What the in-house editor is looking for

Editors are demanding people, and if you're working with one then it helps to know what they need. Here are my top tips for the care and feeding of in-house editors.

When an in-house editor is sending work out of house – whether to a freelancer or a contractor – there are some obvious things they want. Familiarity with the subject or market. Good grammar. Not too expensive.

Freelancers often, understandably, fixate on the last of these when negotiating for work. And some publishers do pay woefully low rates to their freelancers. But to the editor placing the work, the headline rate matters much less than freelancers often think.

So, if price isn’t the be-all and end-all, what are in-house editors really looking for from their freelancers? Here’s my top three.


When sending work out of house, the editor isn’t surrendering control. They can’t – they are still responsible to the business for how the work goes. This means that, beyond competence in the basic skills, editors prize professionalism in their freelancers.

Behaving professionally means more than using appropriate language in emails and phone calls. It means being able to estimate how long a job will take, and telling the editor well in advance if your estimate was off – and why. It means asking the important questions in good time rather than returning work full of queries that could have been dealt with.

More than anything, it means living up to what you promise – deadlines, budget and quality. If you perform predictably well and make the editor’s life easier by the way to conduct projects, they will give you more work.


This is, in a sense, part of professionalism but it deserves its own heading. Few of us would actively lie to get work (as I said above, it doesn’t work in the long term anyway) but a lot of people are economical with the truth. Perhaps you know the project will take three weeks but you promise to deliver in two because the editor asked you to – and then have to take three weeks anyway (or, worse, deliver in two weeks but with only half the job done). Or perhaps the editor emails to ask whether chapter 4 will be with her today and you reply “Yes” because, after all, no one likes to disappoint the client – but you don’t finish until the next day.

Editors place repeat work with suppliers they trust. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re never disappointed (surprises can happen to anyone). It means that, when things go wrong, they’re always informed and that the freelancer suggests solutions that they actually deliver on.


Freelancers shouldn’t be on time only when they return completed jobs (although you should absolutely do that). Remember that the editor’s trying to save their own time, probably because they’re extremely busy.

That means that you should respond to emails and phone calls – preferably the same day. You’d be surprised how many times editors contact freelancers only to receive a stony silence in reply!

It can be hard to justify carving out the time from a day’s paying work to do admin like emails. But if you don’t maintain your relationship with the editors, they’ll stop trying to place work with you. And devoting 15 minutes a day to dealing with these requests is effort well spent.

That’s my shortlist of things I look for in a freelance. What are your top tips?

Posted on 31 Mar 2014
Written by John Pettigrew

Hat wearer, recovering editor and now CEO & Founder of We Are Futureproofs, John Pettigrew has 20 years of experience in educational, illustrated and academic publishing, and a history of successful print and digital product development.