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The 3 Types of Editors Every Writer Should Know
The one thing you’ll hear all writers talk about, whether it’s positive or negative, it’s the cost of an editor. I find that cost is probably the single most common reason why an indie author either will or won’t use them. And while I fully intend to give some “price-points” that you should look for when hiring an editor for yourself, I want to start out by saying that this is merely a discussion on what each editor is and how they can be beneficial to your writing.
Each editor can be found and hired separately. Meaning they specialize in one of the three types I mention. Or you can do what countless others do and find someone who may cover one or all of the types of editors in their services. The choice is ultimately yours and will almost always come down to cost when determining which you need.
As I write fantasy and aim to have about 90k words with my manuscripts, I will use this as my base example when calculating the possible cost for hiring each specific type of editor.
Just a couple of things I like to preface with regards to the commonality between these three editors is that they should be brought on after the following steps have been taken:
Your manuscript is finished. Some might argue differently, but this is my firm stance. Take that as you wish.
You’ve self-edited your work to the best of your ability. Again, others might argue differently based on the type of editor and their skillset. You decide at the end of the day which advice to keep and which to throw away.
In the order of things, this one should come in first for multiple reasons. This editor will take a deep interest in the plot and character development. They will give you detailed notes that will go in-depth on where your story might fall short and need some improvements by way of description and dialogue or where the story is working well. The reason you’d want to have them look over your manuscript first is that their notes will likely cause plot changes that go beyond the common typo.
This editor will leave you thinking about your story structure and why it may or may not be working. Similar to a critique partner, they will read your manuscript looking for plot holes, poor character development, confusing dialogue, sentence phrasing, and any other issues.
Many editors will provide what’s known as an “editorial letter” which will give broad-stroke issues that will encompass the entire manuscript as well as giving what I call “in the margin” notes and comments for review. The reason why some writers may want to involve a developmental editor early on in the process before their manuscript is finished is so that any issues can be discovered and corrected during the first draft phase. Either instance works but bringing a developmental editor in early may cause a price bump depending on how long it takes you to process their notes as you pass your manuscript back-and-forth to each other.
A few key points to remember when hiring and working with a developmental editor:
Of all the edits this one is the most time-consuming. It’s not as simple as hand in your manuscript, get it back with notes, process the notes and that’s it. There will be a period of back-and-forth conversations and clarifications and be mindful that not all editors here will include that kind of communication in the final cost. Some might require extra if there will be follow-up needed for them or may not include any follow-up at all. It’s best to be clear in the beginning what to expect.
Be open minded to the fact that a lot of what you might love may not register the same with the developmental editor. Don’t take their comments personally. Their goal is the same as yours; to produce the best possible version of your manuscript.
Rewriting will be a huge part of this process and not just correcting typos. Entire scenes may need to be redone or completely removed. But you knew this was coming and you’re ready for it.
Don’t lose your voice in the process. Remember that you’re paying them and at the end of the day, they shouldn’t be altering your story so much that it no longer feels like it's yours. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be mindful of that possibility. Don’t feel you have to accept all of their notes, otherwise, your manuscript won’t be perfect. There is no such thing as perfection and as unbiased as a developmental editor attempts to be, they are still human. What doesn’t translate well to them is just one opinion in a sea of potential future readers.
Before I mention cost I do want you to consider all that this developmental editor has been hired to do. Of all the editors you will find, this one will be the most expensive. But, if you utilize the different kinds of readers correctly, that you can read more about here, then this should be the one and only editor you’ll be glad you spared the extra expense for.
COST: $0.07 to $0.12 per word
90,000 words = $6,300 - $10,800
Some will consider this similar to that of a copy editor or even that of a developmental editor. But in the case of a true line editor, there are very distinct and important differences. Knowing those differences will mean a lot when determining whether or not you want or need one.
A line editor is, in many ways, an artist who must embody you and your voice in order to make you sound better than you ever thought you could. Their job is to literally take every single line of your manuscript, one at a time, and make them read and sound amazing. They must know the language of each character and make sure their individual voices don’t change while simultaneously making sure there is a logical and natural flow of the story throughout.
That is not an easy task to undertake, believe me. They aren’t just looking for typos either, so don’t think that is what they are doing. No, they are looking for inconsistencies in pacing for both plot and dialogue. But they aren’t going into all those finite details that a developmental editor will do. And hopefully, if you did all you could possibly do before you passed this manuscript on to a line editor (such as done some self-editing and passed it through the hands of a few beta readers) then their job will be minimal at best.
Some common questions a line editor will ask themselves while reading your manuscript are:
What is the tone of this passage? Do the words successfully evoke that tone?
Are there any extraneous words or needless digressions?
How do the sentences fit together? Do they flow naturally from one to the next?
Is the language precise and free of clichés?
Is there a consistent point of view? If the POV shifts, does it do so in a logical, consistent manner?
A line editor, a really good one, will need only one pass of your manuscript and there should be little to no back and forth discussion when they are done. What you do with their comments back to you is totally up to you. But just like any editor you hire, they are there to make you sound better. Remember that.
The cost is considerably less than a developmental editor, but not by much so don’t get too excited. Also, this editor should not be used as a replacement to a developmental editor in the hopes of saving a few bucks in the process. They are different and their skill sets are different.
COST: $0.04 to $0.09 per word
90,000 words = $3,600 - $8,100
Ah, the moment we’ve all been waiting for and probably the most used type of editor among those of us who probably can’t afford the previous two, rely on friends and family to fill that void, then shell out what little we have right before publication time. The copy editor is not developmental and while they are likely to point out some things that a line editor will point out, it won’t be for the same reasons.
Think of a copy editor as a walking, talking, Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (under $5) book. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a small book of about 100 pages but it’s filled with the most common errors that all us writers make and can easily train ourselves to stop making them or at least learn what they are so we can avoid making them, but we most of the time don’t bother. Why? Well, the copy editor will get that, won’t they?
Of the three types of editors, I feel the most for the copy editor because a lot of their job is finding those mistakes that could easily have been spotted and corrected by the writer themselves if they bothered. That’s not to say some errors, no matter how many times we read it over or run it through programs like Grammarly and ProWritingAid, won’t be caught, and by all means, a copy editor will most likely find those. It is their job, after all. But honestly, if you’re getting back a manuscript with a “sea of comments” to make grammatical, punctuation, or typo corrections...seriously?!
Just out of sheer respect for the professional that is a copy editor, put a bit of effort in there yourself and do some self-editing. Read a book on grammar. Learn what your most common writing issues are (we all have them, don’t pretend like you’re perfect) write them down and after each manuscript, go through the damn thing and correct them!
What kills me is how the copy editor gets the grunt work and charges the least. Not that I’m advocating they should increase their prices to compete with the other two types and break my bank. But at least show some appreciation for their work and make them earn it by finding errors you honestly missed.
Something else a good copy editor will do and if yours doesn’t, consider if they are good at their job, but they should be fact-checking your manuscript as well. What does fact-checking entail? Well, if you mention a law in the beginning and then mention that same law later on, but you phrase it differently or contradict yourself, then a copy editor should catch that and point it out. Or if you say a character is 4’ in one chapter but suddenly is 6’ in another? Yeah, they should catch that…
A copy editor is not like Grammarly or some other software. They go beyond what any program can offer you with some added accuracy to their work and you should make sure they live up to what you paid for even if it wasn’t as much as the other types of editors.
Also, you’ll find this service most likely to be lumped into the cost and service of one of the other two types. They will be a developmental and copy editor or a line and copy editor. Which makes sense in many ways because if you didn’t self-edit they are already seeing most, if not all, of your mistakes as they are reading through, and therefore why not increase their price by a few pennies per word and bundle their services.
One more thing to note, this editor would literally be brought in as the final check-point before publication. Once you’re at the point of a copy editor it’s smooth sailing now. Get their notes back, implement them and you’re done. Also, I’d say unlike the other two editors, their suggestions will likely be ones you’ll want to make unless their suggested change will affect the language of your story (which it shouldn’t because they will know what that is already and make allowances accordingly).
COST: $0.02 - $0.03 per word
90,000 words = $1,800 - $2,700
I know what you must be thinking, this is very costly for an indie author! And you’d be correct. This is why those who are just starting out will opt for the less expensive option and once they are earning enough, will invest in the other kinds of editors, hopefully finding someone who does the other two for a discounted rate, for the future.
But if you’re really interested in what this will cost, if you went out and hired one editor per type, this is what you’re looking at spending per book:
AVERAGE COST PER BOOK
90,000 word book = $11,700 - $21,600
That kind of money ain’t no joke! Which is why, if this is something you really want to do full time, you must anticipate the cost of getting a book to the presses. Making sure you are able to do more than makeup for that cost and do your best not to cut too many corners till you run out of room to move.
In a future post, I’ll discuss just how some of these costs can be saved in big ways by using the right tools at the right time and in the right ways.