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How Book Editing Works: A Guide for Writers and Anyone Interested in Editing

I’m a published writer and developmental editor; I’ve been doing both for around 14 years. Along the way I successfully edited many books (both fiction and memoir), among them Christian Picciolini’s “White American Youth,” Deborah Holt Larkin’s “A Lovely Girl: The Tragedy of Olga Duncan and the Trial of One of California’s Most Notorious Killers,” and Gini Grossenbacher’s “Madam in Silk,” among many others.

Over the years I got my degree in writing from San Francisco State; I interned for a literary agent for nine months in 2013; I began getting my fiction published; I wrote 12 books; I started a Substack writing newsletter; and I edited hundreds of books. I also joined probably half a dozen freelance editing/writing sites, such as Upwork, the EFA (Editorial Freelancer’s Association, a great resource for new writers seeking editing), BAEF (Bay Area Editors’ Forum), Fiver, and more. During all this time I learned a LOT about what works and what doesn’t work for editing, both from my perspective and from the perspective of the author.

From this experience I include below a common list of Do’s and Don’ts:


1. Before choosing an editor: Do some serious research. First: What type of editing do you actually need? Most new writers need structural/substantive aka developmental editing, NOT line or copy editing or proofreading, etc.

2. After deciding what type of editing you need, make sure you do your homework about each editor you look at. What are their qualifications? How long have they been in the industry? Do they have proven, tested, published titles to tout? Do they have testimonials? Feel free to even email a few of the writers with testimonials to see what their experience was.

3. Ok. You know the type of editing you need for your book, and you’ve found an editor. Great. This one is going to be annoying but it needs to be said: Be prepared to spend some money. Nowadays, sadly, the vast majority of new writers more or less want something for just about nothing. I can’t tell you how many writers have asked me to do free work, or have offered me rates so abysmally low that I couldn’t possibly respect myself if I took the gig. Quality costs bread, pure and simple. I charge 5 cents per word. So if your book were 85,000 words that’d be $4,250. I know. It’s a lot. Again: You pay for quality. It’s a tough one because the chances of a writer legitimately making money off their book are very slim. But most writers write out of love, not potential profit.


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