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 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 university press) training and supervising copy editors (junior editors) and proofreaders. Being a full-scale, developmental editor (senior 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 substantive edit or critique. 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, an evaluation, a content edit (sometimes called a developmental or substantive 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: novels, short stories, women’s lit, historical fiction, literary fiction, YA (young adult), children’s, mystery, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, 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 edit” sites, with their questionable reputations. (See Choosing an Editor for more information.) Many of my clients were burned by someone they met on a discount site, only to find they then had to pay a genuine editor to do the job all over again. Better to get it right the first time. Make sure the editor you select has credentials, or pay the price later on of disappointing results.

I’ve 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. (For more information about my credentials, please see my About page.)

Literary Services

Professional manuscript-editing services include a range of options, all of which I offer for both fiction and nonfiction: content editing (sometimes called developmental or substantive editing), copy editing, author coaching, manuscript critiquing, and manuscript evaluation. A minor amount of ghostwriting may be part of content-editing jobs. After a review of your manuscript, I will tell you which type of service I recommend based on your book’s particular needs and stage of development.

I’m also available to write and/or critique query letters, book proposals, and marketing materials for the authors I work with.  I help at every stage of the process with whatever may be needed, 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, I generally recommend a content edit followed by a copy edit, with time in between for you to make revisions. Additional rounds of editing are not needed when I’m finished.

For novels, if you’ve just completed your first or second draft, I usually recommend a critique followed by revisions and then a content edit. If you’re working on a later draft and have had help from a professional editor—or if you’re a seasoned, published author—I will probably recommend skipping the critique and moving directly to the content 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 before submitting the manuscript for line-by-line content editing. This allows for macroscopic problems with plot, characterization, dialog, and so forth to be ironed out in advance of the fine-tuning content edit.

Content Edits (Substantive Edits)

A content edit, sometimes called a “substantive edit,” detects and corrects substantive problems in a manuscript. For nonfiction, this means issues with structure, organization, presentation, logic, clarity, consistency, repetition, tense, tone, voice, titles, subheadings, lists, references, and so on. For novels, the focus is on flaws or inconsistencies in plot, characterization, dialog, description, tension, exposition, voice, point of view, and other issues particular to fiction.  A content edit is a detailed, line-by-line edit that includes suggested content revisions as well as margin notes with extensive explanations, recommendations, and comments. Price varies depending on the quality of the writing and the amount of repair/ polishing needed.

Copy Edits

A copy edit can be ordered separately, but I encourage authors to submit their manuscript for this last stage of editing only when they are certain all its substantive flaws have been identified and eliminated either through a content edit (for nonfiction) or a critique followed by a content edit (for novels). It’s a rare book indeed that needs only a copy edit. Copy editing only corrects a manuscript’s superficial flaws: those involving word choice, grammar, syntax, and punctuation.


Sometimes authors (particularly novelists who have written only one or two drafts of their story) are not ready for the line-by-line content edit and need to have their manuscript critiqued so they can make substantial revisions themselves before submitting the book for more detailed editing. The critique focuses on macroscopic issues, identifying and providing solutions for problems in plot, characterization, dialog, description, tension, exposition, voice, point of view, etc. (for fiction) and in book organization, structure, clarity, etc. (for nonfiction). The author receives:

  • An annotated manuscript (margin notes with detailed comments and suggestions relating to particular lines of text)
  • An in-depth written report (15 or more single-spaced pages for novels) identifying problems and explaining 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

Note: For a lesser fee, I can substitute a shorter written report and a “take notes” phone call for the in-depth written report.


For authors who want only an assessment of their manuscript’s marketability and a brief explanation of its strengths and weaknesses, I offer a read-through and short written evaluation. Unlike a critique, an evaluation does not include an annotated manuscript, nor does it list and explain all the manuscript’s particular problems and potential solutions. An evaluation is only a brief report (3 to 4 pages) on the general merits and general problem areas of the book. For an additional charge, I will provide a short critique of the first 20 to 30 pages.

Author Coaching

I provide author coaching to private clients on an hourly basis, billed at $100 an hour. Coaching entails periodic reviews of the client’s work in progress, phone consultations, and written advice and feedback. I’m available as needed to the authors I coach and schedule time for them when they request it. For new or 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 til the end. See this article for why.

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 2,500 words (9 or 10 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.

No-Charge Consultation

contact-jessiFeel free to contact me by email. If you wish, we can make a 15-minute phone appointment to discuss your project. If it seems like we’re a good match, I’ll invite you to send over your manuscript. From that, I’ll assess the amount and type of editing needed and make a recommendation.