You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating: it’s not a great idea to edit your own manuscript. Revise, yes—as much as possible. Polish that sucker up! But editing is a very demanding, tedious process that must be done right, and as such, should be done by a professional.
And it’s an investment you can’t afford to skip.
Here’s why: it’s a fact that you are much less likely to catch your own mistakes, whether we’re talking about little typos, or bigger issues such as plot holes, factual errors, or improperly developed characters. But why is this? Because once you’re intimately familiar with a manuscript, and you’ve been over it a thousand times, you simply don’t notice these things anymore. They fade into the background.
So you definitely want another pair of eyes on your work. And it really should be a trained pair of eyes. Your friends can beta read it and offer feedback, and that feedback will certainly be valuable in its own right, but an editor knows precisely where the problems lie and can articulate exactly what needs to be done to fix them.
Good editing isn’t dirt cheap, but it can be affordable when you choose the right editor. Prices run the gamut, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association (and total investment will also depend on how quickly an editor works, and what type of editing you need), but I’ve listed some averages below.
Here are the most common types of editing:
Developmental editing. Need help with your plot, the structure of your story, or character development? This “big picture” service will help you organize your novel and tie it all together nicely. It is quite time consuming, therefore requires the highest investment. Expected investment: 3.5¢–10¢ per word
Substantive editing (also called content or line editing). Okay, you have a story written. But you know it’s not perfect—the narrative could flow better, some paragraphs could be rearranged, sentences rewritten, or it may need that little extra…something? Hire a substantive editor to help with this. Still time-consuming, but cheaper than developmental editing. Expected investment: 2.5¢–8¢ per word
Copyediting. Let’s drill down to the sentence level. Do the words flow? Do the sentences have rhythm? Any grammar or punctuation issues? A good copyeditor will also keep a keen eye out for dangling modifiers. It’s like a car wash for your writing. Expected investment: 1¢–5¢ per word
Proofreading. All the major work’s been done, so now let’s sweep up and mop the floor, leaving it sparkling clean. Any remaining (minor) issues such as misspellings, extra or missing words, punctuation errors or anything else that shouldn’t be there are wiped away, and you’re left with the final text for your book. A proofreading pass takes the least time, therefore costs the least. Expected investment: less than 1¢ to 3¢ per word
Your investment will depend heavily on the editor’s experience, how polished your manuscript is going in, and the time frame you give the editor. And some charge by the hour, not by the word. But as you can see, this doesn’t have to break the bank, and you’ll end up with a much better finished product, very much worth the investment.
Remember, your reputation is at stake!
I’m Timothy Pike, a publishing consultant based in Philadelphia, PA, specializing in helping you publish a beautiful book and grow your audience.