Self-Pub Like A Pro: Freelance Editing

Self-publishing is a brave new world, a sometimes confusing one for authors trying to navigate its many possible avenues. But as always, your RT Web Team is here to help with our monthly column, Self-Pub Like a Pro. This month we're tackling the ever-important process of editing. A big complaint readers often have is that self-published books aren’t edited, polished — or sometimes even spell checked. So how to avoid these pitfalls? Hiring a freelance editor could be the answer. To tell us more, today we’ve got longtime freelance editor Bev Katz Rosenbaum to give us the scoop.


How do you become a freelance editor?


I hold Specialist Certification in English Language and Literature from the University of Toronto (which is a fancy way of saying I have an Honors English degree), and I have also taken courses in substantive editing and copy editing from the Freelance Editors Association of Canada (now called the Editors Association of Canada). Immediately after graduating from university, I landed an editorial assistant position at Harlequin, and worked my way up to an editing position from there.

Only after working in-house for seven years and becoming pregnant with my first child did I go freelance. Since then, I’ve worked for agents, packagers, publishing houses and individuals. I've also published four novels of my own (two romance and two young adult), published a literary zine, taught writing at two colleges and have been on the writing staff of a television show. With the rise of e-publishing, more and more individuals began contacting me, and as a result, I currently focus on assisting writers who are self-publishing. (I write about one short story a year now!)

For those looking to get into editorial, these days, employers would also want in-house employees to have publishing certificates — offered at many universities and colleges — and/or editing courses from the big editing organizations, like the Editors Association of Canada, under their belts. It’s also pretty much a given that wannabe editors will have to freelance proofread or do freelance slush pile reads for some time before landing a job in house. (Internships might also do the trick.) 

Please explain the different kinds of edits a self-publishing author might want to consider.

Substantive or developmental edits (critiques) address big-picture problems in a manuscript, such as structure, pacing, plot, characterization, and conflict. In my critiques, I also address inform the author of bad writing habits such as over-writing or head-hopping. I give specific examples, citing page numbers, and also make a point of suggesting methods of fixing all issues. In my page notes, I also cite examples of awkward wording and transitions. My reports are usually several pages long, and, in my opinion, are much more detailed and helpful than the typical beta reads authors get from their writer friends. 

Line edits are focused on proper wording and flow, while copy edits address pickier spelling and grammar issues. In the self-publishing world, authors usually only get substantive edits and copy edits.

Proofreading is the final stage. The proofreader catches any outstanding spelling and grammar issues and is also concerned with how the final proof looks on the page. In the self-publishing world, the author typically hires one person to copy edit and proofread. 

What's the one thing you wish all your clients did?

I had more beefs when I was copy editing in addition to critiquing. Authors would often approach me requesting copy edits when their manuscripts were still in really rough shape, big picture-wise. I wish authors would realize that manuscripts, more often than not, need much more than just a 'quick cleanup'. It's a big reason I stopped copy editing.

Why is it important for a self-published author to use an editor?

Using an experienced editor assures the author of an improved story and a clean manuscript. I also think that authors learn and improve their craft by using experienced editors. As I said, editors' reports (and marked up manuscripts, in the case of copy editors) tend to be much more detailed than the typical beta reads and proofreads author friends can offer.

Do you have any self-publishing success stories from your clients?

Too many to list! I get notes from authors daily thanking me for helping them understand what their issues are and offering concrete solutions for fixing. It's so satisfying knowing I've helped an author develop her craft. I also get notes when my clients place on the various lists. My client, Sarah Castille, a hybrid author writing for several major publishers, has hit both the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists with self-published books I edited for her.

There you have it! Join us next month for another look into the brave new world of self-publishing with another Self-Pub Like a Pro column.