Line editing vs developmental editing: Time and cost comparison

Understanding the difference between line editing vs developmental editing can help choose the appropriate service and thus elevate a manuscript into a publishable book. Developmental editing is usually the first editorial intervention in the text. It comprehensively diagnoses issues with structure, clarity, tone and flow across the entire text. Line editing takes place after developmental editing. It addresses problems in similar categories, such as clarity, tone and vocabulary but works on the sentence and paragraph levels.

Hiring a professional editor to prepare your manuscript for publishing can be a significant investment for self-publishing authors and should be budgeted for accordingly. Moreover, the authors looking to hire an editor should also consider how long these services may take and how they fit with their publishing timeline. Line editing may take less time than developmental editing because the latter requires the editor to read the entire manuscript before they can begin editing. Furthermore, because developmental editing is more complex and involves several steps, it is more time-consuming and expensive. Read this post to learn how the time and cost required to perform line editing vs developmental editing compare.

What is line editing?

Line editing diagnoses issues with clarity, tone and vocabulary of each sentence and paragraph. In other words, it assesses whether your choices, voice and style are conveyed in the best possible way for your intended reader. As a part of this service, the editor may bring to your attention the following:

  • redundant words or sentences that can be tightened without jeopardising the message,
  • repetitions of the same information presented in slightly different ways,
  • vocabulary that may be unappealing or unnatural to your target reader,
  • abrupt changes in the narration due to a lack of transitions,
  • unintended shifts in tone and pacing,
  • phrasing or content that may be considered sensitive and thus should be conveyed accurately and respectfully,
  • phrases and sentences that reveal unintentional bias,
  • digressions that do not contribute to developing the narration or argument,
  • inconsistent style or tone.

What is developmental editing?

Developmental editing diagnoses the ‘big-picture’ issues, such as structure, clarity, tone and flow. It also considers if the manuscript meets its objectives, for instance, if:

  • it aligns with the genre of choice,
  • the elements typical for the genre are presented in a way that is engaging for the reader,
  • it will meet the expectations of readers familiar with this topic/genre,
  • it is structured appropriately to convey the argument or message,
  • it communicates the argument or message clearly, and the supporting ideas are organised in a logical sequence,
  • the theme is clearly outlined throughout the book,
  • the style, voice and point of view are consistent throughout the book and effectively convey your points,
  • there are any obvious gaps or any sections that repeat each other.

Line editing vs developmental editing: How long do they take?

The line editor will analyse the manuscript line by line, diagnosing the effectiveness of the language. Line editing takes less time than developmental editing because it does not require an assessment before starting the project.

According to the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA),* an hour of line editing can yield 4–8 edited pages. In publishing, a page is usually defined as 250 words. In practice, this means that a book of 50,000 could take a line editor 25–50 hours to complete.

On the other hand, developmental editing takes longer than line editing because it is a more complex process consisting of several steps. First, the editor will usually have to read the entire manuscript before agreeing to or beginning developmental editing. In the process of editing, they will make detailed notes, compile an editorial report and carry out fact-checking.

For instance, the EFA estimates that an hour of developmental editing may cover 4–10 pages per hour. At this estimated speed, a book of 50,000 could take a developmental editor 20–50 hours to complete.

Line editing vs developmental editing: How much do they cost?

The EFA provides the following rates per hour and word for line editing:

 Rate per wordRate per hourPace of work per hour
Fiction2.5¢–4.0¢ $45.00–$60.00 5.0–8.0 
Non-fiction3.5¢–5.0¢ $50.00–$65.00 4.0–7.0 
Academic4.0¢–6.0¢ $45.00–$65.00 4.0–8.0 
Business4.0¢–6.0¢ $50.00–$70.00 5.0–8.0 
Legal5.0¢–15.5¢ $60.00–$75.00 5.0–8.5 
Medical4.0¢–6.0¢ $50.00–$65.00 3.0–6.0 
Technical4.0¢–6.0¢ $50.00–$65.00 4.0–7.0 
Other4.0¢–6.3¢ $50.00–$70.00 4.0–6.0 

According to the EFA, prices for a developmental editing range as follows:

 Rate per wordRate per hourPace of work per hour

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP)** suggests the hourly minimum rate should start from £39.90.

What should you consider when comparing rates from different editors for line editing vs developmental editing?

The rates for line editing and developmental editing may vary considerably depending on the manuscript’s needs, the time frame and the editor’s specialised expertise or experience.

The quotes you will collect from various editors may also be structured in different ways. It is worth noting if the rate provided is per hour, per word, per thousand words or per page.


Understanding the difference between line editing and developmental editing is crucial for finding the service that will benefit your manuscript the most. However, knowing how much these services cost and how much time they take to complete is even more important when budgeting for and planning the self-publishing process. Contact me for a free sample edit if you would like to prepare your manuscript for publishing (and remember to use my early bird discount). If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on MastodonTwitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or join my newsletter.


* The EFA is a not-for-profit organisation headquartered in New York City. The rates provided are based on a survey administered to the EFA members in April 2020.

** The CIEP does not distinguish between the rates for line editing and developmental editing and only provides a suggested minimum hourly rate for ‘substantial editing, rewriting, development editing.’ The rates provided are as of March 2023.

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I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).