Adventures In Freelancing! (Editing)

OK, forget what I said about posting here once a week for a hot second. I’d like to rephrase it as “I will post here 1+ time(s) a week.”

I’ve been offering freelance editing services for a while now but am still fairly new to the enterprise. Most of my work has come by referral (thanks KB!), and none of it has been what I’d consider “easy” editing. I’m not going to go into detail about previous edits, but I’d like to recount my last experience, omitting/changing the client’s name.

Needless to say, this has all certainly been a “learn as I go” kind of endeavor.

I would argue—and perhaps one of Specter and [PANK] Magazines’ contributors/editors, Alicia Kennedy, can maybe confirm or deny this—that every editor has their own unique editing style, just as every writer has her or his unique writing style. Or, more specifically, every editor has her or his own unique style of initially approaching a new manuscript.

My latest project was one I was indeed excited to work on. After a preliminary read through of “Mr. Smith’s” manuscript, I thought: OK, here’s a chance to finally utilize most of the implements in my editing toolkit. By which I mean that it seemed like Mr. Smith was looking for the kind of feedback and editing advice a writer typically gets when workshopping her or his piece. Having previously attended a large number of these workshops and earning an MFA along the way, I felt confident I could offer Mr. Smith exactly what he was looking for.

However, this turned out to be…how should I put it…incorrect.

I think it came down to my editing style not being compatible with the desired results Mr. Smith had envisioned for his manuscript. This is fair—different strokes for different folks, and all that. A mistake perhaps made on my part was offering to be as communicative as possible throughout the whole process, in order to give Mr. Smith a full sense of involvement in his project. That seems like it’d be a really good thing, however, I can testify that the reality of such author involvement is “not always.”

Mr. Smith, from the get-go, wrote very long and detailed expectations of what his thoughts were, i.e. what he had questions about, what other editors had told him previously, what he was ultimately going for, etc. I subsequently set out with the information of that first email and dove into the manuscript. My style of editing for a first read through is to ostensibly do a line edit as I go and provide a running commentary by asking questions, pointing out word choices that don’t work, identifying awkward or clunky phrasing, and other edits along those lines. Pretty standard stuff. I also try to keep in mind what the client has asked for and address it in addition to my own edits.

However, by offering to keep the lines of communication open, Mr. Smith would send three or four emails during every phase of the process, which made it extremely difficult to address all of his questions, at least in any kind of order other than chronologically. One of the more difficult obstacles I’d encounter was when Mr. Smith would invariably decide items he’d asked about earlier were no longer as important as new questions he’d come up with (after I’d already addressed them earlier in the manuscript). It became difficult to go back and address each new comment/question and also have the resulting “fix” make sense with subsequent comments or edits I would make (of course, after the fact) that referred back to the changed comment (does that make any sense, or am I explaining this poorly?).

The point I’m getting at is that there were a few of my comments that were either redundant or ostensibly non-sequiters, in that they referred to—or rather, back to—nothing, comments/edits that no longer existed. Of course this caused frustration for both of us, and I take the blame for not having a more concrete game plan. I also experienced a perfect storm of health issues between a stubborn respiratory infection and a screwed up lower back, so some of my responses took longer to compose than they really should have.

I think it’s important to make sure, as an editor, you fully understand the client’s goals from the onset and how your particular skill set can help the client achieve those goals. It’s probably a good idea to also set guidelines; let the client know what you think her or his manuscript needs in order to become publishable.

Because that’s the ultimate goal, right? Writers want their work to get published. Editors should be able to help writers do that. I don’t profess to know everything about the publishing world given that I’ve only had a handful of stories/essays published, and a single book (though maybe I should profess to know everything to increase my freelance editing volume? …nah), but I do think i know some key factors that contribute to increasing a given piece of writing’s chance to find a home somewhere. Friction is inevitable when a writer is married to an idea that an editor feels is ultimately handicapping the writer’s work.

So anyway, I feel like this was a learning experience for me. Number one, I need to be more clear with what my intentions are going into a project. In the end, my goal is to increase a work’s publishability. I need to explain up front how my particular style of editing lends itself to that goal. I also need to set up some sort of concrete agreement about emails between edits. I feel like trying to change sections on a client’s whim makes my editing work seem much more disorganized than it really is. Ultimately, I want to be seen as a professional and I want my work to reflect that. I take responsibility for my work coming across to Mr. Smith as second-rate. He unfortunately got the impression I was purposely trying to avoid his questions and divert him toward other aspects of the manuscript, but I was simply trying to make sure we’d covered the issues that had already arisen before moving on to new questions.

We parted ways after only the first couple chapters.

Perhaps I should be discouraged, but I’m not. I plan to keep going with freelance editing, to keep on keepin’ on! I enjoy editing, truly. I like working on a writer’s manuscript and taking it to the next level, even if that next level isn’t quite ready for Barnes and Noble (manuscripts arrive in all stages of readiness).

What I’m trying to get at is this: send me your stuff; I’d love to read it!



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2 thoughts on “Adventures In Freelancing! (Editing)

  1. Alicia says:

    Certainly editors have different approaches. I am usually just copyediting, though, not line editing (major difference!), so I don’t really face the same issues. It might be good to establish that with the writer from the outset, whether you’re going to be suggesting major rewrites or going over grammar and style. You charge more for the former, obviously, and you’ll also run into people who question your judgment on the latter (these people suck). I’m trying to just work with awesome people on good projects when I freelance (my day job affords me the luxury), so I have been fortunate enough to not encounter a difficult client in some time.

  2. […] back up. I’d taken a small hiatus away from it while prepping materials for AWP and finishing a couple freelance editing gigs. The ultimate success of the latter two items was really hit or miss. It might be March, but a […]

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