All You Need to Know About Nonfiction Developmental Editing Rates

by Bennett R. Coles

Developmental Editing Rates

Before talking about developmental editing rates, let’s discuss the importance of nonfiction developmental editing for your book.

If you’re writing a nonfiction title to improve your business or your career or, in other words, to generate new leads, to increase exposure and to establish yourself as an expert in your industry, then your book will need to solve a key problem for your target audience.

Now, in order for problem-solving nonfiction to sell, you’ll have to first develop in-depth knowledge about your readers and the problem you’re solving.

Specifically, you’ll have to:

  • Know your target audience intimately – their goals, aspirations, hopes, needs, challenges and fears
  • Know how to connect with them at a deep level
  • Know exactly the problem they’re trying to solve and how it feels to experience it
  • Know the level of pain that this problem creates for them
  • Know how to solve this problem (i.e. your unique solution)

A developmental editor will help you craft your manuscript in a way that addresses all of the above outcomes.

An experienced nonfiction developmental editor will:

  • Understand the expectations of nonfiction readers when they buy a book
  • Understand how to keep readers excited with anticipation
  • Understand what makes readers engage and what makes them disengage
  • Understand how to use the written word to establish a deep connection with readers
  • Understand how to get readers to take action on your solution, increasing the chances of follow-on business

What Do Nonfiction Developmental Editors Do?

The main focus for nonfiction developmental editors is to create the right structure for your book. Before they get into the details, they’ll take a birds-eye view of your book project to ensure that your main thesis is clearly articulated.

If the structure of your manuscript isn’t clear, it’ll cause confusion in your readers, making your book less effective.

Since as the author you’re by nature too close to your own writing, a developmental editor will help you gain perspective by showing you how to switch from your view to your audience’s.

They’ll help you see your writing from the standpoint of your target audience and identify what parts of your manuscript work for them and what parts don’t so that you can take the necessary corrective action.

For example, it could be that some sections of your book are too technical or academic for the level of sophistication of your audience and a less abstract and more grounded type of writing style is necessary to deliver your message.

Or it could be that you’re trying to deliver multiple ideas at the same time, making your solution too overwhelming for your readers to process. Your developmental editor will help you distill your ideas to the core set that will produce the best outcome.

This is the type of high-level editing that must be performed before you undertake any type of grammar, syntax or spelling corrections.

Developmental Editing Rates

Now that you have an understanding of the role of nonfiction developmental editors, let’s bring the discussion to how they operate. Different editors will quote their service fees in different ways, depending on the nature of your book.

For example, text-heavy manuscripts will likely be billed by the word, since this is where most of the work effort will be directed to. Some editors may also charge you by the page in this circumstance.

Image, data or science-heavy manuscripts are more likely to attract a combination of payment by the word and also by the hour, to take into account the necessary research time spent by the editor to learn, interpret and craft specialized information in a way that best serves the thesis of your book.

Paying by the Word

At its most basic, developmental editors will charge you according to your manuscript’s word-count. Typically, most editors will charge based on separate tiers, at their discretion:

  • Standard text: 8 cents per word (non-specialized)
  • Difficult text: 12 cents per word (highly specialized)

Nonfiction topics that are more scientific or instructional in nature (e.g. a manual of best practices for Forex day-traders) will demand the higher per-word fee.

Paying by the Page

Some editors may charge you by the page instead. They’ll typically base their calculations on a standard 250 words per page, allowing for some graphic elements and other white space around the text.

Here are some common quotes:

  • Standard text: $20/page (non-specialized)
  • Difficult text: $30/page (highly specialized)

Paying by the Hour

For complex nonfiction books with a high level of visual data representation and specialized scientific information, developmental editors will add an hourly fee to cover their time spent researching the subject matter.

A typical fee will be around $60 per research (non-editing) hour

Cost of Manuscript Evaluation

The ideal time to engage the services of a developmental editor is early on in your thesis formation process, before you begin writing your manuscript. This will ensure that the most optimal book structure can be defined before you begin writing in earnest.

However, if your manuscript is already complete, then many developmental editors will suggest that you first pay for a manuscript evaluation, where they create a list of key changes to implement first.

The goal is to spend a little bit of money up-front to save a lot of money (and frustration) later on. In essence, the editor will tell you which wholesale changes that you should make in your manuscript before a formal submission.

You can then go back to the drawing board and take all the time you need to bring your manuscript into structural compliance without triggering editorial fees.

Once you’re done with the main structural changes contained in the editorial evaluation, you can then begin the formal developmental editing process.

A typical manuscript evaluation will cost $499 up to a maximum word-count of 100,000 words. Larger manuscripts will be billed on a case-by-case basis.

Next Steps

Developmental editing is the first editing stage required to create a top-quality nonfiction book. If you’d like to learn more about subsequent editing stages, you may want to read my articles on content editing, copyediting and proofreading.

Good luck!

If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.


Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.

Here are some related posts I highly recommend:

Developmental Editing: Why All Nonfiction Books Need It

How to Properly Vet an Editing Company

Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.

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