Tips for New Freelance Editors

I’ve been working as a freelance editor for almost two years now, and I found myself wandering to the coffee shop a few days ago, mulling over things I’ve learned and what I wish I’d known when I started. So I thought, hey, maybe other people’d like to know–I know how unhelpful a lot of the websites out there can be–and so this post now exists.

1) Ask for a sample before you give an estimate.
This I learned the hard way. I had someone come to me and offer less than I would normally take for a 150K word novel with the promise of more work in the future, and I mistakenly said yes because at the time I wasn’t getting a lot of novels and would have liked the repeat business. Because this was someone who’d written several books, I also gave them a short turnaround time because I assumed they understood basic grammar and punctuation. Oh my god, mistake. By taking a look at a few pages–and I recommend this for any project longer than about 25 pages–you will be able to see how much work needs to be done, thus being able to set an acceptable rate and time estimate for the project.

2) It’s okay to stay local.
95% of the freelance work I do is local. There’s tons of freelance job websites out there that either list jobs they found on places like craigslist or allow people to list jobs that they want people to bid on, such as at Elance. At the beginning, I tried all of them. But I’ve found it’s been much more beneficial to advertise locally. First of all, people prefer to work with someone close to them. They know that, if needed, we can meet in person or, if they need to reach me by phone, we’re probably on similar schedules. Plus it’s allowed me to significantly limit the amount of time I need to spend looking for new business on a weekly basis.

3) You can raise your prices as necessary.
When I first started, my rates were pretty cheap. Part of that was that I didn’t know what I should be charging (a lot of websites told me $30/hour, but I didn’t think anybody was going to go for that), and part of it was that after lurking about on websites, like the above-mentioned Elance, I didn’t think people were willing to pay for this sort of thing. (Now I know that the people on Elance are delusional.) You can see what you competitors are charging and adjust your rates from there. And, as you become busier and get more experience under your belt, you can raise your rates to reflect that.

4) Don’t take on more than you can handle.
Freelance work is very hit or miss. Some months it’s like the middle of the night, when even the crickets are silent. Some days you have five people email you for quotes, and then not a single one of them hires you. Sometimes, you suddenly have three big projects on your hands and you’ve got to juggle all of them. The temptation is there to take on any projects that come your way, just because you don’t know where the next one is coming from. But know your limits. Know how many hours you can put in in a day before your brain turns to mush. Know how many different storylines you can keep straight before you start confuse one story for another. Each project requires your full attention, and if you start getting sloppy because you’re trying to do too much, it’s going to be hard to get any jobs at all.

Well, I hope that helps someone out there. Now, back to work.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Curious about what you mean by elance people being delusional. I was checking rates today for YA editors and found everything from $5/hr (guy from Pakistan) to $77/hr. So I think the one at $77 (odd # anyway) is pretty far off the mark. Just doing an average gave me just less than $30.


    • Oh! I meant the people setting the jobs up. You’ll find people who are like, “I have a 200,000 word novel. I am willing to pay $150 for someone to edit it.” People who list writing gigs are also pretty delusional. “Write a book for me, and you can have 20% of the profits when we become a best seller!”


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