How to Vet a Freelance Editor

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Though I’m committed to my niche as a freelance fiction editor, it wasn’t that long ago that I was in the indie publishing space primarily as an author. One of my biggest frustrations at that time was working with freelancers—or more accurately, finding the right freelancers. I was reluctant to risk my time and money working with folks I didn’t jive with, and I had multiple negative experiences.

But now that I’m on the freelancer side of the business, I have some insight into how to properly vet a freelancer to avoid getting scammed or just disappointed. While there is always some risk involved in business partnerships, if you follow the below four tips, you can ensure you have the best chance at forming a fulfilling author/editor relationship.

To start, let’s assume you’ve found at least one freelance editor online that you feel might be a good fit for you and your manuscript. (You’ve probably found an editor’s website via Google, gotten a recommendation from a fellow author, or searched a freelancer database—more on these in tip 4.) How do you figure out if this person is legit?

1. Check out their portfolio.

Unless an editor is just starting out, they should have multiple projects listed in a portfolio. (Side note: It may be worthwhile to work with a newer editor if price is a big concern for you, but it is for sure riskier. When I was first starting out, I offered to edit for free and then for lower-end rates, gradually raising them as I built my portfolio. So my advice is not to overpay for a newer editor, but also be realistic about the editing quality you can expect.)

With a portfolio, you can do a few things to vet a freelance editor. First, make sure they have worked on the type of manuscript you’re looking to get edited. Some fiction editors specialize in certain genres (like I specialize in romance and erotica but edit other fiction genres as well), while others will edit any kind of fiction. Regardless, look for books in their portfolio that have the same main genre as your book. For example, if you write paranormal romance, make sure they have at least edited some type of romance.

It’s possible for a scammer to list books in their portfolio that they haven’t actually worked on. One way to verify a portfolio is to check some of the published titles for a mention of the editor, usually on the copyright page. If the book is published on Amazon, you can almost always use the Look Inside feature to view the copyright page for something like “Edited by Lyss Em Editing.” Important: The absence of a line like this does not mean the editor is lying about having worked on the book. It’s up to authors whether or not they want to credit the editor somewhere in the front or back matter, and it’s not required in any way.

Another way to verify a portfolio is to contact some of the authors and ask for confirmation that they worked with this editor (more on what else you might want to  ask these authors in tip 3).

Though high-quality editing does not guarantee publishing success, it is a factor, so looking at how the books in an editor’s portfolio are being received by readers can give you some useful information. For example, if you skim the reviews and notice several mentions of typos or grammatical errors, that may be a sign to avoid an editor. (Note: Some self-published authors release a book without professional editing and then upload a professionally edited copy at a later date. This could result in reviews mentioning lots of errors, but they may be older reviews of an earlier upload. Try sorting the reviews by the most recent to mitigate this.)

Some indications that a book is selling well, which could be in part due to high-quality editing, are a high number of positive reviews and high rankings in sales categories, such as on Amazon Kindle (note that most books decrease in ranking the longer they are published, especially if the author has not published consistently afterward).

2. Get a sample edit.

If you’re encouraged by what you find in a potential fiction editor’s portfolio, it’s time to get a sample edit. Never skip this step. Sample edits are often free, but it’s also legitimate for an editor to charge a small fee, usually under $100 USD, for an edit on a manuscript sample, which is typically somewhere between 500 and 2,000 words (I offer free sample edits of up to 1,500 words). In many cases, any sample fee will apply to the overall edit cost if you decide to book, but that depends on the editor.

The reason a sample edit is so important is because it shows you pretty much exactly what you will be paying for. It’s especially useful when it comes to copyediting, since one goal of a copyedit is to make the whole manuscript grammatically and mechanically consistent. Therefore, you can expect the rest of the manuscript to be treated similarly.

Tip: If you’re looking for just copyediting, it’s a good idea to get a sample edit on a section from the middle of the manuscript as opposed to the beginning, since the beginning is usually the most worked on. In the vetting process for a developmental editor, get a sample edit on a section from the beginning of the manuscript, since that can be most accurately assessed in terms of story, character, setting, point of view, plot structure, etc.

3. See what the authors they have worked with have to say.

Looking into the experiences that past clients have had with a freelance editor can further help you decide if you would enjoy working with them. There are two ways to do this.

The first is to read client testimonials. Many authors will display these on their websites. Obviously, website testimonials are going to be curated by the editor, but unless the service provider is out to scam you, these are likely honest statements they’ve gathered from clients and gotten permission to post publicly. To verify testimonials, you can reach out to the authors they are attributed to and ask them to confirm their experiences.

The second way to get past clients’ opinions is to contact the authors mentioned in an editor’s portfolio and ask them about their experiences with that editor. A good question to ask would be something like, “Would you recommend [editor] to other authors? Why or why not?” You might also want to ask how long ago they worked with the editor. If it was several years ago, for instance, their interpretation of the editor’s skills might not be as accurate as that of a more recent client, since even editors with strong educational backgrounds in the field have to do some learning on the job when they first start out.

4. Be extra careful on freelancing platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, and Reedsy.

To be fair, I’m a bit biased when it comes to freelancing platforms. My experiences with them weren’t great, and I personally don’t feel the trade-off involved is worth it—not as a freelancer or a client.

One reason is that these sites charge fees to freelancers, typically per transaction but also sometimes for “perks” like being more visible on the platform. That means freelancers have to add that fee into what they charge to make up the difference, meaning a higher cost to clients. It’s to be expected that a site like this will have some type of fee in exchange for making it easier for freelancers to find clients, but they also often place arbitrary restrictions on their users. For example, on Upwork (at least when I was on it), freelancers who are newer to the platform are automatically given less visibility and fewer opportunities to connect with clients, regardless of their skill level or experience in their field. This is more of a downside for freelancers than potential clients, but it does mean that how editors are served up to you is not necessarily accurate.

Another reason I don’t think these platforms are worth using is because I’ve heard horror stories from authors who’ve hired freelancers this way, only to be out hundreds or thousands of dollars for an edit that’s not usable, not up to the standard they expected, or clearly conducted via AI or some other automated program. While it’s possible to get scammed by a freelancer who primarily gets clients using their own website or social media page, I’d estimate it’s less likely. Why? Scammers are looking for the easiest way to make money quickly, and freelancer platforms promise large databases of potential marks for less work than building one’s own platform. They also have those pay-to-play perks, and being willing to pay some money up front for access to a client pool does not indicate expertise.

All that being said, there are legitimate service providers on these websites. But if you choose to go that route, I recommend being extra cautious during the vetting process. Regardless of dubious skill tests, “endorsements” from other nonclient users, or other ways freelancer platforms attempt to make potential clients feel more secure, never pay an editor before getting a sample edit from them (see tip 2) on text you provide.

I hope the above information helps those looking for a novel editor feel more confident and protect themselves from potential pitfalls.

Are you in need of a freelance editor?

I have been offering romance editorial services since 2018, and I offer copyediting for all fiction genres and select nonfiction. To see if I’m the right editor for you, request a free sample edit.

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