No matter how polished and experienced a writer you are, your work will inevitably need editing. Many different types of editors can help you with this process. The following is a brief discussion of the types of people you can and should turn to for editing advice.
The most inexpensive way to edit your book is to ask your friends and family to critique it free of charge (you can pay them back by mentioning them on the acknowledgements page of your published work!).
One of the benefits of this approach (in addition to its low cost) is that your friends and family are likely to devote significant attention and time to your work and will genuinely want to see you succeed. However, when relying solely on the advice of friends and family (even if paid), you risk being spared any harsh criticism.
Use friends and family as a “first pass” before you send your work to professional editors, agents, and publishers. Let your friends and family look for incorrect grammar, confusing plot points, and shallow characterizations. Take a close look at their “minor” quibbles with your work. These may actually represent more substantial issues.
Another budget-friendly editing option is to join a writing group. Many such groups exist to facilitate the exchange of member’s work for comment.
However, it can sometimes be difficult to find a writing group with at least a few members who are more skilled at writing than you are (else, who would you be learning from?). And, finding the time to read and edit the works of others can detract from your own writing time. Further, you should not expect any member of such a group to do a careful line-by-line editing of your work. Rather, member comments will likely be general in nature.
All that said, even general comments and suggestions can be invaluable in helping you to see more fundamental problems with your flow, tone, voice, character, or plot.
Obviously, the initial act of writing involves a substantial amount of self-editing.
However, now that you’ve spent months or even years on your work, it may be hard to step back and impartially evaluate which of your precious subplots, expertly-crafted chapters, beautiful sentences, clever turns of phrase, and eminently helpful words should be cut, rephrased, or reworked. And it can feel overwhelming.
We recommend separating the task of self-editing into smaller fragments. Do an initial series of “big picture” passes of the manuscript, looking for issues with plot, pacing, characterization, and point of view. Because you may end up cutting sentences, paragraphs, or whole chapters, you should sort out the big issues before spending time on the more detailed line-editing stage. Clearly, you do not want to waste your time carefully editing text that may not even make your final draft.
When you are ready to begin line-editing, we suggest the same approach: break the task into small portions. First, look for passive voice, then for weak verbs bolstered by adjectives, then redundant words, and so on. For further discussion of these processes, please see our recommendations on both “big picture” editing and line-editing.
Hiring a freelance editor can be expensive. Depending on the credentials of the editor, the length of your book, and the level of editing that you need or request, it can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Basic copyediting generally starts around $3/pg (around $21/hr), but more in-depth editing can be significantly more expensive. Thus, for a typical 80,000 word (320 pg) novel, you should expect a bill of at least $1,000.
Having your book professionally edited will not guarantee a future publishing contract. A freelance editor will almost never reject your book due to its potentially poor quality or its unsuitability for publication. Thus, unless you’ve used your friends, family, and writing groups to honestly pre-screen your work, you may be paying for professional editing only to be left with a very polished fruitcake of a manuscript that nobody wants to buy.
Assuming that you are confident in your work (and your friends, family, and writing group agree), a good freelance editor can help turn a good work into a great one.
Most agents who are serious about getting your work published will offer you editing suggestions. These suggestions may be simple—a catchier title or a character’s name change—or they may be as sweeping as an alternate ending or the addition of secondary characters.
While the author should stand their ground on issues that drastically alter the meaning or impact of their work, the author would be wise to consider such suggestions seriously. After all, the agent’s intent is to get your book sold and published. That is their area of expertise.
No matter how much editing your work has undergone—from friends, family, writing groups, freelance editors, your agent, and yourself—the publisher is likely to have its own in-house editors look over your work.
Depending on the size of the publishing house, the house editors may ask you to make many changes or may simply adjust details in your work to match the house guidelines. Some small publishing houses may not even retain a staff of in-house editors and may, therefore, require you to hire a freelance editor (if you have not already done so) before they accept your work for publication.
Beware of publishing houses that require you to work with a particular freelance editor. This may be a scam, with the freelance editor paying a kickback to the publishing house, who likely never intended to publish your work.