Self Publishing for Writers blog

blog Home




Book Basics





I'm Charlie
Book Designer & Self Publishing coach

Level of Editing

Book Basics

February 28, 2021

What editing level does my book need?

The different tasks editors perform are called editing levels. There are many different names to the levels, but the editing level indicates the depth and focus that the editor performs their task. Everyone benefits from working with an editor. Not only will professional editing improve the project you are working on, but if you approach it with an open mind, it is a learning experience that will improve all your future work. 

For professional books, all the editing levels I discuss here are relevant. But what you specifically need help with is dependent on your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You may need more help with grammar and punctuation, but you soar when it comes to your plot, outline, and book structure.

Every level of editing has value, but you may not have much money to spend on editing. If that is the case, copy editing may be your best choice. Because at a bare minimum, you want the reader not to be distracted by the noise of small errors and typos.

Get on the same page with your editor.

Because of all the different roles an editor can play, it is crucial to discuss upfront what you are looking for and be specific. General terms like “clean up” and “fix grammar” and “correct mistakes” may not get you what you are really wanting.  To make things more complicated, many of the terms used to distinguish the different levels can mean different things to different people.  With this in mind, it is best to go over the specific tasks you are wanting rather than using umbrella terms. And if you use umbrella terms, make sure you and the editor are referring to the same source to define them.

When talking with your editor about what tasks to perform, it may also be helpful to have them tell you what they think your book needs. 

The 5 most common editing levels

There are many different ways to breakdown the different editing levels. Some editors offer all copyediting tasks at one same level, and some may have additional levels such as revision edit or rewriting. This is why it is important to discuss specific tasks rather than the level, at least until you are on the same page. Levels of editing may be numbered by the least in-depth to the most in-depth. But I prefer to list them by the order you would do them.

Editing Level One—Developmental Editing 

Developmental editing also called a critique or an evaluation, can even happen at the idea or rough outline stage.  At this editing level, the editor assesses your manuscript as a whole, looking at organization, flow, clarity, and purpose.  They may look for holes in the plot, character, and setting development and assess pace, genre, perspective, completeness, and overall quality. The editor usually provides feedback in a report where they summarize key points, areas of concern and offer suggestions to make it better.  

$45–$55/hour. (see my note below on pricing)

Editing Level Two—Big Picture Editing

This editing level is also called substantive, developmental, structural, or content editing. Big Picture editing is a hands-on approach to the developmental edit. The editor acts on the critique’s recommendations and looks at the manuscript’s structure, logic, purpose, order of information, and transitions. This edit may require moving, cutting, and reorganizing large text blocks.  Depending on your arrangement with the editor, your editor will usually make suggestions on necessary rewrites and not actually perform the rewrites. Your editor may also read to see if your audience, purpose, and intent are clear. Substantive editing is most productive early on in the writing process. 

Word choice, grammar, and punctuation are not the concern in this edit. 

Big Picture editing is the deepest, most detailed edit, and it usually costs the most. Editing rates run from 7¢–12¢/word. Or $7–$20/page. $45–$60 per hour.
(see my note below on pricing)

Editing Level Three—Stylistic Copy Editing

Stylistic copy editing, also called line editing, addresses flow, sentence structure, word choice, and clarifies meaning. The editor may address the writer’s style in this editing level, focusing on wordiness, sentence length, paragraph transitions, word choice, tone, rhythm, and reducing jargon. It may be good to talk to your editor about the book’s design at this stage.  If your content is spread specific where related material will need to fit on facing pages, you may want to share my article “Writing for the Best Design” with your editor.

Line editing price range 4¢–9¢/word, $5–$15/page.
(see my note below on pricing)

Editing Level Four—Light Copy Editing

Light copy editing is best done when the manuscript is complete and all major revisions are done. It addresses spelling, grammar, usage, punctuation, style consistency and looks for errors introduced in revisions, continuity, numbers, dates, capital letters, abbreviations, consistency of headings, tables, and captions.

Copy editing price range: $30–$40 per hour. $0.01–$0.04 per word. $2.50–$6 per page.
(see my note below on pricing)

Editing Level Five—Proofreading 

Proofreading is the review of the designed pages of the book or e-book. Proofreaders review a print or pdf version of the final designed book. Proofreading is the last review before your book goes to press. Proofreaders look to see if the last set of changes were made. They look for spelling, typos, odd line breaks, and other formatting issues such as text alignment, bold, italic, and spaces, checking the cross-referencing of notes, contents, and page numbers. They check that chapter heads match the contents, headers, and footers are correct. A proofreader corrects errors and does not edit content. 

The lines between copyediting and proofreading have blurred with online publishing and electronic composition. Because proofreading is similar to copyediting, many choose to manage it themselves.  If you decide to contract out for proofreading, you may benefit from a fresh-eyed review of the document.  At this point, everyone involved in editing and writing may be too familiar and read what they want to see and not what is there. At this stage, it may be a good time to enroll fresh eyes.

Proofreading price range: $30–$35 per hour. 1–3¢/word. $1.50–$3.50/page.
(see my note below on pricing)


Pricing depends on speed and experience, where your editor lives, and level of editing—some editors price per word, per page, or hour. Hourly rates don’t really mean much. Someone with a high hourly rate may be more experienced and much faster. Thus making their rate more competitive than the editor with the lower rate. Also, location plays a big role in the price. An editor in New York City will likely need to charge more than one from Memphis. It isn’t easy to give standard editors’ hourly rates because they vary by experience. A new copyeditor fresh out of school may charge as low as $20/hr, while a more experienced developmental editor may ask for $350/hour.

Finding an editor

Do a little research, and it is ok to talk to different editors to find one that works for you. Of course, price matters, but remember that not all editing is the same. Spending more may mean that you get better quality work. When you are considering an editor, they will want to see a sample of your manuscript for an initial review. But if they ask for a chapter, don’t just send the first chapter. The first chapter always gets more attention. Rather, send a middle chapter, one that may not have had as much care. This way, your editor can get a realistic idea of the scope of work if you can send them your entire manuscript. More information is always better than less. 

Delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday!
Sign up now! 

Self-publishing for

Subscribe to my blog

Fast Track Your Book Design and Production Knowledge While Learning About Your Book's Genre.

Download one of My Powerful Self-publishing Tools to Get You Planning like a Pro.

Calculating Your Book's Page Count From Your Manuscript.

Perfect Timing!

What's best for me?
Print-on-Demand or
Offset Printing.

Yes, Please!

I Need This!

3 free tools to get you started!

I love happy subscribers!


This free and detailed workbook exercise will fast track your book design and production knowledge and get you planning like a pro.

Ready to Self-publish Your Book But Not Sure Where to Start?

I want you to be happy with the content I deliver, so I make it easy for you to unsubscribe at any time.

I love happy subscribers!


Use this estimating page count worksheet to calculate how many pages your designed book will be.

Have a manuscript, but can't estimate how many pages your book will be?

I want you to be happy with the content I deliver, so I make it easy for you to unsubscribe at any time.

I love happy subscribers!


This free worksheet, will help point you in the right direction.

When is it best to use print-on-demand over offset printing?

I want you to be happy with the content I deliver, so I make it easy for you to unsubscribe at any time.