I have over 30 years' experience in the publishing/writing industry, working as everything from an in-house editor to an investigative reporter to a novelist to a medical/technical writer to a screenwriter. I've been an independent contractor for 24 years working as a freelance editor (developmental and line editing), writer (fiction and nonfiction), ghostwriter, and copy editor.
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.
Perhaps there is some misunderstanding of the phrase ‘developmental editing’ used in this article. Given the number of hours necessary to process, dissect, and reconstruct a text of that size, it sounds like anyone who charged that lowly is doing the job for fun and has a spouse to provide for them–all the while devaluing the work of people who do this for a living. It’s really not ethical.
I was recently directed to your excellent article from almost a year ago by a colleague at SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a freelance literary editor of memoir, poetry, and novels, I offer authors guidance and support similar what you describe, but of course I cannot handle editing every genre. I was gratified to know that I’m doing the right thing by sticking to my specialties. By coincidence, someone who reached out to me last week on LinkedIn was looking for a children’s book editor and one of your readers in this conversation recommended one. That reminds me… Read more »
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.

If neither Sally nor myself feels quite right for you, then I suggest you browse the bookstore or even the public library for books published in the last few years that remind you in some way of yours. Check the Acknowledgments page to see if they thank an editor. If not, see if there is any information to contact the author and ask if they used a freelance editor and if so, would they recommend them.


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?
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.
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.
Second, consider getting a critique before you decide whether you need to pay for a full copyedit. I (and probably many other editors) will read your manuscript and write a several-page critique for much less than the cost of a line-by-line edit, and if your mechanical skills are reasonably good, this may be sufficient to help you get it into adequate shape for your publication plans.
We’ve set up a unique “first chapter critique” service which includes up to 5,000 words (which should actually include 2~3 chapters… or a prologue, preface or intro). This will be an deconstructive developmental edit, pointing out exactly where your weaknesses lie and what you can do to make them better, but will not include a full edit or proofread. We will, however, edit your blurb, bio or query, as long as they fit within the 5K word limit.
These reference choices will all be recorded on a style sheet – an essential editing tool. A style sheet contains notes on spelling and punctuation, as well as rules for using numbers and numerals, and even a list of characters and story details that help maintain consistency throughout the book. When the book is passed off to a proofreader, the style sheet communicates the book’s individual style to the proofreader.
Next, it is possible to follow the road to traditional publication without hiring your own editor, with editing being done at the publisher’s expense. However, you have to be a very good writer and self-editor to get on that road, and what you write has to fit into a very marketable niche. You also need to be very patient and willing to weather plenty of rejection along the way. Don’t jump too quickly to the conclusion that this option is closed to you. Do your research carefully. There may be a small press that is just right for your book and that will be happy to help you make it the best it can be while paying YOU rather than making you pay them.
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.
For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
Of course, my c.v. does include traditionally published books, but in those cases, I was hired (yes, on a freelance basis, which you would not “count”) by the publisher rather than by the author. The reason my marketing to authors instead emphasizes my experience with self-published and even vanity press authors is because working with a publisher is different from working directly with an author, particularly with an author who has made a conscious choice not to be traditionally published. Some might even say that working within a publishing house provides less preparation for working with self-published authors than does working with other self-published authors. I, however, would not go so far as to say that, because I really do believe we can come to our profession by different paths, just as people can come to writing by different paths.
Hi Jay. Ironically, most editors lament our meagre earnings in comparison to the skills, qualifications, ongoing professional development and expertise required to do our job well. Most of us earn a lot less than tradies! We also tend to hesitate when providing a quote, knocking the price down as we fear the prospective client will think it’s too expensive. I advise writers to start putting money aside well before they are ready to hire an editor, and to hire the best editor they can afford. If cashflow is a problem, I allow clients to pay by instalment rather than in lump sums. I also give discounts to students and NFPs. Try to hire the best editor you can afford – hiring a cheap, inexperienced editor whose first language might not even be English is basically money down the drain. There are plenty of editors out there, so make sure you select carefully. You want someone who will make your writing shine, and help you to become a better writer – which should pay dividends in the long run.
Reach out through an editor’s professional website. Many professional editors offer their services on a freelance basis or use their website to advertise their press’s opportunities. Perform a simple search online using the editor’s name and look for a professional or personal webpage. There will be information about contacting an editor on their website.[9]

Ebook Launch helped make my first self-publishing project a success. They responded promptly when I had questions prior to hiring them for a custom ebook cover and .mobi and .doc formatting. Their price was about half what was quoted by format and book cover freelancers, so I was pleased that I got my money's worth. They sent two book cover variations and we worked through suggestions to improve on one. My book cover design turned out great. I look forward to working with them again in the future.

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.

Look at the front and back of the next page for acknowledgements. If an author worked closely with an editor throughout the writing process, they may choose to include their name in the acknowledgements page. The acknowledgements page is usually a few lines of text centered on a blank page after the copyright information. Read it to see if the editor is mentioned.[4]
First, decide whether your time or your money is worth more to you right now. You can greatly reduce the amount of money your project will cost by investing more time, and vice versa. If time is no object, you may want to spend some hours in the library reading style manuals and going through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb so that when you do hire an editor, (s)he will be able to zip through it quickly. If you end up deciding that’s more effort than you want to invest, then you will at least find the monetary cost of hiring someone to do it for you a less bitter pill to swallow.
Look at the front and back of the next page for acknowledgements. If an author worked closely with an editor throughout the writing process, they may choose to include their name in the acknowledgements page. The acknowledgements page is usually a few lines of text centered on a blank page after the copyright information. Read it to see if the editor is mentioned.[4]
Really great advice. I just wish editors and proofreaders were more affordable. I find that the cost often dissuades writers from hiring help, even though it’s a really important investment. I like PaperBlazer (https://www.paperblazer.com/hire-a-proofreader-or-editor-for-your-novel/) since it’s more affordable than a lot of other editors. The other comments here are very helpful as well.
Hi Sean, as an editor I run permissions for authors. It’s a case of contacting each right-owner (author or publisher) where the quotes are not deemed public domain, and provide them with context for approval. You can do this yourself or I’d be happy to quote for the work, if you’d like to contact me directly? My email address is alisonjmcguire@gmail.com.
If you’re a first-time author and have never hired an editor before, I would not recommend hiring an editor without first getting a sample edit. An editor can have a great resume and speak eloquently on the phone, but the real test of their skills is how they edit your book, and the sample edit is a quick, free way to find out. It’s standard for a freelance editor to offer a free sample edit unless they are exceptionally well-known.
Send a letter or email to the author of a text and ask them. If a book is self-published or printed by a smaller press, finding the editor can be tricky. The author of a book will be sure to know who edited their work though! Perform an internet search and look for an author’s website or personal information. Most author websites have a contact tab with information on where to send a letter or email.[7]

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

Perhaps there is some misunderstanding of the phrase ‘developmental editing’ used in this article. Given the number of hours necessary to process, dissect, and reconstruct a text of that size, it sounds like anyone who charged that lowly is doing the job for fun and has a spouse to provide for them–all the while devaluing the work of people who do this for a living. It’s really not ethical.

I used Ebook Launch to format my first book, a novella entitled His or Her Betrayal for both ebook and print, and I was happy with my results. They are very professional and get the work done in the amount of time that they tell you. I just submitted my second book Love, Lies and Heartbreak, which is a collection of short-stories for them to format for print and ebook as well. I'm sure I won't be disappointed in their work. They are my permanent source for formatting my books. Thanks so much for your great work guys!!
Hi Kerrie. Thanks for pointing that out. You’re right, there are some good ones on Fiverr. Me personally, I haven’t had good luck with it – actually quite rotten luck with it. However, in a hope to not deter people from Fiverr, but make sure they understand that “anyone” can just sign up to do it, they should be weary of it – but definitely not discard it. So, I’ve made some edits above 😉
Before we explore what you ought to be looking and asking for when you hire an editor, let’s talk about you, the author of the work, for a moment. On the one side are authors who, in response to an editorial query questioning the reason a particular scene was included, immediately suggest ditching the whole thing. On the other side are authors who will fight editors to retain even the slightest word changes. Before you embark on an editorial journey, ask yourself which side you fall on, and then own this truth and be willing to share it with the person you hire.
I am not without sympathy when some new authors get “sticker shock” upon hearing an estimate for my editorial services, and I am actually relatively affordable. (Most reasonably well-written novels would not cost even close to $3000 for me to edit, let alone $5000.) I also offer generous installment plans and discounts for bundled services. But there is a limit to how low I can go.
If “the greatest benefit of an editor is that he is she is not the author—the editor is someone else,” then an editor is no more than a beta reader, and all authors would need is friends to read their novel and give feedback. I recommend beta reads before a book is sent to me for editing, because casual readers, approaching the story fresh, can indeed find flaws in the book the author is too close to the story to see. But it’s after the beta reads that a professional editor steps in to do her magic. A skilled fiction… Read more »
CreateSpace offers a full array of self-publishing services, including book design, editing and marketing, to assist you through every step of the publishing process. Whether you are still refining your book's content, ready to turn your finished manuscript into a  beautifully designed book, or looking for new ways to energize your book  marketing efforts, CreateSpace services can help you meet your goals.
From your comment, you may be in search of a manuscript critique, where you pay a professional to essentially conduct a beta read with the added benefit of their experience and knowledge about the craft. Then they’ll give you a few pages’ worth of considerations. When I don’t have the time for such critiques (and I only critique nonfiction), I refer my clients to andilit.com.
The romantic myth of an author sitting alone in their room and emerging with a finished book is just that: a myth. Writing is a tough skill to master. Good books are the product of talent, craft, revision and more revision. Like all creative arts, writing requires critique from knowledgeable professionals who can make suggestions and provide direction from a perspective most writers can’t obtain on their own. From developmental editing — with advice on story and structure — to copy editing and proofreading, working with a range of book editors is absolutely crucial when writing a book. But where can you find the professionals with the right experience in your genre to take your story to the next level?
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.
Regarding your last question, I know of no editor who gives a money-back guarantee for occasional errors that happen to slip through or for a different opinion by a later editor. I’m afraid such things are just the nature of the publishing beast. But by having a shorter portion edited first, you will get a decent feel for whether someone is the right editor for you, and will be able to be confident in his or her work on your entire book.
×