May 24, 2011

Expanding Your Editing Services

Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, editor, and writing teacher who recently spoke to the Northwest Independent Editors Guild about skills for working with authors who are publishing their own book(s). She’s agreed to write a few posts for The Editor’s POV about her perspective on what self-publishing means for freelance editors, and we’re looking forward to a series of posts from her over the next few weeks, starting today.

Everywhere I go these days, authors and editors are talking about the tumultuous changes in the publishing world.

Two different friends forwarded me a link to the recent article on self-publishing by Neal Pollack, printed in The New York Times. Last week I attended a meeting of the Whatcom Writers and Publishers in Bellingham where Priscilla Long was speaking and sat next to Sara Stamey, a teacher at Western Washington University who had just worked with her students to self-publish a collection of their work. Meanwhile the agent who is representing my humorous mystery novel told me and my co-author about Open Road, a new publishing venture started by Jane Friedman, former CEO of HarperCollins. Open Road is primarily an e-book publisher, although they also work with traditional publishers to offer e-book marketing services.

Editors can do a lot to help authors find their way through the shifting publishing landscape. I’ve listed below a few services I can imagine editors providing that go above and beyond editing the manuscript.

Traditional Publishing
  • Synopsis writing: An editor is in a unique position to write this important document that summarizes the gist of a nonfiction book or the plot of a novel for submission to agents and editors. Most authors have a hard time distilling their 300 pages into 3–10 pages. A synopsis has a unique format—it’s usually written in third person, present tense and should capture the flavor of the author’s voice. I love writing these and am particularly good at it—I think because I’m good at imitation. If you want to offer this service, start by reading examples online. Donald Maass also has a great chapter on how to write a synopsis in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.
  • Query letter writing and polishing: Again, authors are often the last to be able to succinctly describe the value of their work. I know many editors routinely polish and edit query letters, but what about writing them for authors? It’s easy to find a simple template for a query letter online.
  • Research on agents and publishers: This involves becoming knowledgeable about agents and publishers, but editors who enjoy doing research will probably enjoy this. Authors need agents if they are going to submit to the Big Six publishers, but not if they want to submit to smaller regional, niche, or academic presses. Start by looking at a good database like (where you can sort by category) or a book like Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. Most publishers these days publish their submission guidelines on their websites. Editors could print out or summarize information and present it to authors to help them develop a submission strategy.
  • Preparation and mailing of submissions: This administrative task could really help an author who feels paralyzed by the act of sending work out. An editor could make copies of query letters and the other materials requested by agents and publishers, then keep track of the dates sent and any responses. Writer’s Relief is a business that exists just to provide this service, one that is extremely valuable to authors.

Self Publishing
  • Editing: All self-publishing authors need editing, and editors can provide a variety of editing services from substantive editing to copyediting the final manuscript. To find clients who are self-publishing, consider attending meetings of organizations like Book Publishers Northwest, or attending local writing conferences. Editors could also look for clients by aligning with a company that does self-publishing. Such companies often refer clients to editors.
  • Project management: Editors who find these skills appealing could work with clients to develop a timeline and plan for self-publishing, which might include assembling a team of experts, like book designers, cover artists, publicists, etc.
  • Other services that self-publishing authors are likely to need probably fall outside of the scope of editing, but involve skills some editors would enjoy using or would like to acquire:
    • Researching print-on-demand publishers and helping a client choose the most appropriate
    • Designing the interior of the book
    • Designing the cover
    • Indexing the book
    • Formatting the book
    • Converting files for different formats, including e-books
  • Promotion: All self-published authors have to become experts at promotion. Most authors published by traditional publishers also need to do their own promotion these days. Hiring a publicist is one option for authors. But editors who are working with authors on a limited budget or who want to do it themselves could help clients design and implement a plan, and might also help them carry it out (for instance, contacting radio stations, sending out press releases, creating a website, identifying blogs that might review the book, creating a book trailer, etc.). I plan to write a separate blog post on promotion strategies.

Guerilla Marketing for Writers: 100 No-Cost, Low Cost Weapons for Selling Your Work, by Jay Conrad Levinson, Michael Larsen, and David L. Hancock, has a lot of good ideas but it is based on print publishing. Turn to the Internet for ideas on promoting online. Cynthia Hartwig and Emily Warn of Two Pens do a great class on social media. Mediabistro is another source of classes. Hugo House also usually has one class a quarter on social media and promotion for authors. And I believe these topics will be featured at the upcoming Editors Guild conference as well.

I’ve self-published several books and love the control it gives me, as well as the satisfaction of holding the final product in my hands (it’s an entirely different experience from getting a box of books in the mail from the publisher, which is also wonderful). In my next blog post, I’ll focus on the path of development of a self-published book from start to finish.

—Waverly Fitzgerald


  1. I recently found your blog, and I like to hear your views on these things. Your information also gives me some comfort that the freelancing business I'm starting up is going in the right direction. I'm going to offer full editorial and production services (though some--like illustration--will be subcontracted to people other than me).

    Do you have any recommendations on where to go to gain some of the "Other Services" skills you mention? For example, I have some basic indexing experience, but I'm sure I could do better. Any suggestions?

  2. I myself am pretty sure I don't want to become an expert in designing, formatting, or marketing. I like editing, and I don't think I'll have what it takes to become really good at such disparate skills. However, I do want to learn enough about the interactions between authors, editors, and other professionals--such as designers and marketers--that I can work effectively in a team and also use my knowledge to steer clients to useful partners and set up good working relationships.

    In response to Kristy's comment: I know the American Society of Indexing has conferences and local chapters, and also offers distance learning courses in indexing. For other skills, like design, promotion, project management, research, formatting and e-book conversion, I would suggest looking for professional associations (who might have distance learning options similar to ASI), for professional groups on LinkedIn, and also for experts on Twitter, many of whom write useful blogs. (I get a lot of leads to good information via Twitter.)

  3. Hi Krity,
    I took an indexing course through the Society for Technical Communication and have also heard that the American Society of Indexing offers good training.

    Design training is harder to come by. Sites like offer training in Adobe InDesign software, as do places like MediaBistro, but design sense is hard to absorb solo. I'd recommend finding someone to do design as well as illustration.

    Formatting guidelines seem to be evolving quickly, but a lot of the self-publishing sites offer guidelines. So if you're proficient in use of styles in Microsoft Word and perhaps know some basic HTML, you might be able to read through those guidelines and learn on your own.

    For query letter and synopsis writing, there are books, websites, and online classes and webinars through various writer associations that offer training and examples.

  4. Sorry for the typo in your name, Kristy!

  5. Thanks for the tips on indexing info. I can handle HTML and CSS so I'm not having to have too much trouble with ebook conversions. I know some basic design, and I have graphic designers and illustrators who are willing to subcontract.

    Again, thanks for the resource tips!

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