Freelance Editors to the Rescue

Barrys Desk Manuscript PileThe following is a guest post by Senior Development Editor Barry Richardson on working with freelance editors.

I can’t work on every manuscript that comes in to AMACOM, so I rely on a pool of top-notch outside editors to help me out. These freelancers have a wide range of backgrounds, specialties, and interests. Most have worked at publishing companies, including two former co-workers and an ex-boss of mine. Four are published authors; two of those have helped author books for us. Taken as a group, they have tons of experience working on all types of books.

My freelancers can dissect a manuscript, see if it meets our expectations, identify the big and small problems, and suggest solutions that will improve the final book. If needed, they can edit the manuscripts themselves, handling everything from a quick touch-up to a complete overhaul. While I oversee their work and answer any questions that arise, I mostly give them a free hand to edit as they see fit.

When I get a manuscript, I first ask the acquisitions editor if there are any specific or general concerns she has. (This will be helpful to the outside editor.) I try to take a look at it myself, but this isn’t always possible.

If I’m going to send it out, I determine which of my freelancers is the best fit for this project—based on the type of book, previous books the freelancer has handled, and the production schedule. Equally important is availability; it does me no good to have the perfect person in mind to work on a manuscript, but he won’t be able to take it on for two months.

The freelance editor reviews the manuscript and then submits a Reader’s Report to me. (This takes about two weeks.) The Reader’s Report is an overview of the manuscript, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses, often presenting a chapter-by-chapter review, and providing editorial suggestions. Based on this report, I decide what is to be done next with the manuscript. Basically, five things can happen to a manuscript that is sent out for a review:

1. Accepted. The freelancer gives a thumbs-up, says it is “ready to go,” and I put it into production right away. Or the report points out a few minor things that can be easily fixed by a copyeditor and I put the manuscript into production with specific notes on what should be done.

2. Almost ready. There may be some small problems identified by the freelance editor. These may be general suggestions (subheads need to be consistent) and/or specific notes (Page 86: “bending arbitration” should be “binding arbitration”). I’ll go through the manuscript, do the light editing recommended by the freelancer (along with anything I might spot), and then put the manuscript into production.

There are times when the outside editor says something more is needed from the author. This might be permission for a certain passage (hopefully, the author already has it) or suggesting the author add a glossary. I’ll put the manuscript into production while the author is tending to the additional requests.

3. Need for further development. Many manuscripts need further editorial work, ranging from fairly minor corrections that are just a bit too much to ask a copyeditor to handle to extensive rewriting, reorganizing, cutting material, etc. I ask the freelance editor who’s already familiar with the manuscript to do the work. Sometimes freelancers work directly with the author; sometimes they do the work themselves and the author sees the results down the road.

4. More author input required. Freelancers can’t always fix everything wrong with a manuscript. There could be material to be revised that’s endemic to the author’s field of expertise. Or there might be pertinent topics that seem to be missing, which only the author can provide. (This book needs more in-depth statistics, examples, and sources of information to support the author’s assertions and more prescriptive examples and case studies.) In cases like this, the freelancer must work directly with the author in order to obtain the information needed.

One particularly tricky situation arises when there are two (or more) authors. If one author is a good writer and the other isn’t as good, or one has a reader-friendly style and the other has an academic style, it is jarring. In that case, the freelancer has to fix the bad while leaving the good. (We call this “reconciling the voice.”) The authors can’t be expected to fix this problem on their own. The “bad” one may resent the “good” one and not accept his or her help.

5. Combination of author input and development help. When this is done right, it can be the best of both worlds because the editorial process keeps moving along on two fronts at the same time. Freelancers start working on the things they can handle while authors are asked for material only they can provide. By the time the manuscript goes into production, all (or most) of the editorial issues will have been dealt with already and, as a result, things should progress more smoothly.

All in all, my freelance editors make my job easier by ensuring that each manuscript gets the close attention it deserves and that our book projects stay on or close to schedule.

Note: The term “free-lance” was first used by Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe to describe a “medieval mercenary warrior” or “free-lance” (indicating that the lance is not sworn to any lord’s services, not that the lance is available free of charge).

Barry Richardson is a Senior Development Editor at AMACOM. Our in-house “book doctor,” he helps improve manuscripts while keeping the author’s voice and expertise–whether it’s heavy-duty editing, reorganization, rewriting, or coaching authors. Prior to joining AMACOM, he worked for 25 years at Prentice Hall (P-H). Visit our website for freelance development inquiries.

As a Book Doctor I Will Not Harm Your Book, I Will Only Make It Better


3 responses to “Freelance Editors to the Rescue

  1. I didn’t know that “free-lance” was first used to describe a medieval mercenary warrior in Ivanhoe. Cool factoid.

  2. Hi Barry,
    Nice post that will be very helpful to new authors.
    And I love the etymology of “freelance”, too.
    Thanks for your help on all of my books (and to the free-lancers, too!).

  3. Paul Eichmann

    So that’s what you do!

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