Engaging a Freelance Editor

Are you hiring a freelance editor for the first time? Here are some helpful tips:

Be clear about what you want the editor to do

For example, do you want the editor to assess a document and report on what work needs to be done, to edit it on disk or on hard copy, to proofread it, to read it for "sense" at page proof stage, or to take full responsibility for all stages? At what point in the process will the editor start working on the project? Will they be working with you and/or the author to develop and structure the ideas and arguments, or will they simply be copy editing? Ideally the tasks should be listed in a written brief. If you're not sure of what needs to be done, discuss the project with an editor.

Be clear about accountability

To avoid misunderstandings, be clear about accountability from the very beginning. Does someone in your organisation need to approve editorial changes, and if so, at what stages? Or will the editor have a relatively free hand?

Treat an agreement as a contract

The importance of having a written agreement with any independent contractor cannot be overstated. Project tasks, deadlines, fees and payment schedule, and ways to deal with contingencies should be spelt out clearly at the start. The editor may have a standard contract that they present to clients. If so, read it carefully to make sure your organisation complies. Most terms can be negotiated - for example, if the editor has agreed to non-standard tasks for an additional fee, this can be added to the contract. When the job is done, make sure the editor is paid promptly.

You get what you pay for

Once the editor has seen and assessed the document to be edited, they may provide you with an editorial review and a summary of your instructions as understood, as well as a quotation. An editor will only be able to provide an accurate quote if they have had a chance to peruse the document. It pays to confirm with the editor whether the quotation is a firm quote or an estimate only. Changes to the original brief may mean extra charges.

Some editors base their quotations on how much they consider their time to be worth, but it is unreasonable to ask for an editor's "hourly rate". An experienced professional may be able to do a job to your satisfaction in much less time than it would take someone just starting out, but still charge considerably more for the work. Indeed, some editors charge more for quick turnaround. In other words, the number of hours spent may bear little relation to the quality of work that you're getting for your money. This reinforces the importance of a clear brief and a confirmation from the editor as to the kind of work they will be doing.

Budgets are often determined long before it's time to contact an editor, but be aware that editors doing professional work of a high standard will charge accordingly.