Thanks Derek and Jane! To add one more thought, I think where we all agree is that the writer can’t get up from the operating table (this analogy is getting gruesome…), thank the doctor and walk away. The perfect recipe would include: an incisive (pun intended) editor, and a resilient, driven writer. By the way, Derek, I’m thrilled to have this conversation, as I’ve enjoyed your writing for quite some time (recently I loved your piece on Tomorrowland). Cheers, Teymour Shahabi For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28
Val, thank you, lots of good stuff here, and it’s great to suggest giving a credible newbie a try. As an encrusted oldie, I can say that it’s sensible to deal with a niche/specialist editor, but sometimes editors have broad experience in both fiction and nonfiction writing (I’ve written and edited a good deal of both), and thus can edit with confidence across styles and genres. Thanks for a sound, thoughtful post.

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.
Editing is one of those skillsets that many people claim to do well but which few actually do. And while it’s probably the most important service an author can solicit (second only to book cover design), it’s often undervalued. Furthermore, most authors have no idea how to assess an editor’s work, and the result can be catastrophic, ranging from an editor who introduces new errors to an editor who changes the intention of your writing.
I am an author of a book “In From the Dark” that was written and published in 2010; I have two other books I need to complete however, I was wondering if my first book could be re-edited and if I could get assistance with the second one as well. I am not to happy with the editing assistance i’ve previously received yet, because I was new at the time, I didn’t know what to look for. Please someone help if you can. My book can be found at barnesandnoble.com. I have not done any marketing or anything with the book since 2011 and was hoping once the second one is complete I can then push the both again.
I totally agree that you need an editor. I disagree that it has to be someone else. Editing is an entirely different skill than say writing, but it can be learnt (editing covers more than writing, at least in terms of publishing). Editing your own work is harder than editing someone else’s, but it can be done. Also, learning to edit is hard and takes some time, regardless if you are editing for others or yourself. And it is interesting that this apparent need for an editor happens within writing. Other creative disciplines, music, painting, photography, theater, etc, the idea… Read more »
I am an author of a book “In From the Dark” that was written and published in 2010; I have two other books I need to complete however, I was wondering if my first book could be re-edited and if I could get assistance with the second one as well. I am not to happy with the editing assistance i’ve previously received yet, because I was new at the time, I didn’t know what to look for. Please someone help if you can. My book can be found at barnesandnoble.com. I have not done any marketing or anything with the book since 2011 and was hoping once the second one is complete I can then push the both again.

“I am the self-published author of four novels: both ebooks and paperback. I have used the formatting and book cover design services of the amazing team at Ebook Launch for two of these titles. I’ve found all at Ebook Launch to be patient, incredibly helpful, super quick in delivering, but above all, very professional – and reasonably priced to boot! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Ebook Launch for your next project; these are, without doubt, the go-to-guys for the self-published.”

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!
Although many writers talk about having friends, family, and old college professors help them edit their work, that’s really not the ideal way to go about the editing process for a book or short story that you plan to publish. A professional editor with years of experience and training in your market or genre can provide valuable feedback and advice that goes far beyond simply correcting spelling errors, typos, grammatical errors and usage errors.
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.
Editors’ fees vary so drastically that authors are often (rightfully) confused about how much to pay. I’ve seen copyediting fees that range from $20/hour to $300/hour. That said, I’ve seen plenty of authors pay $20/hour for a poorly executed copyedit that needed to be redone. I know one author who paid $200/hour for a copyeditor who’d worked on a famous best-seller, operating under the false assumption that a good copyedit would be their ticket to best-seller status. That didn’t happen. Get a few bids and consider paying a couple different editors for two hours of their work and compare. It’s important to judge the work rather than the fee. Consider this investment as research rather than money wasted.
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.
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.

Anyone wishing to pay someone 500 bucks to read their book just so they can be given a short and unhelpful overview is arguably getting what they paid for. Naturally, self publishers and the like can’t really justify the amount they’d have to spend on a real editor of story structure, but it still baffles me that these so called developmental editors exist. That is, unless they have a follow up service after the fact that is actually worth it.


That said, I don’t recommend going to publication, particularly if your book is intended as a revenue-generating venture or as a vehicle of professional promotion, without making sure that someone with an eye for detail has gone through the entire manuscript and ruthlessly noted every typo, every spelling error, every misplaced comma, and every ambiguous sentence.
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