Home » Editing » Hiring a Freelance Editor: Pricing and Getting the Most for Your Money

Hiring a Freelance Editor: Pricing and Getting the Most for Your Money

The Freelance Editor Dilemma: Pricing and Getting the Most for Your MoneyI 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.

Have you ever worked with a freelancer editor? Would you hire one? What is your price range?

37 thoughts on “Hiring a Freelance Editor: Pricing and Getting the Most for Your Money

  1. Great post. I used a professional editor through the Writer’s Workshop in UK. It was worth the extra expense. It’s not just about writing a book to make sales. Writing a book is an achievement and you have to give your writing justice, so I would always recommend hiring an editor.

    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience! I’m glad you mentioned the “Writers Workshop.” I’d heard of them before but hadn’t read anyone’s testimonial. I’ll have to check them out more thoroughly.

      You’re absolutely right. No matter what we decide to do with the novel we’ve written, it’s important to remember that we must serve the words on the page, not our egos. At the very least, a good editor teaches us to see our work differently, and that’s equally important for our progress as writers, too.

  2. As always, a clear, informative, and really usefull presentation of information that people who are serious about their writing need to have, whatever option they decide to go with. And as someone who’s considered doing freelance editing, I found this enormously helpful too. Thanks! {:~)

  3. I haven’t gotten to this stage of development as a writer yet – feeling the need to push my work out into the commercial world. I suppose that I should be passing my work through a qualified editor if and when that time arrives. And I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of your return on investment.

    It sort of reminds of finding a good sushi place. You can find “cheaper” alternatives, but is it really worth the risk involved? I would rather pay a little more to be certain I am receiving the service I need to give me the best chance of success.

    Great article, Michelle, thanks for sharing – and I still think you need to put together a book with all these tidbits of writing wisdom – nudge, nudge 😉

    • Hah. Robyn’s been hinting at the same thing, but to be honest, I’m still learning too. Mostly this blog serves as a compilation of my growing pains. 😛 Maybe one day . . .

      When you’ve written something you think is the piece you’re ready to take to the next step, I would suggest the following stages: 1.) Let the manuscript sit for a few weeks to months (don’t read it); 2.) After its rest period, go back and revise. At this point, you’ve distanced yourself from it so you can look at it with a more critical eye; 3) Once you’ve revised, find a good critique group or at least a couple people to read your work–preferably a couple writers with more experience, as then they can probably really teach you/help shape the manuscript; 4.) After the manuscript has gone through the beta read, you’re ready to edit the corrections and do the second-stage revision; 5.) NOW, if the betas were good/honest and you’ve managed to self-edit all you can, it’s time for the editor.

      So I think first things first for you is to get your work out there even to betas. The feedback from them can be invaluable and may push you closer to one day sending your work out for publication. 🙂

  4. First, let me say Michelle is NOT paying me to type this or slipping me chocolate, or Vana Tallinn (a pity, I say). But I wanted to say that my book has gotten some really good reviews. And I owe it to my editor.

    Even when I wanted to argue, she was always right. Even when it felt like she was tearing my baby limb from limb, she was always right. Even, in the last stages, when I wanted to throw the book off a cliff, she said “stick with it, you’re almost done.” and she was right. When we were done, I was (and am) so proud of that book!

    I’d say she’s worth her weight in gold, but that wouldn’t be enough, so I’ll say she’s worth MY weight in gold, which is much more substantial. She made my story shine.

    Thanks, Michelle. 🙂

    • *blushes*

      I already gave you the chocolate and Vana Tallinn. I have nothing more to bribe you with. 🙂

      Thank you, though, for such high praise. (You were never allowed to throw the book off the cliff. I’d have made you go get it.)

  5. I lucked upon an editor who I think is very competitive price wise and pretty competent too. His name is TR Perri. You can find him on Twitter. He charged me fifty bucks to edit 3k word, short story and did a really professional job, I think. It is totally worth paying someone to give you a good edit, if for nothing more than the educational benefits. Great article too, by the way.

    • Sounds like a good match then! 🙂 I would say $50 is fairly cheap compared to industry standard; however, that would largely depend on how much work the story needed and the editor’s experience, etc. The most important thing is that you worked well with the editor and you were satisfied with the results. Thanks for sharing!

      • Yeah I sort of felt like it was a steal to be honest. Same time it was my first experience with a paid editor so I felt especially lucky in that sense and that also qualifies my experience. I think there’s a lot of value in focusing on short stories for new writers in light of the economics variables involved.

        • Absolutely. Excellent point. Short stories are great for SO many reasons. I hadn’t thought about it really, but even from the editing standpoint, they can be a good place to start for getting a feel for a future editor and for the paid editing experience in general (as in your case).

    • Yes, that is a bit of a problem. Unfortunately, with self-publishing in general, authors have to pay a lot up front without any guarantee that they’ll get a return on the investment. But it’s definitely a problem in traditional publishing, too. So much of the earning potential of a novel falls on an author’s ability to market himself/herself.

  6. I’ve been an editor since 1991, both freelance and in-house, and the rates the Editorial Freelancers Association cite are a wishlist, not an industry standard. Personally, I have never heard of any freelancer charging (or getting) $40 an hour for basic line editing, and the few cases of $30 an hour I do know of were generally editors who charged a flat rate and got very, very lucky with a great manuscript. The downward pressure on freelancer rates by publishers and production houses is very real and long-standing, and some freelancers probably see self-publishers as a chance to make up the difference and even get ahead a little. The warning about editors who only charge $200 or $300 for an entire novel is *very* good advice, but I would be just as leery of an editor charging those EFA rates. A good editor will be expensive, yes, but not that expensive.

    • Thank you for your input and joining the discussion. I definitely can agree with your reasoning/experience. And I think your advice about high rates is spot on, too. $40 is high for line editing (I certainly do not charge that much); I simply averaged the EFA’s rates to give an idea.

      Personally, I don’t know many other freelance editors (which is somewhat where my own ignorance may stem from on the editorial rates), but having looked at what others seem to be charging–at least the more visible editors–I’ve noticed a trend toward $30 an hour for line editing. But maybe those are the flat-rate editors you’re talking about. From your personal experience, what would you say the average line editing rate would be?

      • It’s definitely easier to charge an individual self-publisher a higher rate than it is to get traditional publishers to raise their rates. In the past, for instance, some publishers of science journals have even considered cutting out copyediting entirely in order to lower costs, and some did try off-shoring the work to ESL editors overseas, which didn’t work out very well.

        Basic copy/line editing is still mostly from $20 to $25 an hour (or $2.50 per double-spaced page) from my own experience and that of most editors I know and/or work with. More technical subject matter (scientific studies, math textbooks) can go higher. So do heavier edits and developmental work. I wouldn’t advise any self-publisher to go above $20 to $25 an hour for a basic line edit (grammar, etc.). The more visible editors on the Internet might not always be the ones who are actually working the most, either. Then again, the self-publishing revolution is changing a lot of things…

        • Yes, I have read about the downsizing of editorial departments in traditional publishing houses. That they attempted to outsource overseas doesn’t surprise me.

          Thanks for sharing. $20 -$25 for basic copy editing sounds reasonable. The more technical the text, the more specialized knowledge required, so I can understand charging more for that.

          And that’s true. I’m interested in seeing how things continue to change.

  7. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    Although I’m far from ready to have a beta reader (much less than editor) read my WIP, I am very glad I came upon this post on editing and pricing from The Sarcastic Muse. [Note to self: Add to Evernote for future reference.]

  8. I have worked with several editors and would continue to do so. Their input is valuable and well worth the cost. Before,hiring an editor I suggest that you put your manuscript through the Pro Writing Aid. It’s free but also does a time saving job for $35 US. I’m not endorsing this but I think it’s a good way to go before hiring a professional editor. 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. Great advice. I have never used Pro Writing Aid, but I think that’s a good idea. Any little bit will help, and if it’s free, then all the better. 🙂

  9. Another thing to consider: Is the editor performing a one-off, unofficial service as a side project or trying to make a living as a full-time freelance editor? The latter couldn’t possibly hope to survive on $20 an hour. Not with health insurance and federal and states taxes factored in.

    As someone with years of editing experience, I may be biased, but I have no doubt you get what you pay for.

    • Yes, exactly. Thank you for saying this! It’s what I had in mind when I started the post. Maybe they can get by if they have enough work for 40 hours per week (or more), but I figure, as with most things in freelance, that’s not always a guarantee. And after taxes, as you pointed out, it can be a struggle.

      Right now I’m more of the first category of editor you mentioned because I’m finishing up my master’s, but I still have difficulties finding a balance between my rates and available time. Once I’ve defended my thesis, I want to move over to full-time freelancing, but you’ve hit on one of my primary worries.

  10. Pingback: Friday Finds: Week 18 | Avid Reader

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