“Freelance editor” is a pretty broad term, and there are so many types of freelance editors these days. Some edit videos, some create content for websites, some help shape books. For now, I’ll focus on a developmental book editor (also sometimes called a content editor or substantive editor).
My motto as an editor is "be a coach, not a critic." Editors should cheer you on when you do something good and gently guide you when you get off track.
So here is what a freelance editor does—and a few things they won’t do.
They’ll point out issues with your characters/plot/worldbuilding.
When you are knee deep in a manuscript, it can be really hard for you to see bigger issues. Maybe you know your hero is likeable, but have you made sure the reader sees this on the page? If you are writing paranormal/fantasy, the magical elements may all make sense to you, but do they make sense to a reader who is picking up your book for the first time? A good editor will point out plot holes, character issues, and other structural elements.
They’ll give you suggestions for fixing these issues.
What good is it if the editor just points out a problem? If it’s a problem you already knew about, then you’ve just wasted a lot of money. A good editor should give suggestions that solve these issues.
They’ll tell you what you are doing right.
A good editor should be able to make encouraging comments about what’s going right with your manuscript. After all, how are you supposed to continue the good things if you don’t know what they are? Also, it can be rough having someone point out problems in your manuscript. Knowing what’s working can give you the motivation to sort out what’s gone wonky.
They’ll respect your voice and intentions.
If you wrote a sweet romance, a good editor will not be trying to get you to add lots of sex scenes (or vice versa). They’ll understand what you are trying to do and help you do it.
So what doesn’t a freelance editor do?
A freelance editor won’t write/rewrite substantial parts of the book.
Sometimes I get queries that are clearly confusing editors with ghostwriters. When I am doing a line edit, of course I fix errors and smooth out the writing, but I do not (and should not) rewrite entire pages, add scenes, etc.
A freelance editor should never guarantee you will be a bestseller/get an agent/get a book deal.
There are so many factors that influence this—having a good book is a great place to start, but there are no guarantees. If an editor is telling you it’s a certainty, I would be very cautious.
Now that you know what a freelance editor does, next week I'll discuss what you should look for when hiring one.
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