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.
Amazing post, Dave, and definitely an important topic. My first book I used one of the larger “editorial agencies” you mentioned. The quality wasn’t bad but there was no direct contact with the editor. Just ship it to them and they ship it back. I’ve tried out several editors now and found a very good one who did a great job on my list book. Once you find a good editor, stick with him/her and build a relationship if you can. Thanks for the list provided and this editors test is a great addition.

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.


“Build my house, but don’t waste time making sure anything you do is done in the normal way things are automatically done (up to code). I don’t need any of that.” Doing things the way they are automatically done does not cost more, and it doesn’t take more time. On the contrary, trying to do it in some other fashion—making up a new way to do it—would take more time. Furthermore, the results would probably be a disaster.
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.
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.
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.
If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.

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.

That’s a great point about other disciplines. Why should writing require some outside arbiter? Is it because these other disciplines consist in crafts that require significant training, whereas anyone who’s literate can start writing a book at any time (and therefore, the threshold for entering the medium is much lower)? I do hope you’re right about learning self-editing skills. I actually just made a YouTube video about how to self-edit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28

An edit is a business transaction. This means that money will exchange hands. Therefore, you need to approach the edit as both a writer and a businessperson (an increasingly common role in the age of self-publishing). Compare the deals you’re offered. Editors with brand-name backgrounds might offer less user-friendly terms (such as hourly rates, which are less predictable than fixed contracts), while less established professionals might offer discounts and extras (such as book formatting and publishing consulting). Don’t be afraid to ask. Hiring an editor is a professional investment. A sample edit will allow you to estimate the value of the service, but never forget about the price.


You also said it’s not fair for self-publishing authors to apply those standards to editors when they don’t work with publishers themselves. It’s one thing for authors to have the right to publish their work and make it available for readers to judge its merits, and quite another for someone to ask those authors to invest in them for their expertise.
In return for the sacrifices you must make in order to self-publish, you will gain total control over the project. In addition, any profits from sales of the book will be yours (not just a royalty percentage as with either a traditional publisher or a vanity press), and in some cases it may be the only way of getting your book into the hands of readers. However, there is no getting around the requirement to get the tasks done one way or another.
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.
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:
#1. ACCOUNTABILITY: Anybody can call themselves an editor these days, but even if they have the right skills, it doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job. I’ve heard too many horror stories of editors who ghosted clients or provided shoddy work, leaving writers out of pocket with no recourse for a refund. We have one of the best refund policies in the industry and take personal responsibility for every project, which means – if clients aren’t happy with the work, we’ll do everything in our power to fix it.
#1. ACCOUNTABILITY: Anybody can call themselves an editor these days, but even if they have the right skills, it doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job. I’ve heard too many horror stories of editors who ghosted clients or provided shoddy work, leaving writers out of pocket with no recourse for a refund. We have one of the best refund policies in the industry and take personal responsibility for every project, which means – if clients aren’t happy with the work, we’ll do everything in our power to fix it.
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.
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