Under the Covers: Editing, Round Two

When we previously wrote about editing, hopefully we convinced you that the quality of your book’s content is worth the investment in professional editing. Now the question is, what kind of editing do you need? Editing roles and definitions vary a little throughout the industry, but most professionals divide editing services into three or four levels. At PublishNext, we talk about three levels—Developmental Editing, Content Editing, and Copyediting—and here is how we define them:

Developmental Editing

This is the highest level of editing. Dev Editors will make the most substantial changes to your manuscript; they specialize in analysis, reorganization, and reconstruction. They can let you know what needs to be added, what needs to be moved, and what needs to be thrown out. Sometimes called Book Doctors, these professionals also work at patching up plots and healing broken characters. Did you just write your characters into a corner? This editor is the person to call to get them out.

When you start searching for a Dev Editor, be sure you find one whose personality fits well with your own—you may spend a lot of one-on-one time with your Book Doctor. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you’ll probably have a lot of work to do once this editor is finished. A Dev Editor isn’t a Ghost Writer. Editors will provide suggestions, guidance, and maybe even examples, but the actual writing is still up to you.

So what’s it going to cost you? As with definitions of services, rates vary throughout the industry. Even with one individual, rates may vary by project. The Editorial Freelancers Association lists a range of $45 to $55 per hour, but Dev Editors can easily charge $80 or $100 per hour. Just make sure you know what you’re getting for that price. Most editors will offer a free initial consultation and a review of a few chapters from your manuscript, which allows them to give you an accurate estimate for the work and show you why it’s worth the investment.

Because of the time commitment required for each manuscript, Developmental Editing is one service that PublishNext doesn’t provide directly—we would rather find you a dedicated editor who can give your manuscript the focused attention it deserves. So if we recommend a Dev Edit for you, we will also connect you with an editor we feel will fit your personality and your manuscript.

Content Editing

Content Editing provides a line-by-line look at the style of your manuscript. Does the paragraph support its thesis? Does this thesis follow from the previous one, or should there be more of a transition? Is this phrase specific to your profession, or is it common enough for the average reader to understand? Content Editing answers all of these questions.

Once again, you should expect to do the majority of work here. Content Editors seek to point out problems and offer suggestions for how to fix them; they usually won’t fix the problem for you. Our standard practice is to go through the entire manuscript, make changes and add comments, and then send it back to the author all at once. Other editors prefer to work chapter-by-chapter. Either way, there is not as much back-and-forth with the author, so you won’t need to worry too much about searching for an editor with a personality to match yours.

The EFA doesn’t have a median range for Content Editing specifically (this is a case where job definitions differ), but they list a “substantive or line editing” at $40–60 per hour. For our editing services, PublishNext charges per word, rather than per hour, because we feel this is a better deal for our authors. After our free editorial evaluation, we provide a price between $0.032 and $0.064 per word, which covers the Content Edit and a Copyedit after that.


Copyediting covers the nitty-gritty, mechanical details of written language. Copyeditors search diligently for errors that distract readers from your message or ones that could be embarrassing or detrimental. You may have seen the joke contrasting the sentence, “Let’s eat Grandma,” with, “Let’s eat, Grandma.” But imagine a politician who sends out an email campaign mentioning “my wife Kate” rather than “my wife, Kate.” Suddenly, he has voters asking, “Is he a polygamist or just ignorant?”

Most writers are willing to admit they need some help here, and Microsoft Word isn’t good enough. The good news is that copyediting is affordable and quick. The EFA lists $30–50 per hour, depending on the difficulty of the text and the number of errors. So if you’re writing a standard novel and you’ve had other readers look at it already, expect to pay a lower rate to polish it up for publishing. If your book explains a new theory of quantum physics, expect to pay a higher rate. With similar criteria, our rates are usually $0.015 to $0.029 per word (the quantum physics book might be higher).

The other piece of good news is that Copyediting should be final. Once this edit is finished, your book should be ready for publication. You should not need to make any changes to the manuscript after the editor has finished. However, it’s a good idea to double-check. Read through the manuscript again. Let a peer read it. Do all you can to make sure it is the best it can be before it goes to layout. Once the layout phase begins, your manuscript will be in the hands of a graphic designer, and having the designer change your content can be a messy and expensive process.

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