How to Make a Living as a Freelance Book Editor
Last updated 06/07/2017
Today, our lovely editor and Reedsy advisor Rebecca Heyman shares her thoughts on building great author-editor relationships. In this article, Becca offers some brilliant no-nonsense advice on how to build your editorial skills, the requirements to establish yourself professionally, and how to go about creating the best job in the world!
To a lot of people, my book editor career sounds like a dream: I work from home, earn a great salary, and spend all day, every day talking and thinking about books. You know what? They’re right. If you’re in the book biz—either as an agent, author or a freelance editor just starting out—I’d like to share a few tips for transforming a love of books (and commas!) into a thriving editing practice.
When you call yourself an editor, you’re letting the world know how comfortable you are pointing out other people’s mistakes. It hardly needs to be said that you need a thorough working knowledge of the style book most popular in the author population you’re serving. Grammar intimidates people, so you should also be able to explain grammar concepts to your clients in an approachable, understandable way.
If you’re offering content or developmental editing, you need to know the language of critique and literary terms. You can’t build a career slinging adages like “show don’t tell”; instead, you have to articulate what you see and experience in words that have actual meaning. How do you define voice? What makes a protagonist’s development successful? You need to know what makes a successful novel before you can help authors be successful.
Charge the Right Amount
I frequently click through freelance editors’ web sites when I meet a peer on social media; too often, I find myself cringing at their ridiculously low rates. How do people make a living this way? Well, they don’t – and low rates signal to the world that you are a hobbyist, not a professional book editor. Then again, certain “professional” organizations suggest some of the most ludicrous rates imaginable. While getting into specifics about tax withholding and living wages is beyond the scope of this article, I want to offer two pieces of advice:
- Don’t offer discounts just because you’re new. Too many newbies offer cut-rate prices to gain traction and experience, but this essentially sets you up for a lifetime of taking less than you’re worth. If you want to become a book editor, seek out smaller jobs but charge a regular rate; most non-fiction and middle-grade fiction tallies under 50k words, and some adult fiction (particularly genre fiction such as romance) will fall in the 50k- to 60k-word range.
- Set a salary goal. How much do you need to earn this year? Once you figure out that magic number, you can determine how many jobs you need to get there.
For an indication of what fair market rates are for book editing, take a look at this infographic on the costs of self-publishing.
Protect Yourself and Your Editorial Practice
The professional freelance editor’s most important weapon? A good contract. Mine clearly states that I retain the copyright on all editorial marks and suggestions until I’m paid in full, at which time the rights revert to the author. In addition to defining scope, a fee schedule, a cancellation policy and an indemnity clause, your contract should protect you from non-payment by articulating that you own your work until you’re paid for it.
Work Hard, Then Work Harder
I get to my desk every day by 5:30am. I work both days of the weekend. I haven’t taken a vacation without my laptop since my honeymoon in 2011. I work really, really hard. And if you’re not, I’m probably going to take your clients.
Okay, maybe I won’t personally—but someone else hustling as hard as I do most certainly will. Working for yourself takes an incredible amount of discipline, and a relinquishment of some of your freedom. Making myself available to my clients on the weekends has been a big adjustment for me over the years, but I realized that to honor their effort—and their monetary commitment to working with me—I had to sacrifice a little of my personal comfort. The illusion of being your own boss is just that: an illusion. You work for your clients, and you’ll be who, what and where they need you to be if you want to become a successful freelance editor.
Don’t Get Sucked Into the Void
It’s easy to be a loner when you freelance; the closest thing I have to a coworker is my Siberian cat. But that’s not an excuse to stop growing as an editor. Professional development is your responsibility, both to yourself and your clients. Recently I met another freelance editor on Twitter, and we decided to critique one another’s critiques. The process was completely enlightening, and now we meet via Skype to talk about our work and the craft of editing. I’ve learned so much, and I know my author-clients will benefit.
To close, I want to reiterate that I really do have the best job in the world. And with diligence, passion and commitment, so can you.
Follow Becca on Twitter: @RFaithEditorial
What are your thoughts on editing rates? Are discounts a sign of amateurism? If you’re a book editor too, do you have a similar experience? Leave us your thoughts, or ask Becca any question you have in the comments below!