What an editor does is discover your characters, your situations, and your images without seeing any of the creative process that brought them to life. Where you might see all the crossings-out and labors, all the accidents and decisions, the editor sees only a page. This is the clarity you need, and you can never achieve it for your own writing, simply because you envisioned it first. The editor will tell you what an attentive, an educated, and, most importantly, a new reader will experience while reading your book.
Genre – If you’re a nonfiction author, your best bet is to choose editors who understand the structure of good nonfiction books; they know what works and will keep readers happy. If you’re a fiction author, select a fiction editor who is passionate about those stories and knows what readers of your genre are looking for. Choosing an editor within your genre is especially important for developmental editing.
I do developmental editing mostly, so I charge a flat rate to read once and build an action plan, half before and half afterwards. Then we contract to work through the plan, where the bulk of the editing takes place and for this I charge 25% up front, 50% after the developmental edit, and 25% on completion of the final proof. I find that authors appreciate the spread payments and the transparency this brings.
The price you’re going to pay an editor depends on a lot of different factors. You may just want an editor to proofread your book to catch minor errors and typos. Or you may want to work with an editor to help you overhaul your book. Getting familiar with the kind of editing options available will help you choose the right editor. Typical book editing services are:
– Many self-publishers need less specialization. I sought an editor — mostly a copy editor, but also this is the only person who could tell me if I ramble in a particular chapter. I couldn’t afford a full dev edit, but I think I’m typical in wanting an editor who will tell me what my friends wouldn’t, and maybe switch hats for small sections where it’s needed.
About 25% of my (fiction) editing work is direct with authors, and the rest is split between two publishers. It my be of interest to note that these rates are close to what publishers pay their editors. That is to say, if you, as an author, were to traditionally publish your book, you would be paying this amount via royalties. Creating a professional product via self-publishing is not cheap, the costs (and income!) just shift from the publisher to the author.
Thanks Sangeeta! I’m glad you enjoy the videos! (New episode, with 3 weird tips on self-editing, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28) Book doctors are such an interesting phenomenon… As are ghost writers, come to think of it. On one hand, self-publishing gives an indie author a chance to share his or her vision with little to no outside interference, but on the other, we’re seeing more and more books written “by committee!” What’s tricky is finding the right balance, which is why the search for the right editor matters so much. Cheers, Teymour For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode:… Read more »
Wonderful article! The difference between the types of editors can’t be emphasized enough, escpecially when it comes to price. I’ve seen too many new authors seek out a copywriter when they need a content editor. (Most bad reviews that say “they really need an editor!” reflect that.) This is a relationship and you need to be able to work with the person. If you disagree with all of their suggestions, or they can’t see your perspective, then the edit is worthless. Writers also need to be aware of the difference between an edit that’s going to help the story and… Read more »
I’d add that for UK writers, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Directory is the best place to search for editorial professionals. Each editor has been vetted for professional competence through the Society (you have to be assessed to become a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member), so it’s a pretty trustworthy source: http://www.sfep.org.uk/directory/directory.asp
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 hope this helps! Please don’t be discouraged by editor’s rates. Many of them do this full time or to supplement their other income with their business. The quality of service is not necessarily tied to project cost, but hiring anyone who is a contractor or freelancer often means you’re getting one-on-one personalized attention you might not get if you worked with, say, just the editor of a publisher who could see your book as a quota to fill. Just my two cents!

I recently contacted Ebook Launch on the advice of a fellow author, and I am extremely pleased with the results. Dane was professional and very prompt, always keeping in touch with me as the process unfolded. I had both my ebook and print versions of the cover within a week of paying for them. They were professionally done, rivaling anything I have seen from the top publishing houses. Excellent work!
Some authors budget very unrealistically, perhaps just a couple hundred dollars. (I’m not saying this is necessarily true in your case, but I have encountered it.) In such cases, I find myself wondering whom they are imagining should bridge the gap between what they are comfortable paying and what the editor needs to earn in order to pay expenses and support him- or herself.

Whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been writing for some time, it’s no secret that the most successful writers specialize in a niche. Why? Focusing on a niche helps you become an expert in that area, write better content, ask better questions, and know where to find sources and research. The best editors typically specialize in one or a few niches for similar reasons.
Open the book and start turning the pages until you see the title page. Some books will have a single blank page, while some will include marketing materials or quotes. Novels will often list an author’s other books. Turn pages until you find the title page, which will have the book’s title in large letters in the center or upper-portion of the page. Look underneath the author’s name at the bottom to see if there is an editor listed.[1]
I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.
The other thing I really like is your breakdown of the types of editing available. That’s what I find needs to be explained the most. Especially in business editing, you get scenarios when someone thinks a document needs “a proofread”, when it really needs a copy edit or even a heavy line edit, and you have to justify the cost or the time it takes to complete it.
If you instead decide that self-publication really is the right option for you and your book, this means that you have chosen to serve as both the author and the publisher. That means that you will have to (A) perform yourself, (B) find friends who will perform for free, or (C) hire professionals to perform all the tasks of a traditional publisher, from editing to marketing to distribution, all on top of performing the tasks of the author.
Start with a google search and see what comes up. Click on a handful of options and see if you can find an editor who is specialized or who has edited books similar to your own. An easy way to do this is to open just a few of your favorites in tabs and check out each editors’ website and about me section. Take a look at their testimonials. See if any stand out to you.
Great article, Blake. I often receive ‘undercooked’ manuscripts from writers. Two other points come to mind: 1) Budgeting for an editor is important. You should start putting some money aside for editing fees whilst you’re still writing your first draft (preferably tuck it into an interest-earning account!). 2) Don’t leave it too late, either. Often writers don’t realise that editors are booked up several months in advance. Start contacting editors whilst you’re still at the self-editing stage or have your MS with beta-readers, to find out what their availability is.
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