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]
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 »
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About 25% of my (fiction) editing work is direct with authors, and the rest is split between two publishers. It my be of interest to note that these rates are close to what publishers pay their editors. That is to say, if you, as an author, were to traditionally publish your book, you would be paying this amount via royalties. Creating a professional product via self-publishing is not cheap, the costs (and income!) just shift from the publisher to the author.
A place you can post your job and hire freelance editors. With nearly 60,000 editors on the site, however, it can be a daunting project to find the right editor. To narrow down the candidates, you could make a detailed project description with required skills, language competency, and portfolio requirements. This should help eliminate unqualified editors. You can also include a random requirement like “Respond with ‘Hey, Jedi!’” in to find those detail-oriented editors who actually read your entire post and follow directions.
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 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.
Even if a book is well-written, and even if it’s been edited professionally, success isn’t guaranteed. Publishing success is partly about branding and design, partly about getting in front of readers so they can start reading, and mainly about whether you satisfy their expectations and over-deliver on genre conventions. We want to do more than simply editing or proofreading your book. We want to help you make sure readers love it. But the sad truth is, most submissions we receive are nowhere near ready to publish, and are suffering from common but easily avoidable first-time author mistakes. How does YOUR book measure up?

Great article, Blake. I often receive ‘undercooked’ manuscripts from writers. Two other points come to mind: 1) Budgeting for an editor is important. You should start putting some money aside for editing fees whilst you’re still writing your first draft (preferably tuck it into an interest-earning account!). 2) Don’t leave it too late, either. Often writers don’t realise that editors are booked up several months in advance. Start contacting editors whilst you’re still at the self-editing stage or have your MS with beta-readers, to find out what their availability is.