An American Editor

May 4, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Where to Find Fiction Work

Where to Find Fiction Work

by Carolyn Haley

There’s no shortage of novels being written these days, along with a growing number of novellas and short stories for the ePub sector. So there’s no shortage of opportunity for fiction editors.

While staff editors in a publishing company receive work through established channels, independent editors must pursue it — especially when starting their careers. Happily, work comes from many places.

Most traditional publishers now contract out copyediting, proofreading, and production, and sometimes line and developmental editing. To get this work, freelance editors must either know somebody who can refer them to the appropriate staff editor, or locate and contact that editor and ask to be added to the freelancer list.

Either way, there are five possible outcomes: (1) Immediate success. (2) Your contact letter and résumé will be filed for future reference, and you’ll need to follow up regularly to ensure that it remains at the top of the pile. (3) The staff editor will send you a copyediting test, either in response to your inquiry or when the editor processes a batch of inquiries at her convenience. (4) Assuming you pass the test, you will either be filed for future reference or start receiving work in the next few days/weeks/months, depending on the company’s workload. (5) You will get no response, no matter how many times you follow up.

These options may occur with publishing companies large and small. It is much easier to get on the lists for smaller and newer companies, especially those that publish ebooks only. Likewise with author-services (aka “self-publishing”) companies. These put out many books rapidly and need a team of available editors capable of fast turnaround. All such companies can be found through Internet research.

Then there are independent authors, who surf the Net looking for independent editors. They find us through our websites or through organizations we’re affiliated with. First, they usually try word-of-mouth, which for editors is one of the most valuable means of obtaining clients. Satisfied authors refer their friends; overloaded colleagues, or those solicited for jobs outside their specialty, need someone to pass projects to, or to cover their workload while on vacation. The best way to build a network is to attend editorial conferences, such as the annual Communication Central event in Rochester, NY, and join e-mail lists and forums, such as Copyediting-L and the Editorial Freelancers Association. These organizations also post job opportunities.

As the world of solopreneurs expands and invents its own enterprises, packagers and private networks are increasingly common. Some offer full publishing services, others are editorial only, but both draw in work through a specific channel(s) then distribute it to a stable of associates or members. Entry into these groups is via networking or direct approach, as with publishers.

Even bookstores now offer editorial opportunities, through the Espresso Book Machine. Originally intended to provide print-on-demand books to customers, the Espresso system also allows independent authors to publish themselves. Espresso providers usually include related services, such as editorial and design, and maintain a database of local people who offer them.

Bidding sites like Elance abound with opportunities (though competition tends to focus on low prices and fast turnarounds). Publishing-industry job boards like Mediabistro post work opportunities for freelance as well as staff editors. Even some review organizations, such as Kirkus, have established editorial/publishing arms and periodically advertise for editors.

In every case, indie editors must make themselves known to the organization. Almost without exception, work does not magically arrive on one’s doorstep. The exceptions include random and serendipitous encounters through one’s personal activities that lead to paying work.

This sort of luck is facilitated by carrying business cards wherever one goes and handing them out liberally. Also from introducing one’s occupation in any conversational opening. The magic of networking is never knowing from whence a new connection might come.

Regardless of source, the indie editor must decide what to accept and how to handle it. When traditional publishers are the client, especially the “Big 5” houses, there is usually little choice about what reference works to use, what style or style sheet conventions to follow, and what pay rate and timetable are involved. In compensation, the manuscripts are usually well-groomed, enjoyable reads, and the work goes smoothly.

All bets are off when working for indie authors, but the compensation for the editor is that the editor is in control. You can set your rates and timetable, define your services, and establish the communication flow and conditions. No middleman between you and the author.

With so many channels to choose from, and the publishing industry going through so many changes so quickly, editors are challenged to find a single steady stream of well-paying work. As far as I can discern, the best-dollar option is developmental editing direct for serious indie authors with stout incomes. The lowest-dollar option seems to be copyediting and proofreading for e-only presses, author-services companies, and individuals found through bidding sites and general classified ads. But new freelance fiction editors have to gain experience somewhere (if they’re not top-tier pros who got laid off from a traditional publishing job), so the low end makes a great training ground.

For freelance editors, in general, the more people in the chain between you and the author, the more dollars that are dispersed to others before you. Conversely, the more channels you draw from, the more secure your workflow and income will be over time. Which you choose depends on what work you want to do, how much you need to earn, what you’re good at, and your marketing savvy. Self-employed editors have the advantage of being able to shift with the winds of fortune.

Those winds are gusty today, and likely to be more so tomorrow. The one thing that will never change is people wanting to tell and share their stories. Editors who can tap into that will always find work.

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

2 Comments »

  1. […] For freelance editors, in general, the more people in the chain between you and the author, the more dollars that are dispersed to others before you. Conversely, the more channels you draw from, th…  […]

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    Pingback by Thinking Fiction: Where to Find Fiction Work | ... — May 4, 2015 @ 6:33 am | Reply

  2. […] Carolyn Haley also has advice for newcomers to fiction editing on how to find clients, as well as some tips on which markets pay better. (An American Editor) […]

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    Pingback by The Nitpicker’s Nook: May’s linguistic links roundup « BoldFace — May 27, 2015 @ 9:00 am | Reply


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