Editing seminar snapshots: How much should you budget for editing your book? And how should you choose an editor?

w&alogoThis very good question came up when I spoke at the Writers & Artists selfpublishing summit a few months ago. And my answer… deserves a post.

dollar-1071788_960_720First, there seem to be two modes for charging: by the hour and by the wordcount or page. With the wordcount, writers can be quoted a fixed price, so everyone knows where they stand. With an hourly rate, it’s much more difficult for the writer to know how much they’ll be spending.

The convention seems to be that developmental editing is quoted by the wordcount or page, and other phases are priced by hour. Here’s a post that describes the different editing processes and the order to use them in.

Second, editors set their own fees. Does a low price indicate good value? It might if the editor is starting out and doesn’t yet have a reputation. But might they also be lacking in experience? Indeed, might they be a complete amateur?
Conversely, if an editor’s charges are high, does that mean they’re good?
I think everyone can see it’s a buyer beware situation.
How do you tell? Here’s how to navigate the maze and spend your ££$$ wisely.

Establish that the editor is right for you.
For developmental edits, you need a specialist in your field. I would be useless to a fantasy author because I don’t read fantasy. But I can edit its close cousin, magic realism. I can’t edit genre romance of the Mills and Boon variety, but I can edit any number of stories that feature a romantic relationship. So find out what if their tastes are in tune with yours.

Find out where they got their experience.
There are a lot of people setting themselves up as editors. Are they just someone on the internet who’s been to a few critique groups and thinks they can edit? Are they writers whose only experience is helping out their friends? They might be great – everyone has to start somewhere – but they might not at all.

The best editors will have done the job for publishing houses or literary consultancies. Even if they mainly work with indie authors or authors who haven’t yet published, they’ll have that background.

Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, narrative non-fiction?
This may seem obvious, but make sure your editor has developmentally edited your kind of book. If they’ve chiefly worked with non-fiction, or even scientific and technical books, they might be too pedantic to allow for the artistry in a more narrative manuscript.

5730710531_07b49820e8_zThe fussy quotient: will the editor’s approach suit you?
Do you want an editor who’ll be good at explaining how to fix problems? This is where an edit from an experienced professional is far more useful than a critique group. Your beta readers might say ‘the characters are thin’. A good editor will identify why and offer suggestions for fixing it. They’ll spot other potentials in your book too – which you may be surprised about.

Why do charges vary so much?

There are various industry recommended rates (see Writer’s Market, as quoted by Writer’s Digest here), but developmental editors have to set their fees according to how long a project takes them. I spot a lot in a manuscript, so the work takes me more time than it takes a less pernickety editor – because I find there are a lot of points I need to raise. Some authors are eager for this, and some aren’t. Do you want an editor who will approach your work in that depth? You might not. But you’ll pay according to the depth of the work.

Should you ask for a test edit of a small portion of your book?
Opinion is divided. Personally, I’ve never had to do a test edit. All my clients have hired me after an email conversation. But they’re not acting on blind faith because I can demonstrate my approach and degree of thoroughness from the posts on this blog, my books and my video interviews. Some editors might offer a test edit, or they might have a pre-prepared sample that illustrates the kind of comments they make. Be worried, though, if they send a report they wrote about someone else’s book; that should stay confidential.

Copy editing and proof reading

sidebarcropThese are less specialised, and tend to be charged for by the hour. How long will it take to edit or proof your book? It depends what shape the manuscript is in. The copy editor has to take charge of consistency and clarity. So if your use of language is imprecise, the copy editor will have more to do. If your plot is complex, and especially has a lot of time shifts or locations, they’ll have more checking to do. If you’ve been woolly about any of these details, you’ll multiply their workload.

Should you ask for a sample copy edit or proof read?
Unfortunately, a sample is no gauge of how long it will take to do the work because the second half of your book might fall apart, and the copy editor will have to hammer it together. I recently copy-edited one 50,000-word book that took 50 hours, and one that took more than twice that time. What I tend to do is to charge in blocks of 20 hours, then keep the author informed of progress so they at least have a warning of the cost.

So… how much?

But I still haven’t answered that question: how much will editorial services cost you? For a 50,000-word novel, budget GBP£1000-2500 for the developmental edit, the same for the copy-edit and the same for the proof-read. Minimum probably £2000 if your manuscript is really clean. Maximum (depending on the quality of the editor and the manuscript) £7500.

tuition2Phew, that looks like a lot, doesn’t it? If you were traditionally published, you wouldn’t see these costs, but this is part of the publisher’s investment in your manuscript. And yes, there are people who manage to produce good books on a much smaller budget (I have tips here on low-cost options for getting good help ). The sums can be a bit of a shock when the rest of our writing activity seems so cheap and free, unlike, say, skiing or learning to fly. But I hope this post has helped you to see how to get good value.

POSTSCRIPT I’ve had a few emails since I published this post, so a clarification might be helpful.

One reader remarked that copy editing and proofreading don’t usually cost as much as developmental editing. Generally, that’s right. The costs all hinge on how much time the editor has to spend, and that’s related to how much has been done to the manuscript after each stage. But in real life, if a developmental edit leads to a lot of rewriting, that might leave a lot of  tidying for the copy editor. Once we get to proof-reading, it should be a fast and final read with minimal changes … but again if a lot has been altered this will slow things down. I’ve had manuscripts where so much had changed after the copy edit, that the proof read was in fact another copy edit. Which is why I made the point that everything hinges on the cleanness of the manuscript.

Thanks for the money pic, Pixabay and soccerlime for the scrumpled page

Any questions? Fire away!

BTW, my Nail Your Novel books are distilled from the issues I most commonly find in manuscripts. Much much cheaper than getting me in person!  Nail Your Novel: how to write a novel

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  1. #1 by roughwighting on March 6, 2016 - 1:59 pm

    Excellent post. As a writer AND an editor, I’m always unsure of the pricing. I know firsthand that editing can take up a lot of time if the writer has a great plot but isn’t so great at sentence construction! And I also know as a writer how important it is for all of us to have an editor read our work.

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on March 6, 2016 - 6:50 pm

      Thanks! Yes, I wear both those hats too. I found the professional bodies were a very helpful guide for setting rates.

  2. #3 by ccyager on March 6, 2016 - 8:51 pm

    Roz, I’m just starting a freelance editing, proofreading, and typing business and this post was most helpful to me. I plan to bookmark it, and put it under “suggested reading” on my website for new clients. Excellent post, thank you! Cinda

  3. #5 by Maurice Lyon on March 7, 2016 - 12:19 pm

    Great stuff Roz. I really struggle to know what to charge authors for my editing – I’m always worried about their expectations of what they should pay. Also true of The Golden Egg Academy for whom I do quite a lot of work. So it’s great that you have made such a good case for the value and time involved in getting a novel properly edited and proofread.

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on March 7, 2016 - 3:05 pm

      Maurice – an honour to have you commenting here! Guys, Maurice gave me excellent and thoughtful feedback about Lifeform Three in an early guise. Do check him out.

  4. #7 by raulconde001 on March 7, 2016 - 11:52 pm

    Wow! The price of editing is really high. I took an editing class a few years ago, and it’s not easy to do it, but it was fun. I agree with you that a writer needs to find an editor that’s best suited of their genre. Great post, Roz!

    • #8 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on March 8, 2016 - 8:27 pm

      Hi Raul! Well, that’s the cost of using people who do this professionally I’m afraid. But … you do get professional results!

  5. #9 by Prior-01 on March 8, 2016 - 4:17 pm

    Enjoyed this post very much! So much to chew on regarding a topic I know little about! Thx

  6. #12 by Julie Valerie @Julie_Valerie on March 9, 2016 - 2:54 pm

    Fabulous post!

  7. #14 by Melinda Martin on March 10, 2016 - 7:08 pm

    Educating the client about the process is something I try to do. I gave up editing for my first true love of book designing, but that principle still holds true in design. The client honestly is not aware of how much time and education is required of a good editor and a good designer.

    I work with a lot of mom bloggers, and several in that group try to get into the editing field and often confuse editing with proofreading. A good editor does so much more than just find those uncapitalized words.

    As in most circles, it has been my experience that good editors (and designers) are found by word of mouth. I have been blessed to find a couple of editors that also know Adobe InDesign for those special occasions when the client tells me after I’ve done my design work that the book needs to be edited (even though I state all editing must be done prior to sending me the file).

    I’m always looking for great articles like these to pass on to my self publishing support group. Thanks!

    • #15 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on March 10, 2016 - 9:08 pm

      This is such a good comment! There are a lot of people who think editing is little more than checking the spelling and grammar. And if they’ve never had publishing experience, how would they know otherwise? Thank you for stopping by, Melinda.

  8. #16 by Alexander M Zoltai on August 25, 2016 - 1:34 pm

    Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Just *had* to give you another Roz Morris re-blog—especially since she’s so comprehensive in this one about editing…

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