It can come as a shock to authors when they start researching editors and are confronted by the prices they're expected to pay; editing is one of the most expensive parts of the publishing process, if not the most expensive.
I felt that way too when I was a young writer, hoping to publish my first book at twelve (it didn't happen, clearly!). Even now, as an author and editor, I have to reprimand myself when I’m researching editors for my own work and I find myself cringing at the price.
It’s not at all uncommon for editors to receive responses to quotes along the lines of "Oh, I didn't realise it would cost that much." As an editor, it's an awkward situation to be in, especially when the author tells you her budget, and you know she’ll struggle to find any quality editor willing to work for so little.
So let me now explain to you some concrete reasons to justify what you're paying, and how you can help yourself keep costs comfortable (not necessarily low!).
Editors are expensive because they are meticulous.
We don’t just read every sentence; we read every letter of every word.
Depending on what type of edit your editor is performing, their edit will dive deep into not only your story, but the way you use words. As Belinda Pollard of Small Blue Dog Publishing said,
[Editors] need to think analytically, weighing up not just correct-vs-incorrect, but also ok-vs-better, in a range of areas.
When I edit, I can spend an hour on a single scene, brainstorming, restructuring, and making suggestions to fix errors and make amendments both specific and far-reaching. Editors read slowly and meticulously and often go back to cover areas we've already read if a new detail or idea pops up later; we don't skim as we might when reading for pleasure.
The comments we make also take time to think about and write up; we have to put our thoughts into words understandable and actionable to the author, and that can be difficult when ideas are so abstract.
You'd also be surprised how much time we spend scouring dictionaries, thesauri, style guides, and Google; if you mention an object we're not familiar with, we're going to make sure we read up on what it is to make sure your representation and our edits work.
If you plan for a specific edit but find your finances can’t stretch that far, speak with your editor and find out how they can amend their services to work with your budget—but be aware they might say not be able to. This will require some sacrifices, however, such as merging two stages together (meaning less depth to each edit), skipping one out entirely (self-explanatory), submitting only part of your manuscript (also self-explanatory), or even limiting comments to scene-level details (and ignoring story-wide ones). I personally recommend that authors ensure they walk away with a copy edit, minimum, if self-publishing. That way, your manuscript is at least error free.
If you need more convincing, take a look at my post on why authors need editors.
Editors are expensive because their hours add up.
You may find you're able to read a full-length novel in a day, but editors don't do that. They may give your novel a first pass in a day, if they don't have much else to do, but the actual process of digging into your narrative, pulling it apart, and sticking it back together again takes time. For this reason, rougher drafts will often cost more to edit, as editors spend more hours on them.
Let’s say you’ve submitted an 80,000-word manuscript for a copy edit. In total, the hours spent on that by your editor could range from 30 to 60 hours, depending on how clean it is. Now look at the minimum hourly wage in your country, usually reserved for unskilled workers in retail and restaurants. If you multiply the hours of your editor by that wage, you might already be frowning at the figure that pops up. It is understandable to not consider how much time your editor spends on your manuscript, as you don’t see them at work every day. But knowing your editor’s hours, would you feel okay paying them at that rate?
To lower your chances of a higher-end quote, don’t submit a first draft. Make sure your manuscript is as good as you can make it alone before you query an editor. We will base your quote on how developed your manuscript is; if you submit something tidy and well-written, you’re more likely to be granted our base rate (or even a discount). Read my top self-editing techniques here.
Most editors work 40-hour weeks, if not more. Not all of that time is spent editing, however; there is only so long you can edit in a day before you burn out. In order to stay positively productive, many editors limit the hours they spend editing. Personally, I aim for 6 hours a day across 3 manuscripts.
We also have to think about marketing ourselves, personal professional projects, communicating with clients outside of project hours, and also just carrying out general admin. These are things we don’t get paid for. Imagine you’re at work, and your boss tells you that you stop getting paid at 3pm, but you have to stay until 5pm.
And on that note...
Editors are expensive because they’re running businesses.
You must remember that while your editor may be an individual, they are also running a business, and businesses have costs. We pay for software, memberships, websites, marketing, tax, insurance, rent, office supplies, savings, classes, courses, and conferences. All of that money that we've invested into running our businesses to the best of our abilities will be at least partially included in your quote.
An editor who has invested more will charge more. An editor with a higher cost of living will charge more. If your editor’s office is in the centre of New York City, don’t be surprised if they quote you thousands of dollars; they’ve worked hard and invested a lot into gaining and maintaining that position, literally and metaphorically. They’re probably very good at their job, but not the best choice if you’re trying to keep costs down.
Editors are expensive because they’re professionals.
Editors are often highly skilled professionals who have been at it for years, have specialist degrees and certifications, and have large portfolios of successful authors. If you want to work with an editor who's worked with multiple NYT Bestsellers, then you can expect to pay for that expertise.
When confronted with the reality of editing fees, you might be tempted to pay your book-loving friend or high-school English teacher a small fee for an edit, instead. There’s a saying: “You get what you pay for,” and that applies here.
If you’re looking for a cheaper option, don’t go to a friend—go to an editor who is newer to the game. They still have the qualifications and expertise you’re looking for, but will charge lower fees due to their smaller portfolio, limited experience, and their desire to gain that experience. And if you’re dubious about their quality, ask them for a sample before you make your decision.
Editors aren’t expensive if you come prepared.
At the end of the day, Monique Mensah of Make Your Mark Publishing Solutions put it perfectly:
Whether it’s expensive depends on your mindset.
Monique was speaking about self-publishing in general, but editing falls under this. If you have prepared yourself and your bank account to pay for an editor, you needn’t be shocked by the prices or have to adjust your expectations in order to go for a cheaper option.
Start researching editors long before you're ready to submit; figure out what you're willing to spend and adjust your budget to what (and who) is available. Have an editor in mind, but also have a back-up prepared if they raise their prices beyond your limit, or are simply booked up.
Being an author means being a business owner. Invest in the right places, and watch your novels thrive.