Do authors ever hire a copy-editor personally, for preliminary work?
I’m asked about this quite often. I have on occasion been hired by authors to edit their book before it went to the publisher or before they started shopping it. In general though, honestly, I try to discourage authors from this when they ask (a few here can testify to that) because I’m such a firm believer in the “Money should flow to the author” edict. It’s a case-by-case decision; mainly I want authors to understand that a few typos are unlikely to keep them from selling their book. That’s what copyeditors are for!
On several occasions, requests for this type of editing have come through the author’s agent, and in those instances there have been unique circumstances that have resulted in the agent seeking outside editorial expertise for their client. (An established client specifically requested it, for instance, or the client had a disability that hindered their typing.) Even in those circumstances, I don’t always believe, after a careful review of the manuscript, that the gain is worth the cash outlay to the client; if that’s my professional opinion, I advise everyone concerned against the preliminary editing.
Please note that these were well-established, reputable agents and that these were very unusual circumstances; ordinarily agents do not recommend outside editing to their clients. (You should run like hell from any agent who wants to charge you a fee for editing your book, though most of you know that already.) Although the agent initially contacted me in those instances (usually on the basis of recommendations from their other clients or the strength of my reputation in the industry), the author paid me directly.
I will note that I am sometimes willing to copyedit in trade for something rather than work for cash. Years ago, I traded the publisher of Ideomancer some copyediting on the site in return for the design of the brochure I hand out at conventions. To this day, I believe it’s the best deal of my life.
In general, though, the best thing an author can do if they want me to work on their book is request me as copyeditor from their publisher. Most publishers and editors will at least try to contact a copyeditor the author requests. There may be circumstances that prevent me from being able to accept the book–the publisher won’t pay my rate, or I can’t work the book into my schedule–but it’s certainly in the author’s best interest to have the publisher pay me rather than shell out the cash themselves.