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 »
There may be provision to have a call to discuss the work, or it may purely be the delivery of a structural report or a line edit or proofread manuscript. I've worked with professional editors for the last ten years and have never had a call to discuss, but if you're the type of person who wants that, then make sure you put that into the contract upfront along with anything else you are concerned about.
This is basically like the “Quick Kill” service – or proofreading on steroids, and again we’ll hack, slash, rewrite, fix, tweak and improve anything we can, but this time we won’t comment on the bigger picture, and we’ll really hone down on the little details, eliminate repetition, trim the writing, and make sure everything is as good as it can be.
There’s a big difference between editors who point out your weaknesses and come up with solutions, versus those who give general advice that doesn’t go anywhere. One author who kept getting generic feedback from editors that amounted to, “It’s good, keep writing,” ended up with a 215,000-word tome. The weary man finally found an editor who was able to show him how to cut the manuscript in half and tighten the plot.
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.
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.
Stephen, I’m not sure what you mean by “time wasted matching a style guide.” Any professional editor of trade books knows the Chicago Manual of Style well and as a matter of course automatically makes changes that are in line with it. What you said is akin to “They waste time correcting spelling errors.” They’re not wasting any time; they’re doing their job and it’s a basic and automatic part of that job.
Every author must decide what is important to him or her in an editor, but in these days of electronic communication, honestly I do not think it is important to seek a local editor unless your book is specifically related to something of local interest. Even in that case, you may benefit from the perspective of someone who does not have all the local knowledge it can be easy to presume, so that you can prepare your book for a wider audience.
I've done four covers through Ebook Launch for two different series, and they've knocked it out of the park every time. In one case they were creating brand new covers based on a high-concept mashup idea. In another, they were following in the footsteps of a different designer, who'd already established the look for an existing series. Both times -- whether coming up with something totally new or sticking to an established style -- they did fantastic work. I love my Ebook Launch covers!
#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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is basically like the “Quick Kill” service – or proofreading on steroids, and again we’ll hack, slash, rewrite, fix, tweak and improve anything we can, but this time we won’t comment on the bigger picture, and we’ll really hone down on the little details, eliminate repetition, trim the writing, and make sure everything is as good as it can be.
Thanks for this article! I have been freelance editing for several years now, and I have never been able to find something that gives such a succinct and clear summary of the different types of editing services and going rates. I got my start on UpWork, and most of my clients have expressed how difficult it is to find good editors and how thankful they were for my work.

ROUND TWO: an in-depth, comprehensive, line-edit that includes rewriting sentences, improving word choice, organization, plotting and pacing. We’ll make the dialogue stronger and more believable, the action more tense and nail-biting, and the emotional peaks less melodramatic and cheesy. For non-fiction, we’ll strengthen your argument and make the writing more engaging.
You draw distinctions that use idiosyncratic definitions of some fairly standard terms. For example, Chicago defines the terms “manuscript editing,” “line editing,” and “copyediting” as synonymous with each other, and none of them as synonymous with “mechanical editing,” although that is one element of them. Certainly, I agree that an author has a right to expect more than merely mechanical editing unless that is specifically what they have requested. However, I cannot agree that the only route into competent and appropriate freelance editing is internal employment within a publishing house, and that the only clients who should be counted as a relevant part of a freelance editor’s curriculum vitae are those who are traditionally published.

I’m a first time writer. Today I’m about 60% done with a “novel” (a thinly disguised autobiographical account of finding romance and starting a family during the Viet Nam war). I believe that hiring a developmental editor at this time would help me complete the work in a better ‘voice’, ultimately saving time and money. The alternative would be to finish the work as this column advises before submitting for edit.


An extensive critique of my first novel led to major changes in the format. I was very fortunate to have an experienced novel writer to give a detailed analysis, with corrections. I did not fully appreciate, at the time how valuable this process was, but do now. You need to acknowledge that there are likely to be inconsistencies leading up to the final manuscript and be prepared to make drastic changes. An editor is attuned to picking up on these, where you have accepted the script , even after numerous re-writes!
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