The Basics of Getting A Professional Editor Before You Publish

2022-11-23 04:31 PM Comment(s)

What is a professional edit?

If an edit is any kind of revision done to your manuscript, a professional edit is one done by a professional with experience in one or more types of editing. With any luck, this little beginner's guide will give you some insight into what you're looking for, and what expectations you should have.

Before you as an author hire a professional editor, it helps to clearly understand the different types of editing services you can get, and which ones you need. Not all editors provide every kind of service, so it’s important to know that you and your prospective professional editor are on the same page before signing a contract.

If you’re writing with an eye toward publishing selling your fiction, especially as an independent (indie) author, you will want to engage a freelance editor to help you publish the best version of your book. If you sell your book to a traditional publishing company (think Random House and their competitors), frequently the publisher will provide the editorial services you need.

Why hire an editor before I publish? Can’t I just use Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and AutoCrit, or do it myself?

Grammarly, PWA and AutoCrit are excellent tools that should be in every author's arsenal, but AI (artificial intelligence) is no match for a human editor. There are parts of the craft of writing that AI just can’t help with.

For example, every genre has its obligatory scenes, and some kinds of editing involves that kind of craft. AI tools can look at sentence structure and tell you that you’ve got the verb and the noun backwards, but they can’t tell you that you’re missing the happily-ever-after ending for your romance, and they can’t tell you that you’re missing finding the body at the beginning of your murder mystery. Your editor also frequently helps with that.

Sure, AI tools are great with some issues. They’re good at spelling (assuming you’ve chosen the right word in the first place), and can help identify passive voice, catch overused words, compare you to other authors, and deal with some kinds of mechanical problems. But if you have needs around character development, pacing, and story structure, an AI tool won’t help.

And no, you can't simply do it yourself. You're too close to your story and writing to be objective. Yes, you need to revise your manuscript to get it into shape as best you can before you hand it off, but you need an editor's eyes.

I'm confused. What kind of edits are there?

There’s some fluidity between the different kinds of edits, and terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and many editors provide multiple services. The best way to understand what kind of edit you want, and what kind of edit your editor can provide, is to discuss it with them before work starts. Make sure you’re on the same page as your editor so you get the work you want and need, so both you and your potential editor understands the editor's job and what services you'd like. Practitioners often specialize, so ask if what you need is what your prospective editor provides! That'll make sure you and your editor have a great relationship and you get a great edit back.

Developmental and Structural Edits
Developmental Editing
A developmental edit is a high-level look at your story. It doesn’t worry about commas and periods; instead, it looks at plot (and plot holes), character development, dialogue, pacing, and other elements of the craft of writing that take a human mind to understand.

In this process, your editor may fix stray punctuation and word choice errors, but that's not what they're looking for. At this level, their editing work is intended to help you find craft errors, not mechanical mistakes.
Structural Editing

Often combined with a developmental edit, a structural edit analyzes the flow and structure of your manuscript, focusing on tone, style, and quality of writing. Again, this is a big-picture service, and it doesn’t look at individual sentences or catch misspelled words.

The Copy or Line Edit

Copy and line edits are closely related, and sometimes their pieces are combined into a single service.

Copy or Content Editing

In a copy edit, your editor will look at the copy (that is, the text) of your manuscript and will focus on word choice, grammar, and overall writing quality. They will look for things like the use of active and passive voice, sentence construction and intelligibility (like Yoda do you write?), and word repetition, to make your manuscript tighter and read better.

Line Editing
In a line edit, your editor will look meticulously (as the name suggests) at each line of your manuscript. They will dig into punctuation, word order, word choice, and polish. They will look at syntax, run-on sentences, comma splices, and other grammatical construction errors and help you get your work to be as error-free as possible. They will help you simplify your writing so that it isn’t overly-convoluted. They will also check for incorrect homophones (words that have the same sound but are spelled differently and mean different things, like they’re, there, and their) and make corrections.

An experienced editor might look at your manuscript at this stage and tell you that you're not ready for line editing. If that happens, they'll probably tell you that you need a developmental editor or a book coach with whom you can collaborate to help fix larger errors in your story. They might also help you understand where your most common issues are, so that you can fix them yourself before paying for a full edit. They won't give step-by-step instructions on fixing every error, but they may give you general guidance on how you can improve your editing process to save you money and them time in the long run.


The proofread is the “last line of defense” against error. After you’ve made all your changes, your proofreader will give your manuscript one last check to catch any stray spaces, missing periods or commas, misspelled words, or other easy-to-fix typos. They are not looking for structural problems, and if your story has plot holes large enough to drive a truck through, a proofread isn’t intended to catch them.

What about nonfiction?

Nonfiction work also requires editing, and all manuscripts will benefit from good edits. In addition, you're not necessarily writing a bullet point-based how-to manual. Often nonfiction will have a story to tell (like a memoir or biography), and a developmental editor can help you structure that tale, even if it's true. A content or line editor will help you clean up the grammar, and a proofreader will still be your final check that everything is right.

What do I need to give an editor?

Most commonly, your editor will ask you to stick to a particular format for your document that makes life easier for them.

How long will it take?

Your editor will give you a timeframe on when to expect delivery, but for an average novel-length manuscript, 60 to 90 days is pretty reasonable. Book editors want to take the time to perform the task with care and precision, and of course they may have other demands on their time as well. Sometimes it's difficult for an author to wait that long, but an author can always move on to the next story!

What do I get back when the manuscript is done?

Again, most commonly, you’ll receive a Microsoft Word docx file with Track Changes turned on. Your editor will make highlighted changes that you can accept or reject, and may also provide explanatory or thought-provoking comments that appear on the right side of the manuscript.

If you don’t use Microsoft Word, you can import this document into Google Docs and still see the tracked changes. (You can also drag the document into Scrivener, but you will lose the tracked changes.)

How do I find an editor?

Many times, editors get work through word-of-mouth. You can always ask your author community if they have recommendations, or you can visit the Three Story Method Certified Editor page to get started. Or you can simply book your free 15 minute call directly with V.E. Griffith today!

But what if I want an editor specifically trained in the Three Story Method?

Three Story Method editors like V.E. Griffith can help you find exactly the right editor for you, at any stage of your writing journey. All Three Story Method editors offer the Story Diagnostic, but each offers their own spin on the Diagnostic, as well as other services, such as coaching, line editing, and more! Reach out to any of them and they will be happy to help you find the right match.

What does it all cost?

The cost will depend on the length of the manuscript and exactly what services you need. Any editor you select should be willing to give you a no-obligation quote based on your needs.

What does V.E. Griffith offer?

V.E. Griffith offers several services to help you find and write your story.

  • Three Story Method Diagnostic
  • Single-Scene Analysis
  • Three Story Method Diagnostic With Line Editing
  • Line Editing Without a Diagnostic
  • Proofreading
  • Coaching
    • Three Story Method Coaching
    • Single sessions
    • Multiple sessions

All editing relationships start with a free 15-minute call where we’ll talk about you, your needs, and exactly the services you’re looking for. Based on our discussion, you’ll get a customized price quote!

Can I get a sample edit?

Yes! During your free 15 minute call, feel free to ask for a sample edit. V.E. Griffith is happy to do a free line edit of up to 2000 words of your manuscript so you can see what you'll get.

What does V.E. Griffith charge?

Again, the cost will vary based on the service you need, the length of your manuscript (in words, not pages), and how fast you need it done. In general, pricing looks like this.

  • Three Story Method Diagnostic: 2.5c/word, minimum 60,000 words
  • Line editing with a Three Story Method Diagnostic: 3.5c/word, minimum 60,000 words
  • Line editing without a Diagnostic: 2.5c/word, minimum 10,000 words
  • Proofreading: 1c/word, minimum 2500 words
  • Coaching: Sessions start at $99 for an hour-long coaching engagement, with discounts for longer relationships.
But what if my manuscript is shorter than the minimum or I have other considerations?

Individual situations can be hashed out during your free 15 minute call. V.E. Griffith understands that every person is unique, and can tailor your package to your individual needs. There's no company or middle-man here, so you can get exactly the service that fits you. Don't let the prices scare you! Set up your free 15 minute call today!