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.
I hope this helps! Please don’t be discouraged by editor’s rates. Many of them do this full time or to supplement their other income with their business. The quality of service is not necessarily tied to project cost, but hiring anyone who is a contractor or freelancer often means you’re getting one-on-one personalized attention you might not get if you worked with, say, just the editor of a publisher who could see your book as a quota to fill. Just my two cents!
As a freelance editor, I would like to express my strong disagreement with the idea that a freelance editor must work as an employee of a publisher for three years to be any good. In my field, spirituality, many publishers have gone to having most editorial tasks beyond acquisitions performed by freelancers, so the in-house positions being held out here as a prerequisite for freelancing simply don’t exist; many editors must cut our teeth as freelancers. It also occurs to me that self-published authors usually bristle at the idea that they are not “real” authors unless their work is accepted by a commercial publishing house. Is it fair to apply this standard to the people they propose to employ as editors?
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.
Copy editors catch spelling mistakes, errors in grammar, and inconsistencies in your text. They know when compound words are hyphenated (or not), whether the book is ‘laying’ or ‘lying’ on the table, and whether eagles have ‘talons’ or ‘claws.’ They’ll go through your manuscript line by line for accuracy and consistency of style. A good copy editor will make sure that your voice remains intact while restructuring sentences, and substituting weak word choices for stronger ones.
Copy editors catch spelling mistakes, errors in grammar, and inconsistencies in your text. They know when compound words are hyphenated (or not), whether the book is ‘laying’ or ‘lying’ on the table, and whether eagles have ‘talons’ or ‘claws.’ They’ll go through your manuscript line by line for accuracy and consistency of style. A good copy editor will make sure that your voice remains intact while restructuring sentences, and substituting weak word choices for stronger ones.
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.
This is great advice, Val! Thank you for sharing. I’m a freelance editor as well. I agree with the advice about giving a newbie a shot because I was a newbie freelancer four years ago, with newbie rates because of being a newbie. But I had already been editing for five years in-house and at professional competence level, so my early clients got a bit of a bargain from me!

It’s best, if you decide to hire a freelancer, to figure out what the going rate is for the service you need, and expect to pay that amount. Otherwise it may turn out to be a waste of money, because the quality of the service will suffer. Sometimes there are payment plans to help with high costs! But it’s really a good investment to pay industry standard for editorial services; I agree with Shayla.
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.
#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.

Obviously there is a big difference. I actually started with screenplays (with some mild success) partly due to hearing that as long as you have a good story, the grammatical errors won’t be a big deal. Well, that was not true. Maybe if a producer liked the story or I was already established but every contest I entered always came back with feedback about the grammatical errors. Even if I won or placed as a finalist, I always received critique on that. Very little is spelling error, it was more about structure, etc.
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