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.
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.
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.
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)
- 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)
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.
Wow. I guess the key is to know what kind of edits you need and finding someone who is both good at it and reasonable.
Alex, with such a wide variance in rates, it’s definitely possible to find an editor that does great work and is affordable. It can be along search in some cases, however to find the just the right fit.
No wonder first-time authors are so broke. And it really isn’t the editor’s fault.
Glynis, it is such a big step to pay a professional for their services. I always get queasy come tax time since I have an accountant who helps me out, but in the end, the fees are definitely worth it since it saves me a lot of frustration.
A few years ago I attended a workshop given by Jacquelyn Mitchard (Deep End of the Ocean), who gave us this sobering advice: pay and pay well for your editing. $65 and hour at least. I took it to heart and paid an editor to look at my lengthy, in-trouble manuscript. I’d attended a couple of her workshops, admired her books and she had a a good track record with helping other writers publish. She got through my manuscript in two weeks and gave me invaluable advice, much more helpful than what I’d gotten from my writing critique group. I consider the money tuition. Her feedback shaped my ongoing editing, and helped me rethink how I approach writing. I’ve not published that book though, or even tried to. so I’m with Glynis above. It can be very expensive to write a first book.
Thanks for this very useful breakdown and guideline of editing costs.
Julie, thank you dearly for chiming in. Working with a skilled editor can indeed be a valuable learning experience.
So much more to it than I would have thought. This is a pretty comprehensive resource.
Thanks, Ken! This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while now, and I hope others find it helpful in wrapping their heads about the wide range of fees.
This post is a “must read” for writers. Knowing EXACTLY what they get from and editor—and how the service is priced—is an important business consideration.
Candy, communication is always key. Of course, a contract helps as well in clarifying matters.
This is an eye-opening post. Many of us don’t consider how an editor’s costs are divvied up. Thanks for sharing.
Denise, there are times when I am told my prices are too steep, but really my rates are beyond reasonable. Learning about editing pricing is all part of the process of the business of being a writer. It’s disgruntling when someone boasts they had their book copyedited on the cheap. I would feel really uncomfortable if I knew my editor was working for what amounts to minimum wage or less.
I’m so glad you outlined this concept! This is something most people who work for someone else don’t understand about self-employed and freelance type work. This could apply to so many services beyond editing as well. Great points, especially the last one about using math! 😉
Meredith, as a fellow freelancer, your comment is greatly appreciated.
I know that editing for my stories is usually really expensive because they’re so flipping long, but good editing to improve the story is definitely worth the cost.
Loni, I was approached by a fantasy writer with a 137,000-word novel. The rate I quoted was of course a lot more than what would be given for an 80,000-word novel, and the author wasn’t prepared to go with such a fee. I feel for you writers of long books since it practically doubles most of the fees you need to pay for editing.
That was a great breakdown of what you’re really paying for when paying an entrepreneur. It’s for sure not all profit! And while I don’t know much about editing, I do know that you just don’t want to go for just the cheapest offer unless you want a manuscript full of typos. For sure find someone with experience and a good reputation.
Erica, most clients need to be educated on the process when they first go down the road of seeking editing services. It’s a lot to take in. Many don’t even know what kind of editing to ask for. Hopefully these detailed posts I’ve been writing are of help to many.
It’s great to learn what to expect regarding editing fees (for the various types of editing). I know you’re worth every dollar, Jeri! I’m bookmarking and also sharing on Twitter.
Christy, thanks! I’m actually a really good deal 🙂 I need more traditional publishing experience, but that will come in time.