The Rewards of Freelance Editing



My first job after graduating college was copyediting a novel (Not sure what copyediting is? Check out this post on Editing Types.). The position started out as an unpaid internship but turned into my first paid freelancing gig. I constantly second guessed myself and feverishly checked the Chicago Manual of Style for every little thing, even when I’d looked up that same rule an hour before (What if I’d read it wrong?!). I learned a lot during that internship. The most important being that I loved the work, even if I was stressing about commas and whether to use till or ’til as a shortening of until (just FYI, though ’til makes more sense, till is actually the more widely accepted option). I knew the stress would dwindle as I became more confident, but the joy of making money reading books wasn’t going to fade anytime soon.

What I hadn’t realized during that first job, though, was the beauty of the connections editing a novel forges. Firstly, I was extremely lucky that the author who took a chance on a twenty-one-year-old straight out of college with no experience, even though he had big plans for his book (the first one is actually being considered as a TV show), was adamant about making everyone on his team feel important and included. He was encouraging and enthusiastic, and he still keeps in touch, even two years later. I love getting emails from him. He updates me on the progress of his publishing plans for the second book (which I also copyedited) and the slow progression of his TV pilot through the entertainment world.

As I moved forward with my career and landed more editing jobs at new rates that reflected my growing skill, I began to get a sense of the connection forged between author and editor. These talented people hand over their most valued work—the manuscript they’ve laboriously pulled from their head and carefully placed on paper, trying their best to make sure every word counts, their characters come alive, and their plots delight. Some, usually those seeking a critique in addition to copyediting, have never shown a soul this work until it’s handed over to me. That sort of trust is precious, and I’ll be damned if I betray it. My job as a proofreader is to make sure no little typo distracts their readers (or an agent) from their story. My job as a copyeditor is to make sure that every sentence packs the same amount of punch and that every detail is accurate and believable for the reader (a.k.a checking if Verizon has stores in Panama or if the caliber of bullet their detective is using actually works in the type of pistol he carries). When I add a short critique/analysis to the service, my job is to provide kind, constructive criticism that gives the author actionable steps to improving any weak areas while also pointing out her strengths so that she knows what she needs to keep doing.

If you take the time and care to do these things, you will quickly learn that authors are an extremely loyal bunch. Handing over their work to a stranger is terrifying, and they don’t want to repeat the process. That means that if you do your job well, those authors are going to come to you every single time they need an editor. You’re not a stranger anymore. In fact, in many cases, you feel like a friend. A friend they trust explicitly. And if those authors don’t feel like your friends, too, you’re doing something wrong. Now, this level of connection isn’t going to be forged with every single author. Not every story is going to speak to you, not every author’s personality will mesh with yours, and not every author is going to seek a companion in the writing process—they’re just hiring an editor because they know they have to. However, where a sense of friendship hasn’t quite blossomed, you should still find mutual respect. They should feel like a valued colleague. The main point here, though, is that it’s nearly impossible to edit something as personal as a novel or memoir and not create some sort of connection between yourself and the author. As a freelancer, this connection is the most valuable asset you have. Writers write. They can’t help it. This all translates into a freelancer’s two favorite things: repeat clients and referrals.

Last week, I experienced something incredible and beautiful that I will never forget as long as I live. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering or even out of the ordinary, really, but it was huge to me. I was speaking to a new potential client, going back and forth discussing his project, what I could do for him, and how long it would take. This last part is what the client kept snagging on. He wanted his 105,000 word memoir copyedited in four weeks. I told him I would need six to do it right. I could have done it if he just wanted a proofread, but after doing a sample edit for him, I realized that doing a copyedit in that time would be cutting it extremely close, and I would have to rush things. I let him know that to do it in four weeks, I would have to apply a rush rate that would allow me to cast all other jobs aside, and I warned him that I thought rushing it this way would risk doing his story a disservice. In response, he asked for references. This is the first time I’ve had an individual (as opposed to a company) editing client ask for references. Usually, my testimonial page and a sample edit are enough. I became irrationally nervous as I typed out the emails of my past clients. I knew I was right about my timeline. I knew I was right to charge a rush rate to cut it down by two weeks. Still, the client’s hesitancy made me doubt myself. I worried he would ask my references how long I’d taken on their projects, not realizing that comparing one project’s timeframe to another was pointless. I worried my references wouldn’t see the emails and wouldn’t respond. I had all kinds of irrational fears.

Then I started notifying my past clients that the new client would be in touch. In minutes, I had responses assuring me I had nothing to worry about. The author who I had interned for told me he would try to tone down his reference, joking that if it was too glowing, the new client might not believe him. Many asked me if there were any specific points I wanted them to touch on when talking with the new client. As the responses came in, I breathed easier. I even smiled. I didn’t have time to fret over anything else after that. One client sent me the email he’d received from the new client, and it was a simple message asking my past clients to rate my skills, professionalism, and timeliness. Easy peasy. Much nicer than I’d been imagining. I started getting more emails. “Just gave you a glowing review. Hope it works out.” “Sent it. Good luck on the job. Sure you’ll get it.”

The best way I can describe this swell of support is that it’s like being encapsulated in an indestructible shield (like that metal ACME ball that Wile E. Coyote buys in one of many fruitless attempts to best and eat Roadrunner) with a warm, fuzzy, padded center that keeps you safe and warm. The whole time I read through them, I just kept thinking, “I love my job.”

These emails led to the pleasant sort of casual conversations I’ve come to enjoy when speaking with these clients. I had a chat with the author for whom I’d interned about the progress of his work and how he plans to split two of the books in his series into two books each. He then asked me if I would have time to edit the next installments this summer. I reconnected with a client I hadn’t spoken to in a while, and we had a nice talk about his role in a Shakespeare play and his hunt for a publisher. My mentor and I made plans to swap manuscripts after I finish up my edits on Arcamira in the next month or so.

The next morning, the new client requested a contract, and he agreed to the six-week deadline.

I’m not a very social person. I like to stay home. I’m not good at initiating conversation, especially if I don’t really know the other person/people. I don’t do well at large parties. But I love chatting with my clients. I have never met most of them face to face. I’ve never even heard some of their voices, and yet, they feel like a second family in a way. I don’t know their favorite color or their food preferences, but I know the character traits they value and those they despise. I don’t know which celebrities they admire, but I know what heroism means to them. I don’t know how many siblings they have, but I know what they believe a family should and shouldn’t be. I don’t know all of their relationship statuses, but I know their feelings on love. It’s a bit odd, but it is the reason I plan to work as an editor in some capacity for the rest of my life.

3 thoughts on “The Rewards of Freelance Editing

  1. Claire says:

    You have earned every single great reference by your hard work and diligence, well done you! And I’m so glad the new client is going ahead with you, great decision on his part. I’m really hoping to start an editing and proofreading course soon, I shall be popping in here for tips along the way. I hope you enjoy the new job Hannah.

    • IJustWanttoWrite says:

      Thank you for you kind words, as always, Claire! (By the way, do you prefer CJ? I saw that that is the name you go by on your blog.) Please let me know if you enjoy that proofreading course. I’m always looking for good programs to recommend. I’ve been thinking about some editing-related lists of tips and strategies to post in the coming weeks/months, so I hope you’ll find those helpful. Thanks for reading!

      • Claire says:

        CJ or Claire is fine, I don’t mind which. I’ll look forward to reading your tips and strategies, I’m learning lots over here!

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