As a consultant, get a good understanding of the type of editorial service(s) the author is seeking for his/her manuscript. You’re the editorial expert so depending on the level of service needed—from straightforward copyediting and proofreading to more complex and time consuming developmental, stylistic, and substantive editing—you’ll be able to determine the client’s needs. (Read in-depth descriptions of each level of service in Part 1 of this post.)
Specifically consider these principles as you think about writing an author-consultant agreement:
- Be transparent about your working style. Your prospective client has strong views about his or her book and has big plans for its future. The author is trusting you with “their baby,” and may have little experience with the editorial process. While many editors and writers need solitude to focus on their silent craft, be sure to explain your working style and understand the author’s work preferences as you’ll need to agree on a process. Consider the following questions: How many conversations do you need to be briefed? What is the appropriate number of email queries and questions? How do you prefer to integrate background and research information? What is the best way for you to receive feedback?
- Respect the author’s commitment and passion for their written work, but manage your client’s expectations. Building up an author’s hopes should not be a deal-closing tool for an editorial consultant. When you see the manuscript during pre-agreement discussions, keep judgments about its potential out of the discussion. Limit your analysis to the work it will require from you and the expertise you bring to the author’s goals. Don’t criticize or praise the manuscript; if you truly like it, say so briefly. It’s sensible and fair to stay out of the role as a prognosticator of the book’s success or publishing potential. Respected nonfiction editorial consultant David Conti told me, “When I became an editorial consultant and book collaborator, I promised myself that I would always tell my clients the truth: about the quality of their ideas, about their chances of being published, about how I can—or can’t—help them. This can be difficult, especially in the “courting” stage of the relationship. But I’ve stuck to that promise, even when it meant losing the client.” (Learn more about David on his Linkedin page.)
- Don’t “double book” your time. When considering a new project, be clear about your schedule and commitments to other clients. If you have 30 hours a week of client time to sell and have two clients occupying 20 hours over the next few months, adding another major client who needs 20 hours a week will result in a subpar job for one or more of your clients. You’ll also burn yourself out with stress. Your prospective client should know how much time you have available, at least generally; establish this up front and negotiate adjustments in the process so you can work together.
- Review a sample of the work you’ll be editing. Never go in blind. Always review a sample of the client’s work to get a sense of the author’s writing style and ability. Doing so will allow you to estimate the time, effort, and resources you’ll need to expend on the project.