Wordcount Woes, aka The High Cost of Professional Services, Part I

Ally Writing 2 Comments

Not long ago, I talked in general terms about the financial realities of being an author. Now it’s time to get into specifics. Sort of. You see, today we’re going to talk about editing. As much as I’d like to tell you that you should spend exactly $X on editing your manuscript, I can’t. I can, however, give you some idea of standard editing rates and tell you why we say that “the cost of editing should hurt a little.”

Do I really need editing?

Yes. Yes, you do. Even editors need editors when they put on their writing hats. You can’t see the issues in your own story. I don’t care if you’re a creative writing professor or have your doctorate in English Literature. You’re too close to your story to see the flaws.

That’s not to say that you can’t do a heck of a job on your self-editing pass. But even the cleanest manuscript I’ve seen still had a few dozen corrections or suggestions per chapter. As an author, you’ll probably take four or five passes (at least) through your manuscript before you hand it off to your editor. During that time, you’ve half-memorized certain passages. You see what you think is there, rather than what’s actually there. This is how misspellings, homonyms, and repeated words creep in without us knowing. Everyone needs an editor.

Even if I’m going to query a traditional publisher?

Yes, even then. If you’re hoping to land a traditional publishing deal, you want to put your best foot forward. Sure, you’ll be assigned an editor if you sign a publishing contract, but the chance of getting said contract rises the better your manuscript is.

Why can’t I do this myself? There are fabulous self-editing tools out there.

There are several excellent tools available to help you polish your manuscript. We use a few ourselves. AutoCrit can tell you how many times you use a specific crutch word, examine your use (or overuse) of specific dialog tags, and even do a little bit of analysis on pacing (though take that with a grain of salt). Grammarly is a popular plugin that can help you with your comma usage, verb agreement, and spelling.However, it’s not infallible. Have you ever run Microsoft Word’s grammar check? It routinely confuses “your” and “you’re.”

Automated tools can’t tell you that your antagonist is one-dimensional and boring or that your hero is acting like a jerk and no one’s going be rooting for him to save the day. A good editor can.

Automated tools don’t know that a romance requires a “happily ever after” or that middle grade allows for a more liberal use of dialog tags. A good editor does.

Fair point. So what should I look for when interviewing editors?

  • Someone who has studied grammar, punctuation, and story structure, often formally. Your BFF, who loves to read and always corrects the punctuation in your holiday letters, isn’t an editor. She’s someone you could use as a beta reader or a “pre-editor” to help you clean up your manuscript, but she’s not an editor.
  • Someone who has worked in the publishing industry (indie-publishing or traditional). Of course, there are decent editors just starting out, but unless they’ve interned or edited formally before, be a little wary. This doesn’t mean you should only look for editors who’ve worked for a Big 5 publisher, but your editor should have at least a few books under their belt.
  • Someone who understands the needs of your genre. If your editor has never edited middle grade (MG) before, and you’re hoping to query your MG, he or she might not be the best choice for that book. Mystery, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, erotica, YA, MG, memoir, horror, and historical fiction all have different requirements for plot and pacing.
  • Someone who respects you and will work with you. I’ve seen some “editors” advertise that they’ll make all of your changes for you (including plot issues) and send you back a clean and corrected manuscript ready for publication. That’s not editing. That’s much closer to ghostwriting. The goal of editing is to take your story and help you enhance and polish it, not rewrite it for you. The right editor for Jack might not be the right editor for Jill. Personality and working style come into play. Request a sample edit and/or a phone or Skype call before you decide an editor is right for you.

But, Patricia, that doesn’t tell me how much I need to spend on an editor. I see quotes ranging from $300-$3000! Help!

Before we start talking dollars, let’s talk time. Editing isn’t quick. The Editorial Freelancers Association gives guidelines for pacing (and rates) for different types of editing. They’re pretty close to the mark (at least in my experience) for timing. A developmental edit on a full-length manuscript (300 pages) can take upwards of 60 hours. A line edit can take longer. That means for a minimum two pass edit, you can expect your editor to spend 100-300 hours on your manuscript. Yes, really.

Rates can be a little more fluid. You can find an excellent, skilled, and thorough editor for less than the EFA’s average. If we assume a 3 page/hour editing speed, a 300-page book should cost between $4000 and $6000 for line editing. I’ve worked with editors who charge closer to $2000. However, if you scour the web, you’ll find companies offering to do the work for $300-$500.

That fee wouldn’t even pay your editor minimum wage.

Do you want to work with someone who doesn’t have enough expertise to charge professional rates? This is why we say that editing should hurt a little. Rates of less than $0.01/word (or less than $2.50/page) should be an immediate red flag. Rates of $0.015-$0.02 are common.

If you’re looking at those numbers convinced you’ll never be able to afford editing, take a deep breath. There are ways to lessen the blow. Start saving now. Get a piggy bank for spare change (seriously). See if your bank allows you to transfer a small amount of money each month to a separate account. Contact prospective editors and ask about a payment plan or even bartering.

I often hear authors lamenting publication delays on their first book because “they need to start making money on this writing thing.” Well, as I pointed out in my previous post, almost no one makes money from their first book. Take your time, save enough to afford an editor, and you’ll be that much closer to success. If you don’t, you may find that the thing you thought you couldn’t afford costs you a lot more in lost sales and poor reviews than you’d ever spend to pay a professional editor.

What questions do you have about editing? Post ’em in the comments!

Comments 2

  1. Pingback: A Nickel For Your #MondayBlogs Recap | In•de•fix•a

  2. As an editor and member of the EFA, I feel your example ms would much more often price out closer to the $2000 mark than the $4000 or $6000 mark. That being said, I applaud your efforts to educate members on the cost—and value—of professional editing.

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