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What Kind of Book Editing Do I Need?

book manuscript editing servicesThe first rule of editorial is “Two sets of eyes on everything.” Everyone — and I mean everyone — needs an editor. Even the most meticulous of writers needs a fresh set of eyes to review their work. (I had three different editors assist with my memoir.)

But just what sort of book editing you need depends on a variety of factors, including your level of writing expertise, what stage your manuscript is in, and who your audience is, to name just a few.

I’ve had hundreds of clients over the last twenty years, and the process has always been tailored to meet their needs. Some writers prefer to be more hands-on, while others prefer my guidance. You could potentially slash your editing budget by allowing a professional to guide you in certain aspects of the process, rather than having the professional do the work for you.

For example, a client came to me with the first draft of his memoir. Rather than pay me to rearrange and revise the content, I made copious notes on the manuscript, which he then acted upon. This arrangement meant he only spent about a third of what he would have had I made all the changes for him.

Here are the most common types of book editing, from the highest level to the nitty-gritty.

Developmental Editing

What It Is: Assisting authors with the overall structure and content direction of a work.

Why You Might Need It: If your manuscript is still in the early stages and you’re unsure how you want to structure it — or even what you want to include — you may want to have a developmental editor work with you. These editors can either work as sounding boards or they can be more hands-on, taking existing material and providing it with structure and vision. Developmental editing is usually a process that happens over several weeks while the editor works directly with the writer. For a one-time review of a rough-draft manuscript, consider getting a manuscript critique.

Example: A travel agent has an idea for a new type of travel guide about Hawaii, but she wants to refine it. At the very early stages of the project, a developmental editor can help outline the format of the guide, determine a target demographic, and assist the writer in deciding how to differentiate the book from other travel guides (i.e., creating a USP, or unique selling proposition). If the writer already has a few pages written, the developmental editor can offer feedback on how to format the travel guide (e.g., by activity, by region), how to highlight information (e.g., sidebars, pullquotes), and provide other advice that will inform the remainder of the book.

But the onset of a book’s life cycle isn’t the only time a developmental editor can be useful. If the writer already has a lot of written material on a subject — in the form of notes, articles, lectures, speeches, etc. — the developmental editor can help craft those documents into a single cohesive format.

In some cases, the amount of work required for a specific project may be above and beyond that of a developmental editor and may actually require a co-author or ghostwriter.

My Rates & Process: When offering my services as a developmental editor, I do very little actual writing but rather restructure material and offer suggestions on content, or advise on how to do so. This is to maintain a clear division between editing and ghostwriting/co-authoring. Developmental editing is offered on an hourly basis at $200/hour, with reduced rates available for long-term projects. Note that if you use my services for developmental editing, I will not be able to do the more refined types of editing such as copyediting and will refer you to one of my colleagues.

Line Editing

What It Is: Reviewing copy for grammar, clarity, and consistency, as well as structural issues such as plot holes.

Why You Might Need It: If you’re a strong writer and just want that second set of eyes after a first draft is complete to give your copy a thorough scan, a line editor may be what you need. With this type of editing, the editor looks at your copy under a virtual microscope, making sure the grammar is correct, ideas are clearly laid out, and thoughts flow smoothly. Rewrites may be suggested and the changes made to keep the author’s voice consistent. Although grammar and punctuation are considered, the main purpose of the edit is to ensure that the overall manuscript works.

My Rates & Process: After reviewing a sample of the overall manuscript, a flat rate is calculated based on the estimated number of hours the copy will require. An 80,000-word manuscript that requires average line editing would take roughly 20 hours to edit, for a total of $4,000. During the editing process, I compile a style guide that you receive at the end of the project. If we are simultaneously working on building your author platform, the style guide also includes blog and social media instructions.


What It Is: Reviewing for pure grammar and punctuation when the rest of the manuscript is complete.

Why You Might Need It: Everyone needs a copyeditor before a work is published. Just when you need one is another issue. If you consider your manuscript complete and just need to have it reviewed for general issues such as spelling, punctuation, etc., you’re ready for a copyeditor. At this stage, the editor does not offer feedback on plot holes or fact-checking, although those issues may be noted if they are egregious (or the editor can’t help herself from pointing them out). It’s generally a good idea to have someone who has not worked on the manuscript in the previous stages do the copyedit, as anyone who is already familiar with the copy may be too close to the work to review it with fresh eyes.

My Rates & Process: After reviewing a sample of the overall manuscript, a flat rate is calculated based on the estimated number of hours the copy will require. An 80,000-word manuscript that requires average copyediting would take roughly 30 hours to edit, for a total of $6,000. Read an article from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders about why you need a copyeditor.


What It Is: Reviewing the final manuscript layout for mistakes, both those that previously existed and those that may have occurred during the layout process.

Why You Might Need It: As with copyediting, every manuscript should go through at least one round of proofreading before it goes off to press. Because errors may have been introduced during the layout and design process, the proofreader makes a final review, checking both the main body copy as well as any captions, charts, tables, etc., that may have been added.

My Rates & Process: At this time, I no longer offer proofreading services.

Note About My Process: Manuscripts are edited in Microsoft Word and use the program’s Track Changes and Comments features. For manuscripts with a specific lexicon, a style guide might be compiled, if the client does not provide one.

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