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How to Find the Best Book Editor: A Complete Guide

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 8 min read

Writing a book is a solitary endeavor, but before a story sees the light of day, you’ll need some outside help to perfect the finished product. An editor polishes a story to get it ready to read. Even bestselling authors work with professional book editors to make their story better.



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What Does a Book Editor Do?

Whether they’re full-time editors at a traditional publishing house or freelancers working on their own, professional editors play a critical role in the book publishing industry. An editor reviews and revises a story by breaking it down page-by-page, line-by-line, and word-by-word to review elements like grammar, clarity, accuracy, and content to make sure a book is ready to move to the next level and closer to getting published.

Why Hire a Book Editor?

Whether you’re self-publishing your own book or planning to shop your manuscript to the big publishing houses in New York, it’s essential that your manuscript is refined and ready for other people to read it. A book editor will go over your book in depth, depending on what level of editing you need—developmental editing involves a big-picture approach while line editing requires a closer reading. Editors find ways to make your writing better, both technically and creatively.

Types of Book Editing Services

Writers often start by self-editing their own manuscript and recruiting beta readers (people who are hired or volunteer to read a draft) to get feedback. A professional editor goes even deeper into the mechanics of a book to refine words and phrases to make a story better and easier to sell. To find the right editor, you need to determine what type of editing you need. Here are the different types of editing services and types of editors you can hire:

  • Developmental editing: A developmental editor is a big picture person. They handle content editing and character development, and they help with the overall structure of a book for both fiction and non-fiction. Learn more about developmental editing in our article here.
  • Line editing: A line editor has the meticulous job of polishing sentences. The editor analyzes lines for structure, content, word choice, and flow between sentences and paragraphs. Learn more about line editing here.
  • Copy editing: A copy editor works on the details of words and sentences. They look for spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. They also ensure consistency throughout a book. Learn how to copy edit in our complete guide here.
  • Proofreading: Proofreading is one of the final steps in the editing process before a book gets published. A proofreader does a pass to look for technical errors like typos, formatting issues, and repetitive or missing text.
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7 Things to Consider Before Hiring a Book Editor

For new writers, hiring a professional editor is a big decision. Published authors often find an editor they like and continue to work with them on multiple projects. If this is your first time, here are the things to consider when it comes to choosing the right editor:

  1. What’s your writing experience? If you’re working on your first book, you might need more than one kind of editing. Copy editing can help refine your writing skills while developmental editing can help your character development and structure. Some editors even offer ghostwriting—writing under your name.
  2. Are you self-editing? Writers can start the editing process by self-editing their first draft. Bringing on beta readers—people who either volunteer or are paid to read a draft and give feedback—is another way to help the process of shaping a story before a professional editor comes on board.
  3. Know the type of editing services your book needs. In addition to your own revisions, you’ll most likely need some type of professional editing. There are different levels of book editing. If you hire a developmental editor, they’ll look at the big picture, helping with structure and content. You might even bring them on early on in the writing process. A line editor and copy editor will look at sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, word choice, and page flow. A proofreader will review for basic typos, consistency, and formatting.
  4. Know your numbers. Know both your page count and your word count. Editorial rates vary, but they often break down to a price per word or page. A 100,000-word manuscript will be more expensive than a book with 50,000 words.
  5. How complex is your project? If you have a non-fiction book with a very specific subject matter, editing costs will be higher than a straight narrative due to the complex nature of the editing involved. If you need fact checking, that will add to the cost.
  6. Research the editor’s experience. If you’re going to hire a freelance editor, find out how many years of experience they have. Also ask if they’ve worked in-house at a publishing house, a good experience for an editor. Review their testimonials, referrals, and past work—if they’ve edited a book that became a bestseller, that’s a great sign. If you want to get a feel for how they work with your material, ask if they’ll do a sample edit on a few pages of your book.
  7. What’s your deadline? If you’re on a tight deadline and need a fast turnaround, editing will be more expensive.


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How to Choose a Book Editor

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Finding the best editor for your project, especially if it’s your first book, requires a little bit of leg work. First you’ll craft a query letter to prospective editors. Query editors with short, to-the-point emails. Introduce yourself and your idea and ask if they’re interested. If they are, they’ll respond. If not, you may not hear back. That’s alright. Just move down the list. Ultimately you need an editor who will preserve your voice while making changes to your book that will help get it published. Here are the qualities to consider when searching for the right editor:

  • Are they experienced? When looking for a book editor, one of the first things to review is their experience. Ask for an example of their work. Many experienced editors have worked for traditional publishers—find out how many years of experience they have as an in-house editor. This background will give an editor an inside track on what’s trending as well as contacts when you’re ready to submit your book to a publisher. Review their testimonials and get references of their work. If they have a bestseller under their belt, that’s a great sign.
  • Do they specialize in a genre? Find an editor who has experience in the same genre as your book. If you’re writing a children’s story you don’t want an editor whose experience is mostly in self-help books. A fiction editor is a better fit than non-fiction book editor if your story is a fictional narrative.
  • What is their editing specialty? Determine what level of professional editing services you need. New authors might want to consider starting with a developmental editor to help shape the structure.
  • How much do they cost? The cost of book editing varies depending on the editor and what type of editing they provide. Editors charge by the word, hour, or by the project. Determine your budget and the amount of help you really need with your book.
  • What software do they use? Some writers use specific software programs for writing their manuscript, like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Though many people are fluent in the various programs, make sure the editor can use the same program as you, so you can track changes they make.
  • Can they do a sample edit? If you want to test your compatibility with an editor, have them do a sample edit. Send them five or 10 pages of your book and see what suggestions and revisions they come back with.

What Is the Cost of Hiring an Editor?

Editors Pick

The Editorial Freelancers Association has a standard freelance editing rate sheet writers can refer to, but on average, an editor’s rate can be anywhere from $0.02 per word to $0.25 per word. Freelance editors charge by the word, by the hour, or sometimes by the project which is often based on total word count. Know that hiring an editor is a financial investment into your book.

The cost will depend on several factors:

  • What level of editing you’re looking for—proofreading services cost less than a developmental edit.
  • The more experienced an editor is, the higher their rates.
  • The length of your project will determine your total cost.

Every writer should budget for a good editor to increase the chances of their book’s success. Different editors charge different amounts depending on their experience and the types of editing they do. Some editors have a flat fee and ask for a percentage up front while others charge an hourly rate. In the end, editing costs boil down to a per word rate.

For example, if someone charges $35 per hour for freelance editing and they edit 5 pages per hour, calculate their per-word price by multiplying 5 pages by the industry standard of 250 words per page. Divide 35 by that total (1250) and you’ll get $.02 per edited word. Now, use that number to estimate the cost of editing your entire book based on your word count.

While it can be hard to determine exactly how much to budget until you find the right editor, there are average rates compiled by The Editorial Freelancers Association to give you a ballpark figure for different editors.

  • Developmental editing: $45-$55 per hour, 1-5 manuscript pages an hour
  • Heavy copyediting: $40-$50 per hour, 2-5 pages an hour
  • Basic copyediting: $30-$40 per hour, 5-10 pages an hour
  • Proofreading: $30-$35 per hour, proofreading 9-13 pages an hour.

Once you know how to calculate these costs and have your total word count, you’ll be able to budget for an editor to come on board and help get your story in tip top shape. Whether you’re an indie author looking to get your story to a big publishing house in New York or you’re self-publishing your work, investing in an editor will improve your chances of selling more copies of your book.

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