An author asked me today for advice about finding a book editor or proofreader. This is a big, serious, important question.
Getting your book edited is not only necessary (although you can get around it… more on that below) but also very expensive.
Editing and proofreading can easily be your biggest expense related to book publishing. So here’s a rather in-depth guide, I hope it answers some of your questions related to getting your book edited.
Why you should get your book manuscript edited
Getting your book edited helps you have a better book. You are putting out a product, that will be enjoyed and judged. The easiest thing to ruin an otherwise good book is a typo or two. They’re hard to avoid with tens of thousands of words, but more than a couple and you’ll get bad amazon reviews like “should have hired an editor”. Those reviews never go away, and can kill book sales.
Typos and spelling errors mar your credibility as a professional author. In my first book, I wrote “Thrown” instead of “Throne”. Twice.
One reader was so put off about it, he trolled comments about my book and kept repeating how awful this was.
Although people are becoming more tolerant (I regularly find a few typos in trade-published books) and are willing to stretch the limits for indie authors, you don’t want to come off as unprofessional.
The difference between editing and proofreading
Proofreading is when someone goes through your book quickly looking for mistakes. Typos, punctuation errors, spelling problems.
Mistakes are clear and easy to fix (if they can be found). Sometimes you can find a proofreading service that is cheaper than editing, so if you’re sure this is all you need, you can save some money (but I advise against it.)
You can also just use a tool like Grammarly – the “free” version with “correctness” only will catch most issues.
A good editor, on the other hand, will do all of that but also fix and rewrite poorly worded phrases, sentence structure – so they are actually improving your writing and tidying things up. They will cut out (or “flag” with comments) any big problems.
(Note, some people will offer editing only but not proofreading, so make sure you know what they are doing for you. I prefer “all-in-one” services that just fix everything they can).
When I was doing full time proofreading, besides heavily editing text, I would leave around 10 comments on each page with content critique: characterization problems, plot twists, repetitive words, paragraphs or chapters with no purpose, character motivation, etc.
These are not things that can be “fixed” without a substantial rewrite – so the best I could do is leave a comment to share some writing wisdom.
Unfortunately, this leads into a rather big problem:
If you pay for a good book editor, you will need to rewrite.
Almost all authors think editing is the final stage before publication. They want someone to clean up their text so they can sell it.
However, the biggest problems with your book are not the typos – it’s the story.
If you had paid for someone to do a manuscript critique of your book, you would get tons of feedback on how to improve the story (which would be bad news, because you were excited about finishing and now you see all these new problems to fix).
Of course you don’t have to fix anything – but a better story will outsell a clean manuscript.
I used to feel bad, knowing I was helping authors improve their book but at the same time knowing they had lots of work to do, and that after rewriting, they would need to hire another editor.
Many authors feel grateful, but also overwhelmed, when they realize their first draft actually needs a lot more work and isn’t ready to be published.
What you need to do first – fix the story!
Join a book club or writing group. Avoid your friends and family – they won’t give you tough, critical advice (OK, some will… but it’s tough to know who is and who isn’t). You can easily set up a group on Craigslist in your city. Get five or so aspiring writers to agree to criticize each other’s work honestly. While you can ignore 1 or 2 criticisms from different people, if several people flag the same issues, you probably need to change it.
Authors are bad at handling criticism. They think they know best, because they understand things better than readers. Don’t be stubborn – listen to feedback (readers will never see the story as YOU see the story; and if they don’t get it, it’s because you haven’t written it well enough yet).
Questions to ask yourself:
- What’s the point of my book? Who will read and enjoy it?
- What happens? What’s the one, driving plot conflict?
- Are all my characters motivated in their choices? Or do they just do random stuff because they are really emotional (check how often your characters “burst into tears” or sob or whatnot. Over-emotional characters are weak and unbelievable.)
Do things happen by cause and effect, or by magical remedy?
If you’re writing fiction, check out my story plotting templates. It’s important to hit big, dramatic turning points in your story to build momentum, so that’s a quick fix. After that, you can take a look through my big list of common writing mistakes (you are definitely making most of these…)
How much should you pay for editing and proofreading?
I used to charge between 1.5cents and 2cents per word ($0.02USD/word). I still feel that 2 cents per word is average, or “reasonable”. So a 50,000 word book would cost $1000. That’s a big, scary fee – which is why I was uncomfortable charging more. However, I stopped editing, in part, because it’s way too much work for the money.
So if you’re looking for a super quality editor, 2cents per word might be too low (you couldn’t buy me at that price, and I’m awesome). These days, although I rarely take on editing work, I would have to charge at least 4 cents per word ($2000 for 50,000words).
But I know editors who charge 4, 5, and 6 cents per word as well. I don’t think they are better editors than I am, but they may have a better business model that allows them to charge more; they may also be better suited to certain projects than I am.
Edit: now that I have my PhD in Literature, I prefer only taking on developmental critiques closer to 8cents a word, or ghostwriting at 12 cents per word.
Q: How much do novel editors charge?
A: The cost of hiring a novel editor can vary depending on factors such as the level of editing required, the length of the manuscript, and the editor’s experience and expertise. Editing fees are usually calculated based on a per-word or per-hour basis. As a general range, developmental editing may cost between $0.03 and $0.15 per word, copy editing between $0.01 and $0.05 per word, and line editing between $0.02 and $0.08 per word. It’s advisable to request quotes from multiple editors and discuss your specific project requirements to get an accurate estimate.
Remember, it’s essential to communicate openly with potential editors, discuss your goals and expectations, and clarify pricing and services before entering into any agreement. Hiring a professional editor can greatly enhance the quality of your book, but finding the right editor and understanding the associated costs are important steps in the process.
Price can fluctuate widely for book editing
You can *also* find great editors for much less. Experienced authors often pay $.01 or less, because they’ve done the work and found great book editors. But also because, they probably write cleaner drafts that just need some light tweaks or proofreading. Unfortunately, it’s a challenge to vet qualified editors (I’ve hired several people with advanced degrees and great qualifications that just didn’t put in the work to do a good job).
Editors aren’t usually business owners; they’re freelancers. They have to have a website and get traffic or figure out advertising, or compete on freelance marketplaces for “gigs” often while dropping their prices.
You also need to understand that different editors have different strengths:
- Proofreaders are great at finding typos and inconsistencies.
- Line-editors improve the flow and word choice to make the writing more smooth.
- Copy-editors are meant to clean things up before publishing
- Developmental editors focus on big-picture story stuff.
Most editors wear multiple hats; and most of us charge varying rates depending on the type of editing service you need… and often offer an “editing package” that ranges from $500 to $5000 depending on lots of things. But just because we can sort of wear all the hats doesn’t mean we excel at or love every aspect of book editing.
I’m a firm believer that high-end developmental editing is great for new authors because it’ll help point out very basic, common issues that would have a dramatic impact on your manuscript… but not all editors understand story structure enough to really make a huge difference, and in most cases you could always do a better job self-editing your book yourself (because, even if we’re editing geniuses, we can’t really rewrite the book for you – that’s ghostwriting and it’s much more expensive – so all we can do is give you tons of comments and notes and hope you can sift through it all and make your own changes.)
Most authors think they only want light fixing and cleaning, and SOME authors are already brilliant so that’s really the only thing they need. But MOST new authors might be under the impression that their book is nearly perfect already and will be *happy* to pay someone to clean it up, until they publish and nobody likes it and then they wonder if they should have spent more on developmental editing or something.
It’s enough to say that editors charge different rates, for a variety of reasons, and that pricing is not always or necessarily an indication of skillset or quality.
Is your book ready for editing?
Another common question is, how many rounds of edits and revisions should an author do before their book is ready for editing? This depends on the author. I have a 5-step book editing system I also do for my own books.
I start with the story, and making sure the plot is all there. I use my 24 chapter plot outline.
Then I go through and fix pacing, character motivations, logistics – so it makes sense and feels like there’s natural progression between each scene.
Then I go through and add more dialogue, more scene description, tighten up sentences, avoid repetition.
Finally, I do a proofread and add final touches, fix the slow or in-between scenes, give the final conclusion more emotional satisfaction.
Writing and editing books is always a messy process, but that’s helped me finish nearly 20 novels. You can learn the important skills you need to tell better stories, without hiring an editor – and I would recommend you do so, but it will take more time, effort and patience.
And I would always do a careful check with grammarly before you send it to anyone else, to fix basic punctuation and grammar issues.
Q: How do I know when my novel is ready for an editor?
A: Knowing when your novel is ready for an editor is subjective and can vary from writer to writer. However, here are some signs that your manuscript may be ready for professional editing:
- Multiple revisions: You have gone through several rounds of self-editing and made substantial improvements to the manuscript.
- Feedback from beta readers: You have received feedback from trusted beta readers or critique partners and have addressed their suggestions and concerns.
- Polished prose: Your writing has been carefully revised for clarity, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
- Solid story structure: Your plot, character development, and pacing are well-crafted, and there are no major plot holes or inconsistencies.
- Objective perspective: You have gained some distance from the manuscript and can approach it with a more critical eye, recognizing the need for external input.
Remember, an editor can help elevate your manuscript to its highest potential, but it’s essential to have a solid foundation before seeking their expertise.
Q: How much do editors change your novel?
A: The level of changes made by an editor can vary depending on several factors, including the type of editing you choose and the specific needs of your manuscript. Here’s a general breakdown:
- Developmental editing: A developmental editor focuses on big-picture elements such as plot, character development, pacing, and overall structure. They may suggest significant revisions, additions, or deletions to enhance the story. Changes at this stage can be more substantial.
- Copy editing: Copy editors primarily address grammar, punctuation, spelling, and consistency. They focus on the sentence level and strive to improve clarity, style, and readability. Changes made by copy editors are typically more minor and fine-tuning oriented.
- Line editing: Line editors delve deeper into the language, style, and flow of your writing. They refine sentence structure, word choice, and paragraph transitions to enhance the overall quality of the prose. Changes at this stage are focused on improving the writing style.
It’s important to note that editors aim to maintain your unique voice and vision while enhancing your work. Their suggestions are meant to elevate the manuscript, and the extent of changes will depend on your agreement and collaboration with the editor. Communication with your editor is key to ensure that you’re aligned on the level of changes you’re comfortable with.
Remember, the goal is to create a polished and professional manuscript that still reflects your creative vision.
How to choose an editor or proofreader
Now comes the hard part, actually picking someone to work with. Here are some things I would suggest:
- Ask on online forums or chatrooms for recommendations by other authors
- Check out their website and prices (factor in some of the items above – are you paying for their service or for their lifestyle?)
- Ask for a free sample. Most editors will offer this, if not, ask. For a book, try to get at least 5 pages free. Don’t “trick” them by planting a few mistakes (or do if you want) – focus on how they can improve your regular text.
- Do this for at least 3 – in the process you’ll also get a chance to see how they respond to emails and treat clients. Your “feeling” about the person is important – although not as important as their skills. A nice person may not be the best editor (I’m kind of grouchy and my customer service is lack-luster. But my aloofness helps me concentrate on improving the text and catching mistakes). Often very enthusiastic, supportive editors are must more motivated to get your money. But some people are just friendly.
- Find 10 writers with amazing books in your genre or subject matter and ask if they’d recommend their editor.
I’ve taken it for granted that you’ll be working with an individual, which may not be the case. If you go through a big company, or Lulu/Amazon’s services, you may not know your editor until after you purchase, if at all. This doesn’t necessarily impact quality, but you should know the editor is probably getting about half of what you pay. I don’t recommend *any* self-publishing company or service, because they are mostly vanity presses – they make money from authors, not book sales – and outsource the work to increase profit.
You might get more stability and safety, but less quality. For example, recently I hired for a project; some 1-person businesses, and 1 big agency. The agency was very professional, but charged more and was super slow about doing anything, because they had a big team to communicate with. The 1-person jobs, were better about getting the work done fast; but if you aren’t happy or if they ghost you, there’s very little recourse.
Things to Avoid when Choosing a Book Editor
I used to have a big list of services I recommend… I took it down. It’s very hard to vet professional editors. I try to hire good ones for my own book editing company and it’s a challenge to shift through their work history and websites and try to find some good reviews or case studies. In the end it’s mostly about the confident editor who says they can do it, which is not an indicator of quality but you won’t find that out until later.
I wish there was one good service I could whole-heartedly recommend, but the good, cheap editors are usually booked out in advance by big authors who publish frequently and understand the value.
Red flags – by wary of vanity presses who offer to publish you, but you need to pay for editing first. Also be wary of vanity or boutique presses in general, which offer a publishing package that includes everything AND editing together.
You’re paying double for hand-holding and product management… which is totally fine if you need some help – unless they are outsourcing to low-quality service providers, in which case, one little messup can wreck your launch plans (mostly, they’ll give you an offbrand or unprofessional book cover and the book cover is everything.)
Should I sign a contract for book editing?
I tend to be optimistic and have high expectations of people. But contracts are often useful for protecting an editor and making sure the client and editor agree on the exact amount of work to be done, at what price – without one, clients can keep requesting more work and the editor can be taken advantage of.
A professional editor will probably want some kind of contract.
Authors often also want an NDA agreement signed, which I don’t think is necessary. But I’m not a lawyer and you probably shouldn’t listen to me. (Though, nearly everybody else will tell you this as well: don’t demand an NDA so people won’t steal your idea.)
If someone steals your work to publish as their own, which I think is unlikely, there are some things you can do about it.
But try to remember, plagiarism and piracy is not the enemy. Obscurity is the enemy. The risk that your book will never be found, seen or read – that’s roughly an 85% statistical chance. That’s the norm. So worrying about some unethical editor deciding your book is so great they’re going to quit their job, ruin their business and steal your idea well… it almost never happens.
While I’m at it, contracts don’t help much when an editor ghosts you – which happens a lot, and unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do. This is the nature of working with 1-person businesses who are their own boss. Most are excellent. But there is a little bit of risk involved so do your research and don’t just pick someone who you “gel” with (I have another post somewhere in the universe, that says something like – finding someone who does a good job is more important than how someone makes you feel).
Another way to find book editors
Another excellent way to find editors is to let them come to you. Join a site like Elance, Guru, or Freelancer, and post a project. Be specific about what you need, and include a price range/budget. You’ll receive probably around 20~50 responses. Choosing one can be difficult, but you can read through their testimonials, look over their portfolio, etc.
This is usually how editors start building experience, before they launch their own site, so you might save some money by catching them early in their career (at the same time, they may have less experience….). At any rate, you usually aren’t required to choose someone for your project, so you could just use the process to get in touch with a few good options.
Most sites like this don’t support free samples, but if you find a way to contact the editors directly by email, I’m sure they’d agree to a sample edit.
Reedsy Book Editors
Reedsy is a marketplace of author and publishing services. It’s a well built and useful site for authors, and it makes finding editors easier. They don’t post their prices however, and it’s not super intuitive. Many people have been happy with the editors they found; but I’ve also heard some negative reviews. Reedsy tries to vet editors and protect authors (more than most sites) but as I mentioned, vetting editors is very difficult.
Do I really need to pay to edit my book?
I don’t think it’s fair to tell someone they cannot publish because they don’t have enough disposable income to hire an editor. And there are books that have sold very well without proper editing – so I’ve learned that editing is not necessarily a sound financial investment: it won’t make or break a book’s success.
It’s a good idea, and of course it will help, if you can afford it. But if you can’t, I don’t think you should take out a loan expecting your book to earn a windfall on publishing.
If you can’t afford an editor:
I fixed my books by getting reader feedback and asking my beta-readers to highlight or flag typos. If you have a committed group of betas, before you release the book out to strangers or make it available, you might be fine.
I would still get the recommended “Free Samples” from a few editors though. If they can’t find anything to fix, you probably don’t need to pay for an editor. But they will probably show you how much you actually need to fix. 5 typos in a whole book is not the end of the world. 50 mistakes will probably upset readers and lose fans.
Join writing groups, trade edits and critiques, find a way to get some fresh eyes on your book – and be open to criticism (though you don’t have to accept all if it, it’s always helpful to see how others will react to your writing).
Can you self-edit your book
If you’re still here, you may feel like I’ve failed to give you the information you need (because damn, you just want to hire the best editor and wash your hands of the dumpster fire of your manuscript that’s side-eyeing you balefully from the desk).
But here’s the good news. The absolute best thing you should do with your rough draft is to roll up your sleeves and invest some time in the craft of writing. Yes it’s harder, than the free-wheeling inspiration that vomited up your joyful draft… because you’ll have to learn some stuff. And the more you learn, the more you’ll see flaws and cracks and just objectively terrible writing in your book and that can sting.
But it’s also part of the process.
I’ve tried to make that process easier by creating an absolute ton of writing materials and resources for authors; and it’s not recycled garbage either. This is stuff you’ve never heard before, that didn’t exist before. I made it for you.
Here’s just a small taste but you really need to dig around to find my best resources. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. I’ll even put the kettle on.
How to self-edit your book for almost free
#1 use Grammarly to find typos.
#2 find and fix plotholes with my story plotting templates
#3 show don’t tell (3 simple rules to fix everything)
#4 common writing mistakes (you are definitely making most of these…)
#5 fix your backstory/infodumps (write satisfying fiction)
Get started with those… I spend 10 years getting a PhD and another ten years in the industry to begin to start understanding this stuff, and now I share it with writers for free.
But this is just the very beginning. I have a lot of content, so you might have to dig around a bit to find my best content, or check out one of my writing courses (one of them on “self-editing” is free, so grab that one while you can!)
- How to write a book in a month (34 easy steps!)
- The 6 signs of weak writing (how to tell if your book sucks)
Best writing and editing software
There are some very new, cutting-edge software that uses AI, that I think will replace proofreaders and maybe even developmental editors very soon. It’s already pretty smart, and can do basic things like fix grammar, spelling and punctuation; rephrase or rewrite your text in a stronger style, even change the POV or tenses. You can even ask it to give you critical feedback.
There’s a lot of controversy, because this is a big change, but some of these tools could save you a lot of time and money, and make book writing more accessible to everyone.
As a last resort, I try to collect great editors at The Book Butchers. We aren’t perfect, but we’re pretty great, and we have a better guarantee than anybody else so you’re always protected.
PS. This is an older article. A newer one comparing book editing prices is “how much does editing cost and are you being ripped off?”
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.