look” if the same work is used nearby. Sometimes, that means using a synonym, and other times, it’ll be necessary to either cut a sentence or rephrase it. An experienced editor will find the author’s crutch words (the words he/she uses easily and often without realizing it) and flag them so the author can revise as necessary.
Another thing to consider when searching for the perfect editor is that price doesn’t equal quality. This means a higher priced editor won’t necessarily be more detail-oriented than a lower priced one. I had over eighty qualified copy editors apply to join my editorial team. Forty of them did a sample edit for me and offered a quote based off that sample. I needed to see not only how well they edited but what they’d charge for a similar project. The quotes were all over the place—anywhere from $400 to $4,000. For the same piece! The average quote came in between $700 and $1,000. Some argued that they charged the same rate per hour as recommended by the Editorial Freelancers Association. While that may be true, if the copy editor is slow, the client shouldn’t be penalized for this by having to pay a hefty rate. I mean, $4,000 for an 80,000-word light-medium copy edit? Wow.
Price wasn’t the only difference between the copy editors I interviewed. Their samples varied widely, too. And the higher priced editors weren’t always the best of the bunch. However, most of those who came in with the average quote offered similar level of quality in their edits. The lesson in this is that you can’t just go by price. You need to have editors do sample edits so you can see the quality of their work.
As I mentioned in my last post, the three copy editors on my editorial team are awesome. They’re extremely detail-oriented and very good at what they do. Hey, they beat out eighty other copy editors. That says something, right?
If you are looking for a copy editor, give us a try. Depending on their schedules, we can usually have at least two of the three copy editors do a sample edit and quote for you. Then, you can decide with whom you’d like to work.
The copy editors on my editorial team have immediate openings. If you want to set something up, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.