By Dori Harrell


For freelance editors, one of the best ways to avoid famine periods is to edit for publishers and/or publishing-services firms. Many times, such contracts offer a steady supply of documents as well as the chance to reject manuscripts, which means that editors can fill empty schedule slots and choose projects that fit their editing strengths.

In addition, a publisher or publishing-services firm typically requires superior attention to detail and extensive knowledge of a style guide (or guides). And that translates, in addition to a paycheck, to a high level of business development—you’ll acquire advanced style-guide knowledge that may give you a competitive edge in marketing your freelance editing business.

But you’ll need more than a great résumé and cover letter to sign on with these companies.

You’ll need to pass their sample editing tests, which will test your knowledge of a style guide, your ability to catch errors, your approach to authors, your research skills, and your editing style when making subjective recommendations. These tests can be daunting—take it from someone who’s taken four editing tests for publishers and been offered contracts by each. Ultimately, I chose to take on two, and I have never faced a famine period in my business—and I would pay for what I have learned through these publishers.

So if you’ve been considering approaching publishers, here are some tips for excelling when editing their sample projects.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the publisher’s style guide and how to use its search engine, if you subscribe online (which I recommend, when available). For example, if editing a sample requiring The Chicago Manual of Style, brush up on the hyphenation guide and good usage versus common usage segment. And study the CMoS punctuation, numbers, and capitalization sections.
  2. Look over the sample edit thoroughly before beginning the edit. When you find areas you might struggle with, make a few notes.
  3. When editing for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, include brief comments on which style guide rule you’re applying (if applicable). If there’s a rule number, cite it. No need to repeat the same comments.
  4. Follow the directions. If it says to offer rewording options but not to ghost write, then don’t rewrite the entire section, no matter how tempted you are.
  5. Write comments as if addressing an author, and avoid criticizing. So rather than saying, “You need to reword this sentence because it’s unclear,” try something more neutral and encouraging, such as, “I recommend rewording this sentence for clarity. Read over my suggestions and see if they work for you.” Also, include positive comments where the writing is strong.
  6. Use your best judgment when the directions are vague. For example, one test I took asked me to address technical issues to the author. It gave no indication of the format I should use, so I wrote a brief editorial review letter.

Go ahead and approach publishers and publishing-services firms, and take their editing tests with confidence. It could mean the difference between an editing schedule that’s hit-and-miss and one that’s booked.


Dori Harrell owns Breakout Editing and edits full time. As an editor, she releases more than twenty-five books annually. Her client list includes indie authors, best-selling writers, and publishers. An award-winning writer, she’s published more than a thousand articles between her journalism career and freelance writing.