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Editing is a vitally important step in the development of a literary work. It is true that writers can often make a lot of revisions on their own. However, a professional editor is usually necessary to take a piece to the next level—from rock to gem. But did you know that there are actually multiple types of editing?
Note: there is considerable debate in the literary community about where one category of editing ends and another begins. Therefore, the definitions below are approximate, but should give you a general idea about the different types of editing that are available.
Developmental editing happens before or while the writer is creating the first draft of their manuscript. Developmental editors meet with the writer throughout the writing process and help them to develop their concept, characters, plot structure, and voice. Developmental editors can also help the writer to create a more publishable finished product by keeping them apprised of trends and changes in the publishing market.
Structural editing focuses on revising a finished piece on the big-picture level. Are there any plot holes, factual errors, or things that don’t make any sense? Are the characters consistent, nuanced, and interesting? Should any scenes be moved or removed? Is the pacing too fast, too slow, or too disjointed? Should any big changes be made to the storyline? Structural editors look at concerns such as these and any other “broad-stroke” questions. They prepare a document containing all of their suggestions, and also meet with the writer to discuss and hash out potential changes. Structural editing prices start at $10 per 1000 words, but for more complicated projects such as sci-fi/fantasy series or nonfiction, the rate can go up to as much as $100 per 1000 words.
Line editing is the next step in the editing process. It focuses on concerns such as clarity, tone, and flow. Editors call attention to issues such as clunky phrasing, repetitive passages, unclear explanations, overuse of cliches, bland or purple prose, and other concerns related to the voice and atmosphere of a piece.
Copy editing focuses on small-scale syntactical edits—typos, grammatical and punctuation errors, use of passive vs. active voice, and so on. Most copy editors pick a particular style guide to follow, such as APA or MLA. Both copy editing and line editing start at $0.75 to $1 per 100 words, but rates can be higher if the editor is more experienced or the piece is more complicated. Some editors offer both services together. Both copy and line editors can also help with fact-checking (although in the nonfiction world, fact-checking is often a separate job in itself).
Proofreading is the final polish before a manuscript is ready for publication. After a manuscript has been revised and edited to perfection, proofreaders go over it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure everything is perfect. There can’t be a comma or a letter out of place when your manuscript hits the printing press! Proofreaders usually charge about half the rate of line and copy editors.
One last important note: don’t hire an editor without a contract! A contract helps to prevent any confusion over issues such as the scope of the editor’s duties and the payment schedule, and lays out stipulations for what happens if either party cannot fulfill their end of the bargain.
Even though editors can be expensive, they are an investment worth considering. If you’re struggling with your manuscript, are preparing to find an agent, or are preparing to self-publish, an editor can be just what you need to make your piece sparkle and shine.

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