Freelance Editor Etiquette

Yesterday’s post showcased freelance editors who are either Rubies or recommended by one of us. Today, I’ll build on that information by discussing some rules I follow in my business relationship with my freelance editor.

Honestly, I cannot write a book without my freelance editor. She’s been the developmental editor (and serious brainstorming partner) for every book I’ve published. Because I appreciate her and the excellent work she does for me, I am motivated to keep Laura happy.  Here are the informal guidelines–Editor Etiquette–that I use with my freelancer.

It’s my responsibility to state the terms of our agreement regarding services, due dates, and fees. It’s her responsibility to confirm whether she can provide them.
I initiate contact with Laura about a month in advance of when I need the work completed. I’m clear about which type of edits I need, such as developmental edits, line edits, or copy edits.  I verify the fee (and if I want an expedited job, I acknowledge the additional cost of that.) I give my proposed due date–and ask if her schedule can accommodate when I need the edits back. It is my editor’s job to either agree with the terms or negotiate changes.

When I deliver the manuscript, I include specific questions or concerns for the editor to address.
I trust my editor to give any feedback that she feels is helpful. However, I often include specific issues that I want her to pay attention to.  Is the heroine’s motivation for the black moment strong enough? Is the fistfight between the hero and the villain realistic? Does the bond between the two stepsisters build believably? Will the subplot about the lady umpire move the story forward? When I provide questions, it helps the editor focus her attention where I need it most. It also forces me to acknowledge potential weaknesses in my own work.

The editor’s feedback/edits are recommendations. I am under no obligation to apply them. That said, my freelancer is a professional. If she points something out, I should listen.
Most of the problems that my freelancer highlights truly ought to be fixed. But sometimes she just tosses out questions that she wants me to ponder without actually expecting me to change them. It is her job to make me think. It is my job to trust my own voice, humbly acknowledge the real problems, and ignore the suggestions that “don’t stick.”

I am the author. The buck stops here.
I do not expect my editor to be a magician or to write my book for me. If the manuscript is a mess, that’s on me. But when the manuscript does show promise, my editor becomes my partner in getting the book closer to where it needs to be. One of the things I love most about my freelancer is how, over the course of our association, she’s helped me to grow as a writer. 

I pay my editor promptly. Always.
My freelancer provides a valuable service to me by investing many hours and thought into my manuscript. She does her best to return the edits according to our agreed-upon schedule. My role in the “contract” is to pay her fee on time.

For authors who haven’t established trust yet with a new editor, it can be hard to receive feedback that you don’t like or that you feel is inadequate for the fee you negotiated. Before you hire a new freelancer, I suggest that you ask him or her for recommendations from existing clients. Then follow-up. You can also ask the freelancer for a sample edit, to see if the editor’s style works for you. But once they’ve completed their services, honor your commitment and pay.

So there are my etiquette guidelines that I’ve developed over years with the same freelance editor. I’ll end with a few quotes from the freelance editors featured in yesterday’s post as they discuss their experiences–good and bad–with some of their clients. 

  • I’ve been very fortunate never to have gone unpaid, and I can’t honestly say I’ve had any horrible authors. Some books are very challenging edits, and those can either be fun and rewarding if the author takes the advice and improves, or they can be slogs if the author keeps sending sloppy work, knowing I’ll fix it all for them. A challenge for any editor is maintaining a professional and respectful tone when an author keeps making the same mistakes over and over, even though you’ve pointed them out and sent links to educational articles and recommended books, etc.
    Some authors require more hand-holding and want to know if I liked their book. I add margin notes where I think things were especially well done or made me laugh (appropriately), or moved me, but honestly, I really don’t have to like your book to edit it any more than a mechanic needs to like your car to fix it. I find something to like in every book anyhow. 🙂
  • Horror stories, I have had my share. My worst was a client whose 120k+ novel was so far from being helped, I offered to return the first nine edited chapters with solid advice in moving forward with rewrites and refund her money. She declined the offer and threatened to take legal action. I begrudgingly completed the novel at a huge loss of both time and money. The author then proceeded to get on a public writer’s forum (which I am a member and had recommended she join) and badmouthed me because I missed a couple of misspelled words. *smh* Needless to say, I refuse to work with her again.”


Fade to Us coverDo you have other suggestions for freelance editor etiquette? Join us in the comments and let us know how authors and freelance editors can form stronger relationships that result in great books!


Elizabeth Langston writes young adult fiction. Her next book, FADE TO US, releases in February 2018 (writing as Julia Day.) And yes, her freelance editor has worked her magic on all eight of Elizabeth’s books! 

14 responses to “Freelance Editor Etiquette”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Fascinating to hear all the behind the scenes details, Elizabeth!!

    It does sound like these relationships can be complicated and thorny, or mutually respectful and illuminating. Sort of like marriages.

  2. Great advice!

    Working with an editor is definitely a relationship. Trust needs to be built just like any other relationship. Knowing what each party brings to the table sets a good foundation.

    • The trust is so important! Once it’s there, the editor can give you really hard feedback that you wish you didn’t have to consider. (As in–gosh, darn, did she really notice that subplot that I do not know how to fix. 🙂 But the trust tells you to listen, and think, and find a way to make things better.

  3. I think the trick is to be as clear and respectful as possible at all times – of course that’s a good lesson in general in life too! 🙂

    • True! For me, our relationship feels half-professional and half-personal–because Laura has put so much of herself into the book. She’s invested. She loves my characters (my babies) too.

      (My editor is a close friend of my daughter’s… which adds a bit to the “personal” aspect. Other editor/author relationship are likely closer to the purely professional end of the spectrum.)

  4. Gwyn says:

    Respect is an earned commodity, and developing a relationship worth of it can be tricky. Of course, courtesy of my personal experiences, I’m a tad wary, especially since I was so impressed with the first editor’s insightful comments on the sample pages only to be woefully disappointed in the end. Finding the right fit can be difficult, at best. Still, it’s worth the effort, and I’ve learned a great deal during my search. Beta readers are a great resource, but a good editor is worth his or her weight in gold.

    • So true. It is tricky to find and build the trust.

      I used RWA contests a lot to build up the trust in my own voice. When 4 different judges are saying the same thing, it sounds like something that ought to be fixed. When every one of them says something completely different about other elements, I know it’s more a matter of opinion.

      Once I had that kind of feedback under my belt, it made it easier to sort through what the freelancer gave me. I had experience at knowing what resonated and what didn’t.

  5. Definitely worth building a good relationship. And when you find an editor that fits, they’re like gold.

    • Yeah, it almost makes you not want to recommend them, in case they get too busy for you.

      Ok, not really. I want my freelancer to be successful! And actually, if you treat your editor well, they want to do business with you!

  6. Darynda Jones says:

    These are fantastic suggestions, Beth!

    These are definitely complex relationships that require professionalism at all times. I think just not taking anything personal is important. You’ve hired your editor for a reason and it’s her job to help you put out the best work you can, but no editor is a magician. It’s a writer’s responsibility to give her editor the best manuscript she can. I’ve heard horror stories about writers who send a pile of crap to their editors and tell them to “fix it.” Ummmm, yeah, that’s NOT an editor’s job.

    Love this, Beth!

    • I agree. Authors are professionals. We want our doctors, teachers, waitstaff, agents, etc to bring their A-games when they show up for work. Our manuscripts are our “work”–we should have our A-game going when we hand off our work to another professional.

  7. ELF says:

    I love the information that is presented over these two posts. One thing I will mention on behalf of many editors…we do appreciate it when the author learns from previous edits and makes an effort to correct mistakes that appear regularly. It gets frustrating to correct the same type of error in subsequent manuscripts, and there is always the chance that something else will be missed in the tedium of correcting the same issue over and over again.

    One thing I tell my authors regularly is that I am NEVER trying to be insulting or mean, I only want to polish their words so the story shines. (0;

    • Thank you for this reminder! I hope that, as I learn from my mistakes, that it makes me a better author all the way around. And it does allow me to write more complex, layered characters–and it allows my editor to find the twistier problems that takes a book from good to great.


Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Autumn Jordon: Also proof to IRS that this is you’re serious about being a businessand not just a hobby.
  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: Oh ugh! Editing is NOT my cake. It’s TORTURE. I love the shiny new words when I can...
  • Heather McCollum: Wonderful tips, Kim! I try to get in 2000 words a day if possible (definitely not when life throws...
  • Rhonda Clark: I love editing, so I guess for writing my tips would be: planning a plot twist, exploring different...
  • Kim Law: lol. Tell us how you really feel about interruptions, LOLOLOLOL! But yes…death glare! I don’t...