Fiction Editing, Part I: Editors – Out-Ac Post by Joe Fruscione

by TPII Out-Ac Coach and Consultant, Joe Fruscione

Dr. Joe Fruscione

As a freelancer, you have different options for projects. Developmental, STEM, and academic editing are well suited to post-ac freelancers. Post-acs with Humanities backgrounds might also do well editing fiction. I’ve copy edited two novel manuscripts before the authors shopped them around. Both projects came through word-of-mouth. Since my PhD and teaching background are in English and Writing, I enjoyed the work.

For this post and the follow-up, I’ll discuss two sides of freelance fiction editing: this one features three editors, and the next will feature three writers who’ve hired freelancers. These pieces will help current and future post-ac freelancers better

  1. see the different editing opportunities available,
  2. understand the diverse writing marketplace,
  3. expand their client base,
  4. frame their academic background and skills effectively for fiction editing, and
  5. network with colleagues and potential clients.

I’ve gotten some projects and many new colleagues on Twitter. The conversations and hashtags give freelancers a great lay of the land, as well as offer new post-acs a thriving online community (see #WithAPhD, #FreelanceLife, and #Postac). I met all three of these editors on Twitter, and we chat regularly about editing, networking, language, and other facets of freelance life.

Blake Leyers is a developmental editor who works with novelists to help shape and fine-tune their work. She evaluates structure, plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, tone, clarity, and style. Karen Conlin is primarily a copy or line editor, but she also offers “developmental critiques”—what she calls the 30,000-foot level. Katie Rose Guest Pryal is a fellow post-ac who’s thrived as a freelance writer and editor; I’ll be drawing on her expertise here and in the follow-up piece.


Blake, Karen, and Katie have much to offer in terms of helping new and future post-acs network, get projects, and work effectively. They all rely, at some level, on referrals and social media to get new projects.

Blake: I was a beta reader for many writers and received much encouragement, so I decided to pursue a career as a freelance editor. Twitter makes all the difference in the world. It allows me to interact with people I probably wouldn’t meet otherwise. It gives me the opportunity to learn from my peers, as well as generate new business.

Karen: I’m very active on Google+ and Twitter, as are many of my clients; they talk me up pretty regularly. Twitter has put me in contact with some publishing-house pros I’d never have met otherwise. I’ve learned so much from them and the lexicographers and linguists. It’s also given my clients and me a platform for marketing and for getting a few jobs.

After you’ve connected with a client, establish the project scope, timeline, and payment up front:

Blake: When approached by a prospective client, I provide details of my services and what tools I use, ask for basic information about the manuscript (genre, synopsis, length), and seek clarification on what type of editorial help is wanted.

Katie: When deciding on scope of work, it’s really important to decide that in advance. Is this developmental editing? Is it line editing? Proofing? These are all different kinds of work that take wildly different amounts of time. In my experience working as an editor with first-time authors, they almost always think their books are a stage beyond where the books actually are. Clients will say, “It just needs some proofing” when it actually needs heavy line editing. Or, “If you could just line edit for me” when it really needs some seriously developmental work.

Whether it’s Katie’s “stage beyond,” Karen’s “30,000-foot level,” or something special you offer, knowing what insight you’ll give your clients is key. The more rigorous your editorial work, the higher your fee structure should be. Editing is work; don’t undersell yourself.


I asked them what mistakes they’ve made, learned from, and would caution other freelancers to avoid. Every new freelancer makes mistakes, perhaps in not having strong policies to protect your time and labor.

Blake: When I was charging by page, I quickly learned to clarify that my rates were based on the standard format for manuscript submissions: 1” margins all around, 12 point font in Times New Roman or Courier typeface. With a per-page pricing model, these details can make a big difference. I also learned to always clarify my scope of work and verify the client’s expectations and intentions. If a former client approaches me about a new project, I outline my services for them again in case anything has changed since our last project.

Karen: Don’t overschedule yourself. Now that I’ve been doing this and have a stable client base with many repeats, I know I can handle up to 200K words in a calendar month, generally speaking. Even so, I know some clients require more attention and work than others. Learning who needs what is a vital part of the job.

Katie: Start freelancing soon. Don’t wait. Don’t worry. You don’t have to quit your day job. Start building up freelancing income streams now. Make friends. Make contacts in your field. You may never be able to quit your day job. But you can always freelance.

I’ve overbooked myself and not read a writing sample closely enough—both of which led to a harried editing schedule. Before doing any work, request a writing sample to help you prepare an estimate, and look for things the client might not be as aware of as you are: wordiness, small point size or margins, formatting issues, and the like. Knowing what kinds of work you can and will do helps you budget your time and labor accordingly.

If you’ve left or are planning to leave academia, Always Be Connecting—whether via email, social media, or talking about your career change. Like Blake, Karen, and Katie, I’ve gotten a lot of editing work simply from friends and professional acquaintances knowing that I switched careers. The more your network knows what you do and how well you do it, the more freelance projects you’ll have.

If you’re on Twitter or LinkedIn, connect with Blake, Karen, Katie, and others doing similar work. The freelance community—especially among post-acs—is generally helpful for seeking advice, connections, and potential collaborators. I regularly stress how important it is for post-acs to network with colleagues, former professors, other freelancers, and clients to strengthen their freelancing presence. If, like Blake and many others, your “ear for grammar and love for story” complement your editing skills, you can add fiction projects to your repertoire. The opportunities are out there.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


Fiction Editing, Part I: Editors – Out-Ac Post by Joe Fruscione — 2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Editing Creative Projects – The Consulting Editor

  2. Pingback: How to Be a Fiction Editor, Part II: Novelists’ Views – Postac Post by Joe Fruscione | The Professor Is In

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