I had no idea there were different kinds of editing when I started writing. This is what I’ve learned.
The first kind of editing is called developmental editing. If you hire a developmental editor, that editor will evaluate your WIP (work in progress, your unfinished, pre-submission story) for fundamental things such as plot and character. They will tell you why your middle sags, or what you can do to make your mediocre, kind of boring main character vital and dynamic. They will discuss story structure with you, give you advice on where to properly start your story, discuss pacing, and all those other good things. They do a lot to keep your story from being boring.
The second kind of editing is called line editing. These editors will discuss sentence and paragraph structure with you and give you advice on word choice. They do a lot to make your prose sing.
The third kind of editing is called copy editing. These editors fix your grammar, punctuation, and spelling. They look for consistency, so they can point out if you misspelled a character’s name, if the character has brown eyes in one part of the book and hazel eyes in the other, if you have continuity errors, and all that other nit-picky stuff. People expect published books to look ‘professional,’ and they help with that.
You can and should also hire a proofreader if you intend to indie-publish. A proofreader goes through the finished, edited manuscript (MS) and looks for typos.
You need all three editors and the proofreader. If you intend to indie-publish, you will need to hire all of them. They cost a fortune, which is why there’s not much money in writing for most people. It’s not unheard-of to lose money on writing until around your fifth to eighth published book, if you go indie, or to not earn out your advance until your fifth to eighth book, if you trad-publish. Between editors, cover artists, layout specialists, and marketing, writing is generally a money-losing proposition.
But there’s good news! You can learn how to lay out your own novel. You can learn how to market yourself, which you’re going to need to do anyway because even publishers expect you to do a lot of your own marketing. Book tours and speaking engagements, for example, are authors doing their own marketing and they typically find it exhausting. Signing 2500 autographs in one day makes your hand swell up and keeps you from writing. You can even learn how to edit, and then trade edits with other writers who have learned how to edit. (This is called critiquing. See my “How to critique” article.)
How much should an editor cost? The Write Life did a pretty good article on that (circa 2017), so I’m going to defer to them. But just in case you want it quickly, they break it down this way:
For a 70,000 word book (about 250 pages):
- Developmental editing – $5,600 USD
- Copyediting – $1,260
- Proofreading – $791
Again, that’s a general idea. Some places will charge less, but they usually also have less experience. You get what you pay for. Typically I save my tax returns in a special savings account toward editing costs, book covers (a good book cover can run you $800; covers are far more than art alone) and the like.