by Kristen Tate
You’ve reached the finish line: you have a book manuscript you’ve revised and polished until it reflects your ideas and your vision. What’s next?
Some writers will jump right into querying agents. Others will know they want to self-publish. When in the process should you look for professional editorial feedback for your book, or do you need to do so at all?
This post will help you decide whether you need editing and, if you do, how to go about finding an editor who will help you turn your manuscript into the book you’ve dreamed it could be.
Do you need to invest in professional editing at all?
If you plan to pursue traditional publishing, the answer might be no. There are many free or low-cost options for getting feedback, like beta reading or critique groups. And while it’s true that many agents and editors have less time to invest in developing manuscripts than in the past, many of them do still offer guidance, especially for a manuscript with a promising premise.
While you want to put forward your very best work, agents and publishers are not expecting a perfectly polished manuscript when you submit. You’ll receive a professional copyedit, at the publisher’s expense, as part of the publishing process.
If you are self-publishing, however, you will almost certainly want some level of editing so that your book meets professional standards. At minimum, you need another set of eyes to identify any spots that are unclear and catch lingering typos—before your readers tell you about them.
What kind of editing do you need?
Editing can include anything from plot feedback to comma correction. Let’s break down the different kinds of editing available:
- Developmental editing: Focuses on big-picture aspects of your book, like organization, structure, plot, narration, theme, etc. Varies in depth, from a broad manuscript evaluation delivered in an editorial letter to detailed scene-by-scene comments directly on your draft. Sometimes also called substantive or content editing.
- Copyediting: Focuses on the clarity, correctness, and consistency of your manuscript. Includes creating a detailed style sheet to track things like timelines and terms; checking spelling and grammar; and light fact-checking. Some editors distinguish between line editing (improving sentences) and copyediting (ensuring that sentences are correct), while others treat them as one combined service.
- Proofreading: A final check of a manuscript, after copyediting, to catch any remaining errors and inconsistencies.
- Coaching and accountability: Many editors also provide ongoing support during the drafting or revision process, either one-on-one or as part of a group program.
My experience is that most first-time authors can benefit from some level of developmental editing to show them what they don’t yet know. More experienced authors may be able to skip this stage and proceed straight to querying, if pursuing a book deal, or to copyediting, if planning to self-publish.
What does editing cost?
Editing rates vary widely, with typical prices ranging from $0.01/word for proofreading to $0.04/word and up for in-depth developmental editing. Some editors prefer to charge by the hour. Many editors include their rates on their websites; the Editorial Freelancers Association also provides an industry rate chart, based on a survey of their members.
When comparing rates, be sure you understand what you are getting. Does the editor do a single pass through the manuscript or multiple passes? What kind of fact-checking will the editor do? Does the edit include a style sheet or manuscript comments? Will the editor review your changes after an edit or answer follow-up questions, and is that included in the price?
Whatever their pricing structure, editors should be able to provide you with an estimate or project fee for the entire scope of work on your book, as well as a contract governing your work together.
How do you choose an editor who will be a good fit for you and your book?
Start by deciding what you need and want from the relationship. For example, how much support do you want through the publishing process? Do you want an editor who also provides book coaching or formatting or help with query letters?
Consider, too, your own communication style and make sure it matches that of your potential editor. Do you want to be able to talk through your edits over Zoom or phone? Or do you prefer to communicate only through email?
As you start to research editors, look for one with experience in your genre, either as a reader or an editor. Newer editors might have less editing experience but still have thorough knowledge of the tropes and trends of a specific genre.
Requesting a sample edit can help you answer many of these questions. Some editors charge a small fee for sample edits; others provide them for free. A sample edit can help editors establish the project fee, and it can give authors a feel for the communication style and working process of the editor.
How can you find a freelance editor?
Recommendations from other authors, especially those in your genre, can be a good place to start. Another good source is the Editorial Freelancers Association, which offers a searchable directory and a free job list. There are also smaller, specialty associations of editors, including the Bay Area Editors’ Forum and the Editors of Color Database.
It’s a good idea to start looking early, since many editors are booked out months in advance. Having an editing deadline on the calendar can also motivate you to finish a draft or revision.
Remember, above all, that a professional editor’s job is to help their clients succeed, not to cover your manuscript with red ink. We’re part of the team that helps you achieve your goal of getting your book in the hands of readers who will love it.
Kristen Tate is the owner and lead editor at the Blue Garret, an editorial services firm that helps authors transform their work from rough draft to finished book. She is the founder of the Bay Area chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association and the author of All the Words: A Year of Reading About Writing.