10 Things I’ve Learned from Editing for Indie Authors

by Melissa Robitille

I’m a freelance editor. There are two ways of looking at that. I’m taking your precious manuscript and I’m honing and polishing it so that it will be the best it possibly can be. OR… I’m taking your manuscript, your hopes and your dreams and I’m mercilessly crushing them under a sea of red digital ink corrections that make your poor baby look like it’s bleeding to death. It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m only trying to improve your work, I promise, but I’ll admit it can be tough love no matter how diplomatic I try to be. I’m not going to guarantee I’ll be even remotely diplomatic here.
1.    Authors are working hard and really do deserve to be paid for their work.

You’re browsing Amazon and looking at books, wondering if a story is worth $0.99. Are you kidding me? You’re looking at months or years of work, hundreds of dollars for a cover, hundreds of dollars for editing, more for formatting, and you have a problem with less than a dollar? Are you fucking kidding me?

2.    Authors are also cheap.

Sure, I support authors with everything I’ve got, but authors do not want to pay the going rate for editors. The Editorial Freelance Association says a freelance editor should be getting $30 to $40 an hour. I can assure you that $3 – $5 a page doesn’t even come close to that, not even if I do a half-assed job, which I would never do – it’s professional pride.

3.    You are always going to be looking for more work.

I think this is common across the board in freelancing unless you’ve been doing it for decades. So you’re always making friends with authors in hopes that the poor benighted souls will take the hint and hire you because you did, after all, read their last self-published piece and the grammar errors alone gave you night terrors for weeks.

4.    You’re always going to believe in your authors.

This may be a character flaw on my part, but once I’m familiar with someone’s work, particularly through editing it and seeing how gorgeous their work polishes up, I’m their biggest cheerleader. I will bend over backwards to work with my authors again because I believe that they’re some of the best writers out there – and I make damn certain that their readers will, too.

5.    You will never be the lowest bidder.

Well, not if you live in the USA and actually have to pay bills with that money. There are assholes – and I have absolutely no compunction calling them assholes – who will undercut your price because they edit as a fucking hobby. I’m going to tell you, darling authors, you absolutely get what you pay for. Whether you’re shopping your work out on Fiverr, outsourcing to some random person overseas, or if you just contact a friend of a friend of a friend who’s willing to “edit” your manuscript for $1 a page, you are cheating yourself out of getting your work seen to properly. Your readers will notice and will call you on it.

6.    Authors will do things to grammar and the English language that will make you pull your hair out and scream.

I’m dead serious. I love my authors. I’m not, however, altogether certain that all of them paid much attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation in school. I’ve seen sentences with ‘that’ four times in twelve words. It’s not pretty. ‘That’ comes out of authors like dandruff off Ally Sheedy (the Goth girl) in The Breakfast Club. I use an Oxford comma because it is correct. I’ve described some authors to other editors this way, “I swear, he uses semicolons more often than a good whore uses moist towelettes.” Passive voice is hated by me. Do you see how ghastly that is? When I see it I’m tempted to use the passive-aggressive voice. Instead, I just go ahead and fix it, that’s fine, you do you. I’ll just clean it up afterwards. Dialogue tag roulette. Please stop. ‘Said’ or ‘asked’ is fine in most circumstances. If that gets repetitive try using action tags – in complete separate sentences. No one can ‘walk’ or ‘jump’ words.

7.    Other people’s writing will piss you off.

Are you saving a lot of time by typing ‘u’ and ‘ur’ instead of you and your? Worse, there are people running around out there in the world completely unable to tell the difference between your and you’re, they’re, their, and there, we’re, were, and where, and then and than. I am including a helpful graphic here – for fuck’s sake, print it the fuck out and tape it to your computer or so help me I will find you and smack you senseless.

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Funny memes are no exception to the butchery. Sometimes the concept is funny enough that I will swallow my pride and post it anyway, but believe me, I can see the mistake.

8.    People will try to get you to edit their work for free.

This goes back to never having the lowest bid and authors being cheap. They will try to get you to work for free. They will do the same thing to cover designers/artists. Then they’ll try to format their own book.  It’s not like other people don’t try to get creative professionals to do their jobs for free, I’ll admit that. I hear horror stories about people expecting musicians to play for hours for exposure. Well, sure! I’ll just go ahead and pay my mortgage and lights and heat with these super-spendable exposure¬ bucks.

9.    People will try to get you to all but write their work.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do that too – but it’s called ghostwriting and it costs a lot more. If you have “an idea” and you tell me your idea I will absolutely cheer for you to write it. I will not give you the entire rest of the plot and then write it for you unless you pay me to write it for you. I’m not going to do it for free. I’m not going to let you wrangle me into helping you brainstorming it with you.

10.    You will always be broke.

Don’t go into freelance editing if you think you’re going to make a decent living at it. You aren’t going to, not for years and years while you try to build a client base. On the other hand, you will always have something interesting to read and you will make lifelong friendships with authors. Authors, by the way, are fascinatingly zany people who will make your life much more interesting than you can possibly anticipate. It’s worth it – mostly. Your bill collectors probably won’t feel the same.

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