Hiring an Editor: Justifying the Expense and Making it Affordable

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 manuscri