Book editing is both subjective and not. There are rules, and yet the rules of writing are often intentionally broken. You want to find someone who knows the rules, who will fix the writing, and who’s flexible enough to know that voice is sacrosanct, and that editing out colloquialisms, slang, and humor is a no-no (unless it’s overdone or not working, that is).
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 »
“Build my house, but don’t waste time making sure anything you do is done in the normal way things are automatically done (up to code). I don’t need any of that.” Doing things the way they are automatically done does not cost more, and it doesn’t take more time. On the contrary, trying to do it in some other fashion—making up a new way to do it—would take more time. Furthermore, the results would probably be a disaster.
Check out freelance websites like UpWorkor even a great site called Scribendi. (Warning: if you source an editor from these sites, make sure you hire another, professional editor to go over it afterward. There is no way to know what you are getting otherwise. Just because the draft comes back better than it was before, does not mean it was well-edited!)

Lots of authors I know have a hard time finding an editor because they feel that they want to “know” their editor. This is understandable when you’re entering into a developmental relationship, but copyediting and proofreading are much more technical skills. The best copyeditors and proofreaders I know are freelancers who are hard to find because they’re working for publishing houses, and the only people who have access to them are companies and/or individuals with stables of editors they’ve cultivated over years in the industry. If you find a service (or individual) you trust with access to a stable of editors, be open to being assigned to one. Ask about the individual’s qualifications, and what other books they’ve edited, but let the trial edit be the deciding factor rather than any connection you hoped to have between yourself and your editor.
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.
Additionally, I think that many GREAT, very reputable editors absolutely will not complete a sample edit for free. They can point you to their work, their testimonials, and their references, though, free of charge. And if you’re curious why editors I know do not offer a free sample edit, check out this video to illustrate the point. https://youtu.be/essNmNOrQto

Genre – If you’re a nonfiction author, your best bet is to choose editors who understand the structure of good nonfiction books; they know what works and will keep readers happy. If you’re a fiction author, select a fiction editor who is passionate about those stories and knows what readers of your genre are looking for. Choosing an editor within your genre is especially important for developmental editing.
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.
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.
Use the Library of Congress database to find publication information. The Library of Congress is the national library of the United States, and has one of the largest databases of books in the world. Go to https://www.loc.gov/ and click the search bar. Type in the name of the book and the author’s name if you have it. Scroll through the results until you see the version of a book that you’re looking for. Click the title to open the book’s informational page and look for the editor.[8]
All points well taken, Derek. (To be fair, Teymour does address the different levels of editing.) I’d add that, as far as the surgeon analogy, even the best editor can’t fix a mediocre story. Some stories are dead on arrival and no amount of resuscitation is going to help. Also, an editor might be able to fix some things, but the “patient” also has a lot of work to do after the operation is done.
Thanks for this article! I have been freelance editing for several years now, and I have never been able to find something that gives such a succinct and clear summary of the different types of editing services and going rates. I got my start on UpWork, and most of my clients have expressed how difficult it is to find good editors and how thankful they were for my work.
I’m sorry you had a bad experience on Fiverr. I feel like their cheerleader right now but I know there are some terrible sellers there … always have been. You can’t even always tell by the gig description because some sellers simply copy the description of someone else. But reviews do not lie. Hire someone with no fewer than 500 reviews, I would say, and all positive.
What an amazing experience! Dane and Adrian were phenomenal in making my first ebook "Girl, Get Hired!" seamless. The cover designs presented to me were in complete alignment with my vision (actually better than my vision), and the formatting service was beyond my expectations! Adrian provided me with excellent support and communicated best practices. As a new author I didn't know anything about the process, so it was nice to have someone help me. I was so excited to see my ebook come to life! Thanks for making my experience amazing! I highly recommend Ebook Launch!!!
Start at the top of the copyright page and work your way down. Copyright pages can be formatted differently, but they usually start with the publisher, date, and location of publication. Slowly scan each line to look for an editor’s line listing. The editor (or group of editors) are usually listed in the middle, underneath the publisher’s information, but above the country and printing number.[3]
While you may (or may not) be correct in your assumptions, your tone in general is rude, and disrespectful. If you are indeed a true editor of distinct taste and experience, you should not feel the need to bad mouth others for their thoughts and opinions. Show a little decency, and realize that you are indeed speaking to a human being, who probably has thoughts and feelings, and is in my opinion, a much more intelligent human for having the intellect to not attack someone verbally for their thoughts. No one needs you to be rude, or asked you for that matter.
Book editing is both subjective and not. There are rules, and yet the rules of writing are often intentionally broken. You want to find someone who knows the rules, who will fix the writing, and who’s flexible enough to know that voice is sacrosanct, and that editing out colloquialisms, slang, and humor is a no-no (unless it’s overdone or not working, that is).
Working with a professional is always the best choice, so if possible, then save up to work with an editor. But of course, some writers can't afford this, in which case there are some other options. You can barter with other writers in the same genre, editing each other's work, or providing other services you might be more skilled at e.g. Marketing tasks.
I would absolutely encourage authors to find someone who fits their budget, offers payment plans and will work with them to get the services they can afford (some authors might be able to get away with just a manuscript evaluation, for example) I have to agree with the previous comments. Someone who is working for two bucks an hour can’t possibly be a professional, no matter how fair their prices, and that does not bode well for your end product.

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 .

I’m sorry you feel that way about my participation in the discussion and defending editors of similar background to myself from what I considered unwarranted disparagement. Perhaps the only approach that would have 100% proof against accusations of “trolling” would have been to allow the claims to stand unchallenged, but that did not seem fair to people who come here to get useful information.

Inspect the spine of the book and look for a smaller name under the author. Turn the book over and look at the spine—the thin side of the book where the pages are bound to the cover. If there are multiple names on the spine of the book, they are always ordered with the author’s name first, and the editor’s name after it. On most books, the editor’s name will be smaller so that a passerby can quickly tell who the author is.[5]
I have a question… how do software programmes rate in comparison to using an editing service. I ask simply from the point of view as someone with a limited income, who is thinking outside the box for solutions to produce the best polished product I can with the means I have.Will software do a large percentage of the ‘work’ that will then allow an author to use a proof reader or line editor to just do a final check?
Our editing services are for authors who want premium book editing for an affordable price. We’ve negotiated special rates with an exclusive network of editors from around the globe. These editors work with traditionally published authors in every genre, including many on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Now, self-published authors have the opportunity to work directly with these topflight book editors.
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.
Turn the title page over to find the copyright page. Turn the title page over to find the copyright page. It is usually printed on the back of the title page. The copyright page almost always uses a smaller font than the rest of the book, and is often flush with the bottom margin of the page, instead of the top. It contains publisher information, citation information, the date, locations, and information used to catalogue a text.[2]
Thanks, Jessi. Everything you say is true, but for anyone reading this and feeling anxious about the EFA, I’d like to put in a good word for the organization. Established in 1970, they’ve been around for much longer than the current self-pub/e-book revolution (so: not a fly-by-night company), plus they exhibit at major events (BEA, AWP, etc), where you can meet some of the editors in person. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with their members and recommend them on my resources page.
Karen, when you decide to hire an editor please make sure you’ve done all you could to make your book the best it can be, don’t take shortcuts. Select your editor with care. I suggest you make arrangements to call several editors, interviewing each one carefully. Have your questions written out, don’t wing it or you’ll forget something crucial. After all, you’ll want to click with your future editor, he or she MUST be a good fit. I believe you cannot separate editing from writing. They go hand-in-hand. That means you have to form a writing team (there is no I in team). Frequent communication is a must. Wishing you all the best… Dennis
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