Know Your Editing Types

When you apply to an editing job, you need to know exactly what type of editing the client wants. The client may not know the difference, but you should, in order to charge the appropriate rate.

The three types of editing are Proofreading, Copy Editing, and Substantive Editing. There is some overlap between the definitions, and different sources will tell you slightly different things. My definitions will probably be somewhat different from others, but the basics are all the same.


This is the most basic form of editing. I charge $2 per page for proofreading, but Writer’s Digest suggests you can eventually charge up to $5 per page. A proofreader covers the basics. A proofread is usually the final, polishing touch to get rid of typos, punctuation mistakes, and grammar mistakes (such as using the wrong tense) that have been accidentally overlooked in other edits.

Copy Editing

Copy editing involves correcting the same mistakes as proofreading, but it goes a little deeper. When I explain copy editing to a client, I tell them that it means that I will restructure their sentences to read more smoothly. If the client’s sentence is awkward or wordy, I rewrite it. I will also rework paragraphs if an idea is not coming together from one paragraph to the next. To me, that is the difference. When proofreading, I’m just adding a comma here and fixing a typo there. When copy editing, I’m doing minor rewriting. I have also seen publishers define copy editing as making sure the work follows a certain style guide, like Chicago Manual of Style and/or the company’s own style guide. However, I usually try to do that in proofreading because it seems to me that in order to accurately fix grammar and punctuation, you need to follow the required style guide. Writer’s Digest says you can eventually charge $6 per page for copy edits. I charge $3 per page right now.

Substantive Editing

This is the work usually done by the traditional “Editor” for a publishing company. A substantive edit means looking at the piece as a whole rather than focusing on the individual sentences. When doing a substantive edit, you will not only point out large structural or plot problems, but suggest how to fix them. You may need to tell your client that their characters are underdeveloped or one dimensional. You may suggest reworking the pacing, tone, or organization, but you will always need to provide a reason for all your suggested changes. Writer’s Digest suggests different fees for substantive editing of different mediums like business writing, blogs, and manuscripts. In any medium, either an hourly rate or a fixed price rate is suggested. I have not done one of these yet, so I don’t have a set price that I charge. However, I would suggest doing your first one at a basic hourly rate so that you can be sure that you get paid appropriately for your time spent. My standard hourly rate is $20. Once you’ve done it the first time, you will have an idea of how much time and effort you will need for such a project and you can craft a fixed price appropriately or adjust your hourly rate.

You can edit any form of written word: blogs, press releases, website content, essays, dissertations, books, etc. If someone can write it, you can be paid to edit it. Figure out what you are interested in reading and start applying and querying for editing jobs. No matter what sort of work you’re editing, make sure you communicate clearly with the client upfront to understand what sort of editing they need. Some clients will have no idea that there are different types of editing. You must explain what they are and why you charge differently for each type, and then work with the client to discover what they need. Even if a client specifically asks for one of the three types, make sure you understand what the client actually means because definitions vary, and some clients will just tack one of the terms onto their job because they’ve heard the word before or seen other jobs posted with the same tag.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on things you need to know before you start editing (a.k.a the challenges of editing) and how to search for and land editing jobs.


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