I was chatting with my cousin a few weeks ago about freelance work. He used to work as a graphic designer—doing logos and such—and so he knows how difficult it can be to find work or, at the very least, to find people willing to pay for good work. Business owners would ask to have a professional logo made for next to nothing. And I thought: If that’s all the money they were willing to put into their business, then what does that tell me they think their company is worth?
The same issue occurs in the editing world, too. While many writers do understand that quality editing takes time and doesn’t come cheap, others seem to underestimate just what exactly editing entails—and what exactly they’re paying for.
I understand why writers may wish to find cheaper editing options—monetary issues or otherwise—but as with any business (and publishing novels is a business) you have to be willing to invest.
Why should you worry about the price you’re paying?
1.) Anyone can be an editor. And by anyone, I mean anyone can hang up a sign that says “editor” whether they have any editing ability or not. I’m not saying all reasonably priced or more expensive editors are good, but the chances of finding a decent one with some editorial experience and credentials are certainly better.
2.) You tend to get what you pay for. If you see an editor advertising $200-$300 for a full-length novel, I’d be wary. Serious editors invest in their continuing education by attending workshops and webinars, by constantly trying to improve what they know about their craft, and by staying up-to-date with the editing world. You want to hire someone who cares about the work they do—who cares about your work.
3.) Hiring an editor is an investment. Put simply, the more you invest, the more miles you’re likely to get. A lot of back and forth communication goes on between editors and clients during the editing process. A good editor won’t just edit your novel—she’ll teach you how to catch similar mistakes in your future work, which may actually save you money down the road.
So what’s a reasonable price to pay?
Based on the Editorial Freelancers Association’s rates, you’re looking at an average of $30 – $50 an hour depending on the type of editing you need. Lighter copyediting will be much cheaper than heavy substantive editing, for instance. And of course pricing will vary according to your manuscript needs (which the editor should be able to ascertain after a quick sample), but don’t go into it expecting to pay $10 an hour.
So let’s say you have an 80,000 word novel in need of line editing and the line editor charges $40.00 an hour. (Edit: This price is definitely high-end rate as one commenter pointed out, but I’m just using it as an average example of the EFA’s rates.) The industry standard manuscript page is 250 words. Assume the editor can read and edit 6 pages an hour (this will of course depend a great deal on the amount of editing required, but it’s considered the average by the American Copy Editors Society), then that’s 53 billable hours of work required for your manuscript. You’re looking at paying $2133 by those standards.
EDIT: Observing what I’ve seen other editors charging, I’d say reasonable editing will cost you anywhere from $500 – $2000, and this will largely depend on your novel’s needs and the editor’s expertise.
But aren’t there cheaper, quality options out there?
Of course there are some talented, intuitive editors out there who don’t charge the going rates (and figuring out what those rates are is still up for debate). Perhaps they edit as a hobby or part-time; maybe they’re starting out in the business and are building up their clientele. But those are the exceptions, not the norm. If you find one of those, you’re incredibly lucky.
On the other hand, I should also mention you should beware of “editing” business scams. They often offer packaged deals, sometimes without even glancing at your work, and are most likely charging way too much. Avoid those, too.
So in conclusion . . .
If writing is just a hobby for you and you’re not aiming to make a significant living out of it, then perhaps hiring the cheaper option (or not hiring an editor at all and just using critique groups) makes more sense. But if you plan to try to make writing your career, then plan to invest. Put aside some money for it. Get referrals. Do your homework. Your novel is your baby after all. It deserves the best.