It always surprises me how misunderstood the editing industry is by authors and writers. These are people I would presume would understand what goes into book editing, which means they should have a deeper understanding of why editing can feel expensive. Yet enough writers have asked me about the costs of editing, that I felt the need to address these costs publicly.
Just how much do editors charge?
Of course, every editor has a different formula for calculating how much he or she should charge. Some charge by the page, others by the word, and yet others by the hour. Regardless of how the editor has come up with his or her final tally, most of these charges still come fairly close to the same range. The Editorial Freelancers Association helped define that range earlier. Your average editor is going to make anywhere from $30 to $60 per hour depending on experience and the level of editing being sought.
Book editing is different from writing.
That hardly needs explaining, right? Writing a book is tough. It requires discipline and creativity — two things that don’t normally go hand in hand. But once you’ve gotten that story out of your head and onto paper, the brain needs to do a flip. Creativity and flow go out the window. Now the brain needs to work more logically: seeking out mistakes, choosing the right words, and cutting unnecessary verbiage. It requires a systematic process completely ungoverned by creativity.
Editing takes more time than writing.
Going into a manuscript hunting for ways to improve it takes time — often more time than writing the manuscript took in the first place. An editor doesn’t just read through a manuscript. Rather, an editor does careful reading. No skimming allowed.
Additionally, most editors do two or three run throughs of any manuscript.
Editors do more than just fix your grammar.
If all an editor did was to fix your grammar, you could do that with the basic grammar and spelling checker built into your favorite word processor. Sure, they aren’t perfect, but after two or three run throughs you’ll have caught roughly 97% of any mistakes you made. Maybe even 99% — certainly enough to pass the scrutiny of your average reader. A real editor goes deeper, though. Not just in aiming to catch that last 1% of mistakes a basic automated spell-checker would catch, but in trying to learn your voice.
A real editor sets out to make the manuscript the best that it can be. They want your story to sound the best that you can tell it. They seek out plot holes, inconsistencies, and work to fix those while still maintaining your voice within the manuscript.
Running a business costs money.
I don’t care what sort of business you have, it costs money to run and operate. Clients often forget this. Sometimes I wonder if a client pictures a freelance editor sitting in a dark dungeon-esque room working on the manuscript with telepathy. There are costs involved in editing: Internet, electricity, and software updates to name a few of the basic ones. Web hosting, accounting, certifications, taxes, furniture, maintenance, phones, computers and printers…. The list goes on and on.
And in cases where the editor is working from home, these costs go up, not down. And we haven’t even gotten to basic living expenses yet: food, clothing, health insurance, rent or mortgage, heat, car payments. Editors don’t go into business hoping to make just enough money to keep the business running. They are also trying to make a living.
You really do get what you pay for.
Most editors understand that they are expensive. Most of us cringe right along with the authors when we send in our bids. We know. But editing really is one of those things in which you get exactly what you pay for. If you are going to try to save money in your quest to get published, honestly, cut costs anywhere but editing. And here’s why….
You may luck out and get a well-seasoned, experienced editor for a huge discount. But if that well-seasoned, experienced editor has bills to pay (and I can guarantee you he or she does) then that editor is going to likely have to rush through your manuscript. It’s merely a game of numbers: if you charge less per manuscript, you have to complete more manuscripts to make the same amount of money. And working faster can lead to skimming, which can lead to careless mistakes that would otherwise be caught.
On the other hand, you may end up hiring an inexperienced editor, or someone for which editing is not a fulltime job. There are a growing number of high school and college students looking to earn some extra cash. And for some, editing is just the right ticket. Hey, remember, that’s how I got my start! But, and this is a big but, that level of inexperience rarely results in a publish-worthy editing job.
That’s not to say you won’t find a good editor for dirt cheap. They are out there. Sometimes they are just under charging in an attempt to get their name out there before hiking their rates to be more competitive. In fact, less than a week ago I came across a young editor whose rates were less than 1/3 of the national average rates. Less than 1/3! While other editors are charging $30-$40 per hour, her rates were putting her at much closer to $8 or $9 per hour.
Now, maybe she can afford to live off $8 or $9 per hour. I don’t know what her bills are or what her financial arrangements are. Maybe she still lives with her parents? Or with a rich boyfriend? Maybe she isn’t depending on the money she’s making from editing. (As a matter of fact, when I asked her why she charged so little, her answer was that she planned on raising her rates as soon as she received a few more certifications). From what I could tell out of our conversation and from seeing some of her work, she’s good. But finding an editor that good at those rates is rare — and certainly won’t last long.
And about those discounted editors.
Don’t expect a fast turnaround if you’re paying next to nothing for your editor. Even if you’re talking to a good one, like the one I described above, who happens to be charging far less than industry standard, the chances of getting that manuscript returned high quality and quickly is astonishingly low. Good editors still take time to run through your manuscript, even if they are taking on the job at a huge discount or as a pro bono case. And if you’ve found an editor working a discounted rate for you, chances are their higher paying clients will have to come first.
Book editing is no easy task. If it was, then everyone would do it and there wouldn’t be a need for a separate industry. It’s costly and time-consuming — perhaps the most expensive step in the entire publishing process — and it is worth every penny.