For anyone who is not aware, one of my jobs – my many, many jobs – is working as a freelance book editor. I’ve just recently passed my third anniversary as such and while I don’t get to do much on the regular – at least since moving to London and back – I love getting to read and correct someone else’s work.
The problem is, as a young person who works with writers, not only is work hard to come by, but when you have possible clients – sorry, authors – many of you haven’t learned how this business works. I will never blame an author for this – especially you young ones out there – but as someone working on both sides of this industry, there is a lot that you need to know.
I was recently approached through an emissary of an emissary of an emissary – for those of you trying to keep up, that is a five person game of telephone – to edit a young man’s manuscript.
I wasn’t given a name, the type of book, a length, fees or payment; nothing except that family members had mentioned to him that I do editorial work and would I be interested.
Author’s and editor’s alike: there is no way of answering this question!
So here’s the big point that I need authors to really think about when approaching anyone that they would like to help them polish up their work: you are an artist but so is your editor!
Editors (and I’m talking copy editors and storyline editors) don’t get much credit – we don’t have our names printed anywhere unless an author thinks of adding us into their list of acknowledgements (which most people don’t read) but we are there for every step of making your baby/manuscript shine.
As an author, you most likely won’t make much money but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to really think about how you pay and work with an editor.
So here’s my quick how to:
If you need an emissary, make sure they are a good one – an editor’s first impression of you can be directly correlated to the impression left by the person who introduces you. Give them some information about you and your work but, most importantly, your contact information and a proposed sit down where you can talk through everything.
If you don’t trust your messenger (which may be your first problem) to get through that information, see if they can e-troduce you through email (this is where they email you both, addressing – in this case – the intended editor with a quick note where you can then follow up with all your details) and go from there.
When it comes to the actual terms, these can vary but I really recommend having a no-strings attached meeting over lunch or coffee to get to know each other, the project, and discuss the nitty-gritty details without either of you committing.
You’ll want to hash out:
- Time Frame: Is this something finished that they’ll be leafing over briefly, a full editorial attack/editorial rewrite, or are they working with you as you write/rewrite? Do you have a specific deadline and have you given them enough time to meet it and give you work the full attention it deserves?
- Payment: Again, in our way, we are artists too, so if you want to get paid, we need to get paid. Costs are usually negotiable, especially when both parties are younger but some suggestions: look up the industry/guild standard and work from there (this is usually hourly); offer some other exchange – making sure all things are equal! – to make up some of the cost; or some up front and a later payment system based on later sales. This last should only be offered if you already have some kind of deal with a publisher lined up; you only get about 1 of every 10 dollars as an author so paying an editor out of that can do more harm than good to both of you.
- Editorial Method: Are you going to keep meeting every day/week to go over and deeply discuss edits and needed rewrites or are you working completely through digital means? If the latter, do you both know the programs you’ll be communicating the edits through? If not, you’ll need some tutorials!
The only other thing that you may need to think about is what to do if you aren’t getting what you need – or they aren’t- from your editor. These are two basic choices if you don’t want to be miserable: 1. Talk it out so you both understand what is going wrong and work through it; or 2. Break off the contract while paying them up to that point -and seriously pay them for the hours they did put in as you don’t want an issue later down the road.
I would try option 1 first and then move on to the second if terms cannot be met.
This goes for editors working with writers as well! If your author isn’t doing their part, you can’t be paid. It is part of your job – unfortunately an unpaid part – to bug them until you get pages to work with or answers to your questions.
Basically, the editorial process is a conversation. You’ll be spending days and weeks of your life on this project working with this person – make sure everything fits and remember a good editor knows what they’re doing (that’s what you’re paying them for) but it’s your baby so feel free to go with your gut and don’t be afraid to hash it all out!
Finally, feel free to shoot me questions about anything, I’m here to help!
- Taylor Gallagher