You might hire someone for a proofread, but let the editor know that you’re open to hearing from him or her if the work needs a heavier edit. The editor would need to present you with evidence in the form of sample pages that showcase what’s needed—and your job is to make sure you agree. You want to feel like an editor’s edits are polishing your work and making it shine. If you feel dread or anger, or even if you feel misunderstood, it’s likely not a good fit. At the very least you want to share your reactions with the editor so they can respond or change course.
I cannot speak for all editors, of course, but I know I and many of us would be open to editing just part of your book at first, say, a particular chapter or two that you sense needs a lot of work. That is often enough to show you mechanical errors that you tend to make repeatedly. You can then go through the entire manuscript yourself looking for as many of the same kind of errors as possible. You will sharpen your basic writing skills in the process, and it will pay off in all future projects.
A good editor is worth their weight in gold. Myself, I’m a frugal person, so I do my own ferocious self editing. I once belonged to a writers group, and the material the members submitted for critique made me cringe. Their story ideas were good, but were full of unnecessary adjectives, numerous misspelled words, run on sentences, and they had their characters grunting, snorting, huffing and puffing. I would spend time editing and when I gave back the material, the people were offended. I figured these people were looking for praise and not the truth.

Hm, I’m a longtime freelance book editor and have a few thoughts to share. I think one page of editing is not enough to gauge much, and that you should be able to get a sample edit of 10 (double-spaced 12-point) pages from a potential editor. You’ll have a better idea after a complete chapter has been edited, and you should have a contract that allows either you or the editor to opt out cleanly at various stages. Another thought: sometimes authors don’t know what level of edit they need, and a good editor can assess this based on reading a few pages of your ms. and spot-checking the remainder. Also: a lot of book editors (like me) work primarily for publishers rather than for individuals. It’s just easier. I know I’ll get paid, I don’t need to educate publisher clients about the process itself, and they send me regular work, so we get to know each other’s needs and preferences. Lastly, I wouldn’t really expect a newcomer editor to be able to handle a booklength manuscript very well (I was that person once — eek). If it’s someone really new, they should have had good training somewhere imo. Book editing is a technical undertaking. It’s also about knowing what to leave alone. Inexperienced people often tamper with authors’ work unnecessarily. Anyhow, I’d be happy to answer any questions.

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In addition to the individual editors listed above, the Reedsy marketplace is full of vetted professional editors for every editing level and genre. They screen their editors and only allow the best of the best to be listed on their website. I'm a BIG fan of them because they have made the process easy for me to find the best book editors, book cover designers, and even writers to help me with my projects.  Talk about awesome!
Editing is one of those skillsets that many people claim to do well but which few actually do. And while it’s probably the most important service an author can solicit (second only to book cover design), it’s often undervalued. Furthermore, most authors have no idea how to assess an editor’s work, and the result can be catastrophic, ranging from an editor who introduces new errors to an editor who changes the intention of your writing.
Join an organization, such as the National Association of Independent Editors and Writers (NAIEW) or ACES: The Society for Editing, to connect with others in the field. Publishing Professionals Network (PPN) lists jobs as well as other membership organizations. You can also subscribe to Editors Only newsletter to receive a directory of professional associations for editors, as well as current job openings.
Line editing is an intensive structural edit that focuses on the finer aspects of language—the flow of ideas, transition elements, tone, and style. Your line editor will take a critical look at your manuscript’s writing flow, language usage, character development, and more, and make suggestions that ensure that you’re communicating your story effectively while maintaining your voice.
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 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!
When you’ve found someone who seems like a decent candidate so far, make first contact. (The contact form on the website is fine as a first step.) Introduce yourself and state what you are looking for (a developmental critique, copyediting, etc.). Give a very brief description of your project, including its genre and approximate length. Give an idea of your planned next step and any deadlines (even if only approximate ones). For example, have you already signed a contract with a subsidy press for publication next fall? Are you planning to submit the manuscript to publishers and/or literary agents after editing?

We may be talking about different services. I’m referring to a full read that usually creates a 5-10 page edit letter–no in-line editing. Or, perhaps we’re just working in different corners of the market. I’m around those who are freelance editing pre-query for writers hoping to traditionally publish their genre fiction, not the kind of rigorous editing a self publishing author would need, which should rightfully be much more expensive! It’s true that most people doing freelance editing at the lower rate/rigor aren’t doing it full time. It’s an optional step for those traditionally publishing, and the prices reflect maintaining access for those writers, I believe.
There seems to be something half-way between beta-reading and development editing. I think it’s right for many new writers — I’m just finishing my first book, and was not about to pay a real development editor, but beta readers weren’t engaged enough (especially friends unwilling to point out the negatives). But it this kind of editing doesn’t really have a clear name.
#2. YOUR BEST BOOK: nearly every other copy editor or editing service focuses on the writing and the mistakes. They will improve the flow of the words and sentences, and they will make it better, but they won’t fix the major problems with content. Our editors have been trained in the Write Good BooksTM method to make sure your book is commercially sound and will resonate with your audience on a deeper level. For nonfiction we focus on branding, credibility, trust, so your readers will take action and see results. For fiction, we focus on universal story telling principles, plot structure, dramatic tension and suspense, and world-building. Because a clean book isn’t always a good book.
As a freelance editor, I would like to express my strong disagreement with the idea that a freelance editor must work as an employee of a publisher for three years to be any good. In my field, spirituality, many publishers have gone to having most editorial tasks beyond acquisitions performed by freelancers, so the in-house positions being held out here as a prerequisite for freelancing simply don’t exist; many editors must cut our teeth as freelancers. It also occurs to me that self-published authors usually bristle at the idea that they are not “real” authors unless their work is accepted by a commercial publishing house. Is it fair to apply this standard to the people they propose to employ as editors?
If however the editor is going to disassemble the book act by act, scene by scene, beat by beat, and show technically in story structure terms what needs to be changed, then the editor is spending far more time in analysis and constructing the demonstration of such to the client. Of course, this really depends on what service a client wants as well.
Having your manuscript reviewed by a professional book editor is a rewarding experience. In addition to the improvements to your manuscript, you will also benefit from the feedback on your writing that only a finely tuned professional editor can provide. Writers often comment on the lifelong benefits enjoyed from their very first editing experience. If a writer wants to ensure they are creating an impactful and enjoyable reading experience for their readers, then editing is a no-brainer. Remember nothing is more damaging to your author brand that publishing a book with embarrassing typos and grammatical errors. Read more.
Absolutely, Tom. Encrusted oldie, I like that one. Thanks for your thoughtful and positive comment. I think the heavier the editing, the more important confidence with a genre or niche is. For a developmental edit, I’d want someone with specialty experience in my genre, whereas with a proofread, I’d be comfortable with pretty much any competent editor.

I have heard so many horror stories about editors and experienced a few myself. If an author is uncertain about an editor, most editors will do one sample chapter or 10 pages (whichever comes first) for free to give the author an idea of their style. Edits can be very intense and I would encourage authors to listen if they keep hearing the same things about their work from different sources. That said, they also don’t need an editor who is so brutal they never want to pick up a pen again.
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.
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 »

Thank you for this most timely article. I’m a newbie writer that is writing a history book on a small WWII town. It is a little unique in that it will have many newspaper clippings and historic construction photos. The narrative will only be there as a clarification to these items. I want to be sure that this narrative is smooth flowing and comprehensive. I’m not certain to what degree editing will be involved. You article certainly helped bring to light things I should consider.
Run, do not walk to Ebook Launch to publish your ebook. My co-author and I wrote a book and were looking to amend the file because there were some formatting issues. Not only was the cost to re-format the book super reasonable, the customer service was absolute perfection. Adrian worked patiently with me through a few revisions and through constant communication we arrived at a beautiful end product. I highly recommend this team. They are the ultimate professionals and will deliver a product more amazing than anything you could have dreamed of. Thank you for such excellent service. I will tell everyone I know who wants to publish an ebook to use your service.

Specialty – Do you want a copy editor who will strictly follow the rules in the Chicago Manual of Style? Do you want someone whose specialty is line editing and can write smooth, clear, and creative sentences? Are you looking for someone to make sure you don’t have any glaring grammar or spelling mistakes so as to avoid the brutal grammar police reviews? Or do you want someone to look at the overall structure or plot of your book?
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!
Line editing is an intensive structural edit that focuses on the finer aspects of language—the flow of ideas, transition elements, tone, and style. Your line editor will take a critical look at your manuscript’s writing flow, language usage, character development, and more, and make suggestions that ensure that you’re communicating your story effectively while maintaining your voice.
It’s best, if you decide to hire a freelancer, to figure out what the going rate is for the service you need, and expect to pay that amount. Otherwise it may turn out to be a waste of money, because the quality of the service will suffer. Sometimes there are payment plans to help with high costs! But it’s really a good investment to pay industry standard for editorial services; I agree with Shayla.
Editors work in a highly collaborative way that brings out the best version of any project, large or small. It is important to note that editors are not only skilled in technical grammar rules but are also often well-versed and experienced with a wide variety of writing styles that can often bring valuable feedback and new perspectives to a written piece, enhancing its structural or creative clarity. Many editors in the modern work environment are also by nature talented communicators and can reshape any message into one that grabs readers’ attention and draws them into the content. Explore the multitude of freelance editors available on Upwork and find one that best fits your next project.

As a freelance editor, I would like to express my strong disagreement with the idea that a freelance editor must work as an employee of a publisher for three years to be any good. In my field, spirituality, many publishers have gone to having most editorial tasks beyond acquisitions performed by freelancers, so the in-house positions being held out here as a prerequisite for freelancing simply don’t exist; many editors must cut our teeth as freelancers. It also occurs to me that self-published authors usually bristle at the idea that they are not “real” authors unless their work is accepted by a commercial publishing house. Is it fair to apply this standard to the people they propose to employ as editors?
“My advice is that you take a couple of days off—go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle—and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book. . . . How long you let your book rest . . . is entirely up to you, but i think it should be a minimum of six weeks.”
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