What You Need to Know Before Hiring an Editor (and What You Can Expect to Pay)

Written by Mary Pero

What type of editor you need will largely depend upon your skill as a writer and what you’re hoping to accomplish through editing. Sounds pretty subjective, doesn’t it? That’s the first think you need to know before you hire an editor—it’s all subjective.

Let’s start with the basics. Editor have four primary areas of focus: developmental (sometimes called structural or substansive), copy editing (also called sub-editing in the UK and Australia), line editing, and proof reading. It’s not uncommon for an editor who specializes in one area, to also offer services in another, thus pricing can vary greatly between editors. I’ve written previously about the different types of editing/editors here. In this post, I’ll address how to identify what type of services you need, as well as what you can expect those services to cost.


It may be helpful to think of editing services in terms of a tier. We’ll start at the bottom.

Proofreading is the most basic of editing services, and thus the least expensive. Proofreaders look for minor errors such as typos, misused or misplaced punctuation, formatting issues, and stylistic inconsistencies.

The next tier up is copy editing. Copy editing is what most people think of when they realize they need an editor. Copy editing is typically broken up into levels—light, medium, and heavy—and may include fact checking, rewriting, story consistency, spelling and grammar, and more. As the scope of the work increases and varies, the prices do too.

Line editing is sometimes considered a part of copy editing. This type of editing focuses on the structure of your sentences themselves and helps make your writing sing.

Above copy editing is the developmental editor. Developmental editing takes a birds-eye view of your project. This type of editing is concerned with the content, structure, and focus of your manuscript. Developmental editors typically help critique and guide your work while you’re still writing it.

At the top of the editing tier is the certified ghostwriter who is trained all the areas of editing.


Most people begin researching editors when they are finished with their project. If you are an experienced writer who understands the publishing process, this might work for you. For everyone else, I suggest you get help BEFORE you start writing. It’s much easier to develop your concept, content, and audience before you start writing. Or course, this isn’t where everyone is in their manuscript process. So let’s look at a few different scenarios:

  • If you haven’t started writing: I recommend working with a book coach (such as myself) to develop your idea, research your audience, brainstorm marketability, and create a writing plan. This is the best way to create a strong foundation from which to write. Assuming you are a capable writer, you may just need a few rounds of copy editing and proofreading once you’re done. If you’re not sure, you can always continue checking in with your book coack to ensure your content is solid. You can also share your work with mentors, friends, or writing groups as well, although this is not always the best approach. (More on this another day.) On a tight budget? Try my digital course to develop your idea with the help of a book coach (minus the cost).
  • If you’ve started writing and are stuck: I recommend sharing your work with a developmental editor or working with a book coach. I’m passionate about coaching because a book coach will walk with you as you work on and revise the porject. A developmental editor will share their edits, offer suggestions, and make recommendations. They do not always assist in revisions and when they do, it can be very expensive.
  • If you’ve finished writing and are confident in your writing skills: If you are confident in both the content of your manuscript and your writing skills, you may just need a copy editor and a proof reader. A copy editor can let you know what level of editing they think you need (light, medium, or heavy), and take it from there.
  • If you’ve finished writing and you’re NOT confident in your content and writing skills: If you are second guessing your writing skills, I suggest you seek an analysis or an assessment. Your writing can be improved upon with the help of a copy editor, but if you’re content is questionnable, you’ll need either the help of a developmental editors or a coach. I offer a detailed analysis here.
  • If you’ve finished writing and you’re NOT confident in your content and writing skills: You may need the help of a ghostwriter if you want your manuscript to be worthy of consideration in the marketplace.

The bottom line is, you will at least need the help of a copy editor and proofreader if you’re planning to self-publish. You will likely need at least those to gain the attention of a literary agent as well. I didn’t include line editing in the above scenarios as it’s occassionally included with copyediting.


As I shared previously, the cost will vary based on the type and scope of editing you need. Some editors charge by the word, and some charge by project. You can find more details at the Editorial Freelancers Association. But here are some rough estimates:

  • Developmental Editing: $.03 – $.49 per word. Business, medical, and STEM books will cost more ($.07 – $.79 per word).
  • Copyediting: $.03 – $.39 per word. Business, medical, and STEM books will cost more ($.07 – $.79 per word).
  • Line Editing: $.04 – $.49 per word.
  • Proofreading: $.02 – $.29 per word.

Before you speak with an editor about pricing, you’ll need to know your current and/of projected word count of your project, what type of project you’re working on (fiction, nonfiction, and any additional details like business, medical, or STEM), your estimation of your writing skills (for a quote, they may ask to see a sample of your writing), and how much time you’ve reserved for editing. More experienced editors may cost more due to demand.

You may also want to have a list of questions prepared for your potential editor:

  • Do you include line editing in your copyediting fees?
  • Do you also offer copyediting in addition to developmental editing?
  • Once you’re finished with my manuscript, what additional editing services will I need?
  • How long do you expect this project to take you?
  • Are you accepting manuscripts at this time?


You may be tempted to sidestep the costs of editing and ask a friend to edit your manuscrip for you. I suggest you treat friends as friends would—kindly request their feedback on your manuscript. Be specific in what you’re looking for (i.e., Could you tell me if this resonates with you or if the writing feels flat? Could you tell me if this is clear to you?) Friends and family are great at this type of specific feedback. I do not however, recommend you ask them to edit your manuscript unless they are an editor and owe you a favor. Copyediting is much more detailed than what you (or your friend) learned in high school/college English.

Finally, before you approach a copyeditor, I recommend cleaning up your manuscript to the best of your ability. You can learn more about how to self-edit your manuscript here.




Last Updated On April 28, 2022

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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