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Hiring an Editor for Your Book: What You Need to Know

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

How do I hire an editor for my book?

How do I hire an editor for my book?

Hiring an editor for your book can be a significant investment, both financially and emotionally. From my experience as both a nonfiction book editor and author, I'll discuss what you need to know.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire an Editor?

This is the biggest question for most authors!

Like almost everything, editing services can have a wide range of prices. These days, editors are likely to charge by the word, starting at a few cents per word, often with a minimum number of words.

For example, as of this article’s original post date, Amazon’s Createspace line editing services start at $210 for 10,000 words (which is $0.021 per word), plus $0.021 per word over 10,000.

On marketplaces such as Fiverr (where I offer my editing services), it’s unlikely that professional editors will charge just $5 for editing! Rather, similar to Createspace, they will charge $5 for a certain number of words, with additional words incurring additional fees.

Be aware that there are still some editors that charge by the hour. While they may be professional and worth whatever you pay, this payment arrangement can be very scary for budget-conscious authors.

If you definitely want to work with an editor that charges by the hour, make sure that payment and project parameters are clearly defined in a written agreement. Seek legal guidance if you have questions about these types of agreements.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Book Edited?

The total time needed to get a book edited could take as long as months. How long it takes to get a particular book manuscript edited depends on multiple factors including:

  • Established standard turnaround time. Most editors will establish and publish a standard turnaround time for their review. This could be days or weeks, and it varies widely by editor.
  • Editor availability. Even if an editor says he can complete the edit within a certain amount of time, if he has other projects in queue and cannot accept your manuscript until those are complete, it will take longer. Holidays and weekends may also add time to get the review done.
  • Length of manuscript. Logically, longer manuscripts will take longer.
  • Condition of the manuscript. If the book is very rough in terms of development, it could take an editor longer to review and provide helpful commentary. Multiple rounds of editing may also be required if it isn’t in publishable condition, which also adds time.

You Need Time Too

I always have to chuckle when I’m approached by a self-published author for editing services and they tell me that they need the line (content) editing and proofreading done in a couple weeks—sometimes in a couple of days! It’s an afterthought or a hoped-for seal of approval.

Once your book is edited, you should thoughtfully and carefully review all of your editor’s suggestions and make any additional changes you feel are necessary. Don’t accept an editor’s suggestions without understanding why the changes were made.

Plan on at least 30 to 60 days or more to have your book professionally edited. And perform your own post-edit reviews.

Editing is NOT Proofreading

Recently received a message from a fiction author who was frustrated that previous edits only seemed to address typos in his manuscript. Not sure if this was because he didn't know what to ask for, or if he hired incompetent editors.

Word to the wise: Be specific about what you want your editor to do! To quickly differentiate between the two, editing (sometimes called line editing) deals with a manuscript’s content and writing style; proofreading (also known as copy editing) deals with the mechanics of language, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, word use, etc. So it’s possible to have a perfectly proofread manuscript that would fail an edit, and vice versa.

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Can an Editor Do Both an Edit and Proofreading at the Same Time?

No! As just discussed, there is a difference between editing and proofreading. When an editor tries to do both in the same pass, it can have disastrous results... as most any multitasking does.

So you’ll need to do both functions, but separately and in order. Editing comes first since an author may choose to make additional changes to the manuscript after reviewing an editor’s comments. Then, after all editing rounds are complete (yes, multiple rounds may be needed), the manuscript will be proofread just before it’s formatted for production.

How Many Editors Should You Hire?

There are advantages and disadvantages to hiring multiple editors for the same manuscript. Because he or she is familiar with the work in its stages of development, having one editor from start to finish can be helpful. That person becomes a participant on the journey with the author.

Multiple editors are most often hired in the beta reading stage. This provides multiple perspectives early on in the publishing process, which can help fine-tune the manuscript for the market.

Also, even if one editor is chosen for both the beta reading and full-scale edit, a different editor may be chosen for the proofreading stage. This is done since both the author and editor have stared at the manuscript for so long that they might miss the mechanical details.

However, hiring many more than a handful of beta readers or editing professionals can be overkill. I’ve encountered authors that have done around eight editing passes with different editors. That’s way too many for a self-published book! Aside from the potential expense, the confusion and paralysis of analysis that sets in could completely derail a book project.

What If You Disagree With Your Editor?

Yes, it’s okay to disagree with your editor! Remember, when you self-publish, you are responsible for the final product that gets put out into the world. You’re the boss and you have the final say. But review their edits with an open mind, realizing that truly professional editors only have your best interest at heart. And never hesitate to ask questions!

What Will I Get Back from My Editor?

Usually, you’ll get a Microsoft Word document of your manuscript with changes made by your editor, typically done using Word’s Track Changes function. You then accept or reject the changes the editor has made to prepare the manuscript for the next stage of editing or production.

In addition to the Word document, which can sometimes be difficult to read with a mass of editing marks, I also offer authors both a PDF showing all editing marks and a “clean” PDF that shows the manuscript with all changes made. I believe that once authors see the final clean edited product, they are less likely to get wound up emotionally about how many changes were made, and they will see why I changed what I did.

How Many Rounds of Book Editing Should Be Done?

I recommend that authors do three rounds of editing: critique (beta reading), edit (line editing), and proofreading (copy editing). As noted elsewhere, multiple rounds of each stage may be required, depending on the condition of the manuscript.

Also, multiple rounds of proofreading will likely be required during the production process. The manuscript would be proofread prior to doing the book layout, then again after the layout is completed, and finally when virtual and/or production (for print) proofs are available. That’s three rounds right there!

If Your Book Is Heavily Edited, Does It Mean You’re a Bad Writer?

Absolutely not! Chances are you’re a talented and creative writer. Your edit may simply point out some of your writing quirks that may distract your readers, degrade the quality of your work, or make it less marketable.

What About Self-Editing?

Before you ever send your manuscript to an editor, you should perform your own self-editing. Some authors who do not have the funds to hire professional editors may only have this option available to them. In this case, learn how to do your own self-edit, and seek out less expensive online tools that can help make your manuscript the best it can be with the budget you have.

How Do You Find an Editor?

Here are the most common ways that authors find editors for their books:

  • Referrals from other authors and book coaches
  • Online hiring platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork
  • Online search engines

All of these sources can connect you with quality editors. But even with highly trusted referred sources, find out about the candidate's qualifications, expertise, and cost before hiring.

How Do You Choose an Editor That’s Right for Your Book?

All editors are not created equal! While they may be equal in terms of editing ability, they may not all have similar experience or knowledge in certain genres or topics.

Editing specialties can include:

  • Nonfiction
  • Novels
  • Short stories
  • Poetry
  • Children’s Books
  • Textbooks
  • Specific genres such as true-crime fiction, literary fiction, sci-fi, memoirs, etc.

For example, I do not edit fiction! I personally don’t have time to read much of it and have zero ability for evaluating plot and character development. Also, I don’t have field experience in the fiction markets.

But when it comes to business nonfiction, I’m very skilled and experienced, particularly for topics in sales, marketing, small business, networking, motivation, inspiration, and leadership. So if your editors’ expertise isn’t clear from their profiles or websites, ask so you get the best-qualified person to review your manuscript!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 21, 2018:

Hi Lisa-Anne! Actually, there can be multiple rounds of proofreading:

1. After the manuscript is edited for content and before it heads to formatting and layout.

2. After the manuscript is formatted and prior to it entering the production and publishing process (such as prior to uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing).

3. After the manuscript has been put into the production process and prior to it being made available for sale. This is often called a press proof. At this stage, it is usually best as a physical proof.

However, note that if any one of these levels of proofreading finds corrections that need to be made, there will be another round to make sure those corrections are done prior to it advancing to the next stage.

Yep, I know, it's a lot! Proofreading is a time consuming, but so important, process.

Thanks for asking! Have a great day!

Lisa-Anne C on November 20, 2018:

Hi Heidi. Thanks for this great article. I can understand the benefits of more than one editor - also addresses human error issues from a practical standpoint. However, I thought proofreading was something completely different. So what do you call the final process that follows the internal layout of your book having been done, where someone checks that the running headers are correct, page numbers are properly placed, etc. to essentially ensure that there are no glitches caused by formatting or typesetting before it is officially published?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 05, 2017:

Hi Linda! I'm so glad you found it helpful. Thanks so much for your support and have a lovely weekend!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 04, 2017:

You've shared some great information and advice for writers. I always learn something new from your articles!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 02, 2017:

Billybuc, speaking from experience, it can be a LOT of time. And I'm glad to see that you have your passions and priorities in line. Thanks for chiming in and go feed those chickens!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 02, 2017:

Anusha, there's no doubt that many writers have become great writers because of their editors! And I can confirm that it can be challenging to keep the writer's voice when editing. I try to have as light a hand as possible so that I don't dim the brilliance of what the writer is trying to say. Thank you so much for adding that perspective to the conversation. Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 02, 2017:

Flourish, isn't that how everything is? True, editing is a balancing act. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a terrific day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 02, 2017:

Got that right, mactavers! I won't even touch fiction since I couldn't do it justice. Thanks for adding the exclamation point to the conversation! Have a great day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 02, 2017:

This is one job I won't touch as a freelancer. The pay is not worth the amount of time spent....but that's just me. :) I'd rather feed the chickens. :)

Anusha Jain from Delhi, India on November 01, 2017:

That was a well researched and very well written informative article, especially for new authors.

I keep wondering, how different is writing from writing. Former referring to writing skills, including but not limited to Spelling, Grammar, maybe even Vocabulary. And the latter? Not that easy to define. An inherent talent, a capability of connecting with readers, storytelling in a manner which can engage people. Some would say that this is not possible without Grammar and Spelling etc. And it's true till some extent, but that does not mean that possessing these skills will guarantee that one will become a good writer. So yeah, a creative writer can have very poor grammar and spelling, and can still thrive if s/he is able to get great editors -- those whoes edits will improve the effectiveness of the writing while keeping the spirit of the writing intact.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 01, 2017:

Great description of what it takes. It’s such a balance between too much and not enough.

mactavers on November 01, 2017:

Good suggestions. I agree that an editor of non-fiction needs to be somewhat familiar with the topic and a fiction writer needs someone familiar with the development of good fiction.

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