Jim Bessey is the co-coordinator of the North Carolina Chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association (www.the-efa.org)
What sort of editing does your current novel need?
Developmental Editing — “Book Level”
Your novel is a true work in progress, a strong rough draft that needs feedback on and assistance with aspects of the genre, plot, perspective, character development, and more.
Developmental editing is an early-stage deep dive into the “big picture” of the novel you envision. We’ll take a hard look at everything from themes and tropes to genre archetypes and even overall page counts. Is this novel too long or short for your intended genre? Is your plot powerful enough to captivate readers? Who exactly are your protagonists and antagonists? What conflicts will they encounter? What point of view will work best for your narrative? These are all big questions, with answers that can dramatically affect the scope and structure of your novel.
At this stage, entire scenes may be deleted or added, and the same is true for both characters and settings. Everything is on the table for discussion and consideration. Developmental editing requires a significant investment of time, as well as an open mind and a willingness to make major revisions.
[Other forms of developmental editing include beta reading and manuscript evaluation, for finished second drafts.]
Pricing: 2.5 to 10 cents per word. (Average $2800, 50k words, with wide variation)
Substantive Editing — “Chapter Level”
Your novel is likely in its second or third full draft and is ready for specific advice about plot points, overall timeline, and consistent point of view, as well as character arcs and descriptions.
Substantive editing involves the whole book, but without the global concerns of concept and approach. Chapter 7 might become Chapter 3. Key plot points could be altered or strengthened. Characters might see anything from name changes to clearer conflicts to elimination or an early demise. We’ll also consider character “voice” and the use of dialect in the dialog. In addition, settings and timelines might need more research or careful adjustments.
As for the narrative: what about Show versus Tell? Yes, we’ll dig into passive and active voice, and much more. At this stage, we will generally ignore smaller errors in grammar and punctuation, in order to concentrate on the larger picture. Copy editing, next, zooms in on the smaller picture.
Pricing: 2.2 to 6 cents per word. (Average $2200, 50k words, based on editor’s pre-read)
Copy Editing — “Page Level”
Your novel has probably been through a series of revisions and has received constructive feedback from beta readers and critique partners, perhaps even a manuscript evaluation. Your book is now ready for the finer points of less extensive structural and style revisions.
Also called copy-editing and copyediting, this is the sort of good basic editing most of us imagine is associated with the word editing. At this stage, we can expect significant revisions to paragraph structure, sentence length and composition, and the use of the language in general. Are we finding repeated words or phrases? Are we tripping over clichéd expressions? Can one good verb replace a ten-word phrase? We’ll look closely at dialogue tags and responses, as well as appropriate use of pronouns. We will not be altering entire scenes or changing the order of character or plot development. Copy editing involves more extensive revisions than you should see inline editing.
Pricing: 1.8 to 4.5 cents per word. (Average $1600, 50k words)
Line Editing — “Paragraph Level”
Your novel is ready for the nitty-gritty: it’s time to tackle the nuts and bolts of sentence construction, paragraph transitions, word and phrase usage, grammar and idiom, as well as spelling and punctuation consistency.
Note that some editors place “line” editing above “copy” editing. Personally, I like the idea of going “line by line” as the less intense level here. This is the point at which spell-check and grammar-correction software can actually work well as a first pass. While we are still open to minor revisions, the focus here is on the structure and flow of words, sentences, and paragraphs. In addition, we’ll keep a sharp eye on continuity issues and adherence to an established style guide.
After line editing, you should be able to comfortably read the entire manuscript aloud. Line editing is the last stage of revision before moving forward to proofreading.
Pricing: 1.5 to 3.5 cents per word. (Average $1200, 50k words)
Proofreading — “Sentence Level”
Your novel is “done.” This final stage occurs when all other aspects of editing are complete. Your manuscript is now ready for an eagle-eye review for errors that survived or were introduced by revisions. We’ll check for any errors in style, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting.
Proofreading refers literally to “reading the proof” copy of a manuscript or publishing file. Unfortunately, many authors believe that proofreading is 90% of “editing.” Realistically, proofreading is the last, fast, crucial pass to be completed on a manuscript that is ready to publish — whether the file is intended for an ebook, print version upload, or publisher submission. The proofreader’s job is to find and fix any mistakes, ranging from misspelled or missing words to mangled punctuation. Every change made will adhere to a specific style guide of some sort. Proofreading is not about revising your narrative. Instead, the goal is to perfect your print-ready manuscript, as much as possible. We all realize, of course, that perfection isn’t actually possible. But it is a worthy goal. Your cost for proofreading will depend heavily on just how well your novel has already been edited.
Pricing: 1 to 2.5 cents per word. (Average $750, 50k words)