How Much Will My Manuscript Change During Copyediting?

by Jeanette the Writer
published in Writing

I am a copyeditor through and through. I live, eat, and breathe punctuation and grammar. As such, I love the feeling of finding a moment in the manuscript where it can be strengthened. Depending on the writing, these changes and suggestions can reach the thousands.

But what’s average? And what are all the changes this entails? Let’s look first at the numbers…

Number of Average Changes for a Copyedit

Authors worry about receiving a manuscript back simply bleeding with red pen corrections. Is that the truth? Here are some specific stats from real books I’ve edited. Keep in mind, this does not involve “silent changes” (e.g., removing double spaces after sentences), which are made with Track Changes turned off. 

72,500-word nonfiction book… 

  • 3,319 insertions
  • 2,993 deletions
  • 70 formatting changes

That’s 1 change per every 11 words. The author of this manuscript is a successful businessperson who runs multiple companies. I would consider them a decent writer.

46,500-word nonfiction book…

  • 954 insertions
  • 719 deletions
  • 83 formatting changes

That’s 1 change per every 26 words. This writer is a marketer, and I would consider them a very good writer.

A 128,000-word historical fiction novel…

  • 1,178 insertions
  • 1,098 deletions
  • 420 formatting changes

That’s 1 change per every 47 words. This writer is also a professional editor.

A 63,000-word nonfiction book…

  • 820 insertions
  • 682 deletions
  • 96 formatting changes

That’s 1 change per every 39 words. This author is the founder and CEO of a successful company. This was their fourth published book.

An 82,000-word thriller…

  • 937 insertions
  • 983 deletions
  • 130 formatting changes

That’s 1 change per every 40 words. This author is very good, and this was a light copyedit.

Whoa! Were Those All Corrections?

Yes, and no. Many of the changes I make as a copyeditor are to conform the writing to standard grammar, spelling, and punctuation so the reader can understand your meaning. We might call these “corrections.” But copyediting involves way more than this.

Copyediting also makes or suggests changes for style, consistency, and clarity. This might mean selecting a different word to better fit the reading level of your audience—definitely not a “mistake,” but still something that should be changed. We also might reorder clauses and sentences to supply better flow or to enhance the author’s style.

Very few copyeditors conform strictly to a style guide because we know that all authors have their own style and voice, which we aim to never erase. Instead, copyediting is about enriching a writer’s words. Thus, I like to think of each insertion and deletion as an “enhancement,” not a “correction.”

So, Copyediting Is Useful?

Gosh, I hope you think so by now! As you can see, the number of changes and suggestions can vary widely between manuscripts. But even the cleanest manuscripts from the most experienced authors still needed hundreds of changes. Don’t be discouraged if you find your manuscript greatly altered by a copyeditor. We’re here to enhance, not just correct, your words.

Jeanette the Writer is a freelance editor and writer based in Dallas, TX. When not at her computer, you can find her crafting, scuba diving, or posting videos of her cats on TikTok. Visit for more info and follow @Jeanettediting on TikTok or find her on LinkedIn.

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