What does an editor do?

View my rates for editing, copywriting, or proofreading, on my Freelance Services page!

View my rates for editing, copywriting, or proofreading, on my Freelance Services page!

People often ask me what the difference between proofreading and editing is, or why editing is not just called rewriting.

Some of my pointers here are drawn from what IPEd (the Institute of Professional Editors Limited, Australia’s national editing association) says to authors about how to tell your editor what you need, but most of it is drawn from this year’s experience running my own freelance business as an editor / proofreader (TJ Withers-Ryan).

Step 1: There are three types of “editing”:

1. Proofreading – spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Have you any words out? Are there any typos like eextra letters? Fixing formatting errors like weird italicisation.

2. Copy editing – the line-by-line level, rewriting bad sentences. Does each sentence make sense? Does the author have any *annoying* mannerisms, technical jargon, or other bumps in the road that is their writing? Includes cross-checking facts and figures mentioned. This takes longer but is still pretty straightforward.

3. Structural editing – the story as a whole. Does each chapter have a point to it? Are the characters acting in a way that is consistent with the plot and their own motivations? This takes ages.

So, first, you need to tell your editor what type of editing you need them to do.

Keep in mind that you might think, “Oh, I just need a good proofread.” but they might take one look at your work and say, “This needs a thorough copy edit.”

Step 2: Do you need it to conform to a special style guide?

If your organisation that you work for has a preferred style guide for what headings should look like, and spelling preferences (Australian or American?), or how referencing should be done, or whether abbreviations and acronyms should be used, then you need to tell your editor.

Step 3: If this is corporate – is it confidential?

Do you need your editor to sign a confidentiality agreement or extra-formal contract for reading and editing this work?

Step 4: What’s the timeline?

Editing takes time. Surprise, surprise.

It’s not just “reading the text and crossing out with a red pen”. It’s thinking constantly about who the end reader will be, and whether the text is going to work for them or not.

Close copy editing or proofreading can take up to an hour for 1,000 words, or 10 pages an hour. I usually work much faster than that, which means if I charge by the hour, sometimes I lose out. So sometimes I give a “whole project” quote rather than quoting by the hour.

Your editor needs to know not just when you need the thing done, but when you need to see any preliminary stuff. Do you need to see the edit and approve it before the final thing gets sent in?

Step 5: How are they charging you?

Are they charging you by the hour? Rates will depend on how big the work is and how thorough or difficult the editing is going to be.

These days, outsourcing is changing what rates are reasonable. But in Australia, the rates are still fairly standard (see QWC website recommendations): proofreading can be around $40 an hour; copy editing can be around $60 an hour; and ghost-writing (rewriting or writing everything for you) can be around $80 an hour.

Step 6: Send only your final version. Send everything that needs to be in the final version.

I had one client who sent me five different files for one chapter. I had already begun work on a file and he would send me a “revised” one. Lord, give me strength.

Then I had another client who only sent me the text without any of their required images. Then they were surprised when I sent them back the edited version and, wow, it didn’t have their images inserted. Shocking. How did that happen???

So let your editor do their job; don’t make it hard on them. After all, they are helping you to do your job of writing better.


This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2013. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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