Working with a Freelance Editor: An Interview with Tiffany Cole

Freelance editor Tiffany Cole

Freelance editor Tiffany Cole

Today’s post is an interview with Tiffany T. Cole, a freelance editor and a copy editor for Limitless Publishing and the Purdue University Chronicle. She has edited and critiqued dozens of newspaper articles and dozens of books, fiction and nonfiction alike, in a variety of genres. Before that, she was an editorial assistant for Month9Books and the president of Reader’s Den, a website where she reviewed and promoted books for self-published authors and traditionally published authors for two years. You can learn more about Tiffany and her editorial services at If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail her at


What exactly does a freelance editor do?

TC: To understand what a freelance editor does, it’s important to understand what an in-house editor does. An in-house editor, namely one for a big publishing house and certain small press houses depending on how the press is run, often spends their nine-to-five job shift working on a number of tasks: reading and acquiring submissions, running P&Ls (profit and loss), writing cover copy, writing bound galley copy, reaching out to agents, etc. Surprisingly, for an in-house editor, almost little to no editing and reading actually takes place at the office. Many in-house editors work on multiple rounds of editing during weekends and nights.

A freelance editor skips right to the chase. Their nine-to-five is editing. An author or publisher sends them a book, the editor decides if they’re the right fit for the book, and then the editor edits the book. Further, freelance editors tend to work for multiple houses and multiple authors instead of being on an employee payroll for one house.

How did you first get into editing?

TC: When I graduated from high school, I knew right away that I wanted to play some type of role in the publication of books, but I wasn’t sure what role. Then it occurred to me that if I reviewed and promoted books, I could get free books, talk to authors and publishers, and get my reviews published in magazines and on websites. For a nineteen year old who loved books (but couldn’t afford them) and saw authors and publishers as celebrities, this was a dream come true.

For two years, I ran a website called Reader’s Den and wrote reviews for multiple blogs and Suspense Magazine. In all, I wrote fifty reviews, some for traditionally published books, but most for self-published books. More often than I’d like to admit, authors would send me books in need of editing and, instead of taking quick notes as I read so I could write a thorough review, I found myself taking long, meticulous notes for an editorial letter. Out of respect for the author and because I genuinely felt their books were only suffering because it either hadn’t been edited or hadn’t been edited well, I would decline to write a scathing review and would instead give them the letter and ask that they consider republishing.

I didn’t mind doing this every so often, but there was one month in particular where all of the books given to me were in need of editing. Writing long editorial letters for free became stressful and caused problems for my schedule, both as a reviewer who only reviewed books on the weekends and as a college student with a full schedule of classes who hadn’t prepared for the time consuming nature of writing editorial letters, which often required more than just one day of reading and one day of writing.

Finally, I decided I was better off pursuing a manuscript critique service, closed Reader’s Den, and redirected my energy to editorial courses, studying, and building a new business.

Are there certain genres you find more challenging to edit? If so, Why?

For both fiction and nonfiction, the more technical the genre, the more trouble I have, only because I then spend a lot of time questioning the technicalities and/or asking the author to clear something up for the readers (depending on the book’s specified audience).

For fiction, the genres I read and know a lot about are fantasy, paranormal/supernatural, romance, action/adventure, and horror. For nonfiction, the genres I’m most interested in are self-improvement, writing craft, and autobiographical/memoir.

Each genre has its own set of mechanics and styles, so, for the genres I named above, I’m familiar with the mechanics and can edit with the mechanics in mind. For something like mystery or history, for instance, I can still edit the books, but not with that understanding of the mechanics specific to that genre.

How do you choose which projects to take on?

TC: Whether I take on a project depends largely on my schedule and if I’m the right fit for both the author and their book. An editor who doesn’t understand the book and the author or who has personal views that might interfere with how well they edit the book should never accept the book. You can’t give your all as an editor to a book or author you don’t understand or respect. I strongly stand by that.

If I’m a good fit for the book and there’s room in my schedule, I choose that project.

Are there projects or clients you would NOT take on?

TC: I had an overbearing, controlling client who wanted daily updates on my progress and a number of contracts. She was always trying to talk me into lowering my already very cheap prices. It’s not an experience I want to repeat, so I make sure to avoid clients who give off a similar vibe to that client. The editor-author relationship has to be a compatible one. At the very least, there can’t be any toxicity.

I won’t accept a project I don’t think I’d be able to give my all to. When that’s the case, I try to recommend other editors. I don’t accept poetry, dissertations (not yet), or any book written for a specialized skill and audience. To properly edit a book about the medical field or any of the sciences, for instance, I would need to understand those subjects thoroughly enough to notice any substantive errors. It would be disingenuous to edit something I don’t fully understand.

Do you find being an editor makes it more difficult for you to read for enjoyment?

TC: I don’t have as difficult a time reading for enjoyment as I did when I used to review 4-5 books a month. Back then, since I was reading so much fiction, the only books I enjoyed reading on my own time was nonfiction. I edit a lot of romance these days, so I have no interest in reading romance on my own time. Now I’m more interested in reading classics, business books, and nonfiction.

All in all, I’m still an avid reader, but whatever I’m editing or reading a lot of for a job, I usually avoid reading on my own time. I like variety.

Can you explain the different kinds of edits (copy, line, etc.) you do?

TC: I offer three editorial services: copy editing, substantive editing, and manuscript consultations. For both fiction and nonfiction alike, a copy edit consists of clarifying meaning and polishing language; editing for grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics of style; and checking for consistency of mechanics and internal consistency of facts. The completed copy edit of a book includes line-by-line edits, a comprehensive report that goes over consistent errors and how to correct them, and communication before, during, and after the edit. All of my edits are at least two rounds.

The substantive edit (fiction only) covers a thorough analysis of conflict, setting, characterization, items/terminology, dialogue, plot/sub-plots, and consistent grammar and spelling errors. It’s best for the first and/or second draft of a novel and should be done before getting a copy edit.

For manuscript a consultation, regardless of which stage your book is in—an outline, a rough first draft, or even a final draft you’re preparing to send to a publisher or formatter—I’ll thoroughly read through whatever you send me, take extensive notes, and call you to discuss the book’s concept, what’s working, and what’s not working. The turnaround will always be two weeks, no matter the length of the book.

What, in your opinion, is the benefit for writers using a freelance editor?

TC: If you’re an author that plans on self-publishing, it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re self-publishing, there’s no gate keeper or in-house editors your book must go through before it’s published. It’s easy to only get a proofread and/or publish your book right away if you’re convinced the book is in perfect shape, but, no matter how great of a writer you may be, a book is seldom in perfect shape so early on.

If you’re an author that plans on traditionally publishing, hiring a freelance editor to edit your book first will give it that extra edge when the acquiring editor or intern is looking it over. You will stand out as someone who went the extra mile to make sure your book was ready.

You may think turning to friends, family, beta readers, or English majors is enough to officially prepare your book for publication, but it’s only enough during the self-editing stage. Even if they’re really good at English or pointing out errors, their edits are more likely to be affected by their feelings for you. Furthermore, their edits are less likely to be organized, thorough, or focused. They’re not editing your book because it’s something they do often and professionally, meaning they don’t truly have a checklist or evaluation process keeping their edits consistent and thorough. They’re also probably not using a style guide and its preferred dictionary while editing.

What advice would you give writers on choosing a freelance editor for their work?

TC: Since prices can vary so widely, you need to know how much money you’re willing to spend. You need to consider just how rough your work is before submitting. If you’re sending an editor your first draft (which I don’t recommend; it’s always better to at least self-edit first), consider how expensive that will be. Last but not least, you need to know when you’d like the edits back, since a lot of editors will charge extra if you give them a book last minute when you’re on a tight deadline.

After getting your money’s worth on your end by understanding yourself, it’s time to get your money’s worth on the editor’s end by understanding them. Explore their website. Check if they have a page for their biography/resume, testimonials, prices, and submission guidelines. Read their biography or resume and look for the credentials that matter most to you. Go to the page that lists which books, publishers, and/or authors the editor has worked with so you can individually ask a few of that editor’s clients about their experiences working with the editor. Ask for a free sample edit so you can see how you feel about their style of editing and/or ask to see a sample of some of their other edits.

About Michelle McGill-Vargas

I hail from Gary, Indiana where I enjoy writing historical fiction, flash fiction, and short stories. My writings have appeared in "Lutheran Witness", "Splickety Magazine", "The Copperfield Review", "Typehouse Literary Magazine," and was a contributing writer to Concordia Publishing House's "Portals of Prayer" (October 2016). I've served as vice-president of the Indiana Writers' Consortium and am currently a board member of Midwest Writers. I am currently represented by Melissa Danaczko of Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, Inc. I pay the bills as a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. Visit my blog at
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