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​​What Sort of Editing Do I Need?

About Writing     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

I finally have my novel complete. Self-editing has taken me as far as I can go and I believe the manuscript is perfect. Do I need a professional editor at this point? What kind of gouging and red-lining will an editor do? I need some education here so I can make better choices.

I believe we mentioned some benefits of a talented editor in an earlier blog, so let’s look at what editors really do for an author and you can discern the pros and cons for yourself. An editor gives the author an unbiased, rules-based assessment of his/her work. She identifies issues using proven style-sheets and other tools, not to insult or embarrass a proud parent, though it may certainly seem so at the time.

There are effectively three levels of edits that may be performed; developmental, copyediting, and proofreading. An author may need one, two, all three levels, or none of the above. That’s a discussion between you and your editor.    

Developmental editing, also known as content editing and substantive editing, is a type of editing that focuses on improving the overall structure, content, and style of a manuscript. During a developmental edit, the editor may provide feedback on the clarity and coherence of the writing, suggest changes to the order and organization of the material, and help the author identify gaps in their arguments or areas where more detail or supporting evidence is needed. An editor may also suggest changes to the tone, style, and character development in the writing to better match the intended audience and purpose of the work.

An editor typically performs developmental editing as an initial overview of your completed draft or even an earlier stage of the writing process, before copyediting and proofreading. It can be particularly helpful for authors who are struggling to get their ideas onto a page, or who want to ensure their work is as clear and compelling as possible.

Copyediting assumes the structure of the author’s manuscript is intact so you won’t see any big picture suggestions. Here, a copyeditor checks the document for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax errors; sentences, paragraphs and scenes are reviewed for variety, fluidity, word choice, and repetition that make each true to the author’s voice. Copyediting also involves checking for factual accuracy. The end goal of copyediting is to ensure that the final product meets the standards and expectations of the intended audience.

Proofreading is the process of reviewing a manuscript to detect and correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, internal consistency, and formatting. If a word is capitalized or italicized in Chapter 5, then it should appear the same in Chapter 10. If the manuscript uses footnotes, references, table of contents, or headings, those are also checked and verified. It is the final stage of the editing process, where the document is carefully read and checked to ensure that it is error free.

Okay, how much should these three types of edits cost? In my experience, the most recent costs vary a bit, depending on the editor, of course.

Developmental editing – 4 to 15 cents per word.
Copyediting – 3 to 6 cents per word.
Proofreading – half cent to 2.5 cents per word

Holy Mother of God! I may as well sign over my meager royalty rights to the editor!

Hold on a second. There is a new trend emerging in the last few years that may be worth a look. Because every book is at least a little different from all others, some editors are now offering an overall assessment of a manuscript before an author has to make any sort of random choice about which editing procedures he/she needs.

This customized offering typically includes a complete read through of a manuscript. The editor will take notes along the way and put together a feedback document highlighting what works well in the novel and which areas of revision the author may want to address before publication. In addition, the assessment provides a suggestion regarding which level(s) of editing makes the most sense for the author.

If author and editor agree, then most often the smaller fee paid for the custom assessment may be applied to further editorial work. If not, at least an author has the custom assessment to proceed forward.