It’s my focus and my specialty. Here’s a definition that I find fits: “Line editing checks whether or not the author has expressed themselves well. It improves the quality of the prose, removes unnecessary repetition, restructures sentences and paragraphs so that they flow more smoothly together, and checks the subtleties of word usage, and so on. A good line editor knows the difference between active and passive prose and can turn dull prose into something more engaging. A copy editor does not do this. They merely check the grammar on what is there, and writing that is grammatically sound can still be dull.”
I think of line editing as a second line of defense after a developmental edit — and after the substantive revisions you’ve made after a developmental edit. I commit to two complete read-through of a manuscript I accept for line editing, and that means that the work gets a heavy copy-edit for objective correctness as well. $55 per hour
I help authors shape the flow and structure of their stories, to maximize the commercial potential of their manuscripts, in accordance with the teachings of some of top story-craft gurus in the industry (Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, etc.), via lengthy editorial memos and extensive notes in the manuscript document. $65 per hour
I provide a big-picture assessment of your manuscript, in a bullet-pointed memo of a few pages, based on a close once-through read. I’ll praise strength but focus on perceived weaknesses and on the story’s commercial potential. Generally around $500 (I’ll provide a flat-fee estimate partway into the read)
I come into the picture after your work has received a developmental or story edit, or has been read by critique partners or beta readers and revised upon their recommendations. Or when you’re looking to reissue work that hasn’t been edited to your standards.
I edit for spelling, grammar, sentence structure and flow, and consistency and conformity within the Chicago Manual of Style, Sixteenth Edition (the accepted standard for the book-publishing industry). I also provide light/spot fact checking.
I prepare style sheets (lists of story-specific jargon, recurring words and proper nouns, with explanations) upon request only. $50 per hour ($55 with style sheet)
I give copy-edited manuscripts a careful line reading for stray typos, misplaced punctuation, and formatting errors. This is your last line of defense before you publish. $40 per hour
(My rates are slightly above average for manuscript copy and developmental editors, commensurate with my experience, testimonials and skill level, as reflected in the most recent Editorial Freelancers Association survey: http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php/)
how i do it
how i arrive at an estimate and final fee
Let’s say you have a novel manuscript of 74,000 words.
First, I’ll ask you to send me a sample from your manuscript of no fewer than 5,000 words — usually, your first few chapters — and no more than 10,000 words. I’ll track how long it takes me to do the edit and prepare story notes (if requested). With developmental editing, I’ll also ask for a detailed story synopsis.
Let’s say you’ve sent me an 8,300-word sample, and I needed 2.25 hours to make edits and prepare notes on it (if needed). So:
— 74,000 divided by 8,300 gives us a multiplier of 8.91.
— 8.91 x 2.25 is 20.06 estimated hours, rounded down to 20.
— 20 x my hourly rate = $1,100 for line editing, $1,200 for developmental editing, $1,000 for copy editing ($1,100 for copy editing with style sheet), or $800 for proofreading.
I’ll recommend what level of editing I think you need, and spell out my rationale in a memo. Then you decide.
keep in mind as you decide
The estimate is only an estimate.
Sometimes, the more I get accustomed to a writer’s style and voice, I’ll hit a “cruising speed” during my editing work that may allow me to shave a hour or two off the job. If so, that savings will be reflected in my final invoice.
(The reverse, unfortunately, is occasionally true; sometimes the most polished writing is at the beginning of a manuscript, and the deeper I go, the more work I’ll have to do. If that’s the case, and I anticipate the final invoice coming in above the estimate, I’ll let you know as soon as possible and we’ll discuss how to proceed.)
Also, should the estimate give you sticker shock, also keep in mind that I offer flexible payment terms. Some clients prefer to make one payment; others prefer two or three payments. A few find that smaller monthly installments best fit their budgets; I accept such arrangements with payment of one-third of the final invoice up front. Any of the above is fine as long as we spell it out in clear terms when the time comes.
if the answer is yes
Great! I’ll offer you a date on my work calendar — and sometimes that will be several weeks out, depending on how deeply I’m booked with work at a given time.
If your work is especially time-sensitive, I may be able to fit you in sooner, depending on the flexibility of the clients ahead of you in the queue. If I can’t fit you in as soon as you want or need, I’ll refer to you one of several trusted editors I know and can vouch for.
Once I have your full manuscript and your calendar date comes up, I’ll ask for a payment of one-third of the estimate up front. I generally need a turnaround time of five to ten days for copy editing; fifteen to twenty days for line editing, and twenty to thirty days for developmental editing. If I need more time, I’ll make that clear and we’ll arrive together at a completion date.
if the answer is no
Should you decide not to hire me to work on the full manuscript, I’ll ask for a $100 “kill fee” for my good-faith work on the sample, and I’ll thank you for the opportunity. For samples of more than 6,000 words, I may ask for a little more if more than three hours is needed for the work.
(Note: I get enough referral work that I no longer participate in competitive-bidding situations, in which an author tries out several copy editors, gathers estimates, and eventually settles on one person. If you’re looking to take this approach, I’ll understand, but I’ll decline to participate.)
After the job is done
I will be available to you for questions on my edits and on your revisions. I’m also happy to refer you to qualified colleagues should you need help with cover design, e-book and print formatting, publicity — and proofreading.
A word about proofreading: I can’t stress enough a) how important this step is in your journey to publication; and b) how important it is to have a fresh, qualified set of eyes at this step. (In other words, if I’ve been your copy editor, don’t hire me, but do hire a professional or at least enlist someone with some credentials and demonstrated skill. I can recommend a few professionals of my acquaintance.)
Getting a good proofread can make the difference between good reviews and bad ones. And that difference can make the difference between good sales figures and not-so-good ones, especially on Amazon, where good review-rating averages are algorithmically linked to the prominence of your product’s placement.
I’m a good editor, and will get almost everything, but no one editor is good enough to get everything. Most of my author-clients practice this church/state separation with line/copy editing and proofreading, and have come to agree with me.
What they're saying
"Jim Thomsen did a thorough job of going through my manuscript to make sure that it was polished and ready to go. His careful eye for detail left me feeling like my manuscript was in good hands; he caught things I missed and offered sound advice. His work was completed as promised, plus he was easy to reach and a pleasure to work with. His knowledge of the industry and contacts demonstrate that he is a professional and serious about his work. I have no doubt that he will have continued success as an editor; he may well edit the next New York Times best-seller--hopefully it'll be mine!"
— Wendy Hinman, author of Tightwads on the Loose and Sea Trials (which earned a Kirkus starred review.)
Interview with influential publishing insider Jane Friedman, June 2015
“Making The Leap Into Freelance Copy Editing,” American Journalism Review, April 2015
My journey from newspaper editor to indie book editor, in The Huffington Post, December 2013
Interview with Bainbridge Island writer Wendy Wallace, April 201