What is professional editing? What does an editor do and not do? What are the different types of edits? How much should I be paying my editor?
All these questions are ones I come across in my field every day, and while I try my best to give a succinct answer, it can often be difficult to explain the reasons behind variations in those answers. An editor is someone who takes an unpolished manuscript and works on a particular aspect of it to make it shine as much as possible in a certain light to catch the right readers. While some types of edits are straightforward, such as copyediting, and pretty similar no matter who you hire, others will differ drastically based on the editor's experience, personal preference, reading habits, and so on. No one editor is the same. We are all different. And our lives--our education, our professional training, our reading habits, and our private lives--all affect the type of editor we become and continue to be.
While some might think that an editor is an academic adhering your manuscript to certain rules, that could not be further from the truth. Sure, there are grammatical rules that should probably be followed to retain clarity, but editing is so much more than that. It's the choice between what is correct and what is stylistic effective. Between what an academic might see as a flaunting of the basics of grammar and what a reader might see as a good mirror of a solid plot. It takes a deep understanding of the balance between grammatical accuracy and creative flexibility to be a professional editor. And to be a great one, you must not only work with the manuscript, but also the author. One cannot exist without the other.
Different edits achieve different goals, and therefore utilise different methods to achieve those goals. Below, I'm going to run through the different types of edits, explain the variation in terminology, what each one does, what that particular edit should look like, their average prices (according to professional bodies), and what they don't do. You will notice, however, that not one of them goes into the manuscript makes the changes for the author, and that is because each and every edit an editor makes is a professional suggestion. They are not intended to be received in a do-or-die fashion.
Developmental Editing: Developmental editing is the most flexible type of edit, and therefore it's extremely difficult to be specific surrounding what your editor will do, as it changes depending upon what your manuscript needs. And, while this is the case for all types of edits, it's never more prevalent than during a developmental edit. In a nutshell, developmental editing assesses the big-picture stuff in every manuscript, and suggests various changes to enhance the book towards your target audience. The entire goal of this edit is to make your book as sellable as possible, which is going to include hitting story tropes that sell, creating characters that readers love, funnelling your story so that it hits a specific genre or niche, etc. There are multiple ways in which this can be achieved, but the most common is through commenting on the manuscript and leaving a report. This enables the editor to address both scene-level issues and larger book issues. You can expect your editor to address issues with the character development, story structure, point of view, beginnings and endings, dialogue development, and so on. It typically takes multiple rounds of developmental editing to be efficient, and it is perfectly normal for the editor's standard to be two-three rounds. So, do not feel bad if that is the offer they provide. A professional developmental editor will provide potential solutions to the problems discovered, give links to further reading material, demonstrate their solutions using both in-text and out-text examples, and will outline their specific process prior to starting. Do not be concerned if their process differs to what I've outlined here, as developmental editors often bend and alter their process to suit the manuscript and author's needs. A developmental editor will typically charge between $40-$50 an hour, and will usually work at a rate of 1-5 pages per hour.
Line Editing: Line Editing is the second most flexible type of edit, as the editor will adapt what they're doing to each manuscript's needs and its genre. Line editing is actually a rare type of edit nowadays, with lots of editors just lightly brushing upon the topic during a copyedit; and, if I had to hazard a guess, the dying breed of a line edit plays a major part in the difference between publishing in this century and the last. As authors are becoming more protective of their work and are given more options where they remain in control, fewer are choosing to undergo the often arduous task of hiring a line editor. Not only is it challenging to find the right one who understands your writing style, but it's an emotionally difficult task upon receiving the edited manuscript. This particular edit's goal is to create the most readable, appropriate writing style for the book and its target audience. This will include adjusting the paragraphing (stylistically, not grammatically), sentence-length and -structure variation, diction, chaptering, narrative balance, and so on. This is usually done by tracking the suggested changes in your Microsoft Word document. This then allows the author to accept/reject each one, and remain in full control. This type of edit relies on the author going through this process, as the editor does not know your intent behind each sentence, and can only look at it from their point of view as an editor and reader. A typical hourly rate for this type of edit is $40-$60 an hour, with an average of 1-6 pages being completed per hour.
Copyediting: This is the type of edit everyone talks about and needs prior to publishing. A copyedit correct any grammatical inaccuracies, ensures your grammar and technical style are consistent, adheres your technical style to a style guide they either create and/or adapt (Chicago Manual of Style, for example), and ensures the consistency of English used (British vs American, for example). This is achieved using in-line tracked suggestions in Microsoft Word that the author is free to accept/reject. Unlike with the previous edits, this type is more about accurate punctuation, effective and correct sentence construction, consistency, and all things that are less creative and stylistic, and more right/wrong. That being said, not every aspect of grammar is black or white; sometimes, there are things that differ per opinion and country and style and genre, etc. And that's okay. So, it's important that, even though this is more rigid than other editorial types, you are still going through the edited manuscript edit-by-edit, and accepting/rejecting each change. Do not be afraid to ask your editor for help understanding something, or to Google what it is they're telling you. We want you to understand. We want you to be making the best, most informed choice you possibly can. A typical price for this is $30-$50 an hour, with an editor working anywhere from 2-10 pages an hour. It depends heavily on how much work your manuscript needs.
Proofreading: A final sweep for leftover errors post-editing and formatting. This will only highlight obvious errors and formatting issues, and assumes you have already undergone a copyedit or do not need one. This will usually not work on sentence construction issues, paragraphing problems, style guide adhere, or type of English usage, as those are time-consuming issues editors typically deal with during a copyedit. As a writer, you can manage to get your work to the level where it only needs a proofread (this is what I do), but it requires a lot of hard work. You need to understand grammar almost to the same level editors do, you will need to understand how best to self-edit your work, you need to understand style guides and have used one or created one, and you will need to have used beta readers to avoid target audience issues in terms of story development. $30-$35 an hour is the recommended pay, and an editor typically gets 9-13 pages done an hour. How do I Achieve This? When I hand my work over to my proofreader, it usually comes back with no more than 5-7 errors highlighted per 1000 words (which is about 3 A4 pages). My manuscript is already in a state where it is ready to be placed into InDesign for formatting, so I have already done the preparatory work in MS Word. I use beta readers, go over my work with a fine-toothed comb many, many times, use ProWriting Aid, and have spent the last decade learning grammar.
All payment rates were gathered from the EFA website, so it's important to note that many will charge less than that, myself included. And many will work faster than the speeds provided in this blog.
Any questions I didn't answer that you're dying to know? Leave a comment!