What Kind of Editor Do You Need?

Last week, I discussed whether or not you need to hire a freelance editor. If you’ve decided to bring in an outside editor, you’ll want to know the different kinds of editing available to you. There are no real industry standards for rates, types of editing, or editor qualifications, and types of editing will often overlap (for example, you might hire one editor to do both structural editing and copyediting). Good editors do not come cheap, but a great editor can be a fantastic investment. Check out writers’ forums, writing blogs, and agent blogs for editor recommendations. Editors will often offer you a free sample edit of a few pages of your manuscript, so you can see whether a particular editor’s style works for you.

Developmental Editing

This type of editing (sometimes called “book doctoring”) typically involves very close collaboration between the writer and the editor. You might bring a general idea to a developmental editor, and he or she will work with you to develop that idea into a book. The editor may write sections of the book for you, help you come up with a specific outline for your project, or participate in research or market analysis.

Structural Editing

A structural edit of your manuscript will look at big-picture issues: does the plot make sense? Are the characters well-developed? Are there major issues of internal logic or worldbuilding? Is the narrative coherent? A nonfiction editor might help you refine the narrative arc of your project, or suggest areas you can develop further or cut. The editor might suggest you remove sections that aren’t working, help you improve the pacing of your book, or point out other flaws.


Copyediting (also called “line editing”) focuses on the grammar, style, and mechanics of your book. At this stage, the editor will prepare a style sheet that will specify the style and format used, and will impose (or create) a consistent style for your manuscript. (For some examples of style guides, check out the Chicago Manual of Style and the MLA Handbook.) A copyeditor will also check the formatting of your manuscript and note any apparent errors or inconsistencies.


Proofreading is the final stage of editing. At this point, the editor won’t be worried about the structure or overall sense of your book at all—s/he’s focused solely on catching grammar and spelling errors.

Editing Packages for Self-Publishers

As I mentioned last week, the growth of self-publishing has created a new breed of business-savvy editor—companies or individuals who are developing services that offer everything from structural editing to formatting your manuscript for publishing as part of a single package.

So, What Kind of Editor is the Best for You?

Well, that depends. If you have a critique partner or group who provides you with spot-on recommendations for revision, you might not need a developmental or structural editor. However, a structural editor will most likely put far more time and energy into your book than a friend or critique partner, and will also probably have more experience identifying the parts of a book that aren’t working.

Copyediting and proofreading are generally less expensive services, and I highly recommend that self-published writers invest in a proofread at the very least. A professional proofread will ensure that your reader isn’t being sidetracked by grammatical or spelling errors.

Different editors charge differently—some will give you a flat quote for an entire project, and others will charge per page. Be sure to establish what exactly you’re getting from an editor before you commit to working with him or her—will your editor give your manuscript another pass once you’ve made revisions, for example? How much will the editor’s services cost? How long will the editor take to edit your manuscript?

It’s important to be realistic in your expectations—as I mentioned last week, there’s no freelance editor in the world who can guarantee you agency representation or a book deal. (And again, if an agent loves your book, s/he isn’t going to pass because of a few typos! Unless your spelling and grammar are so bad your manuscript is unintelligible, you probably don’t need to hire a proofreader before you submit your book to agents.) What an editor can do is help you get your book into the best shape possible.

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