All About Editing


You’ve written a novel, congratulations, that’s a massive accomplishment.

The next step is to enlist a professional editor to polish your work and get it ready for publishing. But there are different kinds of editors out there.

Often editors are perceived as just fixing grammar and spelling mistakes (similar to people thinking accountants only do tax, or plumbers only fix toilets), but there are a wide variety of editors out there that all have different goals and outcomes, so the right type needs to be chosen.

Hint: Some editors use the names of edits interchangeably (e.g. copy and line edits are sometimes interchanged), so it is always best to asks an editor exactly what is included in their package before you enlist them.

I like to think of editing in three tiers:

Tier 1 – Chapter & Novel level

In the tier one level, the edits look at the manuscript from a chapter level, or at the book as a whole. This tier includes Structural Edits, Developmental Edits, Editorial Assessments. Each of these edits has different focuses too, but their main purpose is to make sure the novel, as a whole, is working and the editor will make suggestions for improvements.

Depending on what kind of edit in this tier you choose, they may look at the following:

  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Sensitivity issues
  • Setting
  • Plot & subplots
  • Story structure
  • Pacing
  • Presentation
  • Marketability
  • Content Issues

Basically, these edits look at the big-picture and try to correct any major plot or character inconsistencies, while refining your ideas and structure.

Tier 2 – Paragraph & Sentence level

In the tier two level, the editor will look more closely at the paragraphs and sentences. This tier includes Line Edits, Stylistic Edits and Copyedits. The editor will usually make suggested changes within the document using ‘Track Changes’ in MS-Word, which allows you to see both the original sentence and the suggested sentence and then choose which version you prefer.

At this level, again depending on which type of edit you choose, your editor may look at the following:

  • Fixing any unintentional switches of tense or point of view
  • Flow of a sentence or paragraph
  • Inconsistencies in descriptions & locations
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Capitalisation
  • Repetition of words
  • Dialogue tags

For example, in tier two the editor would tell me if ‘Copyedit’ should be two words or one (Copy Edit or Copyedit).

Tier 3 – Word Level

Calling tier three the ‘Word Level’ might not be the most accurate description, because it doesn’t focus so much on what word is used, but it does look at the manuscript from the most granular level. This tier includes Proofreading, and to make things confusing, there are several types of proofreading available.

This is the very last edit you want to do on your novel because if you’re making any story change you’ll just have to go through a proofread again afterwards. So leave this until last.

In this tier the editor will go through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb to find the following:

  • Spelling errors
  • Grammar errors
  • Typos
  • Inconsistencies in layout and typography in the printed book
  • Confusing or awkward page and word breaks

This tier is the most technical and the proofreader needs to be meticulous to polish your manuscript before the final publication.

Which edit is the right type?

Choosing the right edit can be difficult, especially with so many different types to choose from and they don’t come cheap. Each edit varies in cost ranging from $0.02 per word to $0.079 per word for each edit (USD).

The Editorial Freelancers Association has a list of average editorial rates on their website:

If you can afford it, several edits can certainly be useful and will help to create the best version of your book.

Choosing the right editor for you is a very personal choice and you need to gauge how much work your novel needs. Do you think there are pacing or characterisation issues? Then get a tier one edit. Already had your manuscript structurally edited? Then maybe it’s time for an edit from the second tier. I wouldn’t recommend getting a proofread until you’ve had edits from the other tiers first because you want to avoid needing multiple proofreads.

How do you find an editor?

Once you know what type of editor you require, you need to find an editor that does that type of work. If you’ve never worked with an editor before, this can be difficult because, as with any profession, not all editors are equal; some will be better than others.

A great option is to ask any of your writing friends if they recommend an editor. Word of mouth is the best way to find someone that you know will be competent. And since editing can be done remotely, it doesn’t matter where they are located so you can enlist editors from all over the world.

Another option is to search on writing association websites. Writing associations often list editors or have a way to search for them. I have used which allows you to request several quotes simultaneously so it’s very efficient. These sites will usually list reviews from prior clients as well which may help in your search.

No matter which editor interests you, I suggest requesting a sample edit of your work. The editor will work on a few pages of your manuscript so you can see their style and make sure it will work for you. And if you get samples from more than one editor, you can compare them and choose the one that suits you best.

Best of luck with your edits.