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.

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This is basically like the “Quick Kill” service – or proofreading on steroids, and again we’ll hack, slash, rewrite, fix, tweak and improve anything we can, but this time we won’t comment on the bigger picture, and we’ll really hone down on the little details, eliminate repetition, trim the writing, and make sure everything is as good as it can be.
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Stephen, you’re right, and I think much of the confusion about editing and its pricing stems from the fact that editors offer a range of services (in addition to a range of experience). It might be best to view editing on a spectrum from broad (developmental) to detailed (copyediting and proofreading). And it’s always best to have as clear an idea as you can about the kind of editing you believe you need.

A professional editor will not only help improve your manuscript, but they should be able to provide guidance for you as a writer to help you improve your writing skills. A great editor will tell you what areas you should be focusing on to improve—things like using the right point of view (POV), avoiding filler words, writing dialogue properly, character development, and more.
These reference choices will all be recorded on a style sheet – an essential editing tool. A style sheet contains notes on spelling and punctuation, as well as rules for using numbers and numerals, and even a list of characters and story details that help maintain consistency throughout the book. When the book is passed off to a proofreader, the style sheet communicates the book’s individual style to the proofreader.

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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.
It is not the best option. A program will never beat a good editor. The only thing I suggest is that a writer uses a program to help as they work or write. This helps make your book cleaner and causes less effort on the editor – making them happy and if done well enough, could cause your rates with the editor to stay lower or low. If you have too many issues, an editor may demand more.But if you just cannot afford an editor, then the best way is to use a program, and have you do a full read through, and have someone else (friend) do a full read through…and the more the merrier.
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.
There are a lot of editors out there with no actual editing experience working with a publishing company, newspaper, journal, or other business that requires a high level of expertise and provides training for editors. Without working in such a position, it’s very difficult to obtain and master the skills required to become a great book editor. It’s not impossible, but it is unlikely.
I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

After writing some of the book or a first draft of a book, some authors decide that they need more than an editor; they need a writer to take their writing to the next level, in order to get published or reach the level of sales they aim for.  I can refer aspiring authors to excellent, experienced co-writers, book doctors and ghostwriters, some of whom have worked on New York Times Bestsellers and other award-winning books. Find out more about ghostwriting services.
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.

I implemented this way of working years ago and see how empowering it is for authors, and helpful for editors to boot. This doesn’t mean you’re asking your editor to do a free sample edit. (I discourage editors from doing this and caution authors who push for it as asking editors to work for free before you hire them may result in resentment.) Paying an editor for a few hours of their time to ascertain whether they’re a good fit for you is a great way to put your toe in the pond before submerging yourself. You can then see for yourself if the editor’s suggestions and comments resonate before moving forward with the whole project.
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.
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 .
Thank you for this most timely article. I’m a newbie writer that is writing a history book on a small WWII town. It is a little unique in that it will have many newspaper clippings and historic construction photos. The narrative will only be there as a clarification to these items. I want to be sure that this narrative is smooth flowing and comprehensive. I’m not certain to what degree editing will be involved. You article certainly helped bring to light things I should consider.

Open the book and start turning the pages until you see the title page. Some books will have a single blank page, while some will include marketing materials or quotes. Novels will often list an author’s other books. Turn pages until you find the title page, which will have the book’s title in large letters in the center or upper-portion of the page. Look underneath the author’s name at the bottom to see if there is an editor listed.[1]
Rates – Most online book editors are freelance editors, which means they set their own rates. Editors may charge per word, hour, or project. Editing is a valuable investment in your book as a good editor can turn your story from meh to amazing! But the highest rates don’t necessarily mean the best editor, and the lowest rates could be wasted money. Definitely take rates into consideration, but don’t select an editor solely on price.
There are different levels of editing—developmental, copyediting, and proofreading. I’ve found that authors are often willing to pay good money for a developmental editor, someone who walks by their side and helps to shape the book, but when it comes to copyediting and proofreading, especially if and when an author has had a developmental editor, suspicion arises as to the value or merit of these more drilled-down types of edits. Don’t let this be a blind spot; they’re important—on par with a developmental edit for sure.
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Are you writing a picture book? A chapter book or easy reader? Is your book for middle grade readers or young adults? You may not know for sure! What age groups will be reading your book? How many words should your book have to be age appropriate? What themes or topics are typically relevant? These are some of the more generalized questions your editor can answer for you.
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.

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 »

There may be provision to have a call to discuss the work, or it may purely be the delivery of a structural report or a line edit or proofread manuscript. I've worked with professional editors for the last ten years and have never had a call to discuss, but if you're the type of person who wants that, then make sure you put that into the contract upfront along with anything else you are concerned about.


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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.

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.
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.

Thank you, Blake. I am past the point of undercooked. I’ve had beta readers, I’ve rewritten dozens of times, had an editor look over my MS twice, and believe I’m ready to take that leap. Unfortunately, and this wasn’t mentioned, most writers will never be satisfied with their work ‘as is’. I tinker and add. It’s difficult to find the balance between making it better, and messing with the core integrity. Even JK Rowlings is known to do this in her head when she’s reading one of her novels in front of an audience. This fear has held me back for years, despite my three years experience as a freelance writer for a local magazine. I’m scared I’ll miss a comma and it’ll be thrown in the slush pile.
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