The Price of Excellence

edit Excellent editing, that is. We all know that editing is the necessary evil that comes after writing. While writing can be all happy traipsing through the Imagination Station, editing is serious, thoughtful, and hard. It’s also what makes our poopy first draft a publishable final draft.

Somewhere along the line, another set of eyes is necessary in editing. We can only glare at our own plot holes and dangling participles so long before we go cross-eyed and call it good. Other editors can include friends, family, and beta readers, but should include actual professional editors at some point. If you traditionally publish, this is often taken care of by your publishing house and their in-house editors. If self-publishing, you’ll have to shell out for these services yourself, seeking out an editor to look your darling over.

I’ve always known this. It’s one of those nagging apparitions that hangs over my shoulder, along with the constant pining for a doughnut and the sense that I should really wash the dishes some time this month. So I got a little curious a few weeks ago and decided to look into what an editor would actually cost me. The Editorial Freelancers Association kindly published a rate guide to give the aspiring author some idea of what to expect, which can be found in its full glory here ( The bits I personally found most applicable are as follows. (You might want to grab a paper bag to breathe into before we proceed.)

cost chart

Daunting, yes? So let’s grapple this into real-world numbers by plugging in the stats of my beloved epic fantasy, City of the Dead. It clocks in at 120k words. With an industry standard of 250 words per page, I’m sitting on about 480 pages. For basic copyediting, let’s say the editor moves at around seven pages an hour. We’re looking at about seventy hours of editing. Which would cost me around $2400. TWENTY-FOUR-HUNDRED DOLLARS. Did I do that right? (Checks math. Breathes into paper bag.) That’s more than my husband and I spent on our wedding.

I totally get why so many indie authors choose to skip this step and stick with self-editing. Given my family’s yearly income, 2400 is a mind-bogglingly large number to be sticking a dollar sign in front of. (Breathes into bag some more.)

Okay. Whew. Now that the shock is subsiding a bit, let’s really dig in here. Before you (or I) swear off professional editing forever, a few points have to be made.

First off, you’ll be doing a lot of self-editing and bouncing things off beta readers before you get to this point. So, hopefully, the editor will be able to work through your manuscript at a quicker pace. (So, seriously, make sure you edit the snot out of that thing before you send it off to any professional, be that an editor, an agent, or a publisher.)

Second, these are average rates. And that means there are lower rates in existence. If money is a problem, shop around and find a better deal. Maybe you can find an editor who doesn’t have a ton of projects on his plate right now and is looking for work. Maybe there’s another who has a little less experience and is willing to go lower to pad her resume. So don’t jump on the first editor you find. Hunt around a bit first.

Finally, there is a reason that every reputable writing authority ever insists finished products be sent through an editor before they hit the market. Nothing says “sloppy newb” quite like an indie book chock full of typos. And there are few things that pull me out of a book faster than typos. (As mentioned last week, other zone-wreckers include: out-of-character behavior; breaking the fourth wall; massive blocks of explanation/description. But a good editor will catch those things, too, as well as wonky transitions, misused homonyms, you name it. That’s why they earn the big bucks.)

Here’s the thing: Open up just about any professionally produced book and thumb through to the acknowledgements. Take a moment to read through that. You’ll find a line-up of the usual suspects: long-suffering family members, indispensable research buddies, stalwart agents, and… editors. Weird. People don’t usually thank useless money-sinks.

Well, it’s because they’re not useless money-sinks. Sure, it’s expensive, but the service provided by an editor will take your writing to the next level, one you may not be able to achieve on your own. An editor will make your book more readable. More readable translates into more readers. And more readers translate into more income. So, painful as it may feel at the time, consider a professional edit an investment. Much like saving for retirement, it can hurt during those painful penny-pinching years of your early career, but it can pay out big dividends later.


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