Why is book editing so expensive?
One question that always comes up on writing forums is “why is book editing so expensive?” When you aren’t an editor, and aren’t familiar with what it involves, it can be hard to understand why it costs so much to hire a freelance editor. Writers might look for someone to edit their books for £100 or $100 – or less – which isn’t a living wage. Odds are, for that kind of price, you aren’t going to get a careful, polished edit or the kind of edit you and your work deserve. Editing done well and professionally takes a lot of time, energy, and work.
Let’s break down why editing is so expensive. I’m going to focus on freelance editors who edit full-time and run their own service business, not editors who have another job to support them. Note that I’m also not talking about editors at traditional publishing houses, who get paid a wage/salary – in that circumstance, the author isn’t paying the editor.
The first thing to get out of the way is this:
There’s no standard price amongst self-employed editors. We all charge differently.
Some editors might seem expensive, others mid-range, others “cheap”. What you consider cheap or expensive can also depend on your own circumstances, your disposable income, and your budget for publishing a book. There are guidelines for what editors should charge from organisations like the CIEP and the EFA, but these are just that – guidelines. They aren’t rules. Editors might charge more than these suggested rates, or less. If you contact five editors, you’ll get five different quotes, and that’s normal.
Editing takes time, which is why it can be so expensive – it isn’t just reading
How long editing takes
All types of editing – from critiquing to copyediting to proofreading – require careful, methodical reading. When taking editing courses, editors are taught to read more slowly than they do when consuming a book for enjoyment. Zipping through a book quickly for fun isn’t the goal of editing. Our aim is to do a professional job for the client and carefully pick through the work for errors or areas of improvement.
The amount of time an edit takes can also depend on the writing style or how experienced the writer is. A manuscript with lots of errors in grammar and punctuation, continuity errors, inconsistencies, formatting problems etc, is obviously going to take more time.
Genre and length can also factor into time spent on an edit. A high fantasy epic of 500+ pages with lots of complicated terminology and characters will take longer than a fluffy real-world romance novella that only focuses on a couple of characters.
I’ve worked on a wide range of books – over a hundred. The time spent on them varies. Here are some examples of projects and how long they’ve taken me:
- A clean publisher proofread (thriller): 14 hours
- A line edit of a sci-fi novel for an author who speaks English as a second language: 46 hours+
- A heavy line edit of a fantasy novel for an independent author: 51 hours+
- A copyedit of a sci-fi novel for an independent author: 35 hours+
- A clean proofread for a publisher (romcom): 10 hours
- A manuscript assessment of a YA fantasy novel for an independent author: 17 hours+
- A copyedit for a publisher (memoir): 23 hours
As you can see, the times vary, and there are plenty of other projects in my portfolio falling outside these ranges, taking a lot longer! For the projects listed above, I haven’t even included multiple read-throughs, additional passes requested by clients, or consultation and admin time such as emails or phone calls with the client (which adds a surprising number of hours).
Every editor also works at a different speed, and that has to be factored into the price.
A non-living wage can result in sloppy work
If an experienced editor were to offer you an edit for £50 or $50, we’d know deep down that this might be 40 hours of work, and that we wouldn’t even be making our hourly rate. We might come to resent the work, rushing through it, or skimming, and doing a shoddy job. You’d then be unhappy with it, as you’d have a manuscript littered with mistakes.
Concentration and focus
It’s common in editing circles to hear an editor say they can only do 4–6 hours a day of work before their concentration starts to wane. Editing is intensive brain work and requires a lot of focus. Because of this, most of us can’t do twelve-hour days as in some other professions. Edits have to be spaced out across weeks to account for that, taking up more room in our calendar.
Don’t forget we also have to factor time for other tasks into our day, such as admin, marketing, communication with clients, and so on.
During all types of editing, we need to pause to think. This can be because we need to look up a complex/obscure grammar or punctuation rule. We might have spotted continuity problems and need time to mull over how you can correct them. For critiquing, thinking time is essential because it can help us address how you can fix a plot hole, or tackle problems with your story’s structure.
Editorial businesses cost money to run
Most of our prospective clients aren’t aware of all the hidden costs associated with running a business full-time. They can pile up, and editors have to make sure they’re earning enough money to cover them.
Here’s a list of some of the costs associated with an editorial business:
- Taxes and national insurance: We have to put aside anywhere from 25%–35% of money we earn for paying taxes and NI. When a client pays us, this is usually the first thing to come out, tucked away in a different bank account.
- Office equipment: We’re responsible for buying our own! We need a laptop or computer, an external monitor (useful because editors often look at multiple things at once, including reference material), ergonomic equipment to prevent injury (wrists can suffer otherwise), pens and notepads, a desk and good desk chair, diaries for tracking client jobs, software (which could be a whole other list on its own), a phone. And we have to pay to replace or fix these things if they break!
- Reference material: Style manuals such as New Hart’s Rules or CMOS are a necessity, as are dictionaries. We’ll also have lots of other reference books on writing and editing in order to best help our clients.
- Bills to run our office: Electricity and the internet power what we do, and those cost money. We may have to pay for Skype credit, or a phone bill. And we need water for all that coffee we drink while editing!
- Website costs: This includes web hosting and a domain name as the minimum, but we may also pay for increased website security, plugins, and a website designer or graphic designer. Some editors who aren’t website savvy pay for someone to manage their site and update it.
- Professional memberships: Most of us are part of professional organisations. These allow us to network with other editors and keep up with the trade, and they include listings which can help us find more clients.
- Training and development: Editing is a job where professional development is important. Language is ever-changing and there are always new things to consider. Frequent development keeps our skills fresh and up to date. It can also allow us to grow our offerings to clients. If we want to offer book formatting but don’t know how to do it yet, then some form of training will be needed so we can do a good job.
- Marketing and advertising: Marketing can include anything from our website (which has fees!) to posting on social media (which takes time) and creating free resources for writers (again, this takes time – and we aren’t paid for free resources). We might run ad campaigns, pay to be listed in directories, or pay for ad slots on podcasts.
- A pension/retirement/healthcare: We don’t work a traditional job, so we have no workplace pension scheme and have to save up for our own. We don’t benefit from employer contributions, so this means saving more of our own money. In the UK we’re fortunate to have the NHS, but we don’t get paid sick leave as self-employed people.
- Holidays: Unlike people who work for employers, we don’t get paid holidays or holiday entitlement. If we want time off, we need to be sure we’ve earned or saved enough to take a break.
I haven’t even included the basic costs of living outside of the business, like food, clothes, rent/mortgage payments, heating, transport. We also have to take into account inflation, and alter our prices accordingly year on year. Some of us support other people like children or spouses on our income; some of us are caregivers. These things make the cost of living higher.
Editors aren’t rich. We’re making a living independently with our profession. This is why book editing is so expensive!
What if you can’t afford it or you’re on a budget?
It’s understandable to be concerned about the cost of editing, especially if you’re on a low income, or you have a strict budget.
Help from other writers
A workaround is to decide what options you might be able to handle yourself or via other means. Instead of hiring a developmental editor or having a professional critique, you can join a writing group or find some critique partners. The only downside to this is sometimes they can fail to get back to you, or you might not get the level of feedback you wanted. You can get better at the foundational, bigger-picture skills such as plotting and structure by reading writing craft books and applying what you’ve learned.
Getting your book into the best possible shape before you send it to an editor will help reduce costs. When you’re happy with the broader story and are working at a line level, try going through your manuscript with a Read Aloud option like the one in Word to catch any mistakes. Make sure you’re familiar with conventions such as formatting dialogue and where the commas should go. If you’re concerned about grammar and know someone who is an English teacher or similar, ask them to have a look through your work if they’re willing. Read books on grammar and check out Grammar Girl to brush up.
Again, writing craft books can be hugely beneficial to help you develop your self-editing skills.
Taking breaks and coming back to your story with fresh eyes can help you spot more areas for improvement. Distance helps!
Working with a newer editor
Editors who are new and are building a portfolio often have lower rates than those who have been doing this for a long time, so if you’re on a tight budget, look for a recently qualified editor who is growing their portfolio. Just make sure you’re happy to work for someone with less editorial experience. And be careful you don’t work with someone hanging up their shingle as an editor who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Know the red flags to watch out for.
When you hire an editor, you can discuss other options to keep costs down too – maybe by just having one pass of the manuscript, or asking for a mini critique instead of something more intensive.
Sometimes, we’re uncomfortable that book editing is so expensive too!
When we send out quotes or let clients know our rates are going up, often we have to work up the courage to do it. It can take years for us to build up the confidence to charge what we’re worth and not be apologetic for it. But we also know that we’re experienced professionals and that our time and skills have value. We need to make our business viable, otherwise there would be no point in running one at all.
Editors deserve to make a fair living, just like any other profession.
- Editorial Freelancers Association rate chart
- CIEP suggested minimum rates
- Pricing a Project: How to prepare a professional quotation by Melanie Thompson (this can help you understand what goes into an editor’s quote)
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Browne (learn self-editing skills to help you keep editing costs down)
- Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell (make sure your book’s foundations are strong in terms of plot and structure)
- How to format your manuscript, with free template (help your editor spend less time fixing formatting errors)
- An editor’s tips for self-editing a novel
- Redundant words to cut from your writing (try cutting these before sending your work to an editor)
- How to choose the right editor for you
- How to find beta readers and critique partners if you’d like to do the developmental stage without an editor
If you’re ready to hire an editor and would like a quote from me for an editorial service, feel free to drop me an email.
Thank you for this clear explanation, Rachel. I’m an editor, too, and I’ve been asked more than once why we charge so much. Next time someone asks, I’ll direct them to this article.
Thank you, Signe! I appreciate it, and I’m glad you liked the post.
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