Today we’re chatting with a few Angelella Editorial editors about what it’s like to be a freelance editor, along with tips for working with a freelance editor.
First, what makes Angelella Editorial different from other editorial companies?
Diane: We’re small enough to work as a team, but large enough to offer a range of perspectives and experiences to prospective clients. When Kate gets an inquiry, no matter the subject, genre, or age range, it’s not difficult for her to find a great match for the manuscript amongst our editors. Once an editor is matched, however, they often consult with the whole team on how to deal with tricky manuscript problems, or what might be a good mentor text. I love our Slack discussions on craft!
Jenn: Kate has carefully vetted each of her editors. We aren’t just people who read a lot and have a good eye for story, we have extensive experience in professional editorial work, are authors in our own right, and have graduate degrees in writing and communications. We also work brilliantly with each other. This means when you hire one of us, you are really hiring the team.
Kate: I think what really sets us apart is that we are a team that truly has a passion for this stuff.
I mean, we are such nerds. You’ll find us all on Slack at 8 a.m. on a Friday, hotly debating the unlikeable narrator, or talking about what makes characters on a TV show empathetic.
We really care about craft. We love books. We love what we do. And we know getting to share that with writers for a living is a gift.
Describe your path to becoming a freelance editor?
Denise: After graduating from Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), I hired Kate to edit my manuscript as a way to get other eyes on the piece and set some deadlines for myself. I loved every second of it. When Kate expanded Angelella, I joined the team! Prior to that, I’d done manuscript consultations and editing through other work, so going freelance was a natural next step.
Jenn: While receiving my MFA from VCFA I was hired to be an acquiring reader for a well-known literary agency.
As an acquiring reader I learned how to dissect a story, evaluate craft elements, and write detailed reports about the manuscript. I also honed my ability to understand what literary agents and editors were looking for in a manuscript.
Once I graduated, I freelance edited for an author’s services firm based in London and became an editor for a small educational press. When Kate began Angelella Editorial I couldn’t apply fast enough! Having met Kate in school I knew being on her team would be a rewarding and educational experience. I’m thrilled to say it’s been that and more!
Kate: At Simon & Schuster, my favorite part of being an in-house editor was working with authors, seeing their dreams come true. In a lot of ways, it was a dream job. But publishers are also very corporate, and as with any big company, my job also involved a lot of meetings, emails, paperwork, presentations, and juggling numbers.
After years of working very long hours and editing only in my free time, I burned out. When my husband got a job in Maryland, I saw it as an opportunity to get back to the best part of my corporate editorial job—without the parts I didn’t love.
I started out with a handful of very loyal clients and eventually, through the splendor of social media and word of mouth, I began booking up well in advance. At a certain point, I was turning work away often enough that it just made sense to team up with brilliant people I could vet personally and feel confident when referring clients who trusted me their way.
But this group of people—my team—has become something else entirely. Something I didn’t expect. They are all so smart and generous and well read…I am always learning from them, and they have become an invaluable part of my own editorial process.
What can you tell us about how you approach a manuscript?
Diane: I dive in deep right away, so I take copious notes as I read, both in the text and in a separate document where I can organize my thoughts on craft elements like character, plot development, point of view, etc.
I want to be able to give a big-picture critique that uses the text to illustrate my points, so that my client understands why I recommend certain revisions. And I also make sure to look for elements I think are done well, because I always want my clients to feel like I’m a coach in their corner, cheering them on to do better, rather than a critic only looking to wield my red pencil.
David: The first readthrough is all about the gut reaction. I put myself in the shoes of that potential fan who just picked up my client’s script (be it a book, an essay; fiction or non) and I drop my reactions in track changes.
I mark the moments that catch me off guard, things I love, things that I found confusing or questionable, all of it. Coming at the script in this way really helps identify the strengths and weaknesses of many different aspects—world building, character, setups and payoffs, and pacing to name a few.
When I reach the end, I make some notes to myself and then dive back in for a more analytical approach. The second round is all fine tuning and careful examination. Sometimes that means revisiting portions of the script over and over. As a writer myself, I feel it is absolutely necessary to give thorough care to the script with which I’ve been trusted. That’s somebody’s whole heart on the page.
Jenn: On my first read through I am making notes in the manuscript with track changes on a word (mostly with picture books here), line, or paragraph level. I am also taking sparse notes in my project notebook to log my reactions on the story’s broader elements, like character development, tension building, and structure.
When I finish reading I let my brain sit with the manuscript for a few days and add any other thoughts to my notes. Then, when I read the manuscript for the second time, I have a list of things I want to look more closely at and review. As a fellow author I am well aware of the effort, emotion, and time my clients have put into their work.
However, I am also aware that they want honest feedback and that is what they will get. I will happily wax rhapsodic over their emotional throughline but we will also be discussing that plot issue they have in the third act! After my clients receive my report and have had time to go over my comments and make a list of questions, we will have a phone call or Zoom meeting to discuss anything and everything. I want to make sure my clients are moving forward in their revision from a good place.
What do you love about editing and working with developing writers?
Denise: I find it exciting and fun to work with writers who are developing their craft! Finding areas where they can deepen and expand their understanding of their manuscript while also building their craft is one of my favorite parts of being an editor.
David: Writing, as I imagine with all artistic disciplines, can be really painful at times. I think that the editorial role provides not just the opportunity to help strengthen the architecture of a manuscript, but also ease the restlessness of a writer who may or may not be exhausting themselves in their struggle to get something just right on the page.
We’re all trying to be perfect, right? We’re all trying to take the art in our soul and spill it in such a way that translates exactly to the words and images we intend others to experience.
There’s that quote, often attributed to Hemmingway, where it’s said “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Personally, I think it’s easier for a lot of us to bleed than it is to ask for help. I think that, if I do my job well, I’ve helped not just a script but the person behind it. You know, you get to remind someone—to assure them—that their artistic agony isn’t for nothing, and that what they’re doing is magical and good and of value. There’s something really gratifying about being there for someone else.
Kate: I live for that moment when I’m on a Zoom call with an author and I can practically see a cartoon lightbulb go off above their head—that aha moment when they say, “I didn’t know how to fix this, and now I do!”
It’s really gratifying, too, to be able to witness someone’s progress as they invest in their writing, their craft, and themselves over a period of time. I’ve worked with authors who came to me with first novels, first drafts of first novels, who eventually, years later, wound up going to auction with their books. It never stops being awesome.
What advice do you have for writers about hiring freelance editors?
Denise: Try to get a sense of how the editor communicates. You can do this either through the initial interaction with them, a sample edit letter, and/or through reading a few pages of your work and providing some notes (if they offer this). The editor may have a style that doesn’t work well with how you learn or how you process information, so knowing what you need and seeking that out from an editor will help down the line when you start working together.
Diane: Establish and manage your expectations! Be sure you understand what kind of service you’re getting and whether it’s really what your manuscript needs. A sample edit is a great way to not only judge whether an editor’s style works for you, but also learn how a developmental edit might differ from a line edit for this particular project.
Also, an editor should never promise you that the end result will get published. We can help you develop your work to its best potential, but if we could guarantee publishing success we’d all be on the best-seller list!
Kate: Everything Diane and Denise said. Plus, make sure to get a contract (those protect you and the editor and manage expectations), ask for a sample edit letter if they have one available to see how they work, and don’t be afraid to ask questions—editing can be expensive; you should know exactly what to expect and when to expect it, particularly when investing in something so close to your heart as writing.
Diane Telgen is a writer for young people and a former editor and freelance writer of reference books.
Her two middle-grade collections in the “Spooky America” series, The Ghostly Tales of Michigan’s West Coast and The Ghostly Tales of Pittsburgh, debuted in September 2020 (Arcadia Publishing). She loves editing all genres and categories, but has a soft spot for speculative fiction.
She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Denise Santomauro is a writer, editor, and former performer. She loves to edit historical, contemporary, mystery/thriller from middle grade through adult, as well as personal essay and anything with a performance element.
She has contributed content to several blogs, been published in the Dear Sister anthology, edited by Lisa Factora-Borchers (AK Press, 2014), developed plays and scenes for young people, and written middle grade and young adult novels. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
David Fey has over a decade of professional writing and editorial experience, heavily focused on speculative and horror fiction, poetry and verse novels, flash fiction, and alternative styles of story-telling.
He is also a performing singer/songwriter, an amateur photographer, and graphic artist.
David holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Jenn Bailey has been a professional author and editor for over ten years.
Her debut picture book, A Friend For Henry, illustrated by Mika Song (Chronicle, 2019) won the ALA Schneider Family Honor award (2020) and was named to the Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year list (2020).
Besides picture books, Jenn loves to write and edit quirky, humorous middle grade and young adult novels. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Kate Angelella is a full-time freelance editor and owner of Angelella Editorial.
Kate’s first love will always be YA, and her favorites almost always include badass protagonists and swoony romance, whatever the genre. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.