Behind the Scenes of Freelance Editing: 10 Facts From Sylvia Spratt

This post was originally published at The Poetics Project by Missy Lacock.

Let’s face it: If you’re reading this blog, you love writing and reading—and probably wouldn’t mind a paycheck for doing it. Enter freelance editing, just one of the many positions available to talented bookworms. Sylvia Spratt, cofounder of Ex Libris Editing, a two-person editorial firm based in Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado, agreed to share ten behind-the-scenes facts with The Poetics Project about operating a freelance editing business.

Consider founding a company, partnership, or informal collective.

Although Sylvia has been editing in some capacity for around ten years, she decided to cofound her LLC two and half years ago with her friend and business partner, Sarah Heilman.

What’s the advantage of forming an LLC instead of maintaining sole proprietorship?

“Increasing consumer confidence,” Sylvia said. Some clients feel more secure working with a company instead of hiring an individual. “We collaborate on marketing, and we have the legal protection of a company, even though we take on most of our projects individually,” Sylvia said. “We also wanted room to grow in the future, which is why we settled on an LLC.”

The hard part? “Remembering to get out of your PJ’s when you’re working from home!”

Be prepared to take tests.

It’s not always as simple as finding a manuscript to edit; editors often undergo regular testing to prove they’re worth the expense—especially for larger clients. Test materials usually cover grammar and style, especially where less-common style guides such as AMA Style (for the medical sphere) and IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) are concerned. The tests are usually timed for acceptable ranges and completed using track changes in Microsoft Word.

Most clients are referred by word of mouth.

Networking and positive referrals are key to consistent freelance employment. However, freelancers can also find editing gigs by combing sites like bookjobs or mediabistro, or, for a yearly fee, by joining the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Businesses still hire copyeditors.

More and more businesses are utilizing freelancers to help cut costs, but Sylvia said in-house office jobs for editors definitely still exist at ad agencies, PR firms, publishing houses (but they’re extremely competitive), universities, and even local giants like Nike and adidas.

Continue reading

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AWP 2014 and The Author-Editor Relationship

Although Sarah and Sylvia sadly weren’t able to make it up to Seattle for AWP this year, our intern, Melanie Figueroa, did. Here’s a short recap of the three days she spent at the writer’s conference:

AWP is an overwhelming conference, in the best possible sense of the word, but with over 10,000 people in attendance, that’s to be expected. You can spend a whole day walking up and down the aisles at the book fair, meeting editors, designers, agents, and other publishing professionals or digging through the plethora of discounted books available—and I did.

In addition to exploring the book fair, I went to several panels: one on unsympathetic characters, a few on writing for young adults, another on humor in memoir, and, lastly, a panel focusing on the author-editor relationship, which will be the main focus of this post.

The author-editor panel was led by Grove Atlantic’s publisher, Morgan Entrekin. Grove Atlantic editor, Elisabeth Schmitz, and several of their authors, including Sherman Alexie, Margaret Wrinkle, and Jamie Quatro, were also on the panel.

Grove Atlantic has a particularly hands-on approach to the author-editor relationship, forging lasting friendships with their authors whenever possible. Elisabeth has worked as an editor for all three authors and occasionally goes jogging with Jamie. Sherman Alexie has published the majority of his work, except for his Young Adult books, with Grove Atlantic since the 90s. Morgan, reflecting on a conversation he had with an editor at a larger house at a previous book fair, said, “I stepped away from the author, and he came up to me. ‘You shouldn’t be such close friends with your writers. They’ll only break your heart.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Does that mean you shouldn’t fall in love?’”

Today, many publishing houses—especially big New York houses—often aren’t able to maintain this sort of relationship with their authors. While it’s custom for an author to offer the house that published his or her previous book first look at a manuscript, publishing houses don’t always acquire these manuscripts, and authors often jump from house to house.

For a while, the same applied to editors. “Traditionally, editors stayed with one publisher,” Morgan told the audience. “Then that changed, but I do think it’s starting to slow down.” Elisabeth, for instance, has been with Grove Atlantic for almost twenty years.

I took a lot away from this panel, even if much of it was a lot of great quotes of Sherman, saying things like, “We were at the Chateau…These are the things you get to say when you’re published. So f**k you all. Sorry. That was the Valium.” Proving that he is just as awkward, gleefully inappropriate, and funny as one would think. (In case you were wondering, the Valium was for his back, which he hurt the night before playing basketball.)

Mainly, I learned how important the role of trust is between author and editor. Sherman, candid as always, recalled a time where he vehemently fought with Elisabeth to keep a chapter in his novel Flight that involved the time-traveling protagonist fighting a saber-tooth tiger. Elisabeth won the fight. It’s been seven years since Flight was published, and after rereading that chapter, Sherman, who now calls the chapter “horrible,” is grateful that Elisabeth fought so hard to cut it. “That kind of relationship,” Sherman said. “Can only occur over the long-term and through trust.”

Sherman went on to say, “In the midst of all the sorrow, pain, rejection, the review you didn’t get, the sales you didn’t meet, the awards that slipped by, the shitty person who said the shitty thing, your sharing it all with your editor.”


Melanie, Sarah, and Sylvia

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Write to Publish 2014

Sylvia Spratt moderating the Genre Fiction panel with authors Stacey Wallace Benefiel, Allison Moon, Jemiah Jefferson, and literary agent, Holly Lorincz.

Hello everyone!

On Saturday, February 15th, Ooligan Press hosted Write to Publish 2014, a writer’s conference that aims to demystify the publishing process. This year’s conference focused on the “New Adult Revolution,” with panelists discussing how to write and market books that fit into the budding New Adult genre. The New Adult genre focuses on an audience of readers aged 18–23, with stories centered on protagonists who are transitioning from teenagers to adults. Sylvia and I (Ex Libris’ amazing intern, Melanie ;) ) were in attendance. I was a volunteer, and Sylvia was a moderator for the Genre Fiction panel. Panelists included authors Stacey Wallace Benefiel, Allison Moon, and Jemiah Jefferson, and we were also joined by author and literary agent Holly Lorincz. Sylvia asked each of the panelists questions about what it’s like to write and sell genre fiction, and how the emergence of New Adult is influencing and interacting with the market.

If you visit Amazon’s New Adult section, labeled “New Adult & College Romance,” almost every cover features a very traditional-romance-cover-y young man and woman, half naked, in a passionate embrace. Why? As the panelists discussed, New Adult is still being defined, and right now, a lot of publishers and booksellers see the genre as sexed-up YA—in other words, as commercial, not necessarily literary. Genres like romance, true crime, and high fantasy often get a bad rap for not being “serious” literature, and it looks like New Adult’s been getting similar treatment. But hey, genre fiction is also the most consistently commercially successful fiction out there, romance especially. That said, as far as New Adult goes, the panelists agreed there is also potential for the genre to grow in numerous directions as it matures and expands.

Although some see New Adult as just a marketing ploy meant to appeal to adults who like to read YA, Holly pointed out that the audience, those 18–23 year olds, were the children who grew up reading Harry PotterTwilight, and The Hunger Games. These readers still want to read stories like the ones they grew up on, but with older protagonists whose narratives reflect their current challenges and experiences. New Adult is, in many ways, answering an already present demand from readers—we just haven’t really had a name for that market until now.

The panel didn’t focus entirely on New Adult, however. The panelists also discussed the importance of genre conventions. For example, if you are writing romance, paranormal or not, many readers have some pretty rigidly established expectations before they even begin to crack open the cover. During the Q & A portion of the panel, I asked the authors if they felt this hindered their ability to be creative by making them feel they had a formula to follow. Allison Moon, author of the Tales of the Pack series (about which, can we just say: lesbian werewolves!), acknowledged that fear of breaking the rules—of defying genre tropes—and how doing so may turn off some readers. But she also admitted that there may be occasions and stories that call for a bit of rule breaking, and as with many things in life, it may be a good idea to demonstrate to your readers (and publisher) that you understand the formula before deviating from it.

At the end of the conference, Allison, who was also the keynote speaker, gave an inspiring speech about “sucking” in public (we swear, it was great!). It’s something writers fear—myself included—but sometimes we have to allow ourselves to fail in order to find success. As Allison put it, “The only people who risk sucking are the people who are doing things.” In her keynote, Allison offered five rules for writers:

1. You have to give yourself permission to write by believing your voice is worthy.
2. You have to write.
3. You have to finish.
4. You have to share your writing with the world.
5. You have to do it all over again.

Seems simple enough, right? So much of a writer’s daily life is spent alone (possibly at home in pajamas, with a cat nearby), but events like Write to Publish help us remember how important it is to get out there and meet other authors, editors, publishers, and people in the industry in general. When we talk with each other, we help each other generate ideas and remind each other that it’s okay to suck, as long as you’re believing in yourself, writing stuff, finishing stuff, sharing your stuff with the world, and yes, doing it all over again.

See you at next year’s Write to Publish!

Melanie, Sarah, and Sylvia

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Submitting in 2014

The New Year is a time for resolutions. For writers, these resolutions often involve the refining of craft, being more disciplined about their writing habits, or seeking out publication. While most of us can agree that it’s important to write something you enjoy—if you hated writing it, chances are your audience will hate reading it!—it’s also necessary to understand what literary agents and acquisitions editors are looking for as you start seeking out representation for your work.

Luckily, most agents and editors aren’t quiet about what they want. For example, the folks over at Andrew Lownie Literary Agency have already created a nice list to get you started. The agency contacted over twenty editors, asking each what kind of books they’re looking to acquire in 2014. The Tumblr Agent and Editor Wish List is also a good place to visit. The account administrator reposts tweets from literary agents and agencies all over (so you don’t have to).

When we reached out to Fiona Kenshole, Portland-based literary agent and former editorial director at HarperCollins UK, to talk about 2014 publishing trends, the fantasy genre came up. While Fiona agrees that the trend is catching on again, she also clarified that “It’s still an over-subscribed arena, and I would not want to sell a fallen angel or twist on ancient gods story at the moment.”

So what stories do editors want to purchase this year? Historical novels or memoirs that touch on subjects not often talked about have been mentioned by more than a few editors. According to Fiona, “I’m being asked for distinctive voices—diversity has come up a few times, especially stories by and about people of color.” Editors are also looking for pieces that use humor and wit—books that create a personality that readers can relate to.

Looking at the industry as a whole, if you are looking to pitch a middle grade or children’s book, stories about ghosts and mysteries, or pieces with series potential, you might be in luck. For picture books specifically, character-driven stories come up often, and let’s not forget about the new-adult fiction buzz that’s currently sweeping through publishing houses across the nation and the world.

One caveat to the above: remember that books that editors acquire now probably won’t be published until 2015 at the earliest. When Twilight made vampires sexy and popular again, lots of authors jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to land book deals in a then-booming genre. But by the time these manuscripts were ready to hit the shelves, the trend was already on its way out the door. This is not to say that if you’ve got what you believe is the next big vampire romance bestseller sitting on your computer right now that you should just torch it and start over—far from it. It’s more of a reminder that publishing trends change in the blink of an eye, and you’ve really got to believe in your work and do your research in order to snag an agent or acquisitions editor’s attention, not just follow the big trends and hope for the best.

So let’s have it then: what are your publication plans for 2014?

Happy pitching!

Sylvia, Sarah, and Melanie (our awesome intern)

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NaNoWriMo’s Over: Now What?

Hi friends,

First, we wanted to give a massively impressed shout-out to all of you who started, worked on, and/or finished a project during NaNoWriMo! We both believe that NaNo’s not just for hitting that elusive, sparkly 50k and beyond; it’s also about taking the initiative to start something and work hard on it, whether you end up finishing or not.

For those of you who did finish your projects during November’s mad dash to the finish line, we have one question for you: 

What’s next?

Whether you’re thinking of pursuing self publishing, hunting for an agent, or submitting to small presses, one thing’s for sure: that newly hatched, fluffy little manuscript of yours will have a much better chance of flying if you get a pair of professional editorial eyes on it before you kick it out of the nest.

That’s why, for the month of December, we are offering an 11% (in NaNo’s eleventh-month-of-the-year honor) discount on proofreading, copyediting, and developmental editing. Sign on for an edit of your NaNo project with us by December 31st and get the jump on your publishing plans for 2014.

Not sure what kind of editing your story needs? Wondering about scheduling or prices? Just want to chat about it with someone? Contact us here in the comments or request a quote whenever you’re ready—just don’t wait too long, only 28 days left!


Happy holidays,

Sylvia & Sarah

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Axe-Wielding Space Weasels! A Few NaNoWriMo Tips

Ex Libris Editing:

In which our friend Audrey, YA fantasy author extraordinaire, dishes out some hilarious, super-useful advice for NaNoWriMo. First-time NaNo participants and veterans alike, this one’s got your name on it!

Originally posted on Audrey C.:

Hordes of writers near and far are stocking up on coffee and wine and are installing fresh padding on the walls of their writing caves for the month of November. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is officially upon us. It’s time for a month of writing intense enough to wear one’s fingers to bloody stumps and the ingestion of enough caffeine to create a violent eye twitch that will linger well into December.

The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.

Every November seems so fresh and new to me that sometimes I forget my veteran status. This will be my ninth year as a participant. Now that I’ve been around the 50,000-word block a few times, I’d like to share some survival tips I’ve accumulated over the years.

  • Don’t edit. I’m serious. Don’t even edit the last two sentences you wrote at the end of your previous…

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Better late than never: we went to Wordstock!

Hi there, friends.

We know, we know. A blog update? From Sarah and Sylvia?


It’s true! We are indeed alive, and have so much to tell you. Namely that we’ve been too busy running around doing fun stuff like riding dragons and creating wormholes through spacetime and saving the world (that’s what editors are supposed to do, right?) and also going to awesome events like Wordstock to update ye olde blog with any regularity.

Never mind the dragons and wormholes for now — what’s Wordstock? Well, it’s a literary art and education non-profit that celebrates and supports writing in the classroom and in the community whose mission is to use the power of writing to effect positive change in people’s lives. Every year, Wordstock puts on a week-long book and literary festival that includes a bunch of fantastic events scattered all around Portland, Oregon, culminating in a two-day convention of small presses, publishers, artists, authors, booksellers, non-profits, and more where we all get to rub elbows with old friends, forge new connections, and basically have a grand old time.

And that’s just what we did the weekend of October 5th and 6th! Well, what Sylvia did at least, since Sarah’s editing up a storm in Colorado these days.


The fantastic homemade BookBot across from our booth!


Had to sit in the chair at least once. Not quite the Iron Throne, but it’ll do.


Hey, that’s us!

Sylvia got to meet awesome YA authors Malinda Lo (Ash) and Marissa Meyer (Cinder), hear Maggie Stiefvater (The Shiver Trilogy) expound on fainting goats (because, let’s face it, they’re adorable), what makes something truly scary, and why grownups like YA lit so darned much, and attend a thought-provoking workshop on why secondary characters are essential to good storytelling. She also got to meet with dozens of writers, designers, small press publishers, fellow editors, and more over the course of the two-day convention, which left her with a worn-out voice box and a pair of seriously sore feet, but nevertheless incredibly glad that she came.

Since this was our first year tabling at Wordstock, we learned so much, and we’re already planning for and looking forward to 2015′s festival at Portland State University.

We hope to see you there!

In the mean time, if you stopped by our booth to chat with Sylvia during the festival and want to continue the conversation — or if you missed us at the festival and want to say hello now — our door’s always open.

Happy almost-Halloween and best wishes,

Sarah and Sylvia

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