May 17, 2011

Freelance editors and self-publishing

Last Monday, the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, based in Seattle, hosted a panel presentation and discussion on the role of freelance editors in self-publishing.

A few weeks ago, freelance editor Marta Tanrikulu posted a summary of a Bay Area Editors’ Forum meeting, also about what self-publishers need from (freelance) editors.

This post isn’t a full summary of the NIEG meeting (I’ll add a link later to the meeting notes), but more of a musing on my thoughts as I walked away from the meeting.


there’s clearly a lot for us to learn as freelance editors.

And it’s not just “What is POD” or “What is the difference between CreateSpace and Lulu?” — it’s also about what we offer (or can offer) and what our relationship will be with our clients.

In a comment on Marta’s post, Anonymous said: “Publishers hire editors and proofreaders. Self-publishers hire consultants.”

When I read this statement, I had to agree. Even when an author specifically asks for copyediting (let alone developmental editing), I need to spend some time discussing goals, timelines, budget, hand-off to the designer, and so forth. I need to do this in order to determine how to deliver the appropriate edit.


there is clearly a need for publishing consultants.

One of the takeaway points in Marta’s summary was that authors have a strong preference for working with a single editor to complete all tasks needed to publish a manuscript.

At the NIEG meeting, a writer/editor who had self-published two books of his own (after publishing one traditionally) said something very similar, that “one-stop shopping” would be a great service to self-publishers.

The panelists at the NIEG meeting, Linda Nathan, Mi Ae Lipe, and
Waverly Fitzgerald, encouraged freelance editors to educate themselves and then to offer a broader range of services as publishing consultants.

They also offered these specific suggestions for getting started:

  • Linda Nathan and Mi Ae Lipe both recommended beginning all client relationships with a manuscript or project evaluation.
  • Waverly Fitzgerald mentioned the importance of providing a “reality check” to authors considering self-publishing. Authors who have little previous publishing experience are likely to be surprised by editing and design timelines, as well as budgets.
  • Mi Ae said she works with clients to establish a “wish list” of services that they then can review when making budget decisions.

(Waverly will be posting more about self-publishing here at The Editor’s POV over the next few weeks.)


as Barbara Sjoholm commented, the skills we use to edit a manuscript are not the same skills needed to act as managing editor … or publishing consultant.

And this is where I sit, considering my options.

  • I can see why self-publishers would want “one-stop shopping,” but (ironically for an independent editor) I enjoy teamwork. And I think it usually produces better results.
  • I can see why authors would want a project rate (see Marta’s post), but I’m unwilling to offer one, for these reasons: (a) It takes a lot of time to thoroughly assess editorial needs for a book-length manuscript. (b) Editing is a collaborative process (I find this often surprises authors who are being edited for the first time), and an author’s process can take longer than the editor counted on. Uncertainty exists on both sides.
  • There are things self-publishers know they need and are willing to pay for … that I’m just not interested in doing for them. (Yes, I’ll edit a query letter and synopsis for a manuscript I’ve edited, but I have no interest in marketing plans. Or I’d be a marketing consultant, not an editor.)

All the above said, I have good communication skills, I know a little something about the publishing and self-publishing proces, and I enjoy working with authors. So I’ve got some more thinking to do, about what I offer and why, and about how to fit the things I do best into the self-publishing environment.

—Kyra Freestar

1 comment:

  1. The Rodney Dangerfield of Editing here:

    I just read an interesting piece in the New York Times written by a fiction (thriller) author who is going to self-publish. He has previously gone with trad publishers and has a bit of a following. In the article, he breaks down the numbers in terms of how much he expects to sell and bring in by self-publishing.

    Perhaps most interesting to us freelance editors is his naivete about the production aspects.

    Production time is summed up with, "Within a month or so, I’ll finish the first draft of a short novel. Sometime soon after, I plan to release it as an e-book, and there may be a limited-edition print run." Sometime soon after he finishes the first draft? Really? By soon I hope he means six months to a year.

    His editorial production plan? Free editing! "Meanwhile, a guy from my fantasy football league, a talented editor who put out dozens of works of crime fiction when he ran an indie noir publishing house in Los Angeles, where I live, will be editing the manuscript for nothing."

    It all sounds so rational and the writer has previously been published, so I'm sure it will sound convincing to many would-be authors and self-publishers out there.
    How do we educate clients in this environment?

    And why have trad publishers done such a poor job of educating their authors about just exactly how much they do to get a book from manuscript form to bound and out the warehouse door.

    -- Freelance "Can I get a little respect here" Editor