Definitely not unreasonable, Frank. However, you have a couple of options. Rather than pay for a full developmental edit on what you have written so far, you can ask the editor to do a manuscript assessment – which includes a detailed written report. An MA is usually done for a fixed price based on the word count. Alternatively, you could ask the editor to do a sample/developmental edit on one chapter only. Using track changes, they can go through and make edits and comments. It’s good that you are already thinking of hiring an editor before you complete the MS. It will help guide you with the other 40% and revisit what you’ve written so far, so that once you are finished, the MS will be in much better shape for the next stage of editing.
“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.
I want to thank the author of this article, the people responsible for this website, and the helpful comments I’ve read here, before discontinuing my watching of this thread. I have reached out to several developmental editors through emails and by posting my need for such an editor on the-efa.org. If anyone decides to go that route, the response has been tremendous. Be aware of their policy for posting jobs, though. They require aspiring authors to adhere to the ‘going rates’ shown here: http://the-efa.org/res/rates.php.
Hi Kerrie. Thanks for pointing that out. You’re right, there are some good ones on Fiverr. Me personally, I haven’t had good luck with it – actually quite rotten luck with it. However, in a hope to not deter people from Fiverr, but make sure they understand that “anyone” can just sign up to do it, they should be weary of it – but definitely not discard it. So, I’ve made some edits above 😉
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.

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.


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Qat Wanders is an author, editor, speaker, and writing coach. She has edited more than 4,000 books and ghostwritten over 100, including New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. After receiving a Master’s degree in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing as well as a Certified Professional Editor certificate, Qat created the Wandering Wordsmith Academy where she trains authors and editors in an online platform. When she’s not busy speaking, writing, or wandering, Qat loves spending time with her daughter, Ora—a published author at ten years of age—and helping others realize their dreams of sharing their messages with the world. To find out more about Qat, her writings, her programs, and her services, please visit WanderingWordsMedia.com.
Of course, my c.v. does include traditionally published books, but in those cases, I was hired (yes, on a freelance basis, which you would not “count”) by the publisher rather than by the author. The reason my marketing to authors instead emphasizes my experience with self-published and even vanity press authors is because working with a publisher is different from working directly with an author, particularly with an author who has made a conscious choice not to be traditionally published. Some might even say that working within a publishing house provides less preparation for working with self-published authors than does working with other self-published authors. I, however, would not go so far as to say that, because I really do believe we can come to our profession by different paths, just as people can come to writing by different paths.
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I was going to tell Blake that his figures are actually a little low. The EFA uses lower prices than Writer’s Market (which is what I use as a starting point for my pricing). Two tenths of a cent (.002) per word? That comes out to $100 per 50,000-word book. It’s a rare editor who can accurately process 50,000 words a day, so that would be dooming an editor to living off of about $50 a day. If an editor is earning such low amounts per book, then one of two things is happening: that editor has someone else to pay the bills (thus not needing a real income), or that editor is blowing through books far too quickly in an attempt to earn enough money to survive, and is leaving errors—in which case it’s pointless to hire that editor. Undercutting on prices is unethical and it hurts everyone in the industry. I would not trust that editor. Anyone who pays such low prices is exploiting another person, which is also wrong. Authors, be prepared to pay fair prices. Editors, charge enough to survive and don’t undercut the industry standards, because you’re causing harm to everyone in the field, including yourself.


Software and Systems – Some of us writers like using certain types of writing tools or software.  I personally love to write my books using Scrivener, and will then switch to Google docs for better tracking systems.  However, I've run into editors who only use Word document.  That's no bueno for me.  So, make sure they are good with whatever writing programs you want to use.
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.

Not that I’m not looking forward to seeing the author’s work. I am. Seriously, I am! Book editing, despite the sticker shock first-time authors often get when they hear the estimate, is not a profession anyone enters in hopes of getting rich. I truly love helping a writer make his or her work the best it can be, and I’m always eager to get started. But I realize the task of writing takes time, usually more time than the author (even many an experienced author) expects.
That’s a great point about other disciplines. Why should writing require some outside arbiter? Is it because these other disciplines consist in crafts that require significant training, whereas anyone who’s literate can start writing a book at any time (and therefore, the threshold for entering the medium is much lower)? I do hope you’re right about learning self-editing skills. I actually just made a YouTube video about how to self-edit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28
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.
Contact the publisher directly by phone or email. The publisher’s website and contact information will likely be printed at the top or bottom of the copyright page. If it isn’t, you can look it up online. Contact the publisher by calling or emailing them to ask about a book’s editor. Publishers keep detailed records on each of their texts, so if anyone would be able to find a book’s editor, it would be them.[6]
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One thing is becoming clear to me. Authors and editors have been mistakenly pitted against each other by a self-publishing system that is not currently working. Remember in the scheme of things that self-pub is very new, only a few years old. Twenty years ago, publishers put out a selection of the best and most marketable books. Editors were well-educated and got paid a fair wage. Authors received advances and royalties.

When you start typing in the “Enter skills needed” box, Upwork will automatically suggest skills based on what you’re typing so you can see the skills that are available on the site. You can only select from skills that already exist on the site. For example, if you type in “Book Cover Designer,” you will get an error message. Instead, when you start typing in “Book Cover,” Upwork will pop up with the suggestion for “Book Cover Design”—just click that suggestion or hit enter, and it will appear in the box.
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.

Funny video! But as a freelance editor, I want to point out that “proving” my skills is only part of the equation. The bigger reason for me to offer a sample edit is to determine if the writing is READY for an edit. Learning to write fiction is a craft. Beginning authors are often better served by attending workshops or joining a critique group to develop their skills BEFORE submitting their work for editing. I simply cannot take on a new client without seeing any of their work.
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As one person who “woke up and decided since I’m published and an English major, I should be an editor,” I can see your point of being only one type of editor. I’m not a good copyeditor at all and don’t offer my services for that situation. It’s funny that you would say a traditionally published type editor would be better than the independently published editor. I found this to be totally untrue since I have worked with both. My traditional editors from St. Martins Press and Bantam books working a total of 35 years in the industry, was the worst editor of all. My independently published editor/book coach, is the most knowledgeable. So there is a bit of a disparage. It’s not an absolute science, editing.

Some authors budget very unrealistically, perhaps just a couple hundred dollars. (I’m not saying this is necessarily true in your case, but I have encountered it.) In such cases, I find myself wondering whom they are imagining should bridge the gap between what they are comfortable paying and what the editor needs to earn in order to pay expenses and support him- or herself.
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
Contact the publisher directly by phone or email. The publisher’s website and contact information will likely be printed at the top or bottom of the copyright page. If it isn’t, you can look it up online. Contact the publisher by calling or emailing them to ask about a book’s editor. Publishers keep detailed records on each of their texts, so if anyone would be able to find a book’s editor, it would be them.[6]

#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.
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.

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.
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.
Funny video! But as a freelance editor, I want to point out that “proving” my skills is only part of the equation. The bigger reason for me to offer a sample edit is to determine if the writing is READY for an edit. Learning to write fiction is a craft. Beginning authors are often better served by attending workshops or joining a critique group to develop their skills BEFORE submitting their work for editing. I simply cannot take on a new client without seeing any of their work.
Hm, I’m a longtime freelance book editor and have a few thoughts to share. I think one page of editing is not enough to gauge much, and that you should be able to get a sample edit of 10 (double-spaced 12-point) pages from a potential editor. You’ll have a better idea after a complete chapter has been edited, and you should have a contract that allows either you or the editor to opt out cleanly at various stages. Another thought: sometimes authors don’t know what level of edit they need, and a good editor can assess this based on reading a few pages of your ms. and spot-checking the remainder. Also: a lot of book editors (like me) work primarily for publishers rather than for individuals. It’s just easier. I know I’ll get paid, I don’t need to educate publisher clients about the process itself, and they send me regular work, so we get to know each other’s needs and preferences. Lastly, I wouldn’t really expect a newcomer editor to be able to handle a booklength manuscript very well (I was that person once — eek). If it’s someone really new, they should have had good training somewhere imo. Book editing is a technical undertaking. It’s also about knowing what to leave alone. Inexperienced people often tamper with authors’ work unnecessarily. Anyhow, I’d be happy to answer any questions.

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.
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