Friday, November 9, 2012

The Merits of Hiring a Freelance Editor

By Jill Williamson

I started writing my novel The New Recruit in 2004. I attended my first writer's conference in 2005, where I learned that my writing needed a lot of work. Near the end of 2006, I was preparing to attend a large writer's conference in the spring 2007. And I was at the point where I just didn't know if my writing was good enough. How was I supposed to find out? Sure, I had critique partners who'd read my story. But none of them were published. How could I ensure that my manuscript was the best it could be before I went to this expensive conference?

I decided to pay a freelance editor to do a critique on my first three chapters. I was severely disappointed in what I received for my $75. The editor made some good points, but she didn't seem to understand my audience. She chastised me for writing a book with a main character who was so flawed. She said it was horrible to read about a teen who told lies and got into fights. My gut told me she was wrong about that.

So I ended up attending that big writer's conference no closer to knowing whether I had a clue what I was doing. I signed up for the mentoring clinic with James Scott Bell. In this class we each sent in one chapter of our story to all ten class participants and to the instructor. We had to critique them before the conference, then we'd spend time during the conference going over them.

This was awesome. In this group of writers I learned that I did have some talent. I also pitched The New Recruit at the conference and got two requests from agents. I had a good premise! I was so excited, but I still didn't know if my story was good all the way through. I had met Becky Miller at the conference. And she did freelance editing. So I paid Becky to read my whole book. It wasn't cheap, but it was more affordable than some. She gave me pages of notes, marked up my manuscript, and a very kind letter listing my strengths and what I needed to work on. She also volunteered to recommend that her publisher friend take a look at my manuscript once I cleaned it up.

So I got to work. But the publisher connection didn't pan out. And later, when both agents from the big conference rejected The New Recruit, I figured something major must be wrong. I had met Jeff Gerke at that big writer's conference, and he had told me he did freelance editing on some very well-known novelists. Novelists who were weird, like me.

I saved up and paid Jeff to read The New Recruit. His feedback changed everything. But by then I had written a few more books, and I was completed obsessed with my new fantasy novel, the book that became By Darkness Hid. So I waited until I finished the fantasy novel, then I went in and rewrote The New Recruit. Again.

That next summer I attended another big conference. But only one house (AMG) was looking for YA stories. I submitted a mini proposal for The New Recruit and my fantasy novel. And I submitted my fantasy proposal to Jeff, since I so admired his editorial feedback.

AMG asked for the full on The New Recruit! Turned down the fantasy novel. And Jeff asked for the full on the fantasy novel. Jeff published my fantasy novel, By Darkness Hid, which went on to win several awards. AMG had The New Recruit for over a year, going back and forth with it. They eventually turned it down and published Wayne Batson's The Sword in the Stars. I found out later that they could only publish one book at the time and Wayne had a bigger platform and following. I got to sit with the editor for AMG at a conference this past summer, and it was fun to talk about how his house rejected both The New Recruit and By Darkness Hid.

That's how it works in publishing. Sometimes you get rejected because of craft. Sometimes you get rejected because there is only one slot and the other author had more experience than you. Sometimes a publisher will take a chance on you anyway. And eventually you get to make friends with everyone and have a good laugh.

My point is, good things come to those who work hard, are patient, persistent, and willing to invest in their own careers.

Are you ready to pay someone for a critique of your work? Ask yourself:
-Is the book done? 
-Have you been critiqued by your peers first? 
-Have you rewritten the book until you are satisfied? 
-Have you done your research to find the right freelance editor who will understand your genre?
-Have you considered paying someone to read your first three chapters and synopsis first? That could point out some good stuff and save you a lot of money in paying for a full novel edit.

Keep in Mind
1. You might find out that your writing isn't quite there yet
And that's okay. 

2. You might waste your money.
Hopefully not. But 

3. You might get lots of praise and still get rejected.

4. You might get a referral or request for your manuscript.

Here is a list of Freelance Editors I recommend:

BONUS! Write Now Relief
Today, I (Jill) am participating in a critique auction in an effort to raise money for victims of Sandy. This might not be the best way to get a bargain on a critique, but if you're ready to have a partial critique done, check out which authors are participating. It's for a good cause.

WHAT: Bid on a 50-page critique of your novel by a published novelist! Highest bidder will send their amount to Samaritans Purse for their relief efforts for the victims of Superstorm Sandy.

WHEN: Begins Friday, November 9, ends Friday midnight EST November 16.

HOW: Head to the blog of the author you’d like to have critique your 50 pages. Find their Write Now Relief blog post and place your bid in the comments section of that post. Monitor it closely so that you can re-bid! Check back on this Facebook page for updates on all the bids. If you are the high bidder at the end of the week, make your donation and email a copy of your receipt to the author with your 50 pages. It’s that easy.

How much is a 50-page critique worth?
Most authors and editors can easily charge $35 an hour and a fifty-page critique is well over three hours of labor. But this labor of love is for victims who have lost everything. Their need is huge. One blogger who hosted a similar campaign last week had a top donation bid of $1,000 for a 50-page critique!

What will the critique entail?
The author you choose will read your fifty pages with an eye to giving you insights and feedback on all aspects of your story excerpt, including plot, character, story arc, mechanics, pacing, and reader appeal.

How do I start?
You can check Susan Meissner’s blog for the full list of participating authors and their blog addresses. Pick an author, head to their blog on Friday, November 9, and make your opening bid.

Any questions about how freelance editing works? Have any of you ever paid a professional for freelance editing? What was your experience?


  1. While I can't afford to bid on a critique right now, I want you to know, Jill, that is such an awesome thing your doing. I live in south Jersey and I have seen people that have lost every thing. You will be helping so so much. I even met this family that had to evacuate and they were staying in a hotel with three little girls. They nearly broke my heart. My mom even offered to let them come over to our house, even though we didn't have power. Their faces lit up, even though they didn't end up coming. Thanks for doing this.

    1. Thanks, Alyson. I still need to finish the critique you won! You poor thing! I'm almost done!

      And thanks for sharing about what's going on over there. It's so sad for so many.

  2. That's such a neat thing to do!

    Thanks for the post... definitely something I'll consider in the future. Ah, that's funny. WTB is one of my favorite fantasy writers! Haha. But I like both of your books!

    1. Thanks, Bethany! Yeah, that's the way the business goes sometimes. But it all works out. :-)

  3. Wow! That's a great idea!

    I'm definitely not at that point yet, but eventually...eventually, eventually! :)

  4. The Write Now Relief sounds like a wonderful way to help out the hurricane victims!

    I will certainly keep this post in mind for the future. Thanks for sharing your story with freelance editing!

  5. The relief thing is an awesome idea!

    Jill, it took you awhile to be published. Did you ever have a hard time being patient and waiting till your ready? That's something I'm noticing, I KNOW my writing isn't there yet but I want to rush it and keep feeling like so much time has passed me by I want to be published young, not old!

    1. Sure. I was beside myself with worry and frustration. Will it ever happen? Am I good enough? All I can say is, don't rush it. It will happen at the best possible time. And it won't matter if you're young or old (which can't be all that old). It will be perfect. There is no hurry. What matters is that you learn to write a great book so that when it does happen, you'll do well.

      I was first published when I was 34. And a lot of people in publishing say that's young. Though I'm sure that's way older than you were looking for. *grin* There are people out there getting their first novels published, and they're in their 50s or 60s. Most these people, myself included, didn't start as early as you did, though. So you've got a big head start on all of us. Keep at it!

  6. I always love reading of other's publishing journeys, Jill, and yours is definitely an interesting one! Thank you so much for being willing to share so that we might learn from what you did!

    1. You're welcome, Rachelle! I'm glad it's interesting. lol