Different Types of Freelance Editing Explained (so you know which one to choose)

This post is Part 1 to my professional editing series. Part 2 will be all about finding and choosing the perfect editor for your needs, so stay tuned in the coming weeks for that!

There’s a lot of confusion and stress surrounding professional editors. A lot of writers are confused by the editing options, the prices, turnarounds and all the extra tidbits.

So I’m going to try my best to demystify some of that today. We’re going to learn all about the different types of editing, and figuring out which option is right for you.

Any good editor will make specific suggestions. You should never get something back from them like “This chapter is boring,” or “Your word choice is very repetitive.”

Types of editing: We’re going to start with the biggest and work our way down. These edits should be done in this order, i.e. a developmental edit should never be done after a copy edit. Even if you skip one or two of these edits, proofreading should always be last, copy editing second-to-last, line editing before that and developmental first. There’s larger rewrites required for developmental editing, so it doesn’t make sense to erase all typos if you’re going to change a large chunk of your writing.

Editors 1 - 1

(Also called Content or Substantive)

If you’ve looked at editors and their prices, you’ll see that this is typically the most expensive edit. That’s because of how labor intensive it can be for the editor.
This type of editing focuses on developing the plot and usually has larger editing suggestions than any other kind of edit.

The editor looks at things like structure, story flow, character development, setting, organization, conflict, point-of-view, and voice. Developmental editing looks at the big picture of your story and isn’t meant to polish a manuscript – it’s meant to shift the pieces and fill in the holes so your foundation is sound.

Most people should utilize a developmental editor, but here are some examples of things a DE can do for you:

  • Over/underwritering – A DE will let you know exactly which scenes aren’t necessary for your plot, or suggest changes that the author can use to make that scene relevant. As the author, you’ve been immersed in your story for a long time. This can blind to you to certain scenes that really aren’t necessary or ones that need more development.
  • Focusing your plot – If you’re kind of all over the place and your novel comes across as disjointed, most developmental editors will provide suggestions for narrowing the focus of your story.
  • Bolster character development. If you have trouble making your characters seem like living, breathing people, then a DE should be able to point out exactly what’s missing or what’s making your characters relatable.

A good developmental editor will do all of this without changing the author’s voice.

Suggestions aren’t typically made to the manuscript by the editor. Most editors leave notes where needed but provide a detailed document that encompasses most issues found within the novel.

Cost for this edit is averaged at $0.03 per word.

Editors 1 - 2

This editor zooms in closer on your novel and focuses on a line-by-line review of your entire manuscript. While there is some overlap with the developmental edit, a line editor will likely catch more of these mistakes than a DE would. Some of these issues include overused words, repetitive structures, passive voice, cliches, and unnatural or awkward phrasing.

Line editing does not focus on the story itself, but addresses the craft of the storytelling used – word, sentence and paragraph.

Examples of things a line editor can help you with:

  • Excess words – line editors will look for ways to say something with as few words as possible. This makes your writing straight to the point and eliminates those pesky wasted words!
  • Stuttering sentences – If your sentence structure makes your writing awkward, a line editor will address this. A writer knows what language or cadence is intended, but that doesn’t always translate to the page – a stranger reading a sentence might stop and have to start over again because of its wording.

A line edit does not comb your manuscript for errors – that’s the purpose of a copy edit or proofread. While a line editor will point out obvious issues, it’s not what their eye is trained at that moment.

Line edits are done in-line, meaning an editor will make notes either in Word’s “track changes” tool, or by hand on a hardcopy of your manuscript.

Price ranges from about $0.02 per page to $0.03 per word.

Editors 1 - 3

Where line editing is about the craft of your writing, copy editing is all about the rules. These edits aren’t opinion-based, they’re written somewhere in law. Whether you’reAmerican English or British English (or any other), your copy editor will know these laws backwards, forwards, and upside-down.

Copy editors will check things like grammar, punctuation, syntax, spelling, some fact checking, consistencies in your capitalization and hyphenation of words, and track inconsistencies with descriptions.

  • Word choice: Often, there can be confusion on specific word choice, such as who vs. whom. Copy editors will tell you exactly which one you should use!
  • Punctuation rules! Don’t know if you should use a colon or a semi-colon? Aren’t sure how to cut off a character’s dialogue? These are the tiny terrors of the writing world that can make your novel look unprofessional in the eyes of your readers. While not every reader will catch these mistakes, the ones that do are sure to tell someone about it!
  • Inconsistencies – You’ve read your novel so many times by now (or you should have…seriously) that you’ve blinded yourself to the little details. Details like the color of your protagonist’s car or the age of his nephew. Copy editors will typically flag these items for you.

Like line editing, copy editing is done in line. You’ll get tracked changes marked on your Word document or lovely red ink all over your printed manuscript.

Price is averaged at about $0.016 per word.

Editors 1 - 4

This is always the final stage of editing. No other form of professional edit should come after the proofreading stage, because you’ll just have to pay again for more proofreading.

This is the editing that most people are familiar with. This is the editing that should catch every single misspelled word (if it’s made it past the copy editor and line editor) and punctuation mistake, but they also look at formatting, paragraph and sentence consistency, and even how the eBook version of your manuscript looks.

As the name suggests, this editor looks at a “proof” copy of your manuscript – the very final version of your novel that you’re sending out to be published, all formatting and changes made.

What a proofreader can do for you:

  • Formatting errors – If your eBook is missing a paragraph indent or your fifth chapter starts with an indent (and it shouldn’t), this editor will make sure none of these errors slip through the cracks. Sometimes a sentence can disappear altogether during the formatting process or a page can vanish. Converting manuscripts to eBooks can generate a host of these tiny issues, so it helps to have a fresh pair of eyes on it!
  • Missing/repeated words – Ever see that fun paragraph where “an” is repeated right next to it (This is an an example), and only 10% of the population notices it? A proofreader will be in that 10% (I totally made that statistic up by the way)! Or if you’re just plain missing that “an” but no one else has noticed it. This happens all the time, even to the best of them! I’ve recently spotted typos in Six of Crows and Red Queen. Can you imagine what typos there would have been had they not used a proofreader? *shudders*

This editing is also done in-line with minimal turnaround time.

Price is an average of $0.012 per word for proofreading.

Editors 1 - 5

Some editors also offer extra services not related to your entire novel. Those include first chapter edits (or 50-page edits), website proofreading, minimal manuscript critiques or maybe query letter editing.

With any professional editor, it’s important to thoroughly read through what’s offered with each of their editing options. While my definitions may be accurate for most, not all editors offer the same thing for each type of edit, or they may be called by different names. In my own hunt for editors, I found a variety of terms used for developmental editing, and some that were combination packages with seemingly random names.

Some editors also offer discounts on editing packages and use another set of eyes (an assistant) to proofread the final copy for them. Some also have discounts for referrals, first-time customers, or even for military members.

All of my prices were found as averages from Writer’s Digest and can vary greatly from what you may find online, depending on the editor and their experience. Like most things in life, you typically get what you pay for. You may luck out and find an amazing editor with great prices who is just starting out, but that’s a huge risk to take on something so important.

Turnaround times also vary greatly from editor to editor and you might have to wait for an availability for the one you finally choose. Some editors can have a waitlist of one month, others can be six months or more depending on their popularity.


Be sure to check back in the coming weeks for more information and tips on choosing the right editor for you, as well as what type of editing is best for you manuscript! I’ll also go over some tips on contacting editors and what information you want to request.

I hope this post was oh-so-informational to all of you looking for editing services. If you’ve used an editor (or are one yourself) and would like to provide some real-life cost comparisons for other readers, feel free to leave a comment!

Happy writing!

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