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.
I just published my fourth ebook novel recently and I've used Ebook Launch every time with very satisfactory results. They always promptly turn around the cover and manuscript formatting - and as an added bonus, they always promptly and happily answer even the stupidest questions I come up with. Adrian is very easy to work with and Dane has repeatedly come up with cover ideas when I was fairly sure that it couldn't be done.
Another online editing service is Scribendi, which has over 300 experienced and educated editors. They've been around a long time. With this service, you decide how fast you want the book edited and how extensive the edit should be, then they match you with an editor. You don't ever actually meet the editor, but rather work through their customer service team. Their prices depend on your requested turnaround time and word count. You can get a free quote here.
I like the idea of embedding “fine print” into the initial email. I also think it’s a good idea for an author to check references; the questions Val suggested are great. Third, as another commenter said, an editor can give the author a general assessment of their book, which will help the author decide if that particular editor will be a good fit or not.

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.
I’d add that for UK writers, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Directory is the best place to search for editorial professionals. Each editor has been vetted for professional competence through the Society (you have to be assessed to become a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member), so it’s a pretty trustworthy source: http://www.sfep.org.uk/directory/directory.asp
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.
Fiction writers may want to join a writers group or workshop to benefit from the help of others who have experience with your genre and can help you develop your craft, challenge flaws in your narrative or character development, and help you improve the overall quality of your story. A flawed plot or character is much harder to revise after you finish writing your book, so it’s important to catch such problematic aspects of your book early on.
– Many self-publishers need less specialization. I sought an editor — mostly a copy editor, but also this is the only person who could tell me if I ramble in a particular chapter. I couldn’t afford a full dev edit, but I think I’m typical in wanting an editor who will tell me what my friends wouldn’t, and maybe switch hats for small sections where it’s needed.
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
The quotes I posted are for a specialized genre – romance. These books are shorter than many other types of fiction and yes the editors are professional. Many do this as a favor to authors they love and work with in publishing houses…so they lower their rates for private work. Over time of course, their rates increase but the prices I quoted for my industry only.
Freelance editors normally do not double as literary agents. Not only is it not our area of expertise, but it can actually lead to ethical quandaries. There have, unfortunately, been cases of literary agents saying that potential clients’ work “has potential” but needs to be edited (by them or their employee), for an exorbidant fee. It would also be possible for editors to give the impression that they are guaranteeing publication of a project, when that is something no one but a publisher can do. Many professional organizations forbid their members to combine these two roles, to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
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