Editing Tips #3: Know What You’re Getting When You Have an “Editor”

Whether you have a story accepted at a magazine or you’ve hired an editor to help you smooth off the rough edges on your current wip, you will eventually be working with an editor. The kind of editor you hire, or the type of editing that’s done to your work, depends on whether it’s sold yet and what it needs. Your edits will fall into one of these categories: developmental editing, line editing, typesetting, and proofreading. (Usually in that order.)

Developmental Editing

Also called structural editing, deep (or heavy) editing, or collaborative editing. This is the first round. Here an editor will help you with your story structure, ask important questions about the character, language, or setting, and suggest improvements. An editor can break up long chunks of narrative exposition with more action, or too much internal monologue can be externalized into dialogue. Your plot will be checked for continuity. Maybe you’re using food words to describe people of color, or you’re inconsistently using the language you’ve made up for your alien race. If there’s something problematic about your characters or story, this is where you’d find out.

Paragraphs may get moved around, dialogue cut or rewritten, and the “comment” function will be used to add notes on a range of topics. This kind of editing fixes stories where the idea was good but the author had trouble making it work. It’s rare to get much developmental editing (DE) after you’ve sold a short story, though the market may want you to change one or two things that impact the story but aren’t indicative of a problem with the entire piece. DE is largely done for novels (after acquisition) or for anything you want to make better before you submit it.

While novelists often realize the value of having an editor on board here, I wish more short story authors hired editors at this stage of their writing. I’ve had to turn down so many shorts and novellas that we would have otherwise bought for Dagan Books, because the idea was stronger than the execution.

Line Editing (Copy Editing)

The is the most common kind of editing, because everyone goes through it. When you sell a story, it’s going to be copy edited. Hire an editor? They’ll do this for you. Your work may not need developmental editing, but it will certainly need to be checked for spelling and grammar problems. A copy editor (CE) will find and correct homonyms, or other correctly-spelled but incorrect words your spell checker function won’t point out (like “heir” instead of “their” or “an” instead of “and”). They will catch the little things you missed: italicizing the wrong words, run-on sentences, and paragraphs that need to be broken in two (or those that should be joined with the one next to it).

The CE isn’t there to rewrite your work, or to substantially change it from what it was. The editor is there to see your vision, your ideas, and clear away anything getting in the way of your reader seeing it, too.

When your piece needs developmental editing as well, you not get copy editing notes at the same time. If the work needs major overhaul, to the point that it’s basically being arranged and rewritten, it’s easier to do the DE pass first, send it back for revisions, then the editor goes back for the line edits. All edits, whenever they’re done, will be noted in an office document program like Word of LibreOffice, with the “track changes” function on*. This way you can see all of the suggested changes, and instead of asking a question about each item, the editor can go ahead and make the change (if small enough–you don’t need to be asked if it’s okay to correct a misspelling of your character’s name, for example). I never edit a piece without track changes being on, because my job is to help you make it your own, not to write it for you. Don’t work with an editor who won’t show you the same respect.

When you send it back, it will go through a “final editing” pass, and as long as there aren’t any more questions, the piece will be sent along to the person who puts it into the publication’s preferred format for publication. If you’ve hired an editor to help you with a story you haven’t sold yet, or a novel you’re shopping to agents, once the editing passes are done it would be left in manuscript format. The next two steps are part of the publication process, and you may not be involved.


Once the piece is considered finished, it’s formatted for publication. The font, page size, and even type color are changed. Tab indents are set to a specific size, the text is justified, and images are added — in short, everything that needs to happen for it to look pretty on the page. Ebooks also have to be typeset, in a very similar way to the print process, or they don’t look professionally assembled. Making readable books or magazines is a skill, and it’s more difficult than most people imagine, though you can always tell when something doesn’t look “good”.

Once it’s typeset, a “page proof” is created. Unless you are self-publishing, you don’t need to be involved in the typesetting process.**


Unlike DE and CE, this is done on a PDF*, because that accurately presents how a printed page will look, and nothing moves around while you’re checking it. The proofreader will make sure the text is properly placed on the page, that no “orphans” or “widows” (small parts of a sentence left over at the beginning or end of a page) are present, and that the previous changes were all made correctly. It’s possible that a word meant to be deleted is left over from an editing pass, for example. Whatever changes need to be made, this is the last chance. The proofreader will mark up the PDF document if anything is wrong, and send it back to typesetting to be corrected.

When there’s time, an author may see the page proofs, but not always. It depends on if it’s a short story or novel, how many editing passes it went through, and so on. Stories with strange formatting, such as wrapping the text around an oddly-shaped image, should be seen by the author during the proofing phase, to double check the placement, but many times the editor can check the proof instead.


Some editors charge by the hour, and some by the word. It’s the same, really — a “by the hour” editor has simply estimated how many pages per hour, based on a standard number of words (250 per page). Never be afraid to ask how many hours they will charge you for your piece! I prefer to charge by the word, personally, because it’s a concrete number and then there’s no question of whether I worked as fast as I could, or too slow, but it’s the just how you write the math down that’s different, not the actual cost.

Developmental editing costs the most. It should. The DE has to know all of the same skills as a CE, but they also have to be familiar with your genre. They have to read the whole work first, before editing, and keep that in mind as they go through. They have to be able to see the big picture of what your story is meant to be while also being able to catch the tiny details, fixing your punctuation along with your character’s arc. Copy editing is a little easier, and so that editor can charge less, though if the work is in need of heavy copy editing (which means that it’s still line editing but there’s lots of errors), the rate might be higher. Final editing and proofing are less expensive, and typesetting (page layout) is a different skill/rate.

The EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) puts out an annual list of average rates, based on a survey it conducts of its members. You can find it here. Some highlights are:

Type of Work Estimated Pace Range of Fees
Editing, basic copyediting 5-10 ms pgs/hr $30-40/hr
Editing, heavy copyediting 2–5 ms pgs/hr $40–50/hr
Editing, website copyediting $40-50/hr
Editing, developmental 1–5 pgs/hr $45–55/hr
Editing, substantive or line 1–6 ms pgs/hr $40–60/hr
Layout, books 6-10 pgs/hr $45-85/hr
Layout, newsletters 1-4 pgs/hr $40-100/hr
Layout, websites $16-20/pg
PROOFREADING 9-13 ms pgs/hr $30-35/hr

* This is digital age editing. Previously, I would have marked up a paper copy of the project and mailed or handed in those pages. I still edit on paper for certain projects, because the client asked for that or because I want to work offline for some reason, so if you prefer to work on paper as well, let me know.

** If you are self-publishing, hiring an editor and layout person are even more important! No one person can do every step of the publishing process by themselves without errors. If you’re self-publishing, and can’t afford standard rates for editing and layout, let me know. If I can fit you in at a reduced rate, I will.

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