Professional Manuscript Editing–How It Works

For your book to succeed in the marketplace, it needs to meet or exceed publication standards. So it pays to engage the help of the best editor you can find—a trained and seasoned professional, who can correctly identify and help you repair all flaws that may hide in your manuscript. Here are basic facts about the professional manuscript-editing services I offer.

Publishing House Background

I served as editor in chief of a publishing house (a small university press) training and supervising copy editors (junior editors) and proofreaders. Being a full-scale, developmental editor, I thoroughly examine every manuscript that clients send me. You may ask for only correction of grammar and punctuation, but if your book has deeper issues, I will detect them, point out what they are, and recommend a more thorough edit. When your book is finished, there’ll be no passed-over errors or weak spots coming back to embarrass you later, or ruining your reputation just going out of the gate.

Personalized Service

Every book I accept, I handle personally. I don’t outsource work to other editors. You may request a manuscript  critique or developmental edit, an evaluation, a content edit, a copy edit, or ongoing author coaching. For a detailed explanation of the differences between these services, please see the bottom of this page.


Togenres-FINAL do my best work, it’s important that I like and believe in your manuscript. So I only accept books I’d honestly like to read. I avoid two genres: horror and erotica. I edit all others, including both fiction and nonfiction. (If you are writing a memoir, see this informative article.)

Genres I’ve edited in the past include:

Fiction: thriller, mystery, YA (young adult), children’s, women’s lit, historical fiction, literary fiction, and Christian
personal development, psychology, education, how-to, biography, travel, spirituality, philosophy, New Age, Christian, business, investment, real estate, health, humor, and memoir

Cure for the ‘Bargain’ Edit

Qualified freelance book editors charge professional rates. You won’t find us on the “bargain” sites, with their questionable reputations. (See Choosing an Editor.) Some of my clients were burned by a so-called editor they met on a discount site, only to find they had to engage a genuine editor to re-do the work. Make sure the editor you select has the credentials to do the type of editing you require, to avoid disappointing results.

Please visit my About page for information on my credentials. My work has been endorsed by Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest. I guest-post on her blog, also on the excellent StoryFix website, and on the thought-provoking Writer Unboxed blog, named by Writer’s Digest in 2016 as the number-one website for writers.

Literary Services

While I specialize in developmental editing and content editing, I offer the full range of professional manuscript-editing services in both fiction and nonfiction. A minor amount of ghostwriting may be part of content-editing jobs. After reviewing your manuscript, I’ll tell you which type of service I recommend based on your book’s particular needs and stage of development. Please scroll down to see the types of editing available, along with a detailed description of the differences between them.

I also offer help with query letters, book proposals, and marketing materials for the authors I work with. I’m there for you at every stage of the process, from brainstorming and structuring clear through to the finish line. While I won’t directly connect you with agents and publishers, the materials I help you produce will be of a quality that wins their respect and attention. With my guidance, clients have found agents in markets where they were told it was impossible. They have won contests and literary awards, written bestsellers and international bestsellers.

For nonfiction authors, if you feel you’ve polished the manuscript to the best of your ability, I recommend a content edit followed by a copy edit, with time in between for you to make some revisions based on my feedback. If you’re having trouble with a confusing manuscript that has spiraled out of control, or you want to structure your book in advance of beginning the writing, I recommend a developmental edit, entailing a careful review of your materials followed by detailed advice on “where to go from here.” The developmental edit usually includes both phone consultations and written suggestions and outlines.

For novelists, if you’ve only completed your first or second draft, I generally recommend a critique (sometimes called a “developmental edit”) followed by author revisions and a line edit. If you’re working on a later draft and have already had help from a qualified fiction editor—or if you’re a seasoned, published author—I will probably recommend skipping the critique and moving directly to the line edit. Due to the complexity of the novel form, it makes sense for a writer to bring the story up to the highest standard possible (through a critique followed by revisions) before submitting the manuscript for line editing. This allows for macroscopic problems with plot, characterization, exposition, dialog, point of view, and so forth to be ironed out in advance of the fine-tuning line edit. (A line edit combines the depth of a content edit with the cosmetics of a copy edit.)

Content Edits (Substantive Edits)

A content edit (sometimes called a “substantive edit”) detects and corrects substantive problems in a manuscript. It is most often used for nonfiction writing to address issues with structure, organization, presentation, logic, clarity, consistency, repetition, tense, tone, voice, titles, subheadings, lists, references, and so on. A content edit is a detailed, line-by-line edit that includes suggestions for content revisions as well as margin notes with comments, explanations, and specific recommendations. Price varies depending on the quality of the writing and the amount of repair or polishing that is needed.

Copy Edits

A copy edit can be ordered separately, but only submit your manuscript for this level of editing when you’re sure all its substantive flaws have been identified and eliminated–either through a content edit (for nonfiction) or a critique (for novels). It’s a rare book that needs only a copy edit. Copy editing corrects a manuscript’s superficial flaws: those involving word choice, grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Price is determined by word count and the amount of correction required.

Critiques (Developmental Edits)

Manuscripts of novelists who have never have been published or professionally critiqued usually are not ready for a line-by-line edit. First they need detailed feedback on the story’s flaws so the author can make in-depth revisions. A well-crafted novel is a marvel of complexity, and getting it right is no small achievement. A critique (developmental edit) provides the detailed, professional feedback a new author needs and guides her on how to elevate the story to a publishable standard before submitting it for a line edit. The critique focuses on macroscopic issues, identifying and suggesting specific solutions for problems with plot, characterization, dialog, point of view, pacing, exposition, description, voice, and other substantive issues.

In a critique, the author receives:

  • An annotated manuscript (margin notes with detailed comments and suggestions relating to particular lines of text)
  • An in-depth written report (generally 20 to 25 single-spaced pages) identifying problems and recommending specific, potential solutions
  • Following delivery of the annotated manuscript and written report, a phone consultation (up to one hour) answering questions and responding to the author’s ideas for revision

Price of a critique is determined by the manuscript’s word count.


For authors who want only an assessment of their manuscript’s marketability and a brief explanation of its strengths and weaknesses, I offer the option of an evaluation. Evaluations entail a read-through of the material and either a short written report or a phone conversation. I can do this for a chapter, for several consecutive chapters, or for a book. Unlike a critique, an evaluation does not include annotation (detailed margin-note feedback), nor does it list and explain all the manuscript’s particular problems and potential solutions. An evaluation is only a brief report discussing the manuscript’s general merits and general problem areas. Price is based primarily upon word count.

Author Coaching 

If you’re in the process of writing your book and feel you’re having difficulty, if you sense there are problems in the writing but can’t quite put your finger on what they are, it may be more helpful to get professional input now than to wait until your first or second draft is finished. Author coaching typically entails a review of your material followed by a phone consultation, email advice, and detailed margin-note feedback. You can also ask for periodic reviews of your work in progress. I’m available as needed to the writers I coach and schedule time for them when they request it. For first-time authors, it is often wiser and more cost-effective to seek help at the beginning or middle of a project than to wait until the end. If you think you may be in the market for this type of service, read this article that explains in depth when consulting is a better option than critiquing. Author coaching is billed at $60 per half hour.

Sample Edits

Editors in need of business offer free sample edits. Editors in demand do not do this, because a thorough sample edit takes considerable time—time the editor needs to devote to editing the books on her wait list. I discourage even paid sample edits for this reason. However, if an author strongly feels the need for a “trial run,” I will do a sample edit of 1,200 words (about 8 double-spaced pages) for $300. This offer is intended for nonfiction authors (and established fiction authors, who usually can skip the critique phase of editing).

First-time novelists, on the other hand, typically need a critique followed by substantial revision before detailed line editing can be properly performed. Issues at the microscopic level cannot be fairly addressed if a story has problems on the macroscopic level—which most fiction first drafts do. To line edit a shakily constructed story is like putting on make-up before cleaning your face. If the novel needs substantial restructuring, the section you ask me to sample edit may need to be deleted in your revised draft, in which case you’re paying for work that will go down the drain. So the paid sample edit is not for first-time novelists.

Phone Consultations

contact-jessiIf you are a prospective client, feel free to contact me by email. If you wish, we can schedule a phone consult to answer specific questions you may have and discuss the possibility of working together. Phone consults are billed at $150 per half hour and include my recommendations for your manuscript, which you will be invited to send over.