Good article. I especially like to see mention of the different types of editing. I find that a lot of new writers don’t know this; they get a copy edit and think everything is nicely edited only to discover once they’ve published that people are saying the book needs a good edit. That’s because it needed developmental and line editing as well. I often find that indie books could do with a line edit. I think it’s the most neglected area of editing.
I’m sorry you feel that way about my participation in the discussion and defending editors of similar background to myself from what I considered unwarranted disparagement. Perhaps the only approach that would have 100% proof against accusations of “trolling” would have been to allow the claims to stand unchallenged, but that did not seem fair to people who come here to get useful information.
I implemented this way of working years ago and see how empowering it is for authors, and helpful for editors to boot. This doesn’t mean you’re asking your editor to do a free sample edit. (I discourage editors from doing this and caution authors who push for it as asking editors to work for free before you hire them may result in resentment.) Paying an editor for a few hours of their time to ascertain whether they’re a good fit for you is a great way to put your toe in the pond before submerging yourself. You can then see for yourself if the editor’s suggestions and comments resonate before moving forward with the whole project.
Working with a professional is always the best choice, so if possible, then save up to work with an editor. But of course, some writers can't afford this, in which case there are some other options. You can barter with other writers in the same genre, editing each other's work, or providing other services you might be more skilled at e.g. Marketing tasks.
Additionally, I think that many GREAT, very reputable editors absolutely will not complete a sample edit for free. They can point you to their work, their testimonials, and their references, though, free of charge. And if you’re curious why editors I know do not offer a free sample edit, check out this video to illustrate the point. https://youtu.be/essNmNOrQto
I like the idea of embedding “fine print” into the initial email. I also think it’s a good idea for an author to check references; the questions Val suggested are great. Third, as another commenter said, an editor can give the author a general assessment of their book, which will help the author decide if that particular editor will be a good fit or not.
Lots of authors I know have a hard time finding an editor because they feel that they want to “know” their editor. This is understandable when you’re entering into a developmental relationship, but copyediting and proofreading are much more technical skills. The best copyeditors and proofreaders I know are freelancers who are hard to find because they’re working for publishing houses, and the only people who have access to them are companies and/or individuals with stables of editors they’ve cultivated over years in the industry. If you find a service (or individual) you trust with access to a stable of editors, be open to being assigned to one. Ask about the individual’s qualifications, and what other books they’ve edited, but let the trial edit be the deciding factor rather than any connection you hoped to have between yourself and your editor.
The single most decisive factor should be the quality of the edit itself: Will this editor help improve your book? In order to assess this, nothing beats a sample edit (even if you have to pay for it). Testimonials and credentials (such as experience at a major NY publisher) can help you narrow your list, but you should submit the same sample to a variety of editors and compare their work side by side. Some editors will push too hard, and some won’t push hard enough; some will simply “get” your writing, while others will seem to speak another language entirely. In my experience, the editor’s résumé is far less revealing than the quality of the sample edit. In fact, the higher an editor’s pedigree, the more reluctant the editor might be to provide a sample edit. Don’t be afraid to insist: no one should expect you to invest in a car without a test drive!
Due to popular demand, we’re adding a low-cost manuscript review + passive developmental edit to help you find and fix the “cause of death” before you invest in editing or proofreading. You’ll get expert eyes on your manuscript, and while we won’t focus on or fix every little issue, we’ll help you identify the big red flags that are killing your book slowly. These are the places readers will give up and agents will ditch your manuscript into the slush pile. In-depth comments and suggestions will be provided to help you clarify and restructure your book, but this feedback is “hands-off”: we won’t go in and actually make changes, though we will point out signs of weak writing, repetition, and provide tips on how to improve as a writer. If you think your manuscript might be a mess, or you want to focus on the large, important stuff that matters most, this is for you.
Great advice, especially the painting analogy (clever!). I also enjoy your YouTube videos, which I found out about through Publishing Perspectives ((nice!). http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/08/ready-for-your-close-up-what-youtube-can-do-for-writers/ I agree that most developmental editors are more like therapists than surgeons, but there are book doctors out there who will essentially rewrite your manuscript (they’re one step away from ghostwriters, I feel). Also, I don’t actually offer sample edits, but this has nothing to do with pedigree. It’s more that I’d rather not mark-up a manuscript unless I’ve read a good part of it (at least 50 pages). I believe that most copyeditors offer sample edits,… Read more »
I am late to this discussion. But I would like to speak for all those authors starting out…editing, although a necessary evil, is very expensive. Let’s face it, writing a novel is not a paid venture. If you sell your book to traditional publisher, or self publish, you will rarely make this expense up. To spend $5.0-$10.0 on your novel is just out of reach for most. I realize that editors “work hard” and “put a lot of time” into their work. But there seems a disconnect in the market place. Writers are writing for free, and shelling out all the money for little return. And yet it seems the only ones profiting is the “market place” on services. It is more an “industry” for publishing, than a means for a writer to get published, or make a living. I wish there was a middle ground for writers: an editing service that prepares your novel for submission to agents and editors at publishers, but doesn’t cost your first child! There is a need, and is truly an untapped market. But what you have are editors, at all levels, “demanding” the market price, whether they are experienced, starting out, or good. There seems to be no heirarchy with an equal level of professionalism for new writers vs experienced who might have a bigger budget for editing. I liken it to buying cars. You can buy a car at $15.0 and still get a good, safe car that looks nice and is drivable.. Or, you can buy a car at $50.0 if you want more prestige, quality service, personal attention, more features. Both are acceptable and worthy, just at different levels of affordability. Although editors are arguably at different prices, as the comments have indicated, the less you pay is for limited services, not a varying level of editing. It’s like getting a car with three wheels. But new writers do need a full service of editing…at an affordable price. I am not sure how to get there, or the value to editors, but there does seem to be a gap that needs to be filled- reliable editors, who can help bring a novel to a professional level for submission, and it be worth their time in doing so, at a rate that is more manageable for a writer’s pocketbook.
A copy editor or line editor focuses on improving sentences and grammar, as well as suggesting other ways of rephrasing ideas, and providing comment on anything else they pick up. Non-fiction books often use multiple styles, for example, chapter headings, sub-headings, action points, bullet points, call-outs and examples, so these will be examined at this phase.
Preparing a manuscript for publication or for your dissertation committee is a challenge that all academics must face. But who really wants to spend hours aligning page numbers or putting a reference list in the correct style? Make life easier with formatting services from an experienced scientist that understands the challenges of academic writing!
Editors’ fees vary so drastically that authors are often (rightfully) confused about how much to pay. I’ve seen copyediting fees that range from $20/hour to $300/hour. That said, I’ve seen plenty of authors pay $20/hour for a poorly executed copyedit that needed to be redone. I know one author who paid $200/hour for a copyeditor who’d worked on a famous best-seller, operating under the false assumption that a good copyedit would be their ticket to best-seller status. That didn’t happen. Get a few bids and consider paying a couple different editors for two hours of their work and compare. It’s important to judge the work rather than the fee. Consider this investment as research rather than money wasted.
ROUND ONE: We’ll start with a manuscript review – a quick read-through to identify any major problems, boring parts that need trimming, conclusions that can be made stronger, suggestions for rewrites, plot improvements or problems, story arc and structural analysis. We’ll ask lots of questions and provide tips and recommendations. Your editor will be like a personal writing coach. We’ll send an editorial report on the big issues that can be improved. After you’ve rewritten to your satisfaction, we’ll move on to part two.
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Good article. I especially like to see mention of the different types of editing. I find that a lot of new writers don’t know this; they get a copy edit and think everything is nicely edited only to discover once they’ve published that people are saying the book needs a good edit. That’s because it needed developmental and line editing as well. I often find that indie books could do with a line edit. I think it’s the most neglected area of editing.

Trish – I agree with your replies to this article and Carol, I agree with your comments too. And while I disagree with some of Natasa’s points, a sample edit is definitely good advice, not only for the writer, but also for the editor to ascertain what type of editing is needed. Many new, inexperienced writers still ask for a ‘proofread’, only to discover what they actually need is a developmental edit. I also agree with Natasa’s point that a good rapport is crucial. As to the suggestion that an editor shouldn’t be working on seven to 10 books per month, well, I never work on more than two (although I do fit in other small projects for regular business clients – they break up the working day and help me to refocus). I don’t know how anyone could work on such a large volume of books effectively — or at all — unless they were very short books!
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Developmental editing (may also be called structural or content) – looks at the book’s big picture and overall structure in nonfiction or plot and characters in fiction. Developmental editors may assess a book idea, outline, or early draft to tell authors what works and what could be better. The big picture questions need to be answered first before an editor ensures your words are polished and used correctly.
BEA was formed in 1998 to help writers find professional book editors and proofreaders with experience working for traditional publishing houses. It continues to be a matchmaking service for writers and editors and now includes editors who can assist with the self-publishing process. The network includes award-winning editors and ghostwriters who have worked on best-sellers. Writers work directly with the editors they select. Rates vary by editor. Use the submission form for direct contact and a price quote.

In Frank’s situation, I would lean toward the first option of getting a written “developmental critique” or “manuscript assessment.” While a sample edit would be helpful in determining whether this person would eventually be a good choice as an editor, I believe the critique on everything written so far would, for most authors, be the most useful for making course corrections before completing the manuscript.
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Fiction writers may want to join a writers group or workshop to benefit from the help of others who have experience with your genre and can help you develop your craft, challenge flaws in your narrative or character development, and help you improve the overall quality of your story. A flawed plot or character is much harder to revise after you finish writing your book, so it’s important to catch such problematic aspects of your book early on.
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