There seems to be something half-way between beta-reading and development editing. I think it’s right for many new writers — I’m just finishing my first book, and was not about to pay a real development editor, but beta readers weren’t engaged enough (especially friends unwilling to point out the negatives). But it this kind of editing doesn’t really have a clear name.
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.
Note: On the spreadsheet, the editor’s total cost will be automatically calculated once you insert your total word count and the editor’s per-word rate. If you’re given a per-page rate, you can calculate a per-word rate by assuming the industry standard of 250 words per page, e.g., $3 per page equals $3 per 250 words. Dividing 3 by 250 equals $.012.

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 you’re a first-time author and have never hired an editor before, I would not recommend hiring an editor without first getting a sample edit. An editor can have a great resume and speak eloquently on the phone, but the real test of their skills is how they edit your book, and the sample edit is a quick, free way to find out. It’s standard for a freelance editor to offer a free sample edit unless they are exceptionally well-known.
First, decide whether your time or your money is worth more to you right now. You can greatly reduce the amount of money your project will cost by investing more time, and vice versa. If time is no object, you may want to spend some hours in the library reading style manuals and going through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb so that when you do hire an editor, (s)he will be able to zip through it quickly. If you end up deciding that’s more effort than you want to invest, then you will at least find the monetary cost of hiring someone to do it for you a less bitter pill to swallow.
There are a lot of editors out there with no actual editing experience working with a publishing company, newspaper, journal, or other business that requires a high level of expertise and provides training for editors. Without working in such a position, it’s very difficult to obtain and master the skills required to become a great book editor. It’s not impossible, but it is unlikely.
I have over 30 years' experience in the publishing/writing industry, working as everything from an in-house editor to an investigative reporter to a novelist to a medical/technical writer to a screenwriter. I've been an independent contractor for 24 years working as a freelance editor (developmental and line editing), writer (fiction and nonfiction), ghostwriter, and copy editor.
The greatest benefit of an editor is that he or she is not the author. An editor is someone else. Some editors are professional writers, but every single one of them is a professional reader. As a writer, you’re probably a voracious reader, but you can never be a true reader for your book. By bringing forth a book into the world, you’re asking other people to read something you’ve never read. If you sincerely want the book to be the very best that it can be, then you must ask someone else to read it first. You owe it to your book, to yourself, and to your readers.
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The single most decisive factor should be the quality of the edit itself: Will this editor help improve your book? In order to assess this, nothing beats a sample edit (even if you have to pay for it). Testimonials and credentials (such as experience at a major NY publisher) can help you narrow your list, but you should submit the same sample to a variety of editors and compare their work side by side. Some editors will push too hard, and some won’t push hard enough; some will simply “get” your writing, while others will seem to speak another language entirely. In my experience, the editor’s résumé is far less revealing than the quality of the sample edit. In fact, the higher an editor’s pedigree, the more reluctant the editor might be to provide a sample edit. Don’t be afraid to insist: no one should expect you to invest in a car without a test drive!
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.
Perhaps there is some misunderstanding of the phrase ‘developmental editing’ used in this article. Given the number of hours necessary to process, dissect, and reconstruct a text of that size, it sounds like anyone who charged that lowly is doing the job for fun and has a spouse to provide for them–all the while devaluing the work of people who do this for a living. It’s really not ethical.

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.
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