Line editing isn’t as well known as other types of editing. Here I’ll discuss what’s involved with line editing and estimates on how much it costs to have a line edit performed.
What Is Line Editing?
Line editing is a review of the rhythm and flow of a manuscript. In other words, it’s focusing on how the words sound together. Sometimes the editor will even read out loud when working on a difficult area to help hear the words.
The editor makes suggestions to perfect clarity and style, while helping the author’s voice emerge. The editor does not change the author’s voice; rather, she augments it and helps it come out clearer by recognizing clutter or repetitious sentence structure and suggesting how to improve those.
What is included in a line edit probably varies from editor to editor, but here is a general idea of what to expect.
The editor will review the rhythm, flow, and clarity of the sentences and how they work together with the paragraph and with the scene or chapter. Often, the editor will suggest changes sentence by sentence, go back and read the paragraph and suggest more changes, go back and read the scene or chapter, and suggest even more tweaks. This helps to ensure continuity of style.
Continuity of style means consistent author voice. As I mentioned before, a line editor helps strengthen the author’s voice, and that comes out through the line edit.
A line editor will also help ensure your writing is clear—that you’re getting your message and story across without unnecessary distractions.
Lastly, a line editor will also review for whether some dialogue should be briefly summarized in narrative or if some narrative should be broadened into dialogue. This helps to bring emphasis to the key parts and de-emphasize parts that aren’t critical. For example, instead of showing two characters meeting through dialogue, you could simply state that they met. Or, instead of stating that your character’s childhood home burned down, perhaps that should become a scene with some dialogue and action if it’s a key part of the plot.
The deliverables of a line edit will vary by editor, but in general, you can expect suggestions made directly on your manuscript, usually with Word’s Track Changes enabled. (If you’d like to learn how to use Track Changes, check here for editor usage or here for author usage.)
In addition to the in-line edits, you should see many comments helping to explain why changes were made. There won’t be a comment for every single change, but the editor should explain why a change is made the first time and maybe a time or two after that or for reinforcement later on in the manuscript. If a comment was made for every single change, not only would it be extremely time-consuming for the editor (and therefore cost more), but it would be overwhelming to the author. We editors try to limit the number of comments to 5-6 per page to avoid overwhelm.
Finally, your line editor may provide a letter that outlines the repeat changes or big changes that she’s suggesting. This letter is meant to be read before you dig into the manuscript to give you an idea of what’s coming. It’s meant to put you into the right mindset.
Timing of Line Editing
You should have a line edit done after you have your big picture elements finalized, either through developmental edit and rewrites, beta readers and rewrites, or self-editing and rewrites. In other words, a line editor is not going to try to fix issues with plot or character development; her focus is at a lower level.
Line editing should come before copyediting, usually. A line editor isn’t going to necessarily function on correct punctuation or spelling; she’s focusing on the rhythm and flow of the sentence and assumes you’re going to have a copyeditor look at the finer details.
I said line editing usually comes before copyediting. This is because sometimes some cleanup of the manuscript is needed before an effective line edit can be done. If copyediting-level errors are too disruptive, then the line editor may request that some pre-line edit cleanup be done first. This is common with first-time writers who haven’t absorbed the rules yet or with English-as-a-Second-Language manuscripts where translations may be a bit messy.
Cost and Pace
Line editing is the most expensive type of editing because it requires the most time and emotional energy from the editor. As I mentioned before, the editor will go over and over your manuscript, making sure the rhythm is good and that all of the pieces play together nicely. That takes quite a bit of time.
Further, for each sentence, the editor may consider 4-5 different potential versions before deciding on what to recommend, and may yet go back and choose a different potential version after re-reading it in the context of the paragraph or scene. That takes a lot of emotional energy.
The Editorial Freelancers Association shows the midpoint of line editing to be between $0.040 and $0.045 per word and a pace of 4-6 pages per hour. When considering pace, keep in mind that because of the emotional energy involved, the editor probably won’t be able to work 8-10 hours a day on your project. Therefore, plan to find an editor for your project well in advance.
Interested in a line edit? Contact me and tell me a bit about your project!