Definitions vary among organizations and individual editors, but there are a few agreed-upon stages of editing that a manuscript might move through: developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading. Some editors specialize in editing at a particular stage or in specific genres or subjects, and others are generalists.
Before estimating a fee, editors need to see a sample of your work to gauge the scope of editing and the amount of time required. Editors may charge by the hour, the page (250 words per page is the industry standard), or the word, and some negotiate a flat fee for an entire project. Rates depend on the writing, length, complexity of the topic or project, deadlines, and an editor’s level of experience.
Developmental editors help writers transform an initial concept or partial draft into a finished work. As the author writes or rewrites, the editor provides feedback, guidance, and encouragement. In a developmental editing partnership, the author focuses on the content and the editor on the form.
Sometimes developmental editors begin with a completed manuscript, assessing it for style, tone, logic, flow, structure, and accuracy. They edit out the manuscript’s weaknesses and enhance its strengths and may suggest ways to better organize or revise content, smooth transitions, and address plot inconsistencies.
Copy editors revise text word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. They correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choices, and sentence structure—all to make the written work more readable.
Copyediting can be light, medium, or heavy, but these definitions are general and can vary by editor and project. Be sure to confirm with your editor what will be included in your copyedit.
- Light—correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar; ensuring style consistency for numbers, capitalization, and abbreviations
- Medium—same as light, plus tightening wording; pointing out logic, argument, or plot flaws; correcting sentence structure to improve readability; ensuring consistency in character and setting; addressing noninclusive language; and cross-checking references and footnotes
- Heavy—same as medium, plus revising passages for clarity; eliminating jargon; and suggesting cuts, additions, and reorganization
Proofreaders check material at the final stage after it has been formatted for print or online publication, looking for typographical, formatting, and other errors that sneak past copy editor and author review. Some editors are excellent proofreaders, but many recommend a fresh pair of eyes because they become too familiar with material they’ve already edited.