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Good editing takes time and tends not to be cheap. Yet, understanding editing fees isn’t all that cut and dry considering all the factors that go into what can be considered good and reasonable. The choices we make are relative to our finances, publishing goals, and wherewithal when it comes to taking advantage of critique groups and beta readers. Editing is as much an art as it is a science, so you may be disappointed to see such wide fee ranges below. I’ve used decimal places for the sake of preciseness, but most editor will use half and whole cents for rounding purposes. 

This year, I will be covering types of editing, understanding editing fees, self-editing for content, the value of beta readers, as well as self-editing for language. Feel free to explore Word Bank’s archive of editing posts. In particular, you may find The Cost of Editing (Infographic) of interest.

Understanding Editing Fees

It’s important to remember the self-employed do not have their taxes automatically deducted, and they do not receive additional benefits like health insurance and a 401(k) as part of an employment package.If an editor’s rates come to $50 an hour that does not mean the editor is earning that for a forty-hour work week. Billable hours for projects are more likely at twenty hours. This equals a gross income of $1,000 a week, not $2000. However, the other work hours must be spent on non-billable tasks like marketing and bookkeeping. Around 20 percent gets set aside for taxes, another 20 percent for overhead, and around 10 percent for savings. This leaves a net income of $500 a week or $2,000 a month.

For additional information related to this post, Types of Editing Defined may prove helpful.

Fee Guidelines

Whether an editor works full-time, part-time, or to earn supplemental income should not matter when it comes to charging a living wage. Fee guidelines provided by the Editorial Freelancers Association and The Writer’s Market this is from help provide ballpark estimates for editing and other freelance fees. Unlike some countries like England and Canada, this is no standard certification that qualifies an individual as an editor in America.

Some editors certainly do work below the professional rates listed here, but always ask yourself why that is. Buyer beware and all that jazz.

Editing fees are calculated on the type of edit and how many rounds of revision or passes a manuscript will receive. The number of words at the start of the process are what’s billed, but in cases where the word count grows, an additional fee may be charged when the final manuscript is delivered. Fees are also assessed according to how heavy an edit will be, so be wary of signing a contract until the editor has assessed a sample. Some editors will charge more per word for shorter documents. Even the cost of living in the editor’s home city goes into determining fees. In a rush? Expect to pay around a 25% premium, if the editor even takes on rush projects. Good work takes time.

Experience Level

As with most services, experience comes at a premium. An editor with a track record of editing bestsellers for a Big 5 publishing house is going to charge top dollar and come with a long waiting list. On the other hand, mid-level editors abound as do those just starting out. Be prepared to encounter varying levels of professionalism, and doing your homework is a must. Always peruse the editor’s portfolio. Vetting candidates can be overwhelming, but your book is your baby, right? In any case, the choice can often be overwhelming. Asking for referrals from writer friends and online writing-related groups can be a lifesaver in comping up with a list of possible book gurus.

picture of fountain pen from istock

Type of Editing

Even the most unengaging of stories can be checked for typos, but an error-free text means nothing in the face of a lackluster story. This is why content editing, specifically substantive editing, is so expensive. It delivers the most value. In some cases, even after a contract is signed, the editor may come across an unexpected issue within the story that necessitates adjusting the fee that’s been charged.

The estimates below are given for an 80,000-word fiction or memoir manuscript and are based links given in the fee guidelines section above. The page  average is taken from the EFA and the hourly average is from the Writer’s Market table that is available online. Newer print versions contain slightly different fee ranges. The industry standard of 250 words per page equates to 320 pages in a book.

Developmental/Substantive Editing: The rates below assume a speed of 3 pages per hour (1-5 pages per hour is the average range). These two types of editing have been grouped together as a wide variety of factors can contribute to completion time. A reputable editor will include a schedule for deliverables and payments.

  • $19-$125 per hour ($52 average)
  • $2,014-$13,250 per manuscript
    • Approximately 106 hours per manuscript
    • At $52 an hour this comes to $5,512
  • $6.29-$$41.41 per page
  • $0.0251-$0.1656 per word (2.5-17 cents per word)

Manuscript Evaluation: The rates below assume a speed of 8-15 pages per hour based on my average speed of either writing a stand-alone report or writing a report to accompany a critique with comments on every page. The EFA does not provide a page range for this.

  • $36-$100 per hour ($72 average)
  • $936-$2,600 per manuscript
    • 22-40 hours per manuscript
    • At $72 per hour this comes to an average range of $1,584-$2,880
  •  $2.93-$8.12 per page
  • $0.0117-$0.0325 per word (1.6-3.3 cents per word)

Line Editing: The rates below assume a speed of 4 pages per hour (1-6 pages per hour is the average range).

  • $40-$60 per hour ($50 average)
  • $3,200-$4,800
    • Approximately 80 hours per manuscript
    • At $50 per hour this comes to an average of $4,000
  • $10-$15 per page.
  • $0.04-$0.06 per word.(4-6 cents per word)

Copyediting: The rates below assume a speed of 5-10 pages per hour.

  • $20-$75 per hour ($34 average)
  • $1,300-$4,800 per manuscript
    • 32-64 hours per manuscript
    • At $34 per hour this comes to an average range of $1,088-$2,176
  •  $4.06-$15 per page
  • $0.0163-$0.06 per word (1.5-6 cents per word)

Proofreading: The rates below assume a speed of 9-13 pages per hour.

  • $15-$75 per hour ($30.00 average)
  • $525-$2,625 per manuscript
    • 25-35 hours per manuscript
    • At $30 her hour this comes to an average range of $750-$1,050
  • $1.65-$8.20 per page.
  • $0.0066-$0.0328 per word (.05 cent-3 cents per word)

Project Pricing

Understanding editing fees can become particularly confusing or just plain aggravating given how some editors charge by project, while others charge by page or per word, and yet others charge by the hour. In any case, the industry standard of 250 words per page stands firm, so altered line spacing, margins, and fonts will not impact the official page count. No matter how the pricing is rendered, a little math can result in figuring out the project fee based on various approaches.

Flat rates come with the advantage of both sides knowing in advance how much the project is going to cost. This can also alleviate worry on behalf of the writer that the editor might draw out the process, and an editor has more incentive toward efficiency as opposed to an hourly rate that pays the same no matter how much gets done. An editor can be put at a disadvantage if the manuscript ends up taking significantly longer than estimated, but down the road a shorter-than-expected edit will help make up for it. On the other hand,  an hourly rate can allow an editor to bill for a certain number of hours up front, and then charge for any overages after completion.

Understanding editing fees can be enough to make one’s head swim, perhaps both on the editor’s side and the author’s side. It’s no secret we are not the biggest fans of math, but math is often a must!

What advice or additional tips would you add when it comes to understanding editing fees? 

Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018. Posts may contain affiliate links. Image credit: Fountain Pen.

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