What A Freelance Editor Brings to the Table

Jordan Dane


Editor: Mary-Theresa Hussey

My guest today is my favorite editor (for my Young Adult books at Harlequin Teen), Mary-Theresa Hussey. Her passion for books shows in everything she does. I love collaborating with her. She has a meticulous eye for detail, but her true strength lies in her realistic understanding of character motivation and the emotion of a story. I’m proud to have her as my guest today at TKZ. Welcome, Matrice!


So you’ve written your book shared it with a critique partner, revised it, set it aside for a bit, revised it once more and are ready for the next step. Your mother, friend and sister love it and think it’s perfect.

What’s next? Well, it does depend on your goals for that novel. Do you want to find an agent? A publisher? Self-publish it? Go Indy? Do you want to share it with a few people or the wider world?

If you’re aiming at an agent or publisher, you might feel it’s in solid shape and you’ll wait for those professionals to give feedback and direction. That can be the right route if your project fits in with their goals as well.

However, if you haven’t gotten many bites, or you want to go indy, then you might want to investigate working with a freelance editor. The editor might help pinpoint some areas that will capture that agent/publisher or else give you the confidence to self-publish yourself. Freelancing can be hard for anyone who decides they are interested in going down that path. But knowing that various aspects like the finances can be handled with a simple invoice template, this means one less aspect to think about. You’ll have more time to focus on what you love to do, which is writing.

Luckily there are some places where you might be able to get the resources you need to help you along with your freelance career, for example, using an invoice template could be a good way of keeping on top of your clients.

So what does the freelance editor bring to the table?
She represents the reader in the bookstore or booksite, the ones who will pay to read your book—and hopefully all the ones after that!
She is not your friend or critique partner who listened to you talk about all the characters and plot and goals. If it’s not on the page for her, she’s going to question it and ask why—or why not.
She has not been in your mind to understand the motivations or conflict or themes. Though you don’t need to hit the reader over the head, sometimes you’ve got to explain the elements that you know but the reader doesn’t have a clue about.
She doesn’t love your darlings in the same way, and will tell you to cut or trim or toss as needed.
She’s caring but dispassionate. She’s looking for what will make the best story and draw that reader to the end. She won’t aim to hurt your feelings, but will challenge you on what makes a better novel.
She should be reading the manuscript that you’ve polished, gotten feedback on and are confident is ready to go, not the first draft. Have it in as strong as possible a shape so it’s better for both of you.
She should also have a knowledge of and appreciation for the genre you’re writing in so that the notes are targeted to your goals, not her own ideal book.
She has a strong sense of grammar, of rules, and knowing what to encourage as your voice and when to rein in flights of fancy.
She may, depending on the agreement, be able to give you feedback on titling, copy and other material. But that can be an editor specific element.
Most important, depending on your needs, you might want a development editor, line editor or copy editor. Make sure you know what you want and hire the right person at the right stage! Some editors are especially talented in one area or another. Make sure you’re getting the right person for you at the right time.
The Developmental Editor is looking at the big picture of pacing and structure and characterization and plot. She’s not going to focus on grammar or eye color or such, but is looking at the overall goals of your story and how you are achieving them.
The Line Editor will probably note specific areas where pacing or structure or characterization needs to be tweaked, but hopefully all those elements will have been addressed. She’s going to be looking at the specifics of reading the manuscript, looking for errors in fact and name and restructuring sentences. She does read it line by line to see if the author has expressed herself as clearly as she could.
The Copy Editor focuses on the details. She will know what all the characters names are, and their relation to each other and probably hair and eye color, but isn’t going to ask if the pacing is too slow. She’ll fix all the grammar issues and typos, but won’t comment on inconsistent characterization—unless the character is misstating facts between chapters. She’ll find the typos but won’t question the plot (unless you have your character walking out of the room twice—that she’ll notice!).

An editor—freelancer or not—will wear many hats, but there are some things she probably won’t do.

She’s not a writing teacher. She won’t teach you the ins and outs about craft. She should be able to point out the errors and why something would be better in another form, but it probably won’t lead to hours of one-on-one discussions about the reasons behind your choices and her corrections.
Since she probably won’t take the time to teach you how to write a better story, she’s also not going to (depending on the agreement) rewrite the book. She’s working with your words and making suggestions, not rewriting everything herself. She’s certainly planning on helping improve the story, but it’s your writing that is the base of it all.
Along those lines, she may or may not be a writer herself. If it’s important to you one way or the other, check that out first! It can be incredibly helpful at times to have an editor who is a writer, but sometimes not.
The freelance editor is not a publisher. She probably knows a bit about self-publishing and has picked up information on metadata and ISBNS, but it will be the author’s responsibility to work through the process.
She’s also not likely to be a miracle worker. No editor can guarantee the book will be picked up by an agent or publisher or become number one on the bestseller list. What she can strive for to the best of her knowledge and ability is that all the elements that make a stronger story have been reviewed and addressed and there are minimal errors of grammar and typos in the story.
Naturally, I think a good editor brings a lot to the table, but the author has to do the work first and understand her own goals for the project. It’s best if you are both on the same page going in, so you end up in the strongest possible position at the end of the revision/edit. In the end, it’s the author’s name on the book, and the author who stands behind her words.
So what are you looking for in an editor? Any good or bad experiences? Do share what you can.

After a long editorial career at Harlequin, Mary-Theresa Hussey is now offering her years of experience to authors and industry professionals as a freelance editor. She’s passionate about books and good stories–and she wants to be sure that they are well told. Check out her site at www.GoodStoriesWellTold.com

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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

23 thoughts on “What A Freelance Editor Brings to the Table

  1. Welcome to TKZ, Matrice. I’m excited to have you, my YA editor from Harlequin (my favorite editor), here at our blog. Your overview of the copy edit layers gives good insight from your many years in the publishing industry. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Jordan, for the wonderful welcome! I’ve enjoyed working with you a lot–your imagination just doesn’t stop. Plus, you showed me one of the best restaurants in San Antonio!

    I’ll be checking in for much of the day, so if anyone has questions, ask away! 🙂

  3. Hi Matrice,
    I met you years ago at BEA when I wrote my first YA book for Kimani TRU. I was going to ask if you thought it was a good idea for proposals to go through some measure of developmental and line editing before being sent to an editor. Then I went to your website and saw that you offer just that type of service. Great! 🙂

  4. I do remember you! you had that great YA series Mystyx, right?

    And certainly it can be useful to have someone review your proposals and make sure the needed information is there. These days, agents and editors are often looking for not only the best possible story, but one that makes them sit up from the start rather than saying, this could work if…

    Often you’ve gotten feedback from your critique group or beta readers or agents already, but sometimes having an outside eye who hasn’t seen three or four drafts can be useful to pinpoint some holes that might stop others.

    Good luck!

    • Yep that’s the series!

      That’s what I was thinking, that it might be good for someone who doesn’t already know about the idea and details to look at it and give their thoughts.

      Thank you!

  5. Hi Matrice,
    How early in the writing process is it advisable to engage a freelance editor? Would you work along with a writer through the whole process or do you only work on cleaning up finished manuscripts?

  6. Nina–

    I think it makes the most sense to be fairly along in the process before you get an editor–at least a couple of drafts! And then it depends on what you need.

    If you are having some big-picture concerns, then you need the development edit first–that will clean up those details, resolve plot points, issues and such. It doesn’t make sense to get a line-edit (focused on the minute details/grammar/etc) if you’re going to do a lot of revisions.

    It can depend on your style as well–and the editor’s. Sometimes it’s better to work with one editor through the devleopmental and line edit, sometimes you might want to use two to give different insights.

    But you should at least have a complete manuscript through a couple of drafts/polishes and be sure of your story before putting it out there.

    Good luck!

  7. have a meeting downtown so braving the snow–will check back in an hour or so!
    (and this math test question made me thing–the mixing of words and numerals makes it tricky!)

  8. Jordan and Matrice –

    The following thoughts are based in experience working with my favorite editor – TKZ’s own Jodie Renner.
    I successfully indie-released “Nerve Damage” this past summer.

    My thoughts include:
    You stated “However, if you haven’t gotten many bites, or you want to go indy, then you might want to investigate working with a freelance editor”. I would strike “…might want to investigate…” and replace with “should”. I believe it is an extremely rare writer (especially a beginning writer) whose work will not benefit from the input of a knowledgeable, skilled editor. I totally agree with your take, Matrice.

    Regarding editors you noted – “She is not your friend or critique partner who listened to you talk about all the characters and plot and goals. If it’s not on the page for her, she’s going to question it and ask why—or why not.”
    I found this distance to be desirable and essential. I would recommend, in almost all circumstances, that the author specifically avoid spending time discussing with your editor what you were thinking or feeling or “trying” to communicate (unless perhaps post-edit feedback suggests an ongoing issue). Limiting the editor’s initial exposure to only the “words on the page” makes for the most honest and objective input. Thus the editor’s exposure is the same as that of your reader – unclouded by knowledge of author intent.

    I was very lucky. Jodie provided great editing, huge support and knowledgeable guidance in bringing my book to release. For almost all writers and particularly for those choosing the indie route – my experience overwhelmingly supports finding a great editor.
    Hope other TKZers can get lucky as I did!
    Thank you Matrice for your input. Good advice. Hope that you develop great relationships with TKZers. The only problem with great editors is that they can only work with a limited number of writers!

    • Thank you, tom–all good points you have raised!

      I agree that a bit of distance can make all the difference. I always think of myself as a first reader and want to make sure the experience is as good as possible for all!

      Good luck with your next project!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Tom. It was a real pleasure working with you on your story!

      For exactly the reasons Tom states, I avoid having telephone chats with authors prior to and even during the editing process, as very often I find they want to explain why they’ve written something a certain way. Similarly with if I suggest a change in the comments in the margin, perhaps because something is confusing or doesn’t make sense, and the author goes into a lengthy explanation as to why they wrote it that way. Readers won’t be able to read their explanations, so it’s all about – and only about – what’s actually on the pages.

      I loved the first 4 points you made Mary-Theresa, especially this one:
      “She is not your friend or critique partner who listened to you talk about all the characters and plot and goals. If it’s not on the page for her, she’s going to question it and ask why—or why not.”

      I hope all editors have the pleasure and satisfaction of working with talented, open-to-suggestions writers like Tom Combs!

  9. Welcome, Mary-Theresa! Beware any writer who clicks the “Publish” button without first running her manuscript by a sharp-eyed editor!

    • I understand the desire, Kathryn, to get your work out there and share your story.

      But I agree that you also only get one chance to make a first impression on readers and it is best to put your best foot forward. (Cliche I might strike out in editing but it suits here! 🙂 )

  10. Thanks, Jodie, for the welcome–you have fans here for sure!

    I truly do think writing a book is a marvelous accomplishment–one I could never do! But polishing and refining a story–there an editor can be very useful.

    If anyone has later questions put them here and tweet me (@matrice) and I shall return!

    Thanks, Jordan, for a chance to share my experience!


  11. You are very welcome, Matrice. Have a great 2015. I look forward to working with you on another project. Thanks for making yourself available to our TKZ community of writers.

  12. Thank you, Matrice for your excellent distillation of the process of editing. I found it very helpful. I am self-publishing my first book. At the last moment in the time-line of writing, an editor came into my life and fixed all my pet issues: too many “thats”, misplaced or missing commas, spacing and best of all story and character issues. I loved working with her. I have started writing the sequel and have been working with her from the first chapter. I have been feeling something was off with this set-up, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Your post has helped me realize that I need to get further along in the story before I involve my editor so I don’t waste her time when I decide I need to beef up or change a scene.
    I have a deep appreciation for the role of the editor in bringing polish and sense to a (my) story. It made a big difference in my first effort. Thank you for your post!

    • Julie–
      Congratulations on achieving your goals! And good luck with the next one! Yes, I think having the book as strong as you can make it before involving an editor is the best thing.

      If you are just brainstorming ideas then a critical, nudging eye can help but then the draft and polish should be up to you because you will work out the important issues going through–and the story might veer and change beyond the outline. 🙂
      Have fun with it!

  13. I’m no slouch at manuscript reviews and content editing. I’ve helped a number of people with that who went on to publish. In journalism I learned to nail word count and line editing. Of course I’m too close to my own fiction to see it. So how do I find an editor for my quirky sci-fi? ( Some YA some not) I might be a better editor of others work than a writer of my own stuff, but how can I know where I fit? Who can assess where I’m at on the scale?

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