The Concierge (Blog)

Getting Clients as a New(er) Editor

One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to get clients, so what follows is my basic theory of how not to starve to death as a freelancer.

If you have little or no actual developmental editing experience, then doing a few projects in exchange for something like a testimonial or whatever might be of value to you (website design, social media training) can be a good way to grow your confidence and give you some projects to mention in your marketing. (I once traded writing a business plan for a free gym membership when I first started out).

The key is in not giving away your work. From the very beginning, you need to think of making transactions – this is a business that you’re trying to establish, after all, not a charitable endeavor.

But I would limit this to only a few projects before moving on to finding better-paying work. If you focus on easy-to-get, low-paying work, such as picking up project from Fiverr, you can end up on a treadmill to nowhere that is very difficult to get off. So I would advise being very strategic from the start. By that I don’t mean having every step of the next twenty years plotted out in advance. I mean having a long-term outlook – that you’ll plant seeds today that won’t come to fruition until three years from now, and that’s fine.

I think it’s important to have goals (“I want to edit X type of fiction for Y type of clients”) but I also think you can’t be so wedded to specifics that you overlook opportunities. I never actually meant to become a romance editor, but it worked out that my background and opportunities pushed me in that direction. And I’ve loved the whole experience.

When I first started out as a writer, I didn’t really have any intention of writing twenty books on the martial arts, but that was what people were willing to pay me for at the time. I had a specific body of knowledge and set of skills that led to these opportunities.

If you look at what established professionals do – the ones making an actual living it at – you’ll see that they rarely troll job-bidding sites or answer Craigslist ads or participate in any kind of marketing that is based on being cheap and fast or whatever newer freelancers may think is a way to attract clients.

Instead, they focus on ways to draw clients to them: building up their credentials and expertise, connecting with colleagues, joining and participating in professional organizations, making referrals to other editors for projects that aren’t right for them. Being generous with referrals yourself makes it more likely that people will be generous with referrals to you.

Almost every established freelancer I know gets a significant amount of their work via word-of-mouth and referrals. This is another reason I think it’s so important to avoid the low-paying treadmill. It is terribly difficult to do good work for months and even years when you are earning paltry sums of money for it. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but it is very difficult. The temptation is to do the work faster so you can do more work. And there is simply a limit to how fast you can do a developmental edit and still have it be a good one. Your reputation as an editor is going to be what brings clients to you.

Then you also have to consider who has the money. Professional nonfiction writers who are trying their hand at fiction are my biggest source of income from indie clients. This is because I did a lot of nonfiction writing when I first started out and got to know hundreds of nonfiction writers. The ones who have had long-term careers have the income to pay for professional advice and the understanding that it is worth paying for.

Now many of them are at the life stage where they want to do that one thing they haven’t done yet, and that is to write the novel they’ve always been meaning to write. I happen to be the one person they know and trust who can guide them in translating their nonfiction skills to fiction.

So I’m not saying you can or should follow in my footsteps. That’s a particularly specific set of circumstances that led to the development of this group of clients. But that’s what I mean by opportunities: what are your skills and knowledge, who do you already hang out with who might be willing to pay for your services, etc. ?

Early in my editing career, I figured the people with the money were publishing companies, so I targeted them by sending out a bunch of LOIs to every medium-sized publishing company I could identify (I figured big publishers wouldn’t hire outside editors and small publishers wouldn’t have the budget). I didn’t have a ton of editing experience at this time, just enough to make the letter look respectable. That letter produced results. Since that time I have never had to do another major marketing campaign – those clients led to other clients and so on.

Newer editors tell me that this approach still works, and that they have had success getting work from publishers by just reaching out to them.

Most of my dev work now is with book publishers and book packagers. As with indie clients, some have realistic budgets and some don’t, but it’s fairly easy to find this information out early in the process so you don’t waste a lot of time. But in general I have found that traditional publishers understand that they have to pay professional rates for professional editing, and don’t generally have a lot of trouble establishing reasonable fees for my work.

Client Red Flags, Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve broken my list of red flags into two. Here’s the second list:

The Disappearing or Disorganized Client

Clients who wander off during the early stages of discussing their project are likely to wander off during the part of the project where they’re supposed to do some work or, you know, pay you. If, during the onboarding process, they miss phone calls or don’t respond to emails within a reasonable length of time, they’re probably going to be painful to work with. Proceed with caution.

By the same token, clients who are disorganized during initial talks can quickly become time-consuming pits of need. It’s fairly common for an author to say, “Oh, wait, don’t use that version of the ms, use this one,” but if they do this more than once in the early stages of discussion, tread cautiously (and it should go without saying that once you’ve started editing, they can’t change drafts).

If the potential client can’t seem to remember what you said in your previous email or seems to be mistaking you for one of the other editors they’re thinking about using, treat the situation as if the red flags are waving because they are.

Client Continually Reopens Negotiations

Related to this is the client who wants to reopen negotiations once you’ve agreed to the basic parameters of the edit. It’s one thing for a project to evolve, where, for example, you do an edit and then the author decides to purchase additional coaching. And negotiation is part of the process in the early stages: “I won’t be able to revise the novel according to the deadline you have in the project quote—can we move that out a week?”

But it’s another thing for agreed-upon details to be subject to re-negotiation: “I’m going to be a week late, okay?” after the edit has been scheduled or “My budget has changed, I won’t be able to pay what we agreed for the edit” after you’ve begun the work. The client who wants to continually reopen negotiations is often one who is not committed to the process.

An earlier, more subtle signal is when the client has a lot of questions about the process: “What happens if I don’t have my ms finished by the time the edit is scheduled? What happens if I decide to go with someone else after I pay the deposit? What if I don’t like your work? What if I don’t need any of the coaching you include in the package, can I get a refund on that?”

It isn’t that clients shouldn’t have questions. It’s that the volume of questions suggests the client isn’t ready to commit and doesn’t feel confident in their decision. Often, maybe even most, times this has nothing to do with you. Point the author to your policies and let them know that booking with you is a firm commitment to you. Proceed knowing that this is a red flag.

Hesitating at the Down Payment

Related to the client who wants to re-open negotiations (because they’re not committed) is the client who doesn’t want to pay the down payment (also a clue that they’re not committed). You’ll hear this as “Can I book the slot but make the payment next week?” or variations on the theme. You may be tempted to accommodate because maybe they’re just waiting for their paycheck and who hasn’t had to do that. But the best policy is simply to say that you can only book the spot once you have the down payment. They can check back with you next week and see if the slot is still open then.

If you’re not careful, you’ll be holding this slot open for a month and then you’ll hear, “Whoops, time got away from me, can you hold open NEW TIME for me?” Until you finally retire, having never worked on their project.

The “Everyone Else Sucks” Client

It may feel warm and fuzzy to be the ONE editor who isn’t a blithering idiot, but a client who has steamed through a lot of editors, none of whom has done a good job, is waving a red, red flag, and you should consider yourself warned.

Now, it does happen that some editors are incompetent, and when a client finds this out, they get mad and go in search of a new editor. And it sometimes happens that the client has had a couple of unsatisfactory experiences, and this is, in fact, because the editors don’t know what they’re doing. In some cases, the only one at fault is the editor(s).

But we’re not talking about rocket science, so having a slew of unsatisfactory business dealings with editors is at some point more about the client than the editors. Even if all of them are incompetent, where is the client finding them in the first place and why is the client making the same hiring mistakes over and over?

Often, the problem isn’t in the editor(s) but in the client, who doesn’t know what they want, doesn’t understand the editorial process, doesn’t know what an editor does or doesn’t do, and is unwilling to learn.

Yes, you can see where that might be a problem.

In this case, I recommend scheduling a brief phone call before going too far with the client. This will be a quick and fairly straightforward way of figuring out whether the client merely had a run of bad luck or is a run of bad luck.

Client Red Flags, Part 1

Since we want to weed out potentially troublesome clients before they make our lives miserable, it’s a good idea to have some weed-killing processes in place. For example, requiring a nonrefundable deposit means that a client is more committed to the edit (and paying the final invoice) than if you don’t require any upfront investment. (For the record, I require full payment in advance from all indie authors, but not everyone does this.)

When you have what seems to be shaping up into a problem, be sure to check with editor groups and your colleagues to find out what you can do to either save the situation or keep from repeating it.

I’ve discovered a number of red flags in my years of freelancing. Tread carefully if any of these crop up. (This is the first of two posts on the topic.)

Being Asked to Work on Spec

Working on spec—“speculation”—means you aren’t guaranteed anything for your work. You only get paid if the client decides to pay you after you’re done. This is a big fat nope. If you’re trying to build experience and credentials, at least arrange a barter in exchange for your efforts.

A related gambit is to suggest that you do the work for “exposure”—that is, the client will tell everyone about your work and you’ll get lots of clients! Yeah, no. As the freelance saying goes, people die of exposure.

A variation of this is to promise lots of future work if you do this project inexpensively. It’s true that some client relationships last for a long time and provide you with many projects over the years. But unless the client is booking all those projects right now, with deposits to match (in which case you might be willing to offer a small discount), it’s best to take this one with a grain of salt.

The best long-term relationships begin as you would like them to continue: with the client valuing your work enough to pay you fairly for it.

Being Asked to Edit a Sample

It’s not uncommon for someone to want you to edit a sample before hiring you. Now, I’m not against doing samples to help make sure you’re the right person for the job. It can help seal the deal for copy editors, who are fixing sentence-level problems.

But this is tricky when we’re talking about developmental editing because we don’t necessarily know what the real issues are before we read the entire ms. It’s easy to miss something if you’re just glancing at the first few chapters.

Instead, show potential clients samples of work you’ve already done (with the original client’s permission, of course). If you don’t have anything you can share, then make something up as a sample. Or, go to the Gutenberg Project (www.Gutenberg.org) and download a novel that is out of copyright protection and edit a chapter or two of that as a sample.

If you do edit a sample of the client’s work before booking them, as some editors make a practice of doing, make sure to keep the time spent on the project brief—no more than half an hour or so, which translates to a few pages at most. You can choose the pages if you want to prevent a potential client from trying to scam you. (Some authors think that if they ask ten different editors to edit ten different chapters as a sample, they’ll get all the work done on their book for free. Obviously these are not people who understand editing, but it’s possible you’ll encounter one.)

Client Underestimates the Work Involved

Potential clients sometimes underestimate the work/skill involved in a project. This is often expressed when they say that a project should be easy or fast. This is a red flag for a number of reasons. Often, it means the client is devaluing your work (“How hard can it be to look for plot holes?”) or doesn’t understand what, exactly, you do (“You just use spell check, right?”)

The work we do isn’t just about the time we invest in it but our expertise as well—the knowledge and skill we bring to the table. A client who doesn’t respect that is going to be a problem client.

Sometimes the client is just referring to logistical considerations—it’s a short ten-thousand word novella, so of course the edit will go faster as compared to a complicated two-hundred-thousand-word tome that describes the history of the universe in mathematical terms. Or sometimes they want a simple process—someone to check for egregious errors, even if that means leaving in some less-than-perfect sentences.

Your job is to figure out which category the client falls into—the one who devalues your work or the one who is just using a shorthand method of referring to logistical considerations.

Pay attention to red flags

Recently I was looking for an apartment to rent – I’m moving back to LA from Palm Springs – and found a possibility on one of the rental sites (you know, like Apartment.com or Zillow). The property described sounded like what I was looking for and the rent was about right for the age of the property, its amenities, and its location.

The security deposit was a more than what is typical, and that was a tiny red flag. Most LA landlords ask for one month’s rent as a deposit and this place was asking for two. But it’s not completely out of line to ask for two months’ rent as a deposit.

The listing did not have a phone number to call so I sent an email through the service and the next day I received a response from Marie S, writing from a gmail account named Marie223@gmail. com (I’ve changed the name/address slightly here).

This was another tiny red flag. But I get legitimate emails from people who don’t give their full names and who use random gmail or even Hotmail addresses so it was just that, a tiny red flag.

I asked for a showing and was told that Marie would leave the door unlocked for me if I would tell her what time I would be there.

This was another tiny red flag. Certainly a lot of property management companies do similar things in LA, since trying to get across town to meet a prospective tenant at a specific time can be a challenge. And earlier in the pandemic, not meeting prospective tenants in person was very common, so, again, this was merely a tiny red flag, but certainly something that had a reasonable explanation. Small apartment buildings are often owned or managed by people who have day jobs.

When I arrived early, another tenant who had the key unlocked the door for me. She seemed very pleasant and told me a few things about the apartment and seemed happy enough with her unit. I didn’t quiz her but she helped make the process feel legit.

When I got home, I emailed Marie and told her I liked the place and what were the next steps. Her reply said, “Fill out this application form and I’ll pass it along to the landlord.”

The application form wanted my social security number and other private information. This is perfectly understandable when renting – of course any landlord will do a credit check and make sure you can pay the rent – but it struck me that all I knew about this person was that Marie S had listed a vacant apartment that she apparently had access to on a rental site. I had no phone number for her, not even a last name – no way of finding her again if she decided to stop answering her emails. I had never met her and couldn’t describe her.

So, I sent her another asking if she was subletting and saying, “I would prefer to deal directly with the landlord.”

Almost immediately I received a reply. Marie said she was just helping out the landlord by answering emails.

This did not reassure me in the slightest. She knew my full name and she knew my phone number. Five minutes on Google looking me up would show her I’m a real person with several websites, a LinkedIn profile, and a few sworn enemies.

But she did not give me her full name, she did not give me a phone number, she did not list a property management service she worked for, and she did not supply the name of the landlord or the building owner. In other words, she made no effort to build trust.

I said, “I’m not comfortable sending my private information to someone who just goes by ‘Marie S.’”

If she was a legitimate helper, this was a chance for her to share credentials. She did not. I never heard from her again.

For all I know she’s a he and lives in Russia.

Now, does this mean I was nearly the victim of an apartment rental scam? I don’t know. Maybe Marie S is just some old lady’s poor, put-upon niece who is trying to help out and finds people like me annoying. There are probably plenty of other people who wouldn’t ask questions. And maybe one of them is now living in that nice apartment with the nice view.

That’s the challenge with what we might call self-defense – defending yourself from people who may want to hurt or defraud you. When you get out of the elevator to take the stairs because you don’t like the vibe of the man who just got on, or you cross the street to avoid the group of boisterous teens, or you ask a friend to pick you up from the coffee shop instead of waiting at the bus shelter because you’re not sure if that person hanging out nearby is a threat or not – you take these steps and you make it home safely without knowing whether there ever was an actual threat. Maybe you were just overreacting.

For me, this whole experience was maddening because I liked the apartment and I wanted to be done with the apartment-hunting process. I wanted very much for this listing to be legitimate and to start arranging for movers right away.

That’s the kind of impatience predators (scammers, criminals, anyone who preys on other people) are looking to exploit.

I’m telling this tale because it connects with freelancing. When we’re vetting clients, we’re often a few days away from a bill that’s due or aware that we’ve just been through a dry spell, or waiting for a repeat client to turn up again, and we really need for this client to come through. We need the work, we need the money, we aren’t sure what will happen if this doesn’t pan out, but it’s probably not going to be rainbows and sunshine. We want this to be a legitimate opportunity. And most of the time it is. But some of the time it is not, and this is where our eagerness to land a client can get us burned.

It is much easier to be careful about clients and to notice red flags when you have a waiting list and plenty of money in the bank. Then a potential client can do something as minor as misspell your name and you’re writing them off as wasting your time. But when we’re impatient to get going – newly starting out, needing money, or even just wanting to prove to ourselves that we can get clients – that’s when we have a tendency to fall for scams.

Always take a moment to reflect on potential red flags before going forward with any client.

Help Potential Coaching Clients Get to Know You

Because coaching is expensive, personal, and requires trust, it’s unlikely that a random client will see your website and immediately sign up for services. They need to get to know you first.

And this is a good thing! There are some people I’m not a good coach for because our personalities and approaches don’t mesh well. Getting to know each other before we both make a big commitment of time and energy is crucial.

Here are a couple of approaches that can give potential clients a sense of what you’re like as a coach without having to go all in right away:

  1. Offer or participate in small group experiences. These can be classes or workshops but don’t have to be. I’ve attended writers’ groups and hosted accountability groups as a way to get to know potential clients. In the Before Times, I went to a session on adding the five senses to your writing where the instructor led us in relaxation techniques, then had us stimulate various senses, such as by stroking a feather on our arms, or eating a strawberry, then meditating on the experience and recording our impressions in a journal. I loved this! If I had needed coaching, I would have approached the instructor. And I know she’d make a great coach to refer clients to when I can’t help.
  2. Create an opportunity for a small investment first. For example, you could offer a one-hour phone or Zoom session to solve a specific problem authors commonly deal with. In this scenario, the client is only committing to an hour and the coaching isn’t open-ended. If the coaching session goes well, you can follow up with the author regarding further coaching possibilities. If it doesn’t go well, that’s not the end of the world – the approach did what it was supposed to do, let you and the client get to know each other before making a big committment. I started tacking a one-hour phone consultation onto my developmental edits as a way to introduce people to coaching possibilities and it helped them understand what they could get from coaching that they can’t get from a plain vanilla developmental edit.
  3. Donate to a charitable cause. This one I haven’t personally used but I know other coaches have done it to good success. They donate their pay to a charity, with the marketing message being, “Book today, and the fee goes to EXCELLENT CHARITABLE CAUSE.” That gives people a chance to work with you without risk (in the end, the donation will do good no matter how terrible the coaching session is) but you are not habituating clients to free stuff. They are still paying.

Seeing Coaching Opportunities with Potential Clients

I think of coaching as anything that helps a writer write their book, improve their book, sell their book, or otherwise advance their writing career but which isn’t a straightforward edit on a complete manuscript.

In other words, if I help an author write a query letter, or brainstorm solutions to plot problems, or review a revision one chapter at a time, I call that “coaching” since I’m helping the author but not editing a full manuscript at one time. In other words, “coaching” can encompass a lot of possibility.

Developmental editors often have many opportunities for coaching, but don’t always recognize them as such. For example, authors will often have manuscripts that are not quite ready for a developmental edit, such as manuscripts that are still at an early draft stage, or have significant storytelling problems, like no clear central conflict or a disjointed plot. Editors often send such authors away with a few words about how to address these problems before they come back.

But this is an opportunity to offer more specific guidance for the author to go forward, even if you don’t do a full developmental edit. For example, instead of sending the author away with a few resources, you could provide a revision letter describing what the main issues are and how the author can move forward to get the ms to the point where it will be ready for a developmental edit.

Or you could offer a coaching call to discuss steps the author can take to move forward. You can show them how to tweak their concept or to entirely reconceptualize their work to avoid the major problems they’re experiencing. You can offer accountability check-ins so that the author has deadlines to meet as they revise. You can invite the author to brainstorming sessions with you when they get stuck or need encouragement.

When a potential client reaches out to you, this means they need help and think you can offer it. Instead of telling them that they aren’t ready for you, figure out ways you can be ready for them! Not only can you make a little money this way, you’ll learn more about the writing process and about solving writing problems, which will be of benefit as you continue your editing career.

Tell your clients what coaching is

When I first began offering coaching to writer clients, I had copy on my website that said something like, “I offer coaching services for all aspects of writing and publishing.” If a potential client got in touch to ask me what coaching was, I would say something like, “Anything that is outside of a typical edit on a manuscript.”

Hardly anyone ever hired me to coach them.

I thought that “I can help you solve most writing- and publishing-related problems!” was a great marketing strategy. It wasn’t. It didn’t help potential clients visualize why they would ever need coaching.

Then I started listing specific things I could do:

  • I can provide feedback on query letters based on my experience as a literary agent and an EIC
  • I can show you how to solve plot or characterization problems in the novel you’re writing now
  • I can help you get unstuck when you can’t seem to figure out what happens next
  • I can interpret rejection letters so that you can understand where your ms is not hitting the mark with agents
  • I can review your revision chapter-by-chapter to make sure you’re staying on the right track

Once I started doing this, people hired me! They could see themselves needing the services I was offering. They also began to ask specific questions like, “I can’t figure out how to write a good synopsis. Can you help?” It wasn’t on my list but, yes, I could help. (And then I’d add it to the list.)

Defining exactly what you can do for a potential client should be the first step in your marketing plan.

Coaching for people who hate talking on the phone/Zoom/in person

Editors, like authors, are often introverts (me among them). This can make them/us/me resistant to offering coaching as an option for writers as it seems like a service that has to be delivered in person or over a phone/Zoom call in one-hour increments. Many introverts have trouble even meeting friends in person, let alone clients, and don’t get me started about how much we hate talking on the phone. HATE HATE HATE it. With a fiery, all-consuming passion. (Or maybe that’s just me).

You don’t have to be an introvert to be filled with ennui at the thought of coaching this way. Some people dislike the feeling of being put on the spot to answer questions immediately or struggle to be at a specific time and place to attend a meeting or deliver a scheduled call.

But coaching – what we might define as anything outside a specific editorial process (like developmental editing or copyediting) that helps a writer write or sell their books, such as brainstorming a plot or reviewing back cover copy – can be delivered in other ways.

For example, coaching can be delivered asynchronously by email. This is how most of my coaching is done. Or, it could be done by text, as a scheduled exchange, or via a private forum/chat/chat room, either at a scheduled time or asynchronously. I know one editor who receives coaching questions by email and delivers answers via recorded video.

Our writer clients are often just as happy not to have to get on the bus/on the phone/comb their hair for a Zoom call, so think of these alternative means of delivery as a potential benefit to the client, not as something you have to cross your fingers and hope they’ll agree to.

Fire bad clients

I often encourage freelance editors to work with corporate clients, such as book publishers and packagers, in order to provide a more stable workflow and better-paying work. Indie authors may be great fun to work with, but one author typically won’t come to you ten or fifteen times a year with more work, the way one company may.

But I’ve noticed that freelancers are often reluctant to let go of corporate clients when they become (or prove to be) toxic. This is a problem because nothing leads to burnout faster than having unreasonable, mean, or petty clients.

If your work isn’t valued – the pay isn’t commensurate with your experience, payments are routinely made late (more than thirty days after invoicing) – or you’re treated unkindly (including being treated as if your work is subpar, but they somehow keep hiring you anyway), you should part ways. The best situations are when you and the client both feel happy to have found each other.

Sometimes a longstanding client becomes bad news when a new contact person comes aboard. I’ve experienced new hires who treat freelancers as if they’re automatically a problem: setting punitive policies that have nothing to do with any action I did, not appreciating the work I do, delaying payments, expecting me to work for less than I did before, and so on. These are not acceptable actions, and I always dump clients who take this approach.

You need to dump such clients, too. Like a bad boyfriend, a bad client is damaging to your mental health.

Many freelancers think they have to put up with toxic clients (“What about my bills?”) but you should always push back against unfair or punitive actions. If you don’t get resolution, it’s time to leave. Having an adversarial client is not the norm and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Freelancers often feel trapped when they rely too heavily on one client to feed them work. This is like being an employee but with none of the benefits. Keeping a wide range of clients on your schedule helps you weather problems like having to fire a client.

When I have to fire clients, I usually state the reason why: “The new policy regarding payment is unacceptable. I’m sorry we couldn’t reach an agreement. Best of luck with your projects.” This gives the editor/contact person ammunition to use against new policies (“We’re losing our best freelancers over this policy”) if they want it (which they sometimes do). Speaking out about these situations is the best way to create change.

Sometimes if I’m just glad to get the bad client out of my hair, or if for some reason I don’t want to rock the boat (maybe one department is fine to work with but another isn’t) my schedule suddenly becomes fully booked months in advance. All I say is something like, “Sorry, I can’t take on any new projects right now. Best of luck with your project.”

It’s easier to deal with problem indie authors, as one author typically doesn’t make up a significant portion of your earnings and you can always refuse to work with an indie client again. But it’s equally important to expect basic courtesies from indie authors: timely payments, reasonable expectations, respect for your time.

Bad clients can sap your energy, push you toward burnout, and make you wish you’d never left your staff job. Fire them before that happens!

Using editorial checklists

A couple of weeks ago, I turned off notifications for one of my accounts. Then the other day I wondered why I wasn’t getting notifications. Was no one responding? I couldn’t figure it out. Then I investigated and I realized that people were responding, I just wasn’t getting notifications because I had turned the notifications off.

You’d think I could remember a thing like that! I had to make a deliberate effort to turn the notifications off. I even had to do some sleuthing to find out how. Yet two weeks later I couldn’t remember that I’d done so.

I’m not an especially forgetful person but I do forget things. We all do. That’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of checklists, even for tasks I do frequently. Another reason is that a few years ago I read Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, and it presented compelling evidence that following checklists has a tremendous impact on reducing error.

I use a checklist for developmental editing, even though I have edited so many manuscripts I have lost count. I start with my standard template (posted below) and customize it for each ms, depending on what the author has asked for in the edit, and any issues I’m already aware of (perhaps because of the brief review I do before offering a project quote).

__overall pacing and tension

              __no loose plot threads

              __subplots feed into main plot

              __plot events are clear/understandable

              __logical sequence of plot events

              __plot is plausible/believable

              __action sequences are not confusing

__characterization

              __characters have motivations for the things they do           

              __characters have arcs—they start at one place and end at another

              __character continuity

—characters sound/act/think differently from each other

              __appropriate number of characters

__appropriate number of POV characters; POV characters are the right ones

__POV is handled appropriately

__clearly rendered setting

__historical/specialized vocabulary or facts that needed checking  (list):

__accuracy within time period and setting

__continuity issues (timeline, repetition, consistency of character actions, descriptions, etc.)

__appropriateness of story (and scenes) to intended audience

(for line editing, when appropriate):

__awkward, lengthy, or confusing sentence structure that requires polishing

__tightening (trimming filtered feelings; superfluous action; repetition)

__dialogue that seems wooden, off, or anachronistic; dialogue tags misused

I also have a checklist for my process from first read-through to final review. Even if you’re sure you’re not missing anything, using checklists can help reduce some of the mental stress of editing.