Amber Skye Forbes

Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes

How to Treat Your Freelance Editor (And What to Expect From Me)

untitled (6)As a disclaimer, I will not talk about any of my editorial clients in the future. I simply wanted to use this one as an example of what you should expect from an editor and how you should react.

Before diving into the nitty gritty of this post, click on this article to learn some more about we freelance editors, and what some will not tell you because we assume it’s the obvious. However, I have learned that it is not, which is why I’m going to create a contract future clients will sign, as well as putting a disclaimer on my website.

Continuing on, I want to first preface this by saying that I know not all of my clients are going to be wonderful, pretty snowflakes that I want to catch in my hand and hope they don’t melt. However, the last experience I had with a client was horrible. It was made even worse because I met him in public, which I am no longer going to do with local clients. Overall, this client could not handle criticism, but I am going to use examples from what happened to show you what to expect when hiring a freelance editor–and overall how you should actually be treating freelance editors, who are treating you and your manuscript with respect, not the ones who aren’t.

  1. Be clear and specific about what you want. I will take some responsibility, as I do not have specific prices for each type of editing I do. In the future, if a client asks for a proofread, that is all I will do, even if it needs so much more because the manuscript is a train wreck–but more on that later. But it’s your responsibility to be sure that you are ready for that. However, my client told me he wanted me to clean up the manuscript for grammar, but he also asked me to tell me if it was publishable, which basically gave me permission to tear the manuscript apart to unearth that publishable potential. When I sent the editorial letter and we talked on the phone that same day, he seemed like he appreciated my feedback. However, he was an angry bear in public, claiming he only wanted me to check on grammar, that he already knew that he needed to re-write the novel before handing it off to me, which brings me to my next point.
  2. Re-write the manuscript until you cannot see what more you can fix before sending it off to a freelance editor. My client should not have sent his manuscript off to me if he knew it needed to be re-written. What is the point of me fixing grammar and then asking if it’s publishable if he already knew he wanted to re-write it? Grammar would then have to be fixed again. I didn’t understand this logic. Wanting me to check for grammar when you know it needs a lot more is wasting not only your time but my time as well. Sure, I’ll get paid either way, but I want to HELP you. I want you to succeed, not out of vanity, but because I want you to fall in love with your own book and keep going at it. I always try to unearth the potential in every manuscript, no matter what state it is in. I am not perfect, but I will try to be.
  3. Freelance editors are human, and we will make mistakes and miss things. My client literally yelled at me in a public space, which was in a respectable bookstore called The Book Tavern. He kept shouting, “Attention to detail! Attention to detail!” because I accidentally called his agent character a scouter. Whoops. But it was so minor that I didn’t even bother standing up for myself. I just let him vent while apologizing that he didn’t like my work, even though I know I am a competent editor because I was trained by the very best, Georgia McBride, who has been hired by the Big 5 as a freelance editor when they were swamped with client submissions. She was impressed with my ability to help someone unearth the potential in their work, though she had to really train me on how to approach giving criticism to someone without sounding vicious–which I never intentionally do, but everyone reacts differently to everything, so I really try to find that delicate balance that won’t offend MOST of my clients. All of her apprentices, so to speak, have gone on to become competent freelance editors, as well as published authors. Without her, When Stars Die would have been difficult to edit on my own to make it submission ready. Am I the best editor out there? No, because I am still learning, but am I competent? Yes.
  4. Sample edits. I will now be doing sample edits not only to give you a taste of my editing style, but to also let you decide what type of editing you want me to tackle in your book. However, a sample edit is not always representative of the rest of the book, so you need to decide carefully what you want. For example, if you simply want a proofread, make sure you are not shortchanging yourself (you need to get plenty of feedback first before sending it off to me), because if you send your manuscript off to a bunch of in-house editors who reject it because it is not structurally sound, I can guarantee you the blame will fall back on me, even though you were the one who told me what type of editing you wanted me to do. What you do with my feedback is your responsibility from there, and having a book professionally edited in no way guarantees publication. I did a sample edit for my client, which basically showed him that I did a structural edit, so he knew what he was getting himself into when hiring me. Yet, at the bookstore, he yelled at me for deconstructing his book, even though he had approved my sample edit. He acted like I had destroyed it, that he needed to undo my destruction, even though, hopefully, he had the original, unedited version on his computer.
  5. Our job is to make it the best book it can be. Since my client should have known I was going to make structural changes, he shouldn’t have blown up on me and told me that I didn’t get the story. Frankly, there was nothing to get. He spent little time in the perspective of his protagonist and had ten different perspectives, right down to peripheral characters, you know the ones that need to be there, because, well, people exist, but they’re not important to the overall story. You just need to say, ‘There were a lot of soldiers in this group, from the bright to the dull,” but I do not want a POV of any of those soldiers, not when they aren’t major or at least secondary characters, ESPECIALLY NOT NEAR THE END OF THE BOOK. So throughout the manuscript, I pointed out things, and then told him the story basically ended a quarter of the way through the book because he in no way at least hinted at where the book was truly going. However, I took all elements of his book since I knew what story he wanted, and tried to piece them together in the letter I sent him so that he could have this one thing, as well as the war part, which he felt was the most important aspect of his book that I did not think he weaved well into the story. But, as I said, I wanted to make it the best book it could be in a way that kept all of the elements that he wanted. But he still blew up on me in spite of the fact that I told him I wasn’t telling him what to do, but merely advising what he could do to make it the story he wanted, so that all elements fit together nicely to create a strong story. I did see potential in that book, and I am only sorry that he didn’t think that, even though I repeatedly told him that I did see potential. This isn’t to say I was perfect with his book. Maybe I wasn’t compatible with this book. I will never know, but I have had satisfied clients in the past, so I do know I’m doing something right.
  6. You don’t have to agree with the editor. It’s going to sting me, yeah, because I genuinely want to help you find the potential in your book. If I haven’t, please let me know in a polite manner and at least thank me for taking the time out of my day to do so. Also, if you don’t agree with my edits, I will be happy to have a lengthy discussion with you so I can justify why I did what I did in order to help you better understand with the idea that you will at least consider my feedback, even if you disagree with it. I didn’t agree with all of my publisher’s feedback, but I did consider why he felt that way, and guess what, I made the changes because he is an outside perspective and I am not, and I am glad I did because I’m confident they made the book better. Also, not every editor can bring out the true potential in every book we edit. Some editors at publishing houses reject books because they know they will not be able to make the best it can be, not because the book is bad and has no potential. The difference with freelance editors is that we are not editing to publish your book. We are editing to see what we can find in your book, hoping that you will look at our feedback and try to strengthen what we found with your own ideas. Ultimately, we freelance editors want to make you a better writer. I think freelance editors exist to be teachers, not editors preparing your book for publication, unless you’re actively getting multiple editors on board to prep your book for self-publication. My client, on the other hand, at the bookstore, refused to listen to me when I told him his plot had de-railed–and it had. He kept positing I didn’t understand the story, and he was extremely rude when doing so. He would not even consider why I did what I did, and I never even got to justify anything. The hilarious thing is that the day before, when I talked to him over the phone, there was this implication that he had read my feedback and basically told me that the feedback suggested the book would need a lot of work, so he thanked me. But in the bookstore, he didn’t thank me and turned away after giving me my money, which he felt was wasted on me, even going so far as to telling me he will never use my services again. If your freelance editor is treating you with respect, do the same in return, even if you are not happy with the work, even if you don’t want to work with that person again, or think that person will work better with another book of yours, especially if you were pleased with the sample edit. Not all of my clients are going to be compatible with me, and I am okay with that. There are multiple editors in publishing houses for a reason, not just so they can keep up with clients’ manuscripts, but so those manuscripts can find editors they’d be compatible with.
  7. Don’t tell an editor one thing and then say something different after the fact. My client specifically told me the novel I was editing was for young readers, so I treated it as such, much of my feedback pointing out that this is how he should do it to make it enjoyable for young readers. However, when we met in the bookstore, he turned on me and asked me where I got the idea that it was a book for young readers (I have the e-mail as proof that he told me it was for young readers). He told me it was a book he was trying to write for adults, and that he didn’t want to dumb down his writing. I didn’t say anything about this at all. I was speechless, not only because he was oblivious to what he had told me, but because he implied the writing in books for young readers is “dumbed down.” It is not. The best children’s books are those that can be read and enjoyed by many. The writing in these books is sharp and intelligent. The stories themselves are what categorize the book as being middle grade or young adult or whatever, not the writing, usually, unless you’re talking about a book for a first-time reader where the writing has to be simple.
  8. Don’t attack your editor. What I mean by this is that my client attacked me as a person, not just as an editor. This is what made me angry. Before I was hurt, but his attack on me as a human being is what did me in, but I stood there and took it because I knew fighting back would do no good and would offend the establishment we were in. Not only was I at The Book Tavern to represent myself as a freelance editor, but I was also there representing AEC Stellar because I gave that bookstore my publisher’s info to see about getting the book stocked there. In any case, he used my age against me. I am 23 years old. I have a lot of editorial experience behind me through internships, and have been writing seriously since I was 14, not just writing, but also actively seeking criticism and revising, revising, revising, which I think is the stage where you learn the most from. I received the best education from Georgia McBride, and I consider her a teacher that taught me a creative writing degree’s worth of education. I have a book published with pretty good reviews so far. I didn’t shove this in his face when he told me he had been writing since he was 20-years-old. He has never sought out publication for any of his works, which is why I didn’t feel like having a book under my belt mattered. There are people out there who are probably better writers than me who have never sought out publication. But it seemed like I was the first person he ever sought feedback from, because he certainly didn’t act like he was used to it. He looks to be about my dad’s age, and my dad is in his 50s. So I will let you draw your conclusions from there about his experience with writing.
  9. If you are meeting your editor face-to-face in a public space, do not blow up. As you’ve read so far, my client did. I had to personally call The Book Tavern and apologize on both of our behalves because I wanted to show the bookstore that I respected their establishment and that I did not intend for our meeting to go down as it did. I was really excited to meet my client, because I love meeting new people. Even so, the manager even had to tell us to take it outside–it got that bad between my client and I, though I was pretty much a bunny facing a bear. I was just flabbergasted, unable to stand up for myself because I had no experience in dealing with this, but I can tell you I wasn’t rude at all, though I did find a point in our conversation where I was about to be, but I shut myself up. Because of this, I am never meeting local clients anywhere again. If I do, I am bringing a third party, plus the contract said client signed, to hopefully keep the peace between us and establish some rational ground. All in all, I was sorry my client didn’t like his experience with me, but he told me not to apologize in a way that said I called him a bad name, then apologized after the fact, and if I were really sorry, I would not have called him that bad name in the first place.
  10. The editor has the right to drop your book if the sample edit is not representative of the rest of the book. Now hopefully there is a contract with a clause stating this so no legal action can be taken, because many editors do ask for half the payment upfront for labor, and if they decide to drop the project, the client shouldn’t have to pay the other half. For example, if I do a sample edit of a section that only needs proofreading, then my assumption is that this is all the book will need. However, if I go through the book and discover that proofreading is impossible because of the large amount of errors present that don’t align with what proofreading actually is, I can feel free to drop that book until the client is willing to clean the book up so I can do proofreading, which is simply looking for little errors that the author was unable to see, not re-writing sentences due to grammatical errors, like misplaced modifiers. I will drop the book so that I don’t have to change the total price I gave you in the beginning, which can understandably upset clients who were told one price, then that price suddenly had to be changed because the editor had to put more labor into the work than what was originally expected. Now my client had a right to be upset about this, because I did change the price after the fact, but I am still trying to get the business side of things together, and I think my experience with him has finalized how I want to do things, so I suppose a bad experience with him wasn’t a total waste. Of course, my client didn’t sound upset over the phone that I had to raise the price, but he sure raised Cane in the bookstore.

Overall, this was a learning experience for me, and the one good thing it did was finalize the business side of things for me, so I will be updating my website, adding a disclaimer, and creating a contract that I will post on the website so you know what you’re getting into before you request my services. The one promise I can make is that I will do everything in my power to help you see the potential in your book. I want you to learn to be a better writer so that way you can go on to be published to inspire and entertain people with the beauty that came from your heart, that beauty being your story.

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10 comments on “How to Treat Your Freelance Editor (And What to Expect From Me)

  1. bert0001
    December 26, 2013

    Thank you for this interesting insight in this remarkable world where synergy could create the best

  2. Eva Acharya
    December 26, 2013

    Reblogged this on papermashed and commented:
    What every writer should know about the vital role of an editor! Great read.

  3. enkousama
    December 26, 2013

    I admire your ability to remain that calm after being treated like that. I’ve had an editor I disagreed with, but as you said they are taking time out of their day to help out. My former editor truly believed she was helping and I appreciate that. At the very least – I paid the woman who had 20+ years of editing under her belt. I better listen. And whilst I disagreed with some points and issues, having never turned to her, I would never dream of insulting anyone who genuinely tried to make me a better author.

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say this guy has a very slim chance of making it in this business – not because of his awful plot and writing, but because of attitude. Sounds to me like this guy was too in love with the words he wrote and too immature to realize it. Being an artist is all about having the right attitude. The attitude that you and I have, which enables us to improve and change the story in order to evolve it into a better version of itself without loosing the original spark that created it. Without that attitude, there is precious little any editor can do for him, even someone as good as you

    • amberskyef
      December 27, 2013

      Georgia McBride used to ONLY work with authors prepping their manuscripts to send off to their agents because they were easier to work with and had already been through the process from first draft to published manuscript. So they were much more susceptible to feedback and didn’t really fight. Then she eventually opened it up to everyone because she got to a point where she wanted to help out all writers, no matter the level of experience.

      And I hate to say it, too, but unless he changes his attitude, he won’t make it, either. I do not think I was disrespectful at all in the entire process of working on his manuscript and speaking with him. Perhaps my comments could have come off has harsh, but that differs amongst writers depending on their level of sensitivity to criticism. I am a sensitive person, but I am not sensitive when it comes to criticism on my manuscript. I want to grow and flourish as a writer, which is why I LOVE criticism. Oh, sure, getting a manuscript back with feedback is still harrowing as hell, but, at the same time, it’s exciting because you can cradle your baby, feed it milk, and watch it grow into a person you can be proud of.

      • amberskyef
        December 27, 2013

        Well, rather, work only with authors…

      • Elizabeth Guizzetti
        December 27, 2013

        This is a wonderful article, Amber. It is great to see it from the editor side. I agree with you and Enkousama. It’s tough to be an author however critique is necessary. It is going to be very hard for this author 1) if he has not decided who he is writing for and/or changed his mind halfway through the project 2) can’t take a criticism to make his work better.
        To attack you as a person or your age is absolutely wrong. That simply shows how insecure he is.

      • amberskyef
        December 27, 2013

        That was the worst part about the whole debacle was him using my age against me. There were several things I wanted to say to him, and I know they’re all arrogant. “You sure don’t act like it because my rough drafts are better than this supposed revised one.” “Do you even know what revisions are? You told me you’d been “tinkering” around with it.” “Who has the published book? Who has been through the process?” “How many books have you actually written?” “Is this seriously your first time getting critiqued, because if so, you can write for 40 years and never develop without critique. The writing of today isn’t the writing when you were 20.” My confidence in my own writing is a double-edged sword, I’ll admit, but I kept all of those comments to myself and only thought them out of spite.

  4. Jeannine Hall Gailey
    December 27, 2013

    Oh my goodness! I had almost this exact same experience, except the guy was giving me a horrible poetry manuscript, not a horrible novel. It’s made me want to quit offering the editing service at all. I am so glad you wrote this!

    • amberskyef
      December 27, 2013

      Hopefully you’ll put safeguards in place to minimize people like this. The contract will be the biggest thing. If a client turns on me and says “This was for ADULTS!” I’ll whip out the contract and say, “You signed it, and this little thing up here says you agreed to let me edit your YOUNG READER novel.” Don’t give up on editing. I’ve had good experiences, and this was my first ever bad one. We do it for the love of helping writers, because if it was purely for the money, it wouldn’t be worth it.

  5. Pingback: Happy New Year! Year in Review + some recent fun stuff @ Jeannine Hall Gailey

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