Professional Manuscript Editing–How It Works

As a midwife helps a mother through the final stages of birthing her child, an editor helps authors through the final stages of birthing their book. It’s an exciting experience for author and editor alike, seeing a book take shape, turning from something raw and wild into actualization of its promise. I’m humbled and honored to be a part of that process. Professional manuscript editing is my job. It’s also one of my greatest pleasures.

For your book to reach and move the audience for whom you intend it, you want it to be of the highest quality. That means it must meet or exceed publication standards. That’s what an editor is for, to get you over that hump.

I’m a veteran senior editor, having served as editor in chief of a publishing house, a small university press. (See my About page for details about my background.) I thoroughly examine every manuscript that comes across my desk. You may ask only for correction of grammar and punctuation, but if your book has deeper issues, I will detect them, point them out, and recommend a more thorough edit. When your book is finished, there’ll be no hidden errors or weak spots coming back to embarrass you later.

Every book I accept, I handle personally. I don’t outsource work to other editors. My standard is excellence, and the authors I work with resonate with that value. Together we hone a manuscript into the best it can be.


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 consider books in all other genres, both fiction and nonfiction. (If you are writing a memoir, see this informative article.)

Genres I frequently edit include:

Nonfiction: personal development, how-to, psychology, memoir, biography, spirituality, Christian, business, real estate, education, health, and humor

Fiction: thriller, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, young adult, children’s, women’s, historical fiction, literary fiction, and Christian

Literary Services

While I specialize in developmental editing (content editing), I offer the full range of professional manuscript-editing services in both fiction and nonfiction. Scroll down to see the types of editing available, along with a detailed description of the differences between them.

Professional Manuscript EditingI also offer help with query letters, book titles, book proposals, and marketing materials. I’m there for you at every stage of the process whenever you feel you need me, 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. (Please see my Testimonials page.)

For most nonfiction authors, if you feel you’ve polished the manuscript to the best of your ability, I recommend a content edit generally followed by a copy edit. (If the writing needs a lot of work, two content edits may be necessary.) If you’re having trouble with a meandering, confusing manuscript that has spiraled out of control, or you want to structure your book in advance of starting the writing, I recommend author coaching, which entails my careful review of your materials followed by detailed advice on “where to go from here.” Author coaching may include manuscript reviews, phone consultations, outline creation, and written feedback—whatever you need to get back on track.

For novelists and memoir writers, I generally recommend a critique (developmental edit) followed by author revisions and then, if the manuscript is close to publishable, a line edit or copy edit. If you’ve already had help from a qualified story editor—or if you’re a seasoned, published author—I will probably recommend skipping the critique and moving directly to the line-by-line edit. Due to the complexity of novels and memoirs, 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 copy editing. This allows for macroscopic problems with organization, plot, characterization, exposition, dialog, point of view, and so forth to be ironed out in advance of the fine-tuning, final edit.

Here is the list of all services I offer, with detailed descriptions and pricing:

Content Edit (for Most Nonfiction)

A content edit (sometimes called a “substantive edit” or a “developmental edit”) detects and corrects substantive problems in a manuscript. It is 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 corrects minor substantive issues (such as word choice, rambling, and redundancy) while identifying any major problems and recommending solutions via detailed margin note commentary. Price varies depending on the quality of the writing and the amount of repair or polishing needed.

Copy Edit

A copy edit is always included with my content 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. It’s a rare book that needs only a copy edit. Copy editing corrects a manuscript’s most superficial flaws: such things as grammar, syntax, punctuation, and sentence structure. Price is determined by word count and the amount of correction required.

Critique (for Novels, Memoirs, Short Stories)

Manuscripts of writers who have never have been professionally published or professionally critiqued usually are not ready for a copy edit, as that only corrects superficial errors. Authors first need detailed feedback on their story’s flaws so they can make in-depth revisions. A well-crafted novel or memoir is a marvel of complexity, and getting it right is no small achievement. A critique provides the detailed, page-by-page, professional feedback new authors need and guides them on how to elevate their story to a publishable standard before submitting it for a copy edit. The critique focuses on both “microscopic” and “macroscopic” issues (the “tree view” and the “forest view”), identifying problems and suggesting specific solutions for issues with organization, plot, characterization, dialog, point of view, pacing, exposition, description, voice, and other substantive issues, as well as for mechanical issues (sentence structuring, recurring grammar mistakes, wordiness, and so forth).

In a novel critique or memoir critique, the author receives:

  • An annotated manuscript (margin notes with comments and suggestions relating to particular lines of text—all “microscopic” problems with the manuscript are exposed, with detailed solutions proposed and explained)
  • An in-depth written report (generally 10 or more pages) focusing on the manuscript’s “macroscopic” issues and recommending detailed potential solutions
  • Following delivery of the annotated manuscript and written report, an optional half-hour phone consultation answering questions and responding to the author’s ideas for revision

I also critique short stories. These receive the same treatment as a novel critique or memoir critique, but the written report is a shorter as there is less to comment on.

Price of a critique is determined by the manuscript’s word count. For a standard-length novel manuscript of 80,000 words, the fee would be $4,000.

Review of Query/Synopsis/First Twenty Pages (for Novels)

If you’ve finished your novel, shopped it around, and are being ignored by the agents, there’s something wrong with either your query letter, your synopsis, your sample chapters, or all three. It could be that your manuscript also has issues, but if you’re getting no manuscript requests, then it’s not your manuscript that’s being rejected: it’s your introductory materials.

In this case, I suggest having the materials you’re sending to agents critiqued. If the query or synopsis are not up to snuff, I’ll tell you what’s wrong and show you how to fix it. If the trouble is in the sample chapters, I’ll feedback the first twenty pages (about 6,000 words) so you can see what kind of mistakes you are making. Armed with that information, you may decide to revise your query or synopsis, or you may decide to have your novel manuscript critiqued.

For review of a query letter, a two-page synopsis, and the novel’s first twenty pages (about 6,000 words), my fee is $1100. You can also add a phone call to the order and ask me directly any questions you may have.

Query Letter Crafting

The quality of your query letter is the first factor in determining whether an agent takes an interest in you. You can have a fabulous book, well-written and well-edited, but if you don’t put the same level of care and professionalism into your query letter that you put into your manuscript, agents will assume you are a hack and read no further. There’s an expected protocol to query letter writing, and if you don’t abide by it, you won’t get taken seriously. My clients have won agents and book contracts with query letters I’ve crafted. My fee to edit or to write a query letter for author clients is $280. For non-clients the fee is $420, to cover the additional time I must spend familiarizing myself with the book.

Book Title Help

Having trouble coming up with a really great book title? Send me your list of ideas, and I will tell you which are strong, which are weak, and the reasons. I will also brainstorm new title ideas and explain which ones are my top choices and why. An effective title is essential to the success of your book. If the title doesn’t deliver on several levels, you’ll lose prospective readers and also most likely your chance at finding an agent. Unfortunately, people do judge a book by its cover, and the title is a big part of that. If you want them to go further and look at what’s inside, you have to hook them with the title. For author clients, there is no fee to brainstorm and coach on a book title. For non-clients, the fee is $350, since I must charge for the time required to familiarize myself with the book. See this article on the requirements of a winning book title.

Manuscript Review and Prospective-Client Phone Consult

contact-jessiAre you unsure what level of help your manuscript needs? Would you like to talk with me about your book before deciding whether to order services? For $325, I will spend one hour studying what you’ve written, followed by up to an hour with you on the phone explaining the manuscript’s strengths, weaknesses, and marketability. Plan to take lots of notes and to ask any questions you may have. This service is for nonfiction manuscripts only.

Author Coaching (for Fiction and Nonfiction Writers)

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 careful 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 $70 per half-hour for whatever time I spend helping you, whether I’m reading your manuscript, writing feedback, or conferring with you on the phone. Author coaching is not to be confused with the prospective-client phone consult, which is priced differently and explained elsewhere on this page.