David Compton
The New York Times Best Selling Author and Editing Guru
Non-Fiction Editing

You have one shot with an agent. One shot with a publisher. So why would you want to send them something that's not been professionally edited? The editing process --done right -- is a complex, demanding process.  It's  important that you understand what's involved before you commit to it. 

First, for some definitions.  My process of editing non-fiction manuscripts is similar to editing novels in that I use two phases, one followed by the other:

Structural editing.  This is what some clients refer to as "book doctoring," where I fix the big issues with the manuscript.  For a non-fiction manuscript, this relates to clarity, coherence, factual and logic gaps, transition, and narrative style. It also addresses issues such as overwriting and over-exposition.  I edit with a specific target audience that you have in mind.   This is without doubt the most critical phase of editing.

Copy editing PLUS.  Submitting a manuscript with inadvertent typos, punctuation errors, misspellings, page formatting mistakes, or poor sentence structure will mean "sudden death" when it lands on a professional reader's desk at a literary agency or publisher.  The problem is that you, as the writer, are too close to your own work to see the things that are glaringly obvious to someone else.   

A word of caution

I'm going to share some facts with you that almost certainly you will not hear from any other so-called "book editors." The type of editing I do requires much more work and a much greater degree of professional expertise than the vast majority of editors possess. Sorry, but that's the absolute truth, and I'll stand by that assertion. 

The vast majority of the dozens of people who claim they can edit your book only do copy editing, or some slightly bulked up version of it.  That's because they are only really qualified to do copy editing.  Practically speaking, they want to take the easy route of simply going through your manuscript, correcting errors in the existing text, without addressing the types of issues that will immediately earn a (well-deserved) form rejection letter.

It's imperative that you understand that copy editing your manuscript alone will definitely not properly prepare your book for review by agents and publishers.  If any freelance editor recommends only copy editing to get your book into shape before you pitch it to the publishing world, he or she is likely not being honest with you. Doing a copy edit only is almost always a complete waste of your money as it doesn't address fundamental flaws that might be inherent in your book from page one and prevent your manuscript from getting serious consideration from agents and publishers. 

Don't get me wrong: I'm happy to do just the copy editing if that's all you either want or need.  But copy editing, while absolutely essential, is -- without the Big Fix -- virtually worthless in terms of selling your manuscript.
What I Do and How My Editing Differs From the Others

Structural Editing - The Big Fix  

There are very, very few people who can do the kind of editing I do.  That's because I've worked the process from both sides of the desk - as both editor and as a highly successful author. Done correctly, this is very demanding work, requiring a professional who has absolute confidence in making the kinds of edits -- cuts, additions, revisions, moving sections around, if necessary -- that agents and publishers expect before they even lay eyes on a manuscript.  Frankly, it's hard, sometimes messy work, and that's probably why other editors either don't do it or don't do it well.  But he key reason you will want me to edit your manuscript is that I bring my sensibilities and skills as an accomplished writer to the process.
My structural editing process begins with a very close read of your manuscript. I write copious, detailed suggestions to you.  These suggestions are incorporated into a typed document that typically range from 15-25 pages, depending on the manuscript length.  I will give you examples of how to fix recurring problems and tell you where to make the revisions.  This document will tell you exactly what revisions you need to make to fix the big problems in preparation for the copy editing, polishing process.

The notes include detailed instructions as to what needs to be fixed on a page-by-page basis, as well as preliminary comments concerning the major issues. I will highlight in yellow on the electronic manuscript those specific sentences to which I refer in my notes so that you can see exactly where the edits need to be made.  The writer then incorporates the suggested edits into the manuscript (WORD) and returns the manuscript to me (usually for a copy edit).
Keep in mind that neither agents nor publishers are interested in taking on a manuscript that needs a lot of work.  They want a book that requires minimal revision. (Of course, publishers can have an honest difference of opinion and a publisher will want to put her own impression onto your manuscript, which is appropriate, as they are the ones investing tens, or hundreds of thousands of dollars in publishing and promoting a book.)  If you make the revisions I suggest, you will have a well-crafted manuscript that a publisher will be much more likely to view as a sound investment -- a book that will actually sell and make money for  both the publisher and yourself.  And that's when offers are made to first-time writers.

Copy Editing PLUS - Professional Polish

My intention in doing the next important phase of editing your manuscript - copy editing - is to elevate your writing from good to great.

In copy editing, I distinguish myself from the dozens of others at this critical phase by applying a craft honed by over 12 years as a highly successful author and journalist, plus another 9 years in corporate marketing.  I know exactly what publishers' expectations are when looking for the next non-fiction book they want to publish.  Not only are there no major problems to be fixed, but the manuscript exhibits a high degree of professional polish that sets it apart from all the other books they are being pitched.  Submitting a virtually error-free, well-formatted manuscript is no longer enough.  The writing must sparkle without even a hint of amateurism.  If I copy edit your book, I'll put into it the exact same level energy and care that I  put  into my own writing.    

I not only fix obvious problems of inadvertent typos, punctuation errors, misspellings, and page formatting, but I do what I term a "very light polish" (as required) to improve sentence structure, diction, and clarity. Be assured that my copy editing is always done with a view toward maintaining your individual voice as a writer.

When I copy edit your book I will actually go into the manuscript and make the changes to your WORD document files.  The result is two electronic documents: one which shows you exactly what changes I made (including typically the thousands of line-by-line editorial revisions), and a second which incorporates the changes into a final manuscript ready to print.

When you get to this phase of your manuscript editing, wouldn't you like to have a New York Times best selling author polishing it before you send it off for your one shot at a literary agent or publisher?


I take on new clients on a first-come, first-served basis, reserving places in the editing queue with the receipt of the checks (see Fees section below). The turnaround time varies, depending on what projects are already scheduled, but very generally I can return a major structural edit in around a month from when I receive it; the copy edit usually requires a bit less time.  It is critical that I be able to do the best job possible for you, so I ask your patience if I must take a bit longer than this.

Fees & Payments

For structural editing my fee is $38 per thousand words up to 100,000 words, then an additional $20 per thousand words for anything over 100,000 words.  This fee assumes you are also engaging me at the same time to do the copy edit of your manuscript; if you want only the structural editing, my fee is $45 per thousand words (with a minimum of $2,500). For copy editing my fee is an additional $22 per thousand words (with a $2,000 minimum). This assumes that I have already done the structural editing component and you have already made the required revisions.  If you want only copy editing, my fee is $40 per thousand words (with a minimum $2,500). The way I structure the fees/production schedule is payment in two parts. Clients send me two checks equal to half the total fee. I then cash the first check when I begin the structural edit, and cash the second when I send you the structural edit notes.  Payment for other projects is along similar lines.

Some Final Thoughts - Contact My 'Competition'

I strongly encourage you to contact other novel editors to determine their background and pricing.  You'll find that I'm not the least expensive -- and that's something I'm perfectly comfortable with because I don't differentiate my professional editing services on the basis of price but on extraordinary quality.  I am completely confident that I will be the professional at the top of your list to edit your book and give you a shot at finding a literary agent to represent you and secure your first publishing deal.
Copyright 2007-2010 All rights reserved by David Compton, including content, text, and images.
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