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.
Book editing is both subjective and not. There are rules, and yet the rules of writing are often intentionally broken. You want to find someone who knows the rules, who will fix the writing, and who’s flexible enough to know that voice is sacrosanct, and that editing out colloquialisms, slang, and humor is a no-no (unless it’s overdone or not working, that is).
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The romantic myth of an author sitting alone in their room and emerging with a finished book is just that: a myth. Writing is a tough skill to master. Good books are the product of talent, craft, revision and more revision. Like all creative arts, writing requires critique from knowledgeable professionals who can make suggestions and provide direction from a perspective most writers can’t obtain on their own. From developmental editing — with advice on story and structure — to copy editing and proofreading, working with a range of book editors is absolutely crucial when writing a book. But where can you find the professionals with the right experience in your genre to take your story to the next level?

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
As a book editor (PhD in Literature) who’s now writing fiction, I thought I’d add my comments, which are these: 1. You need an editor who is going to fix the story; the writing doesn’t matter all that much, the story dictates whether or not readers will be satisfied and ultimately how successful the book is going to be. For that reason, sample edits aren’t all that helpful – they tell you how editors can improve the line-by-line. Does the editor know how to plot a novel? Satisfy reader expectations, which differ for each genre? Read “StoryGrid” to better understand… Read more »

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.
I would add the suggestion to be prepared for the editor to request a look at the manuscript (not just a short sample) to prepare an accurate estimate. This has been my practice for some time, and it allows me to provide a flat fee for the entire project. This makes budgeting much less complicated for the author, although of course I am willing to bill by the hour if preferred.
A professional editor will not only help improve your manuscript, but they should be able to provide guidance for you as a writer to help you improve your writing skills. A great editor will tell you what areas you should be focusing on to improve—things like using the right point of view (POV), avoiding filler words, writing dialogue properly, character development, and more.
All points well taken, Derek. (To be fair, Teymour does address the different levels of editing.) I’d add that, as far as the surgeon analogy, even the best editor can’t fix a mediocre story. Some stories are dead on arrival and no amount of resuscitation is going to help. Also, an editor might be able to fix some things, but the “patient” also has a lot of work to do after the operation is done.
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.
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.
Recently a client asked me to do a sample edit and quote to copyedit his MS, which is a biography of his late grandfather’s career (and exploits) as a senior police officer early last century. When I did a short sample edit (4 pages), I realised there were some pretty major issues with his writing and the structure. So I sent it back with my comments and we discussed doing an MA, which I did. Now he’s working on sections of his MS and then sending them to me (he has poor health so we are doing it in stages). It’s a collaborative effort and we’re enjoying working on it together. If you have a client who is open to working with their editor, their book can become something they are really proud of, and it’s equally satisfying for the 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.

Even if a book is well-written, and even if it’s been edited professionally, success isn’t guaranteed. Publishing success is partly about branding and design, partly about getting in front of readers so they can start reading, and mainly about whether you satisfy their expectations and over-deliver on genre conventions. We want to do more than simply editing or proofreading your book. We want to help you make sure readers love it. But the sad truth is, most submissions we receive are nowhere near ready to publish, and are suffering from common but easily avoidable first-time author mistakes. How does YOUR book measure up?
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!
I have taught college preparatory English, writing, and grammar, for the last 18 years. My experience as a teacher makes me uniquely qualified to edit works for fluidity of thought and content, accuracy of grammar, and clarity. As a teacher, I have become a master communicator. Paying attention to detail is a requirement in the English field and something I have mastered.
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..
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Wonderful article! The difference between the types of editors can’t be emphasized enough, escpecially when it comes to price. I’ve seen too many new authors seek out a copywriter when they need a content editor. (Most bad reviews that say “they really need an editor!” reflect that.) This is a relationship and you need to be able to work with the person. If you disagree with all of their suggestions, or they can’t see your perspective, then the edit is worthless. Writers also need to be aware of the difference between an edit that’s going to help the story and… Read more »
Val, thank you, lots of good stuff here, and it’s great to suggest giving a credible newbie a try. As an encrusted oldie, I can say that it’s sensible to deal with a niche/specialist editor, but sometimes editors have broad experience in both fiction and nonfiction writing (I’ve written and edited a good deal of both), and thus can edit with confidence across styles and genres. Thanks for a sound, thoughtful post.

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.

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