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.
Trish – I agree with your replies to this article and Carol, I agree with your comments too. And while I disagree with some of Natasa’s points, a sample edit is definitely good advice, not only for the writer, but also for the editor to ascertain what type of editing is needed. Many new, inexperienced writers still ask for a ‘proofread’, only to discover what they actually need is a developmental edit. I also agree with Natasa’s point that a good rapport is crucial. As to the suggestion that an editor shouldn’t be working on seven to 10 books per month, well, I never work on more than two (although I do fit in other small projects for regular business clients – they break up the working day and help me to refocus). I don’t know how anyone could work on such a large volume of books effectively — or at all — unless they were very short books!
Regarding your last question, I know of no editor who gives a money-back guarantee for occasional errors that happen to slip through or for a different opinion by a later editor. I’m afraid such things are just the nature of the publishing beast. But by having a shorter portion edited first, you will get a decent feel for whether someone is the right editor for you, and will be able to be confident in his or her work on your entire book.
That said, I don’t recommend going to publication, particularly if your book is intended as a revenue-generating venture or as a vehicle of professional promotion, without making sure that someone with an eye for detail has gone through the entire manuscript and ruthlessly noted every typo, every spelling error, every misplaced comma, and every ambiguous sentence.
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.

Reach out through an editor’s professional website. Many professional editors offer their services on a freelance basis or use their website to advertise their press’s opportunities. Perform a simple search online using the editor’s name and look for a professional or personal webpage. There will be information about contacting an editor on their website.[9]

“My advice is that you take a couple of days off—go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle—and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book. . . . How long you let your book rest . . . is entirely up to you, but i think it should be a minimum of six weeks.”
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.

If however the editor is going to disassemble the book act by act, scene by scene, beat by beat, and show technically in story structure terms what needs to be changed, then the editor is spending far more time in analysis and constructing the demonstration of such to the client. Of course, this really depends on what service a client wants as well.
An edit is a business transaction. This means that money will exchange hands. Therefore, you need to approach the edit as both a writer and a businessperson (an increasingly common role in the age of self-publishing). Compare the deals you’re offered. Editors with brand-name backgrounds might offer less user-friendly terms (such as hourly rates, which are less predictable than fixed contracts), while less established professionals might offer discounts and extras (such as book formatting and publishing consulting). Don’t be afraid to ask. Hiring an editor is a professional investment. A sample edit will allow you to estimate the value of the service, but never forget about the price.
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.
I’m not sure why you said “ha” after Fiverr. I’ve been a proofreader (more like a line editor/copy editor, really) for 3.5 years and have worked on many book projects there and outside of Fiverr. (writerkerrie) … Yes, some editors on there are crap and I agree, but many of us ROCK! I only charge $5 for 1,500 words of text (I only receive $4) because I LOVE WHAT I DO and I love working from home and being able to homeschool my kids. I am also an author myself and want to help other authors by not overcharging them. I have received MANY book projects from authors who paid the rates you describe above and I ended up finding DOZENS more mistakes and GLARING errors that for $70/hour … well, they should have been caught. Please don’t write off Fiverr. Some of us care about what we do and we do it well and you can tell from my almost-1,600 great reviews that this is true. Don’t hire someone if their gig is written poorly and they barely have any reviews!
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
Really great advice. I just wish editors and proofreaders were more affordable. I find that the cost often dissuades writers from hiring help, even though it’s a really important investment. I like PaperBlazer (https://www.paperblazer.com/hire-a-proofreader-or-editor-for-your-novel/) since it’s more affordable than a lot of other editors. The other comments here are very helpful as well.
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.
Thank you for this most timely article. I’m a newbie writer that is writing a history book on a small WWII town. It is a little unique in that it will have many newspaper clippings and historic construction photos. The narrative will only be there as a clarification to these items. I want to be sure that this narrative is smooth flowing and comprehensive. I’m not certain to what degree editing will be involved. You article certainly helped bring to light things I should consider.
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?
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.
In fact, Pressfield writes, “Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
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