Developmental editing (may also be called structural or content) – looks at the book’s big picture and overall structure in nonfiction or plot and characters in fiction. Developmental editors may assess a book idea, outline, or early draft to tell authors what works and what could be better. The big picture questions need to be answered first before an editor ensures your words are polished and used correctly.
As for multitasking, believe it or not, I try to schedule so that I am only working actively on one book at a time. Research keeps showing that “multitasking” is actually less efficient, because of the time lost to leaving behind one task to restart another. (Think of it this way: If you take on two clients at once for work that would take one week each with your full attention, either you can tell both clients the work will be done in three weeks because you’ll be alternating between them, or tell one client it will be done in one week and one that it will be done in two weeks, because you’ll complete one before you start on the other. Which of those makes more sense?) Obviously, with back-and-forth communications, sometimes complete “monotasking” is impossible, but I think it should be considered the ideal.
Use the Library of Congress database to find publication information. The Library of Congress is the national library of the United States, and has one of the largest databases of books in the world. Go to https://www.loc.gov/ and click the search bar. Type in the name of the book and the author’s name if you have it. Scroll through the results until you see the version of a book that you’re looking for. Click the title to open the book’s informational page and look for the editor.[8]
The result will be a very clean and much improved manuscript, but with lots of comments and suggestions, which will probably require some rewriting and extra work on your part. Getting back a heavily edited manuscript like this can be challenging, but know that it will drastically improve your writing skills and help you identify your weaknesses. During the revision process, it’s possible to create new consistency issues, which is why we recommend a final proofread or at least some beta-readers to help finalize your manuscript.

After doing your homework to find the perfect editor, you might discover that the person with the most experience and rave reviews also charges the most for their services. If you don’t have piles of cash to pay a top-ranked editor for your first book, consider giving a newbie a chance. You can find affordable editors on the Freelance Writer’s Den job board, social media groups for self-publishers, and online platforms like Upwork, or Reedsy.
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.
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.
I would add the suggestion to be prepared for the editor to request a look at the manuscript (not just a short sample) to prepare an accurate estimate. This has been my practice for some time, and it allows me to provide a flat fee for the entire project. This makes budgeting much less complicated for the author, although of course I am willing to bill by the hour if preferred.
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:
As a book editor (PhD in Literature) who’s now writing fiction, I thought I’d add my comments, which are these: 1. You need an editor who is going to fix the story; the writing doesn’t matter all that much, the story dictates whether or not readers will be satisfied and ultimately how successful the book is going to be. For that reason, sample edits aren’t all that helpful – they tell you how editors can improve the line-by-line. Does the editor know how to plot a novel? Satisfy reader expectations, which differ for each genre? Read “StoryGrid” to better understand… Read more »
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.
EFA has an excellent reputation in the field, and their high annual membership fee keeps out the riff-raff and newbies merely flirting with the profession. For writers, EFA also has a very useful rates survey for the different kinds of editing, helpful for anyone shopping around: (the-efa.org/res/rates.php) For those keen to find a fully vetted editor, try Editcetera (editcetera.com). This group not only tests every applicant, they also supervise for a full year. Of course, their rates are higher. Another highly regarded editorial organization is Bay Area Editors Forum (editorsforum.org), with a searchable database of editors. I’m a member there.… Read more »
It can take some time to find the right editor, so you may want to start asking around even before you have a text that is ready to send. If you know a fellow author who can recommend someone, that’s wonderful, but if not, it’s fine to poke around the websites of some editors and see who appeals to you (and seems to work within your genre). Then contact them by whatever method they request (often a contact form on their site).
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