Top 5 Questions About Editing

I’m often surprised by how much confusion there is around editing in the world of writers. Not only is there occasionally animosity between writers and editors (editors make suggestions to change our work, after all), but there also seems to be a distinct lack of clarity when it comes to exactly what it is that editors DO.

It used to be that writers encountered editors once their book was accepted at a publishing house. These editors either worked for the publishing company, or were freelancers contracted by the publishing company to prepare the manuscript for publication.

Now, with the proliferation of eBooks and self-publishing options, more and more writers are being given the opportunity to find their own editors. Some writers even hire editors to help improve their manuscript before they start sending it to agents and publishers.

I’ll admit I’m biased when it comes editing (I’m a freelance editor), but I am a firm believer that writers need editors! Heck, even editors need editors.

Below I have brought together the 5 questions I was asked by writers most often during my time as an editor.

Top 5 Questions About Editing (Answered by a Former Editor):

1) What types of editing are available?

The Editors’ Association of Canada has an excellent breakdown of the major types of editing, or editorial skills, as they call them. You can view the full list of editing skills here, but here are the types of editing that you might run across most often:


Proofreading is often confused with copy editing, but there’s a definite difference: proofreading traditionally takes place after a manuscript has been completed, and just before it’s published. When proofreading, editors are looking to make sure the document looks okay (page numbering is correct, no glaring typos, chapters run in the correct sequence, etc.).

Copy Editing:

Copy editing (or copyediting, depending on where you live) is what I believe most people think of when they hear ‘editing’. Copy editing includes correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling and word usage and, depending on the editor, possibly suggesting a few stylistic tweaks to your work. Copy editing does not include major revisions to plot, sequence or characters.

Stylistic Editing:

Stylistic editing includes removing jargon, smoothing out things like repetitive word use or adjusting the reading level.

Substantive Editing:

Substantive editing is where editors really dive into your work. When doing a substantive edit an editor might suggest changes to the way your story is organized, or ways to improve or clarify your plot or characters.

Manuscript Evaluation:

Now manuscript evaluations aren’t quite editing in the old-fashioned sense, but I’ve included them here because I hear about them a lot in the writing world. When someone completes a manuscript evaluation for you, they aren’t correcting your grammar or spelling – they are reading your story to see if it works. Are the characters believable? Are there any holes in the plot? A good manuscript evaluation can help you figure out why your work is not being published.

2) How do I determine which type of edit I need?

In my experience, the best way to figure out what level of edit your work needs is to ask an editor. When you’re looking for an editor, be sure to shop around. I say this not because most editors aren’t wonderful (most of them are), but because you need to find an editor who understands you, and your work.

When you first make contact with an editor, they’ll likely ask you a few questions about the work you’d like edited (word count, genre, any deadlines), and then request a sample of your work. From this sample, an editor should be able to let you know which type of editing you’ll need.

3) Do I really need an editor?

Yes! I firmly believe that we ALL need to be edited, especially when it comes to publishing a book that we hope to sell. Even if your grammar and punctuation are pristine, it’s really hard to step back far enough from your writing to see your own mistakes, whether they be typos or larger issues with character or continuity.

Editing is becoming even more important now that more and more writers are self-publishing. If you’re planning on self-publishing, you should be adding a professional edit into your publishing budget. For me there’s nothing worse than downloading a self-published book to find it riddled with typos. Mistakes are distracting to readers, and you want them to be focusing on your story, not your misplaced or dangling modifiers.

4) How much does editing cost?

The cost of having your work edited will likely be affected by these factors:

  • The length of your work
  • How experienced the editor is (more experience = more expensive)
  • How quickly you need it completed (a faster turn-around sometimes comes with a higher price tag)
  • The level of edit required (more involved types of editing can be more expensive)

To make sure you’re getting a good deal, request quotes from several editors. Don’t be scared off by a high price though: with editing, you often get what you pay for. For more on the price of editing, visit my How Much Does Editing Cost? post.

5) How do I find an editor?

One of the best ways to find a reliable editor is to ask your fellow writers for recommendations. Like many other professionals, editors have specialties, so you may want to look for someone who is familiar with editing the type of work you’ve written (YA, memoir, non-fiction, horror, etc.).

In the United States, you can check out the Editorial Freelancers Association for a searchable directory of editors, and in Canada, the Editors’ Association of Canada hosts an online directory of editors (the ODE).

A few final words on editing:

No matter which type of editing you choose, remember that you are always at liberty to question an editor’s suggestion, or choose not to heed a suggestion. Most editors will be more than happy to talk through a change with you and make alternate suggestions to find one that will work for you. After all, some of the best books ever written broke major rules (Think No Country for Old Men with its distinct lack of quotation marks for dialogue.). Your work is a reflection of yourself, and a good edit will maintain that.

Have any other questions about editing? I’ll try to answer them if you post a comment below!

Author: Carrie Mumford

Carrie Mumford is a writer and content manager living in Calgary, Alberta. She write short stories and non-fiction articles, and blogs about technology, editing, writing and (of course) books.

  • Great post Carrie! It’s true – everyone needs an editor – editors themselves are no exception! And it’s always the author’s decision when it comes to a suggestion an editor makes.

    • Yes! It’s funny, I think that’s part of the reason editors can seem so scary. People envision nasty curmudgeons who are going to scold for your improper grammar, but in reality, most editors I have met are very kinda (although we’re both biased, of course).

  • Don’t forget the classic, “Why did you change what I said?” and the ubiquitous, “Is punctuation that imprtant?” ;->

    Seriously, thanks Carrie, well put together – and it’s information people need to know.

    • Ha! How could I forget! ;)

      I agree – especially with the growth of self-publishing. Perhaps writers and editors will band together to change the face of publishing (or maybe they already have…).

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