The Ultimate Guide to Book Editing: Types and Tips
Editing is a critical part of the book-publishing process. This ultimate guide explains the different types of book editing services available and provides tips for choosing the right editor for your manuscript.
What is a book editor?
A book editor is a publishing-industry professional who'll read your manuscript and propose various changes in an attempt to make your story stronger. These proposed changes can range from high-level comments about characters and plot, down to alterations of specific words, like for typos.
Book editors play pivotal roles for both fiction and non-fiction projects. Though you should self-edit your manuscript as you're writing, having another set of eyes go through the document is crucial.
If a publishing company acquires your manuscript, they'll provide editors for it. However, if you're self-publishing your book, you'll be responsible for hiring your own editors. FYI, you can learn more about both publishing options in my book publishing guide.
Even if you're great at self-editing, with a manuscript that's 50,000 - or even 100,000 - words, you may miss something. And once you publish your book, especially if you're selling hard copies, fixing an issue that a reader points out can be very difficult and time-consuming.
You're better off working with an editor prior to publishing to make sure the version of your book you share with the world is as good as it can be.
What are the different types of book editing services?
Book editing services exist on a spectrum, ranging from broad/subjective feedback to narrow/objective:
Click a service above to read more about it, or just keep scrolling down this page to hear about them all.
What is developmental editing?
Developmental editing, sometimes referred to as structural editing or story editing, is focused on identifying major issues with a story's plot and characters, plus genre fit.
The editor offers purely subjective opinions. As the author, you ultimately decide if you want to change your story to reflect the recommendations. Feel free to incorporate all, some, or none.
For example, a developmental editor may say:
Though developmental suggestions can give a story a major boost, they sometimes require a major rewrite by an author, which might take months.
Thus, if your story has any foundational issues with plot, characters, and/or genre fit, you should try to identify them before you've spent time writing a full manuscript. Ideally you'd do this in your "outlining" stage or even sooner.
A story consultant can work with you to find and fix these issues early. If you resolve them before finishing your manuscript, when you eventually hand it off to a developmental editor, the edit suggestions you'll receive likely won't yield massive rewrites.
If you already have a completed manuscript draft and you're ready for a professional to give it a developmental edit, check out these affordable freelance editors on Fiverr.
What is line editing?
Line editing also entails subjective feedback, yet it's narrower than developmental input, usually at the chapter, scene, or paragraph level. A line editor typically comments on pacing, plausibility, tone, and flow.
For instance, a line editor may say:
As the author, you decide if you want to address all, some, or none of these recommendations in the next draft of your manuscript.
Ideally, you should pass your manuscript to a line editor after any structural issues have been addressed, ie what a story consultant and development editor handle.
If you feel your manuscript is ready for a line edit, you can find a high-quality, affordable line editor through the BookBaby service or Fiverr.
What is copy editing?
Copy editing mostly involves recommendations on word choice, and paragraph and sentence formatting.
A copy editor may give an opinion to replace a word with another, not because the original was "wrong" in a black-and-white sense, but because the alternative may have stronger impact.
In other cases, a copy editor would point out formatting issues with sentences that are objectively in violation of grammatical rules. Since copy editing and proofreading (discussed next) both address grammatical problems, certain editors provide both services in a package.
Other editors may encompass line editing into these packages as well, ie one editor would go through your manuscript providing recommendations across three editing categories.
While copy editing, an editor may say:
Like other types of editing, opinion-based recommendations should be assessed by the author before reflection in the next draft. As for objective errors, unless an author is purposefully including them for stylistic reasons, they should be fixed in the next draft.
Authors tend to seek copy edits for manuscripts after they've been through multiple drafts and any larger issues have been resolved. If you believe your manuscript is at the copy-edit stage, you can find a good, well-priced editor through BookBaby or Fiverr.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is the narrowest form of book editing. The feedback is almost exclusively objective, focused on errors in syntax, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
For stylistic reasons, especially in dialogue, grammatical errors may be intentional by the author. For instance, if a certain character is uneducated, his naturalistic way of speech may include mistakes with tense.
A proofreader should point these issues out just in case they weren't intended. That being said, much proofreading makes note of typos, homophone confusion, and other objective mistakes authors should surely fix in the next draft.
For example, a proofreader may say:
Authors should have manuscripts proofread as a final step in the editing process. If you're ready to bring on a proofreader, check out BookBaby or Fiverr.
How long does a book edit take?
The turnaround time of a book edit primarily depends on the length of your submitted manuscript and the type of edit you need.
Longer manuscripts of course take longer to edit. Time per service type goes up with broadness and subjectivity, with developmental edits taking longest and proofreads shortest, in general.
Your editor's schedule also plays a factor in timing. If you work with an editor who has a large backlog of projects, yours may not begin for two months.
To avoid delays, browse sites like Fiverr and BookBaby, which give you access to pools of editors. You should be able to find someone ready to start soon, if not right away.
Once your project begins, typical turnaround times for typical-length manuscripts would be:
If a single editor is providing you a package of line edits, copy edits, and/or proofreading, the combined edit should take quicker than stacking the services.
How much does a book edit cost?
Like timing, the price of an edit hinges on the length of your manuscript and the type of service you need. The higher a service's broadness and subjectivity, the higher the cost. If you order a multi-service package from a single editor, the fee will likely be lower than purchasing the services individually.
Pricing tends to follow a per-page or per-word rate, ie $X per manuscript page or $Y per word.
Editors charge varying fees based on their experience. For instance, an editor who's worked with many bestselling authors will likely charge more per page than an editor who's only completed a couple projects.
How does the book editing process work?
While ordering a service from an editor, an author would submit an online form - or send an email - specifying the type of service needed and attaching the latest draft of the manuscript, usually as a Microsoft Word file.
After the editor completes the job, the author is provided with feedback based on the service ordered:
An example of redlining from BookBaby, highlighting problems and solutions.
Ready to improve your manuscript?
If you have a book outline, or even idea, yet don't yet have a completed manuscript draft, check out my story consultation service.
If you've already finished a draft of a manuscript, and are ready for an editing service, check out the options on BookBaby and Fiverr.
Not quite ready for any of these services yet? No problem. Bookmark this page and visit it whenever you're set.
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