So, you've written your masterpiece, as best you can tell. Your friends and family love it, you love it, and you're ready to publish it or pitch it to a literary agent.
Hold on, not so fast.
If you want your manuscript in the best shape it can possibly be, you'll need to enlist the help of a professional editor. To do this, typically an editor will recommend one or more of the four most common kinds of editing. Briefly explained below, they are as follows:
(sometimes called Editorial Assessment)
In a manuscript evaluation, the editor prepares a report that addresses big-picture strengths and weaknesses regarding basic elements of successful storytelling. These might include successful and questionable issues with characterization, conflict/tension, description, inconsistencies, pacing, passive writing, plot, point of view, scene development, and showing vs. telling. If warranted, consistent grammatical errors will be pointed out as a common courtesy. No comments are made within the manuscript.
(sometimes called Substantive or Content Editing)
In a developmental edit, whole pages or scenes may need reworking. The editor usually uses Word’s Track Changes features to note strengths and weaknesses with regard to (but not limited to) characterization, conflict/tension, plot, point of view, scene development in fiction manuscripts. And in nonfiction, things like voice, style, thematic structure, organization, description, inconsistencies, pacing, passive writing, and showing vs. telling will be addressed. Grammatical errors will not corrected, and the editor may also offer a written evaluation with this service.
(sometimes called Line Editing)
In a copy or line edit, sentences and paragraphs may require reworking. Areas addressed include awkward phrasing, syntax issues (sentence variety and structure), repetition, showing vs. telling, best word choices, passive verb elimination, suitable dialogue, clichés, chapter breaks, timeline consistency, and more.
A proofread focuses on proper conventions of sentence mechanics and fixes basic errors in spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation. In general, there is no restructuring or re-writing of sentences for clarity. Consistency in formatting is also addressed. Many editors will only proofread manuscripts they have already performed a copy/line edit on.
If you're not sure which of these kinds of editing your manuscript needs, you might find this article helpful: 3 Common Editing Services and When You Need Them
Most editors will allow you to submit a few sample pages for assessment at no charge. Since each of these four kinds of editing is different, and requires a different amount of time investment for the editor, cost will vary.
Typically, developmental editing is the most thorough, time-intensive, and expensive, while proofreading is generally the quickest and least expensive of the four. For reference, you can find pricing for these and other services at the Editorial Freelance Association's website, and compare them with mine here.
Whichever type(s) of editing you're in need of, one thing is certain: there's no shortcut or workaround when it comes to hiring a good editor—the value to your writing is worth every penny you invest.
Owner and Editor, Grammar Boss Editing Services