So, you’ve finally finished your book. You are almost ready to self-publish or maybe send it to an agent or publishing house. You’ve decided that it would be a good idea to have it professionally copyedited first. (I will stick to copyediting in this case for the sake of example, but the principles apply to developmental and substantive editing as well, sometimes more so.) How much does editing cost anyway? After reading a few blog posts, you decide to pick an editor from the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) member directory and request a quote.
Then comes the shocker. You never imagined that the editor would send you back such a large quote! One to two thousand dollars for for a standard copyedit of your 75,000-word/300-page novel? (See the EFA’s Editorial Rates page for industry-standard fees and editing speeds.) What?! How could editing cost so much? Didn’t you just see editors advertising on some website for less than $100 for a whole book?
It’s likely that any editor that you see advertising such a low rate is not actually a professional editor, and that is the difference that matters. Professional editors work for professional rates. They edit for a living, spending 6–10 hours a day sometimes 7 days a week editing or writing. Words are their vocation, and they’ve invested a lot of time learning and perfecting their craft.
I can’t speak for all people who proclaim themselves as editors, but I can speak for good professional editors.
What a Professional Editor Brings to the Table
1. Education and Training
A good editor has a good education. This can mean several things. Editors can have degrees in language arts or specialty areas. They may have an editing degree or a certificate from a university or editorial association. They will usually pursue various forms of continuing education from various sources to keep their skills up to date. They may even spend their free time perusing editing blogs, listening to writing podcasts, and soaking up all the knowledge that they can about words, writing, and editing. In addition, many freelance editors have or continue to work in house for professional publishers. I first learned to copyedit while working in the production department of a publisher a few years into my career.
2. Experience and Expertise
A good editor will have at least several years’ and sometimes decades’ worth of experience with various styles and types of editing. Your average English teacher or another writer who offers to look at your book primarily does other work and cannot compare.
According to Forbes.com, the average adult reads at a rate of 300 words per minute. That means that an average reader will take 250 minutes, or more than 4 hours, of uninterrupted time just to read a book that is 300 pages long. Editors, however, need time to communicate with their authors, read every word multiple times, make corrections, and query the author. According to the EFA’s Editorial Rates page, a professional editor will generally be able to perform a basic copyedit at a rate of 5-10 manuscript pages per hour. That means that an editor will generally spend 30–60 hours to edit your 300-page book. It’s not an afternoon’s work. It’s the work of at least a week or two, and that is if the editor is working on only one job at a time.
Good professional editors are thorough. They will read and edit manuscripts at least twice before they consider them done. They know that every word counts. They also know that their relationships with their clients are important. They will answer questions and try to find workable solutions to problems that arise.
In other words, your investment in an editor is an investment in improving your book in ways that you might not be able to.
Even editors who are also writers hire editors. We all know it’s good to get a fresh set of eyes on our work. What better eyes can you hire than those of a professional editor?
Ready for an editor but don’t have the cash? Check out my post on Four Nontraditional Ways to Pay for Editing!