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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Rubio

Four questions to ask a freelance copy editor before you hire

Happy New Year, all!

I've discussed why everyone, from small businesses to large corporations and major nonprofits, ought to have a good, veteran copy editor to turn to, and why copy editors do so much more than catch typos and run a spell check. But how do you determine whether the candidate you're interviewing is the right copy editor for you? If you're on the hunt for a good copy editor to look at your corporate communications or publications, here are a few questions to ask to ensure you find someone who can do thorough, quality work. 1) What stylebooks are you fluent in? Even if your company doesn't have a stylebook it adheres to, you can learn a lot from this question. Most editors will say they are fluent in Chicago, and some will also mention the Associated Press (AP) style. But beyond that, there are a number of styles that will tell you a lot about where an editor has worked before and how much time and education they have put into their craft over the years. Chicago fluency indicates that the editor has worked on books or social sciences publications. Chicago is the style most organizations adhere to, and it should be a must on your list. AP style means the editor has spent time in newsrooms and is fluent in the style needed for news releases and other press materials. Depending on the kind of work you need edited, this can be a very adaptable style. MLA style is often used as the default style in higher education. Knowledge of this style may mean that the editor has worked on college students' essays or that they have a higher education background themselves. APA style is known for its distinctive treatment of references, so if you have a publication with an extensive bibliography, this is a good indicator that an editor will treat them with consistency. AMA style is used specifically for medical publications. In addition, be alert as to whether your candidate mentions house styles. A good editor is aware that every organization uses a slight variation on these well-known styles and is quick to adapt to new style preferences. 2) Do you have an editing process? This is a great question to ask because the answer can tell you a lot about how much thought and time an editor puts into a document. Just as an example, my editing process varies depending on the length and complexity of the document, but always includes:

  • Two editing passes (usually one forward and another backward—the backward check tricks the eye into seeing errors it may have missed before)

  • Creation of a specific style sheet for the document

  • Consistency checks for word choice, use of acronyms & abbreviations, and format of headlines

  • An outline check to make sure all headers are the appropriate level and the document is organized appropriately

  • A final check of table of contents, lists of figures, etc. to ensure page numbers are appropriate

3) How fast would you say you edit? You may think that the faster the better for editing—after all, faster means fewer hours, which means lower cost!—but you want to beware of editors who say they're going to churn through your pieces 2,000 words (or 8 pages) an hour for a standard copy edit. That's a sign that they're not doing the in-depth work that you're paying them to do. Depending on the complexity of the document, I work at a rate of about 1,000-1,500 words per hour. I may dip below that to budget that extra time to do consistency checks on those longer documents. For a proofread, I go a little faster—2,000 to 2,500 words per hour—but there's a level at which I need to read slower so I can really understand what's being said. Copy editors do in-depth, hard work, and their pace should reflect that. If you just needed a spell-checker, you'd do it yourself. 4) What are your rates? Here's another category where you want to beware of something that seems too good to be true. A lot of beginning copy editors will quote you low prices, because they figure that's how to get the work. But to get the quality that comes with experience, you should be prepared to pay a little more—and your copy editor should know their own value and charge accordingly. Also, keep in mind that freelancers need to pay their own taxes and buy their own health insurance, so respect that when choosing a freelancer. Among other things, a freelancer who goes out of business because of low income isn't in a position to help you or anybody over the long term. I work at $50/hour currently, with some discounts for non-corporate clients and for some longtime clients. That's a little under what some of my peers are charging, but it adequately reflects my experience and the attention I put into my work. Look for hourly rates between $40 and $70, and upwards of that if you're looking at specialized fields (highly technical scientific or medical copy, for example). It is, of course, possible that you'll find the ideal copy editor for $25 an hour ... but in general, remember the old adage that you get what you pay for. I wish you luck in your search for the perfect copy editor, and don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like to talk more about how Magic Wand Editing can help your organization look polished and professional in its every communication.

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