Great advice, especially the painting analogy (clever!). I also enjoy your YouTube videos, which I found out about through Publishing Perspectives ((nice!). I agree that most developmental editors are more like therapists than surgeons, but there are book doctors out there who will essentially rewrite your manuscript (they’re one step away from ghostwriters, I feel). Also, I don’t actually offer sample edits, but this has nothing to do with pedigree. It’s more that I’d rather not mark-up a manuscript unless I’ve read a good part of it (at least 50 pages). I believe that most copyeditors offer sample edits,… Read more »
A very helpful article, thanks! I’ve been trialing editors for my current romance WIP, including industry stalwarts from The Big Four, to freelancers and hobbyists, *budget* options and the gurus who cost a pretty penny. From 9 to 5 I’m an editor myself, so it’s been great experiencing the process from a writer’s perspective. I’ve documented some tips below on what to look for in an editor (and what should send you running) , which you might find interesting.

Even if you wrote the book in your free time, this is my day job. The per-project cost many new authors would consider “manageable” would, if broken into an hourly rate, end up paying editors less than minimum wage. They don’t intend to pay what someone could earn making french fries; they just greatly underestimate how much time must be invested in editing.
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The quotes I posted are for a specialized genre – romance. These books are shorter than many other types of fiction and yes the editors are professional. Many do this as a favor to authors they love and work with in publishing houses…so they lower their rates for private work. Over time of course, their rates increase but the prices I quoted for my industry only.

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I'd suggest working through each change so you can learn for next time, rather than just clicking Accept All on the Track Changes version. This will take time, but it's well worth it. I usually accept 80-90% of my editor's changes and the manuscript is improved considerably by the experience. After the line edits are updated, I send the manuscript to a proofreader for the final check before publication.
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.

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.
For my book, Career Change, I gave an early copy to people working in my department in the day job who I knew were dissatisfied with what they were doing. They came back with questions and suggestions for what to include as additional material. For The Healthy Writer, we asked medical doctors to read it as a sense check (even though my co-writer, Euan Lawson, is a doctor!)

It’s difficult to answer this question without first addressing what an editor actually does. Editors can review the content of your writing (characterization, pacing, plot, etc.), which is often referred to as content editing; the form of your writing (the grammar, the punctuation, etc.), which is often referred to as copyediting; or both. (By the way, proofreading is indispensable, but it’s the final step of checking for typos and other glitches once the book is ready for print—any writer who thinks that proofreading is editing is in grave danger of getting ripped off.)
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.

For my book, Career Change, I gave an early copy to people working in my department in the day job who I knew were dissatisfied with what they were doing. They came back with questions and suggestions for what to include as additional material. For The Healthy Writer, we asked medical doctors to read it as a sense check (even though my co-writer, Euan Lawson, is a doctor!)
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.
Hey there! In my experience (as a freelance developmental fiction editor with friends in the same profession), developmental is actually the cheapest option–I think you may have made a decimal point error 🙂 The going rate in my corner of the edit-verse is around $0.008/word, not $0.08, which means a 70,000-word edit will be $560 or so. It’s possible this is different across genres, though! Just wanted to drop a note so any aspiring budget-minded fiction writers out there can take heart .
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.
Trish – I agree with your replies to this article and Carol, I agree with your comments too. And while I disagree with some of Natasa’s points, a sample edit is definitely good advice, not only for the writer, but also for the editor to ascertain what type of editing is needed. Many new, inexperienced writers still ask for a ‘proofread’, only to discover what they actually need is a developmental edit. I also agree with Natasa’s point that a good rapport is crucial. As to the suggestion that an editor shouldn’t be working on seven to 10 books per month, well, I never work on more than two (although I do fit in other small projects for regular business clients – they break up the working day and help me to refocus). I don’t know how anyone could work on such a large volume of books effectively — or at all — unless they were very short books!
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I have over 25 years of cumulative experience as a technical editor, proofreader and writer. In addition, I can add another 8 years to my resume acting as the head of a corporate word processing division and also as an administrative assistant. I am an expert in the use of MS Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook), Adobe Acrobat and equation entry/editing using Word and MathType. I have extensive experience formatting and laying-out text for publication.
If an editor’s rates seem skeptically low, send an editing test, ask for references or a sample, place a hidden message in your post, and see if they understand the different types of editing. If an editor passes all of these tests, even if she’s a newbie, give her a try. This could save you hundreds of dollars and help you find a skilled editor who is competent and affordable.

Blake, that’s wonderful info. Thank you. I completely understand the response about guaranteeing the work. That was just something that popped in my head as I read a book written by a screenplay consultant I hired years ago and he wanted a review so I read it to help him out but found maybe 5 or 6 error’s myself in the 200 page book. I felt like it was unprofessional but didn’t have the heart to tell him. But the errors stuck out like a sore thumb so I was curious if that is normal or not.