Photo by Nic McPhee, cc license

Photo by Nic McPhee, cc license

I’m kind of sick of editing. There, I said it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

I’ve been editing my WIP, Moonburner, fairly consistently since January.  Currently, I am completing the fourth edit before I send it to some beta readers. I think part of my problem is that I keep seeing the same issues with my manuscript and trying to fix them, but not quite knowing if my fixes are effective. I end up going in circles. I need a fresh perspective. I think my beta readers will help a lot with this. But I have also been thinking about hiring a professional editor.

Is this a cop-out? I don’t know. One the one hand, you could argue that you are hiring someone to do the hard work for you (although you will still have to implement the changes they recommend). On the other hand, I am a total rookie at this, and it would be helpful to have a seasoned pro give me some pointers.

This got me looking into the different stages of editing. Turns out there are a number of discrete stages of editing, and different types of editors themselves. Many editors may handle some or all of the stages, while other might specialize in one. Much of the info below comes from a great post by The Book Designer.

Developmental Editor

A developmental editor comes onto the scene fairly early in the process, and helps with big picture things. Does the plot work? Are there holes? Are your characters flat or not believable? Advice from a developmental editor might lead to some serious changes in the book. Parts will be cut or reworked. The status quo will be challenged. It works best when this process is collaborative, with ideas and changes bouncing back and forth from writer to editor.

Line editing

I have seen developmental and line editing described interchangeably, but I agree with folks who consider line editing to be a separate stage. Line editing is about readability, about the words being used, while developmental editing focuses on the underlying components of storytelling (theme, character, plot, etc.). A good line editor will dive into the choice of words used to eliminate clumsy phrasing, repetitive words, passive voice, or overly wordy prose. They will reorder sentences or paragraphs to improve transition and flow.


Then comes copy-editing. Copy-editors are the grammar nerds, those who sleep with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style under their pillows. They will fix your formatting, your punctuation, your split infinitives, your misspellings of common words. (Did you really mean accept instead of except?) This editor focuses on whether your work is grammatically correct and complies with the applicable style guide, not whether or not it actually sounds good or is enjoyable to read.


This is the last stage. Proof-reading should occur after the book had been formatted for publication, preferably with proof pages that look just how the finished book will look. This editor will catch inconsistent formatting like pagination or spacing, fonts, headers and footers, and more. Catching these details will likely be the difference between your book’s pages looking professional and polished, or slapped together screaming “self-published!”

There are other individuals along the way who also play an important role.

Beta reader

Beta readers are third parties (preferably not Mom and Dad or your best friend), who will read your work and give impartial feedback. They are the one to tell you that your main character isn’t likeable, the book jumps around too much, or the great battle scene at the climax of your book kinda falls flat. They will help you figure out what readers won’t like about your book, so you can fix it before publication.

Cover designer

I have heard that if a self-publishing author spends money on anything, it should be a professional cover designer. Maybe others disagree, but the fact is, people judge books by their covers. A quality cover will put you above the self-published pack, and will signal to the reader that you took care with what was inside the cover, as well (which is hopefully true).

Interior layout designer

A proofreader will be able to help catch mistakes in interior layout, but if you don’t know where to start when designing your book, an interior layout designer might be a good investment. There are a number of uniformities in book formatting that we don’t think about as a reader–unless they’re not followed. Where to leave blank space, where to start your page numbers, how to format your table of contents, your headers, your title page…these are all things you should be making conscious decisions about, not hoping you got it right.

To hire each of these editors and experts would cost an arm and a leg, and might not be a wise investment for a self-published work that will cost readers $.99. How much exactly are we talking?

Some editors quote by the word, some by the page, some by the hour. It can be difficult to even compare prices. A good starting point is to remember that industry standard sets 250 words per manuscript page.

According to the Writer’s Market, book development/line editing should cost $6-7 per page, copyright editing should cost around $4 per page; proofreading $3 per page. Translated to price per hour, that equals $50 per hour for development/line editing, $35 per hour for copyediting, $30 per hour for proofreading.

The Editorial Freelancers Association tends to agree, estimating $55 per hour for developmental editing, between $30-50 per hour for copyediting (depending on how heavy the editing is), and $30 per hour for proofreading. The EFA estimates that the average editor can developmental edit 1-5 pages per hour, copyedit around 5 pages per hour, and can proofread 9-13 pages per hour. The figures don’t exactly add up, especially on the developmental editing end, making me tend to think that paying by the word or page would be a better deal for an author at that stage.

As for cover designers and interior layout designers, you should be able to find a cover design, which includes spine and back cover, for about $500-700. More like $200-300 for just an eBook cover. For interior layout, probably a few hundred dollars. For beta reading, you shouldn’t pay. You should be able to find willing beta readers on sites like Goodreads or Wattpad who are willing to beta read for free.

So where does this leave me? Moonburner is about 88,000 words, or 352 pages. It would cost me ~$2000 for a developmental/line editor, ~$1400 for a copyeditor, and ~$1000 for a proof reader, based on Writer’s Market’s estimated prices per page. Add $500 for a cover, and this is looking pricey.

Those who have been through this process and hired professional or freelance editors, what type of editor did you hire? What stage were you at? Do you have regrets? I will likely only spring for one professional edit, perhaps a copyeditor after beta reading. I know I want to hire a cover designer. But I would definitely appreciate any wisdom about whether this combo represents the most bang for my buck.