I’ve been a freelance fiction editor for about three and a half years now. I love what I do, and aside from getting to immerse myself in fiction every day, being able to be flexible is a big perk of the job. This is because I’m also a writer.
I studied English and Creative Writing at university, and I always wanted to be an author. But working in book publishing was another ambition of mine – and becoming a freelance editor was the only way I could do that, given that London living costs are ridiculous. Plus, I grew up in the north, and I’m a homebody!
Editing and writing go hand in hand for me – I can pass on knowledge I’ve gained as a writer to my clients. I’ve been able to advise my authors by drawing on my own experiences of exploring traditional publishing.
A typical week as a freelance fiction editor
My day-to-day tends to be similar. I’m flexible about the hours I work, but I try to stick to office hours and be done by 5 or 6pm. A typical week involves working on one or two of the following projects:
- a manuscript assessment or beta read
- a copy or line edit
- a proofread.
I usually work on manuscript assessments and beta reads alongside a copy/line edit or a proofread, because I enjoy the variety, and it breaks up the day. I’ll spend the morning doing the more intensive job – say, a heavy copy/line edit or a complicated proofread – and the afternoon reading a manuscript on my Kindle and making developmental notes. I mainly work at my desk, but sometimes I move to an armchair downstairs by the window, with a view of the greenery outside.
There are other tasks involved in my work, depending on what’s going on in a given week. I don’t have a dedicated admin day, though. I’ll do these tasks as and when needed, either first thing in the morning or when I’ve wrapped up a chunk of work for the day:
- answering emails from clients
- responding to enquiries
- responding to requests from publishers
- sending out contracts
- booking in new and repeat clients
- marketing (anything from writing a blog post to networking)
- visiting Twitter (I use it to keep up with the book industry, although it’s easy to procrastinate – I use SelfControl for Mac when I need to focus).
How I fit writing into my day
I don’t have a set writing routine. Writing comes in stages. Sometimes I’m drawing a map of a fictional world, or outlining, or writing pitches to send to my agent; other times I’m knee-deep in a draft.
If I’m up early, I’ll write in bed with a cup of coffee before moving to my desk to do client work. Other days, when I really need to crack on with editorial work (and that comes first because it pays the bills), the writing will happen later in the evening.
I might email my agent with pitches or to discuss ideas. It’s great to have someone supportive on your side, and I think that’s part of what I find rewarding about being an editor.
How writing helps me be a better fiction editor
I’ve been learning about and studying writing craft for a long time – since before I became an editor. This gave me a huge advantage when I set up as a freelancer. Things I learned at university, or by digging into books, attending writing groups, or through trial and error and critique, I can pass on to my clients to help them grow.
Being a fiction writer myself, I can spot issues in other people’s stories, such as world-building problems, exposition, hollow dialogue and characterisation issues. But my writing experience allows me to do other things more focused on the industry and cheerleading for my clients:
- helping authors with query letters
- advising on submitting to agents
- explaining the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing
- empathising with my authors
- discussing rejection honestly – it happens to everyone, and I often tell my clients about my own experience of racking up rejection letters
- having frank conversations about the likelihood of being able to make money as a writer
- pinpointing the market/target audience of a project – for example, I’ve worked on some MG (Middle Grade) projects that focused on grown-ups, which would be a hard sell.
Some might feel it’s a conflict of interest, being both a writer and a fiction editor, but most of my authors appreciate my knowledge and that I can relate to their struggles. I’ve walked in their shoes, and they can trust me to be honest about what their work needs. I try not to impose my personal preferences, but instead frame things in a way that can help develop their own vision in line with their goals.
I try to fit some professional development into my week, if I’m not too slammed. This can be anything from making progress on a course I’m taking, watching a webinar, to reading a reference book. This week, it was catching up on the CIEP’s conference recordings because I was too busy to participate in real-time.
I count reading books in the genres I edit as professional development, so I always fit leisure reading into my day (recently I’ve finished and loved The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix). Sometimes my leisure reading will be related to a writing project I’m working on. I’m currently reading some HP Lovecraft stories and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Eerie Tales, since I’m writing a historical/gothic fantasy.
When my mind’s been occupied by editing and writing all day, I need a breather! I’ll do something light-hearted, like watching an anime with my husband, or playing Animal Crossing. Working with words can be tiring, so I like to start off my downtime with something unrelated to books. Yoga helps me stretch out after a long day at a desk!
I always try to squeeze in an hour of leisure reading before bed. Even though I read all day, it’s my favourite way to unwind.
And that’s what my work week usually looks like. I take weekends off from editing, but I do some writing then, too, because I have more free time. Like other writers, it’s a balance to fit everything in, but I love what I do!
Rachel Rowlands is an editor, writer and Professional Member of the CIEP. She has a degree in English and Creative Writing and specialises in adult, YA and MG fiction, including fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance and crime/thriller. She also edits general commercial non-fiction. You can find her at www.racheljrowlands.com or on Twitter.
Photo credits: books by Ed Robertson; writing by Green Chameleon on Unsplash
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.
I found your post very interesting! I’m used to scheduling my freelance week, but less so my day, even though I planned my days every morning when I was employed.
Reading about your day helped me look at mine. I tend to schedule my editing work but not development activities and reading (I have a long list of posts and articles set aside to read “when I get time”!); and I’ve tried to keep Friday afternoons for admin but it rarely works out, and it would be much better to spend an hour a day on whatever needs doing.
Even though I’ve always been a keen reader, since working freelance I’ve moved more into visual and tactile wind-downs after a day of words on screens. Playing with fabric, colour and art materials is a wonderful contrast.