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.
We’ve set up a unique “first chapter critique” service which includes up to 5,000 words (which should actually include 2~3 chapters… or a prologue, preface or intro). This will be an deconstructive developmental edit, pointing out exactly where your weaknesses lie and what you can do to make them better, but will not include a full edit or proofread. We will, however, edit your blurb, bio or query, as long as they fit within the 5K word limit.
I hope this helps! Please don’t be discouraged by editor’s rates. Many of them do this full time or to supplement their other income with their business. The quality of service is not necessarily tied to project cost, but hiring anyone who is a contractor or freelancer often means you’re getting one-on-one personalized attention you might not get if you worked with, say, just the editor of a publisher who could see your book as a quota to fill. Just my two cents!

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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.
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.

Most editors in my genre charge from 002 to 007 per word. That’s for developmental and FLE, (Final line edit) – three rounds in all. The 10,000 fee you mention here would put off anybody from ever hiring an editor. I know few writers who could pay that, which is why Amazon is flooded with poorly written and badly edited books. I would encourage writers to contact other authors in their genre for tips on editors and to cultivate good beta readers.
“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.

You might hire someone for a proofread, but let the editor know that you’re open to hearing from him or her if the work needs a heavier edit. The editor would need to present you with evidence in the form of sample pages that showcase what’s needed—and your job is to make sure you agree. You want to feel like an editor’s edits are polishing your work and making it shine. If you feel dread or anger, or even if you feel misunderstood, it’s likely not a good fit. At the very least you want to share your reactions with the editor so they can respond or change course.
Unlike most other basic “proofreading” packages, ours includes copy-editing where needed, light revision, rewriting and improved word choice, as well as a one page summary of some big picture issues that can be improved. If we see something that looks bad, we’ll fix it – but we won’t wrack our brains trying to solve bigger issues like plotting, character motivation, story architecture, etc.

For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
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If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.
A copy editor or line editor focuses on improving sentences and grammar, as well as suggesting other ways of rephrasing ideas, and providing comment on anything else they pick up. Non-fiction books often use multiple styles, for example, chapter headings, sub-headings, action points, bullet points, call-outs and examples, so these will be examined at this phase.

I usually ask for a 10-20 page sample – one page is a bit scant for a really accurate estimate. I’ll do an editing sample, too, but how long I’m willing to make it depends on the proposed length of the piece I’ll be editing. As for the “hidden message” strategy, if I saw something like that, I’d suspect the prospective client was fearful and suspicious and I’d probably run the other way. I willingly provide testimonials, references, and links to published work, so tricks aren’t necessary. It’s important to me to build a professional relationship of mutual trust with my clients, backed up, of course, by a contract that protects us both. I don’t think I’d like to work with a client who plays “gotcha!” Lots of good suggestions in this article, though.


Thanks Sangeeta! I’m glad you enjoy the videos! (New episode, with 3 weird tips on self-editing, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28) Book doctors are such an interesting phenomenon… As are ghost writers, come to think of it. On one hand, self-publishing gives an indie author a chance to share his or her vision with little to no outside interference, but on the other, we’re seeing more and more books written “by committee!” What’s tricky is finding the right balance, which is why the search for the right editor matters so much. Cheers, Teymour For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode:… Read more »


I’m a first time writer. Today I’m about 60% done with a “novel” (a thinly disguised autobiographical account of finding romance and starting a family during the Viet Nam war). I believe that hiring a developmental editor at this time would help me complete the work in a better ‘voice’, ultimately saving time and money. The alternative would be to finish the work as this column advises before submitting for edit.
I was recently directed to your excellent article from almost a year ago by a colleague at SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a freelance literary editor of memoir, poetry, and novels, I offer authors guidance and support similar what you describe, but of course I cannot handle editing every genre. I was gratified to know that I’m doing the right thing by sticking to my specialties. By coincidence, someone who reached out to me last week on LinkedIn was looking for a children’s book editor and one of your readers in this conversation recommended one. That reminds me… Read more »
I cannot speak for all editors, of course, but I know I and many of us would be open to editing just part of your book at first, say, a particular chapter or two that you sense needs a lot of work. That is often enough to show you mechanical errors that you tend to make repeatedly. You can then go through the entire manuscript yourself looking for as many of the same kind of errors as possible. You will sharpen your basic writing skills in the process, and it will pay off in all future projects.
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