How to Be a Fiction Editor, Part II: Novelists’ Views – Postac Post by Joe Fruscione

By Postac Coach and Consultant, Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

In Part I of this series, we heard from three editors who’ve worked on fiction projects. Now we flip the conversation and hear from two writers who’ve worked with freelancers to edit their work. Erika Robuck has published Hemingway’s Girl, Call Me Zelda, and The House of Hawthorne, among other works. Fellow post-ac Katie Rose Guest Pryal has published Entanglement and Love and Entropy, among other fiction and nonfiction works. Their perspectives will help expand your client base, frame any edits or comments you have, and understand the marketplace for creative writing.

I’ve tightened, proofread, and polished several fiction and nonfiction manuscripts before they went to press. My background in English and Writing studies helps me edit fiction, but post-acs from various academic backgrounds can also do this kind of work. Frame your editing experience and marketplace knowledge effectively. A STEM or Social Sciences background might be an incentive for hiring you, depending on the writer’s subject and needs. Writers often need an educated non-specialist’s perspective on a manuscript to help them see if their work appeals to a wide audience.


A successful freelancer is an active freelancer. Although some projects might fall into your lap, you should be proactive in advertising your services and expanding your client base. Remind friends and colleagues of your editing work, and ask former clients for references or referrals. Always be connecting:

Katie: The editors I’ve “hired” I’ve met through workshops and conferences, mostly. Some I’ve never met in person—only through social media. Many are former academics. It’s important to decide the scope of work in advance. Don’t be surprised or defensive if an editor comes back to you and suggests that your book needs more work than you think it needs. At the same time, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

Erika: I hired a freelance editor in 2011 before sending Hemingway’s Girl to agents. I met my editor at a writing conference where I had an opportunity to work in instructional and critique sessions with her and several other freelancers. We had a connection, and she had an understanding of what I was trying to accomplish. Her website clearly listed her pricing, and she offered a slight discount to participants she met through the workshop. Because my budget was tight, I hired her for a partial edit: the first 100 pages. I couldn’t have been more pleased with her suggestions and insights, and I ended up receiving multiple agent offers. I believe the workshop and her editing contributed to my success.


Writers, like students, have different preferences for discussing their work. Communication is key at all stages of an editing relationship: from deciding on the kind of editing needed to sharing your revisions and queries. During an initial Skype or phone chat to discuss your standard practices, ask your potential clients how they prefer getting feedback.

Erika: My ideal editor would have a phone conversation with me about my project, themes, and goals. He or she would provide thoughtful feedback in terms of both content and style—within the body of the manuscript and in an editorial letter—and would allow for one or two follow-up conversations. It is helpful to hear what works well and what needs work.

Katie: I went through one of the roughest workshop experiences imaginable during my creative writing master’s degree, so I’m pretty much bullet-proof now with feedback. Aside from ad hominem attacks, I want a reader/editor to tear up my writing, pulling no punches. I recognize, however, that most people are a little more personally attached to their writing. They might perceive attacks on their writing to be ad hominem because they have a hard time separating their selves from their writing. A good editor realizes this and can personalize feedback to the person. I want a Word document so covered in comments and tracked changes that I have to make it quintuple-spaced to read them in the margin. The more the better.


I asked Erika and Katie what would comfort and concern them about working with a post-ac freelancer. Learn from their answers when marketing yourself as an editor who can work on fiction.

Erika: Of comfort would be the technical expertise, the well-rounded background in literature, and the deeper understanding of fiction, in particular, they might have from teaching. What would concern me would be their removal from the marketplace and the possibility of an affinity for an outdated style. I would like an academic-turned-editor to have a clear pulse for the market (blog posts or social media presence) that demonstrates they are both savvy and capable.

Katie: What I would look for in post-ac editor is one who wrote for discourse communities beyond academia while still an academic. Does this person write…a foodie blog? Regular letters to the editor? Literally anything beyond the super-narrow genres expected of her field? If so, then she can likely move across discourses. Ideally? The person would have written the same genre, or at least a similar one, that I am hiring her to edit. If I’m hiring a person to edit a novel, it would be great if she had published, say, a long-form narrative essay on Medium. Her narrative essay-writing would tell me that she is likely comfortable with narrative genres.

“We write how we practice,” notes Katie. “If the only writing that you have done is a certain genre for a certain discourse community, then that is the genre and discourse that you will have perfected. It is difficult to move between discourse communities if you don’t have practice doing so.” Practice—and then keep practicing—how to move between different writing communities. If you want to edit fiction, learn more about the marketplace, and explore options to get your work published outside academic circles. Post-ac freelancers aren’t pigeonholed by field in the same way academics are. The more you can edit or write across genres, the more attractive you’ll be as a freelancer.

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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.

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