This article about book editors for hire explains the various types of freelance book editors, what they do, and whether you should consider hiring one. The information in this article is based on my time as a literary agent helping authors get book deals with publishers such as Random House, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson. And it’s based on the eight years I’ve spent since, as an author coach and consultant, helping approximately 150 authors get literary agents and publishers.
Book Editor Definition – Book Editors for Hire
There are different types of book editors for hire, but they all have one thing in common: they help authors of all genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books) make their manuscripts better. Book editors aren’t ghostwriters; ghostwriters write or heavily rewrite books. Book editors also aren’t proofreaders; proofreaders simply look for very minor text and formatting errors.
Three Types of Book Editors for Hire
There are three different types of book editors for hire.
The first two types of book editors work for publishing companies, and authors aren’t required to pay them. One of those two types of editors, the less common type, is an acquisitions editor; acquisitions editors review books to identify marketable projects for publication, but they don’t always edit those books. More common are editors, also known as “in-house editors,” who help improve the writing and content of the books being produced by their publishers.
Most authors believe their books are better than they are, and they believe literary agents—and editors employed by publishers—are going to do more editing than they actually do. Literary agents and publishers only offer representation and publication to authors whose books are publication-ready or very close to being so.
That’s why the third type of book editor exists: the freelance book editor. Freelance book editors are often hired by authors to help them improve their books to make them more attractive to publishers. I’ll tell you more about the different types of freelance book editors, and what they do, in a moment.
Should You Try to Find Book Editors for Hire?
To me, this decision should only be about two things: time and money.
Every book can be improved, so, if an author is willing to take the necessary time to work with a freelance book editor before querying literary agents, and the author can afford it, why wouldn’t they? Writing a book isn’t easy, for anyone. Authors need to communicate clearly, but they also need to do so thoroughly yet concisely, and, in many cases, depending on an author’s genre, they need to do so entertainingly.
Considering how many different elements must be elegantly woven together in a book, it’s no wonder successful authors who are already published with major publishers often seek professional book editors for hire (in addition to the editing support provided later by an author’s literary agent and publisher). Writing can be incredibly time-consuming, as can the process of querying literary agents. So, though many authors don’t want to invest the time or money required to hire a book editor, it can save time—and headaches. It can also be the difference between those book that are published, and the many more that aren’t.
When Should You Hire a Book Editor?
Most authors treat the decision of when to hire a book editor the same way they treat the decision to hire someone like me as a coach or consultant to help them get an agent. In other words, some authors seek help before they try to get a literary agent or publisher; others try it on their own first, then get help if or when they struggle to get the results they want.
This gets back to my previous point: seeking book editors for hire is really about time and money. Some authors say, “I want to do it right from the start, and I’m willing and able to invest time and money to do so.” Other authors, understandably, don’t want to spend extra time or money to get help unless they’re convinced they need to.
What Does a Book Editor Do?
There are two types of freelance book editors for hire.
Copyeditors – Book Editors for Hire
Copyeditors, also known as line editors, are easier to find than developmental editors and their rates are usually less than the rates of developmental editors. That’s because the skills required by a copyeditor are easier to develop than the skills of a developmental editor. I’m not saying copyediting is easy; it’s just less complex than developmental editing, and it’s less subjective. In other words, different book editors for hire are more likely to agree on the various copyediting changes that should be made to improve any book. It’s more “black and white” than developmental editing.
Book copyeditors look for ways to improve the general readability of a manuscript and eliminate mistakes related to: formatting issues and inconsistencies, proper sequencing (such as alphabetical order) in lists, checking cross-references (for example, “As mentioned in the previous chapter…”), spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, missing and extra words, paragraph structure and length, tense usage and consistency (such as is vs was), other correct word usage (such as that vs which), tonal shifts, unnatural phrasing, passive vs active voice, showing vs telling, age and language appropriateness, repetition or redundancy, extraneous or overused words and sentences, run-on sentences, incorrect words or language usage, saying things concisely, clarity, and the smoothness of transitions. In some cases, copyeditors are also asked or expected to review books for accuracy and flaws relative to the content.
Obviously, some books need more copyediting than others. The more topics you see above that your book has issues with, and, the more often you make mistakes related to those topics, the more help you’ll need and the more you’ll need to pay. One size does not fit all when it comes to copyediting. That’s why many copyeditors offer different rates depending on whether they believe a book needs a light, medium, or heavy copyedit. If you have a lot of copyediting mistakes, or if English is your second language, expect to pay more because it’s going to take your copyeditor longer to work on your book.
Developmental Editors – Book Editors for Hire
Developmental book editors for hire charge more because the work they do requires more knowledge, experience, and judgment. Most developmental editors help authors improve already-completed manuscripts; however, some developmental editors also have the ability to help authors develop books from scratch, or early in their development.
Developmental editors look for ways to improve a manuscript’s effectiveness, enjoyability, and/or marketability related to issues such as: writing the best book(s) for you; choosing the best title, premise, or promise of a book; the uniqueness or differentiation of the book; how closely the book conforms to, or abides by, the rules of the book’s genre; content that should be included or omitted; structuring and organizing the book in the most logical and engaging way; the best place to begin and end the book; a satisfying content or story progression or arc; the best chapter order, structure, and length; the quality and distinctiveness of the author’s voice and style; pacing, hooks, and suspense throughout (regardless of genre); content clarity; and, for fiction: the plausibility of the plot and character actions; having enough important things at stake to sustain interest or “drive” the story; unexpected twists and turns; believable, relatable and/or likable characters with well-thought out backstories, motivations, and development or transformation; external and/or internal conflict; themes; symbolism; a satisfying ending (even if it’s sad); etc.
Please Note – Book Editors for Hire
Though I’ve done my best to distinguish between what book editors for hire (copyeditors and developmental editors) do, there’s often a bit of overlap when it comes to the services they provide. Book editors for hire have different capabilities. And book editors for hire emphasize some things more than others.
How Do Freelance Book Editors Work?
Book editors for hire work in different ways.
Developmental editors and copyeditors almost always provide some type of written critique or feedback. Developmental editors are more likely to get on the phone or Skype so you can discuss their suggestions, though some only provide back-and-forth discussions via email. Copyeditors are less likely to get on the phone or Skype to discuss their work; however, copyeditors are more likely to make some or all changes for you, so talking about the work can be less important.
Copyeditors have more in common with how they work with authors because the work they do is blacker and whiter (less subjective). For that reason, copyeditors typically mark up a manuscript with comments and edit it in “Track Changes” mode so the author can see their changes in a “before and after” format. Some copyeditors fix every mistake they’re able to fix. If they can’t understand what you meant, they can’t fix it; they can only flag it or identify and explain the problem that need your attention (for example, if something you said is unclear).
In addition, it’s important to note that most developmental editors and copyeditors won’t review your book more than once—unless you pay extra for them to do so. For the most part, book editors for hire will review your work one time and give you feedback one time. If you want to apply their feedback and then have them review your work again, you’ll likely have to pay for another review; however, it will likely cost you less the second time.
Possibly a lot less.
Some freelance book editors offer both developmental and copyediting services; however, most offer just one or the other. So, if you want or need both types of editing, you might want or need to hire two editors.
Some copyeditors allow you to send them sample pages (amount varies by the editor) for review and a sample edit. That way you can get a better sense of how much editing your book might need, how much it might cost, and how responsive and capable the editor you’re reaching out to is.
Caution – Book Editors for Hire
Literary agents, publishers, and book editors (including copyeditors) often provide very different feedback, and they sometimes contradict each other. In other words, be careful interpreting their suggestions and don’t assume your writing isn’t publishable or worthy of representation just because someone is criticizing it.
How Much Do Book Editors Charge?
Like everything else in life, the investment required to hire book editors varies greatly. You can pay anywhere from less than $1,000 to $15,000 or more for a developmental editor or copyeditor. Paying more doesn’t always mean better quality. But, those who charge more—who also have lots of success stories—are usually better at what they do.
How Can I Find the Best Book Editor(s) for Me?
Price can be important, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you consider.
Ideally, if you’re looking at book editors for hire, you’ll want to choose one who: is a full-time editor; is very established; is reasonably priced; has a lot of success stories; is knowledgeable about, and has experience with, your genre; is passionate about or has a personal connection to your book or topic material; genuinely likes your book and/or writing style; is communicative and professional; will be able to work on your book soon (not in 6 months because they’re too busy or overcommitted); will be able to complete your work in a reasonable amount of time (three weeks to three months depending how much work you need); works in a way that fits what you’re looking for (discussion via phone or Skype and/or multiple edits, etc.); and with the experience, qualifications, or interests that make them a good candidate (for example, if English is your second language and you speak Spanish, you might want to look for an editor who speaks English and Spanish).
Important – Book Editors for Hire
If you’re thinking about hiring a book editor, don’t just reach out to one or two book editors for hire. Reach out to several, or many. I learned that lesson when I hired a transcriptionist to covert some of my audio interviews to text. I found a transcriptionist online with an impressive background. Prior to starting her own business, she’d done transcription work for a top legal firm for 25 years. She also had wonderful reviews and her price was very reasonable. I thought, “Wow, that was easy!” I immediately sent her more than a dozen files to transcribe. She later sent the files to me with tons of mistakes and explained she had a brain injury that “causes her to use the wrong words sometimes.”
After that fiasco, I did what I should have done the first time: I reached out to six different transcriptionists and I sent each one of them a file to transcribe. It was a pain in the butt doing that extra work, but it was worth it. The first transcriptionist charged the most, but she wasn’t any better than those who charged less, so I decided not to use her again. The second transcriptionist postponed doing the job because someone at her “other job” had just gotten fired and she her day is obviously more important than what is apparently her side hustle job of doing transcription work. The third transcriptionist left a lot of notations in my document that said “inaudible,” indicating she was not able (euphemism for “too lazy”) to determine what was said during those sections of the audio; I was able to easily decipher most of those parts of the audio.
The other three transcriptionists were really good. I’m now using my favorite who charges me the best rate. The other two good ones are my backups, in case my favorite flakes out on me at some point, or is away or too busy when I need something quickly.
How Can I Find Book Editors for Hire Near Me?
Don’t focus on location when looking at book editors for hire.
It doesn’t matter where your book editor lives. Book editors for hire don’t need to meet with their authors and, most of the time, they don’t want to meet because it’s not necessary. So, instead, of location, focus on the considerations I mentioned in the previous section about how to find the best book editors for hire. Similarly, if you’re thinking about looking for a literary agent near you, read this article called Literary Agents Near Me.
If you want to know where to find book editors for hire, I don’t recommend places like Craigslist or other online outlets where anyone can offer services. It’s harder to know which of those freelance book editors for hire are going to do quality work. Instead, look at a website like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), which has an editor directory similar to my Directory of Literary Agents. I’m a fan of the EFA website because they have so many different types of editors in their directory, it’s easy to search, and, because their website has helpful information and guidelines about pricing to help you compare book editors for hire.
Another thing you can consider, if you’re a member of writers’ group, organization, or association, is to ask the leadership there if they know of any trusted book editors for hire they can recommend. This can be especially helpful if the writers’ group, organization, or association you’re part of is genre-specific. In other words, if you’re part of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the leads you get for book editors for hire are more likely to be familiar with the norms and conventions for children’s books.
Beta Readers vs Book Editors for Hire
You can also find or hire “beta readers” familiar with your type of book to review your manuscript and provide feedback. This feedback won’t be as detailed as what you’d get from a professional editor, but it can be helpful. I like to think of this option as a less expensive way to get feedback, for authors who can’t afford, or don’t want to invest in, book editors for hire.
The cost for this type of service is usually no more than a few hundred dollars, and it’s sometimes free. There are groups on social media where you can get this kind of support, and there are websites online offering this type of service. I’ve seen these social media groups and companies in the past, but I don’t remember the names of them.
You’ll have to do some Googling.
If you’re familiar with one or more of these social media groups or companies, please let me know here so I can check them out and consider updating/expanding this article. Just don’t ask me to recommend a specific editor. I only do that (sometimes) with my long-term coaching clients who are working with me to get a literary agent.
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