And a word of warning. The Editorial Freelancers Association, mentioned in this article as a potential source for finding an editor, does not vet its applicants. Anyone, including “self-proclaimed” editors, can join. As stated in the membership guidelines: “Any full- or part-time freelancer may join EFA.” It is basically a listing of freelancers offering services online, and for a fee, members can have access to a job board. While some legitimate editors list themselves on the EFA, so do a lot of other people. Membership is by no means evidence of professional qualifications.
Specialty – Do you want a copy editor who will strictly follow the rules in the Chicago Manual of Style? Do you want someone whose specialty is line editing and can write smooth, clear, and creative sentences? Are you looking for someone to make sure you don’t have any glaring grammar or spelling mistakes so as to avoid the brutal grammar police reviews? Or do you want someone to look at the overall structure or plot of your book?
I do developmental editing mostly, so I charge a flat rate to read once and build an action plan, half before and half afterwards. Then we contract to work through the plan, where the bulk of the editing takes place and for this I charge 25% up front, 50% after the developmental edit, and 25% on completion of the final proof. I find that authors appreciate the spread payments and the transparency this brings.
Another great resource is Reedsy; a platform for finding freelance editors, writers, and all things book related. You can also use the Editorial Freelancers Association to help narrow your search. These websites are fantastic because they vet their members, meaning you will only be viewing the best of the best when it comes to editing. Keep in mind, Reedsy prices will typically be higher than going to an editor directly because the website, rightly so, takes a commission (from both the editor and the author) for finding, vetting, and then managing your contract.
Having your manuscript reviewed by a professional book editor is a rewarding experience. In addition to the improvements to your manuscript, you will also benefit from the feedback on your writing that only a finely tuned professional editor can provide. Writers often comment on the lifelong benefits enjoyed from their very first editing experience. If a writer wants to ensure they are creating an impactful and enjoyable reading experience for their readers, then editing is a no-brainer. Remember nothing is more damaging to your author brand that publishing a book with embarrassing typos and grammatical errors. Read more.
A site where you can hire editors on a freelance basis. Has a range of prices so there is something to suit most budgets. Be sure to take the usual caution when working with a freelancer. Check out their reputation carefully first and communicate carefully with them in order to determine a schedule, payment expectations, methods of communication etc.
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.
Hey Elizabeth – I get what you’re coming from. I try to work in some flexibility with clients due to budget. Like you said, many people are charging the market rate regardless of experience. However, most good editors will work with your budget in one way or another, be it payment plans or reduced rates. I find it’s easier for me to retain clients and provide better services if the costs go down over time. Some people choose to discount the first project. It’s all very fluid. But yes, cost can be a deterrent for some folks. Self editing can drive these costs down, so taking the time to go through your work first is very helpful for the editor and for your own pocketbook..

About 25% of my (fiction) editing work is direct with authors, and the rest is split between two publishers. It my be of interest to note that these rates are close to what publishers pay their editors. That is to say, if you, as an author, were to traditionally publish your book, you would be paying this amount via royalties. Creating a professional product via self-publishing is not cheap, the costs (and income!) just shift from the publisher to the author.
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.
Moreover, the casual distinction between a (developmental) “editor” and a “copyeditor” can be a bit simplistic, particularly in a self-publication or even vanity-publishing context. A self-published author may barely have the budget to hire one editor, so that editor needs to be able and willing to blur the lines between developmental editing and copyediting. The editor must also be accustomed to working with authors of a variety of strengths and weaknesses, including many whose work would not, in fact, have been accepted by a commercial publishing house in its current form. I have come to take great satisfaction in taking a new or newish author by the hand and helping them find ways of making their work the best it can be. Of necessity, this must include line-by-line correction of grammar and style (often a surprisingly great amount of such correction), but can rarely be limited to that.
Whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been writing for some time, it’s no secret that the most successful writers specialize in a niche. Why? Focusing on a niche helps you become an expert in that area, write better content, ask better questions, and know where to find sources and research. The best editors typically specialize in one or a few niches for similar reasons.
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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