Home > Editors and Publishers, Fiction writing, Uncategorized > Guest Blogger: Barb Goffman – Before You Hire a Freelance Editor, Read these Tips

Guest Blogger: Barb Goffman – Before You Hire a Freelance Editor, Read these Tips

Barb Goffman Author/Freelance Editor

Barb Goffman
Author/Freelance Editor

Before You Hire a Freelance Editor, Read These Tips

By Barb Goffman

Everyone can always use a second pair of eyes. That’s where I come in.

I’ve been editing fiction for several years as a co-editor of the Chesapeake Crimes anthology series. (Stories in the series have won nearly every major crime-fiction award—check ’em out if you haven’t already.) I’ve been editing nonfiction for far longer than that, thanks to training from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. (Go Wildcats!) Finally, last year, I decided to hang out my shingle and offer my services on a freelance basis. And I must say I’ve been pleased with the response, both in terms of clients and promotional support from my friends.

My business’s focus is crime fiction. While I could provide a copy edit for any type of fiction (grammar, spelling, and punctuation don’t vary across genres), the genre I’m most familiar with is crime, as it’s what I write. So it’s crime fiction for which I offer developmental editing services, as well as line editing and copy editing.
Having been immersed in it for a while now, allow me to offer my top ten tips for authors planning to use a freelance editor (also known as: how to save yourself a little money and your editor a little gray hair—and yes, that’s gray with an a).

10. The better shape your manuscript is in when I receive it, the less I’ll charge you. So run a spell-check yourself. And pay attention to American spellings. Gray. Toward. Backward. Canceled. Did I mention gray?

9. Real people use contractions when they speak. So use them in your writing, especially your dialogue and internal monologue.

8. Real people also hem and haw when they speak, but, um, well, you don’t, you know, um, have to include all these tics when you write. They can be distracting. A little goes a long way.

7. No one shouts all the time. So lay off using a lot of exclamation points. You can show a person is excited by what he says or by using the occasional “he shouted.” Otherwise, remember that the period is your friend.

6. Put yourself in your characters’ shoes and consider “how would I react?” as your plot moves along. Then put those reactions in your story. When you get too weddeddontgetmadrevised to moving the plot along, you can miss the chance to bring your characters to life by showing their reactions.

5. Description is great, but it’s not always appropriate. If your character is entering a place for the first time, it’s believable he’ll look around and notice the architecture and décor. But if he’s coming home after a long day at work to a house he’s lived in for ten years, he’s not going to notice that his house is decorated in a certain style, and he’s not going to focus on the fact that he has four windows in the living room with plantation shutters. At most, he’ll notice that his house smells funny because he forgot to take out the garbage that morning. Again.

4. Always keep your main character’s point of view in mind while you’re writing. If Jane hears a car pulls up outside her house, she can’t know whose car it is unless the car makes a distinctive noise or Jane is looking out the window. (Of course, you could create a character who makes a lot of assumptions, but in that case, I would make use of that. Let Jane wrongly assume it’s John who’s pulled up outside so she flings open the front door, allowing herself to be kidnapped by Sebastian.)

3. Every scene should move the plot along. Character development is wonderful, but you shouldn’t create a scene that only builds character. If your plot isn’t moving forward, your story is stagnant, and the reader may start flipping pages. Don’t do that to yourself.

2. Think through your action scenes to ensure they make sense. I know some writers who once acted out a romance scene. They realized that for the scene to work, one of the characters needed three arms.

1. Create a list of the things you often do that you know you shouldn’t, and go through that list after you type The End. If you tend to overuse a certain word, search for it and change some of them. If you tend to write long, complicated sentences, break some of them up. And please, please, please have someone review your work before you send it out into the world. Someone who’ll tell you the truth—not your mom or your best friend. That’s where I can come in. I’d love to hear from you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Barb Goffman is the author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Even, a collection of short stories published in 2013 by Wildside Press. She won the 2013 Macavity Award for best crime short story published in 2012, and she’s been nominated twelve times for national writing awards—the Agatha (seven times), the Anthony (twice), the Macavity (twice), and the Pushcart Prize once. You can reach her at goffmaneditin[[at]]gmail[[dot]]com . Learn more at http://www.barbgoffman.com and http://www.goffmanediting.com.


  1. October 8, 2014 at 2:05 pm

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  2. Jodie
    June 11, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Barb, the “gray” “grey” thing drives me nuts. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    • Barb Goffman
      June 11, 2014 at 4:29 pm


  3. Grace Topping
    June 10, 2014 at 5:30 am

    Hi, Barb — thank for your useful tips. Sometimes our fingers take over and type spellings that our brains never intended. I’m notorious for typing “your” instead of “you’re.” Hard to pick up those types of errors with spell check. That’s why I would recommend another tip: always read your work from a printed copy. Errors seem to jump out at you more that way.

    By the way, Barb, terrific picture of you.


    • Barb Goffman
      June 10, 2014 at 9:48 am

      I always work from a printed copy for that reason. Though lately I’ve found that I pick up some mistakes on screen that I miss in print. So it’s good for me to do two passes, one on paper, one on my computer. (And thanks about the picture, Grace.)

    • June 11, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Good point, Grace. Between the methods Barb and you have suggested, there should be a method that works for all writers; yet, it is amazing how many folks don’t proof their work.

  4. June 9, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Impressive and helpful post, Barb and Debra. Thank you!

    • June 9, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      Thanks, Susan.

    • June 11, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Susan, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. Barb did an excellent job so it is nice when readers take the time to express thoughts in written form.

  5. June 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Great list, Barb. Speaking as one of your clients, I appreciate your sharp eye and excellent suggestions. I hope your editing and writing continue to prosper.

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      Paula, I’m glad you commented on Barb’s editing and writing talents. Not only does she have a sharp eye and ear, she is, as demonstrated by the years she was the Program Chair for Malice, well-organized and a master of detail.

      • Barb Goffman
        June 9, 2014 at 6:18 pm

        Thank you, Paula and Debra. That’s so sweet of you both to say. 😀

  6. June 9, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Great article. I cringe when I read towards in a book. Also, I’ve seen books where gray and grey are both used..in the same book? Not. I wanted to use an exclamation point here. LOL

    • Barb Goffman
      June 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      You’re welcome. You’re welcome. You’re welcome, Pat. 🙂

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      Surely we can sneak in one exclamation point…. Great blog!

  7. marilynlevinson
    June 9, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Great list, Barb. “Just” is a word I have to watch out for.

    • Barb Goffman
      June 9, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      I’ve been known to overuse “just” myself, Marilyn. Thanks for stopping by.

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      Marilyn, welcome home. I’m looking forward to you being “It’s Not Always a Mystery’s” guest blogger next month.

  8. June 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Good advice, Barb. It’s funny how a writer can know these things, start telling a story and forget half of them. Thanks for the reminders.

    • June 9, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      You’re very welcome, Nancy.

      • June 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm

        Nancy, you make an excellent point about how we intellectually know the correct things to do, but fail to follow the ‘rules’ when we write. If we keep Barb’s blog to refer to while writing, maybe we will remember the ‘rules.’

  9. June 9, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Excellent tips. Thanks for posting Debra!


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    • June 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      Thanks, Jimsey.

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      Jimsey, thank you for stopping by “It’s Not Always a Mystery.” I agree that Barb’s tips are excellent.

  10. June 9, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Fantastic list! Great reminders for every writer.

    • Barb Goffman
      June 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Thanks, Diane.

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      Diane, appreciate you stopping by “It’s Not Always a Mystery” today. Barb’s tips truly are a succinct list for all writers to keep and review periodically.

  11. June 9, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    I think maybe your email is goffmanediting et al, but I could be wrong. I’m bookmarking your website so I can contact you when I complete my current WIP. Great advice!

    • Barb Goffman
      June 9, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      Ahh, yes, dehelen. That shows why everyone needs an editor. Should be goffmanediting at … I look forward to hearing from you.

  12. June 9, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Excellent article. Point #5 that focused on description, I found particularly useful even though I am not a crime writer, although some of my writing borders on the criminal. Thank you.

    • Barb Goffman
      June 9, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      You’re welcome. (I so wanted to use an exclamation point there, but I refrained. The period is my friend.)

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      You don’t do your own writing justice! Please note the exclamation point. But, as you point out, Barb’s tips are excellent for writers of any genre.

  13. June 9, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I agree. I use certain words too much, but they are different in each book. Kind of strange. Good advice all.

    • Barb Goffman
      June 9, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks, T.K.

  14. Barb Goffman
    June 9, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Thanks, David, Marilyn, Kathryn, and Alyssa. I always run an overused word check myself. Interestingly, I change my overused words with each story.

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      Barb, you probably change your overused words in each story because you became sensitized in prior pieces. I know that “just” used to be one of my most overused words, but now I stay away from it as much as possible.

  15. June 9, 2014 at 9:48 am

    This is excellent advice for all writers. Thanks for sharing, Barb!

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Alyssa – As Kathryn and you noted, Barb’s tips are perfect for accomplished and student writers.

  16. kathrynkjohnson
    June 9, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Great tips, yes. I see these slips so often in my students’ and clients’ work. I’ll be sharing this with my class on Wednesday.

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      Barb’s tips are a perfect hand-out for a class. She nailed everything in ten simple points.

  17. June 9, 2014 at 9:28 am

    I found over 50 “really”s in my latest work! Glad my critique leader suggested I do a word search. All was another over used word.

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      Marilyn: Really? Barb’s point of checking overused words and spelling errors is well-made, but I still enjoy ALL of your work.

  18. David Dean
    June 9, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Great tips, Barb–all sins that I have committed, and some that I still do.

    • June 9, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      David, thanks for stopping by “It’s Not Always a Mystery” – it is scary how many sins Barb named that we all commit.

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