4 Levels of Editing and Their Pricing Explained

All the different editing terms can drive one crazy. You would think as editors, who value precision of language, we could agree on terms, but we don’t.

Despite all the different terms, there are generally four levels of editing. Your book doesn’t necessarily need to go through all four levels, though it might.

Quick note on pricing:

*I will be posting a blog soon that breaks down the cost of editing and explains why $50 an hour is not really $50 an hour.

For each level, I list the average pricing rate. Pricing depends on one’s experience, speed, and needs.

Needs: Some may be the sole income provider; some may live in an a high-cost area. Thus, these editors would need to charge more.

Speed: Since editors work at different speeds, a faster editor may quote a lower price while a slower editor will quote you a higher price. In the end, both may be getting paid $50.00 an hour.  A faster editor isn’t necessarily worse or better skill wise than a slower editor, and visa versa. An editor should go at the speed that allows them to deliver their best quality for the best price, and that will differ.

In general, editors determine the price based on how much they want/need to make per hour. Even if they quote a project fee, price per page, or price per word, they arrive at that quote based on what they want/need to make hourly.

But you will see a wide range in price per word or per page because of the difference in speed, experience, and needs; and yes, some may actually be charging based on a higher hourly rate than even the industry average,* which may be fair given their demand, experience, and needs.

*Industry average according to Editorial Freelancers Association’s Rate Chart.

Level 1: Developing the Manuscript

At this level, the editor does not make any markings on the text. The editor reads your manuscript and provides feedback; sometimes they help you develop the story or book from just an outline.

For this, the editor writes a rather lengthy report (Often around 10–15 pages). The editor will focus on the most glaring big-picture issues.

The author then uses that feedback to make changes to the manuscript (or to write the manuscript if the editor was just working with an outline).


  • Plot: Does the plot have holes? Is the conflict clear and compelling? Is the plot interesting? Does it reach a satisfying conclusion? Do you have a good balance of narrative summary and scenes?
  • Characters: Are the characters consistent, unique, and well developed? Are their motivations clear?
  • Setting: Is the setting effectively conveyed?
  • Pacing: Does the story lag in certain parts?
  • Genre: Does it conform to the requirements for that genre?
  • Point of View: Is it consistent? Is it the best point of view for the story? Do you head-hop?



  • Organization: Are the chapters in a logical order? Do the ideas build upon each other? Does everything in a particular chapter belong in that chapter?
  • Content: Are the concepts well explained? Is there redundant content? Are there enough pieces of evidence or examples to explain each concept? Is it interesting with a unique selling point? Does the content match the sub heads?
  • Audience: Is a clear audience defined? Is the word choice and language engaging and geared towards the intended audience?
  • Purpose: Does the manuscript meet its intended purpose? Is the purpose clear?

Terms to describe this:

  • Developmental editing (this term is also used by some in the next level)
  • Manuscript Evaluation
  • Manuscript Critique
  • Editorial Report


Average Pricing: $45–$55 per hour. This is more often listed as amount per page or per words. $2–$3 per 1,000 words. Some editors list it as a price based on total words (e.g., $150 for manuscripts with 50,000 or less words; $250 for manuscripts with 50,000–75,000 words, etc.)


Level 2: Big-Picture Editing

At this level, the editor will deal with the same big-picture items addressed in level one. But now rather than writing a lengthy report, they make comments and changes directly to the text, pointing out problems as they occur and offering suggestions on how to fix them.

Editors often also include a report with along with this. The report is just less extensive since it is supported with comments in the text.

If your book went through level one, you will have less big-picture issues. But while level one addresses the major big-picture issues on the manuscript as a whole, they may still remain on the chapter or paragraph level. Additionally, the report dealt with the most glaring issues; it did not necessarily address every issue. And  you may not have sufficiently fixed the issues mentioned in the report.

If you went through a level one edit and your editor addressed all the big-pictures issues and you addressed everything in the manuscript critique thoroughly, you may not need this.

But just understand a level one edit doesn’t automatically negate the need for this.


  • Everything addressed in level one, but now making comments and changes directly to the text as the plot, character, setting, pacing, and point of view issues occur.
  • Do you have the right level of narrative distance at any given point?
  • Is there a good balance between showing and telling?
  • Do you info dump or let the reader learn information in a natural way?


  • Everything addressed in level one, but now the editor makes comment and changes directly to the text as the organizational or content issues occur.
  • Do you have clear transitions between ideas?
  • Are there too many or too few subheads?

Terms to describe this:

  • Developmental editing (yes, some use this term for this level as well)
  • Substantive editing
  • Content editing
  • Structural Editing
  • Heavy copyediting
Average Pricing: $45–$60 per hour. $0.025–$0.08 per word. $5–$8 per page.


Level 3: Word- and Sentence-Level Editing

At this level, the editor makes changes and comments to the words and sentences you use as well as fixing grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation errors.

Some editors actually separate this in to two services: dealing with sentences and words (stylistic choices and best practices), and fixing errors.

So you may see editors who offer two different services at this level. Other editors, like me, prefer to just deal with all word- and sentence-level issues and call it one service.

Since some editors break it down into different services, I will define each type, but for me, I just call it all copyediting.

Terms to describe this:

  • Line Editing/Medium Copyediting/Stylistic Editing: making changes to sentence structure and word choice, ensuring your language is clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read. This could mean rewriting awkward sounding sentences, querying sentences with unclear meaning, fixing syntax issues, suggesting more powerful word choice, etc.
  • Copyediting/Light Copyediting: focusing on fixing grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage errors
Average Pricing: $30–$40 per hour. $0.01–$0.04 per word. $3–$6 per page.


Level 4: Proofreading

Everyone calls this level proofreading. Finally, a standardized editing term we can agree on.

A proofreader acts as your last line of defense. The proofreader should not be the same person who worked as your editor at any level. (You may have had one editor or multiple editors.) Your editor or editors are too close to your material now and may easily miss the remaining errors.

A proofreader checks the following

  • Grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation errors
  • Consistency in usage and presentation
  • Accuracy in text, images, and layout
Average Pricing: $30–$35 per hour. $0.005–$0.03 per word. $2–$3.50 per page.


A TIP FOR YOU: I realize these different terms can make it hard for writers. However, most editors will list the type of editing they do and define what that means to them.

So if you go in knowing you want a developmental edit, but you mean that as level two big-picture editing not a level one developing the manuscript, make sure the editor defines that the same way as you.

If they don’t, then look to see if they call it something else or if they don’t offer that service.


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