New authors are frequently surprised at the cost of editing.

Expectation vs Reality

Presumably they picture someone curled up in a comfy armchair, skimming over their manuscript, nodding, smiling – and occasionally correcting the odd spelling mistake.

If only…

It’s more likely your editor will be hunched at their desk, surrounded by coffee mugs, a pile of grammar guides and reference books marked with sticky notes. They’ll be toggling between the online Oxford English dictionary and your manuscript, inserting, deleting and commenting and then cursing Eskom frantically as the next load-shedding schedule begins and their laptop darkens into a sullen silence before they’ve clicked Save.

Editors Are on Your Side

Writers are a wonderfully creative crowd, producing imaginative, moving, exciting stories. Let the editors refine the text. Sending a manuscript to an editor for polishing shouldn’t feel like handing over an exam paper to be marked, it should rather be seen as an opportunity to collaborate with a friendly team member who’s on your side; someone with complementary skills who wants the same thing you do – a great book.

Let’s take a look at your broad editing options as well as the steps they may include.

A Light Edit or Proofread

Most authors opt for a light edit or what’s sometimes called a proofread, where there’s minimum intervention in the text. They may be experienced writers who’ve mastered their craft over many years. Sometimes they’re closely attached to their own particular style and have a niche target market. And often it’s because of budget limitations.

A Comprehensive Edit

As the name suggests this deeper level of edit has your editor conduct a detailed review of your entire manuscript. Every aspect of your writing should be assessed during this process. This includes everything from the sentences and structure to the style and tone of your manuscript. 

List 1: Steps normally covered in both a light and comprehensive edit.

  • spelling errors
  • incorrect word use
  • grammar mistakes
  • subject-verb disagreement
  • pronoun misuse
  • inconsistent tense – past perfect/simple past/present/future
  • misplaced apostrophes
  • incorrect punctuation
  • hyphens/n-dashes
  • comma placement
  • dialogue punctuation
  • colons/semi-colons
  • inconsistency in number treatment (words mixed with numerals)
  • combination of quotation marks (singles and doubles)
  • capitalisation (inconsistent and/or incorrect)
  • wrong formatting of tradenames (like iPhone, PayPal)

If the first list seems insanely long, here’s List 2.

List 2: Steps (normally) only covered in a comprehensive edit

  • point of view retention
  • repetition
  • weak verbs
  • ineffective chapter openings and endings
  • illogical structure or flow
  • language and tone appropriate for the target audience
  • scene transitions
  • fact checking
  • genre conventions
  • specific word overuse
  • superfluous words
  • conscious language around disability, negative stereotypical, or gender-biased portrayals
  • sensitivity issues – flagging possible trigger warnings for readers
  • copyright infringements
  • potential defamation lawsuits

Covering all these topics takes a lot of time – it’s precise and intensive work – and can include multiple passes over the manuscript. That’s why a full edit costs more. But this cost can be seen as both an investment in the book and in the author’s writing skills. A detailed edit can help the author to avoid many of these issues in their future writing and enables them to self-edit more effectively.

Asking For a Sample Edit

A short sample edit allows the author to assess the editor’s skills, and to confirm that the level of editing they’ve requested aligns with their expectations. The sample edit also allows the editor to assess the amount of work needed, to estimate the time it will take, and to assist in calculating and quoting a fair rate.

Average Editing Prices?

Page 29 of the latest SAFREA (Southern African Freelancers’ Association) rates report provides both author and editor with market-related guidelines on pricing for an edit.

Final Thoughts

Every author has the freedom to choose the level of editing they’re comfortable with, but when requesting a cheaper edit, it’s important to realise that certain elements of their writing won’t be addressed. Budget, publishing plans and long-term writing goals are all factors to consider when deciding which level of editing will give an author the best value for money.

Additional Reading:

Thanks to Tracy Buenk for the words! 📝