Easy Tips to Help You Save Money on That Necessary Edit

Today’s post is by editor Katherine Pickett:

Finished that novel? Time to get it edited by a professional? For the uninitiated, it is not unusual to experience a bit of sticker shock upon receiving a cost estimate from a potential editor. As the author, you may wonder how this person came up with the astronomical figure you are now contemplating paying. It may seem mysterious, but it’s really a simple formula:

amount of work × rate of pay = the cost of editing

Different editors may charge by the hour, by the word, by the page, or a flat fee. However, all of these metrics translate into an estimate of how much work will be required of them. The other variable in the equation—rate of pay—is based on the service requested and the editor’s level of expertise.

Amount of work

You might come across articles or posts that give an average cost of editing a novel, but keep in mind, there are numerous factors that affect that cost. Length, complexity, schedule, and depth of edit each play a part in determining how much work a particular manuscript will demand.

  1. Very long manuscripts, even the well-written ones, take a lot of time to read and edit.
  2. Very complex manuscripts, such as those with a significant number of references or large amounts of artwork, take a lot of time and even more brain power to keep the details straight.
  3. Short deadlines mean the editor may have to put other projects aside and work nights and weekends to finish on time.
  4. A stiff developmental edit, which covers high-level issues such as thematic strengths and weaknesses, consistency of characters and plot lines, and organization of the book as a whole, requires vision, attention to detail, and an impeccable ability to work with authors at their most vulnerable.

An editor assesses these factors to estimate the amount of effort it will take to complete the project on time and with the highest quality. Cost estimates based on word count, page count, or a flat fee all attempt to capture this amount of work. Pay by the hour is easiest for most people to understand, and often these other metrics come down to how much of the editor’s time a project will take.

Rate of pay

Two main factors influence rate of pay. One is the editor’s level of experience. Someone who is just starting out will usually cost less than a seasoned editor. The reason is that the less-experienced person is (1) slower at completing the project, (2) more likely to make mistakes, and (3) trying to gain clients. Editors with more experience can work faster and more accurately, and they are more inclined to charge what their time is really worth. To put this in perspective, consider that when I was starting out as a new proofreader, it took me 20 hours to perform a second proofreading for a 160-page book. Three years later it took just 12 hours, and I know that the quality of my work had improved as well. My pay rate reflected this increased output.

Another factor is that different services are charged at different rates. Often the rate is commensurate with the amount of work required, so developmental editing is more than copyediting, and copyediting is more than proofreading. Why is this? The cost of editing tends to be a question of value added. If your book is in terrible shape, the value your editor brings to the project increases significantly. At times it would seem the editor deserves coauthorship. In place of that, the editor is paid up front for her work.

Be wary of editors who charge a low hourly rate. Keep in mind that you may end up paying more for a “cheaper” editor because it takes her three times as long to do the job as someone more experienced. In some instances, you might also receive a less than stellar edit and then have to pay more at a later stage to have the missed errors corrected.

To prevent these problems, get an estimate for your project, then check the editor’s references or testimonials to see if she has a reputation for staying within budget. Also consider requesting a sample edit so that you can get a look at the quality of the editor’s work. Getting referrals and making sure an editor has integrity and does excellent work are part of your homework.

How You Can Save

If you want to save some money—and who doesn’t?—review the variables that drive cost: length, complexity, schedule, and depth of edit required. Which of these can you control?

For example, is the length of your manuscript appropriate for your topic and genre? Have you kept your endnotes brief and free of jargon? Have you set aside a reasonable amount of time for the editing to take place? Have you done everything you can to achieve a manuscript in tip-top shape?

If you work hard to clean up your manuscript and get it as error-free as possible, you may save hundreds of dollars. And part of being a proficient writer is writing well. With everything, if you take pride in your work and make it the best it can be, it speaks to your reputation. Don’t dump a sloppy, uncorrected, hard-to-read manuscript in an editor’s lap with the intention of having her work miracles to make your book shine. You don’t have to impress your editor with your amazing self-editing skills, but you can save money and spare her excessive aggravation if you take some time to learn to write correctly—which includes grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage.

Here are a few editing tips that can help you:

  • Every time you see your, ask if that is the correct choice. If you mean “you are,” then you know you want the contraction you’re instead.
  • Every time you see it’s, ask if you mean “it is.” If that’s not what you mean, then you want the possessive its.
  • Every time you come across a pronoun, particularly they or it, ask what noun it refers to. If you can’t find the noun or it is very far away from the pronoun, replace the pronoun with the noun or rewrite the sentence.
  • Every time you come across the word things, ask if you can be more specific.
  • Every time you come across a list, ask if each item in the list is in the same form—sentence, phrase, or single word, for example. Make all of the list items match.

Beyond these tips, consider investing in some grammar books. Set aside an hour or two a week to study the various sections, and then go through your manuscript and see where you can apply what you’ve learned. The good news is all this homework will help you on all your future writing projects. Over time, this could mean a huge savings for you.

Conversely, if you opt not to perform a thorough revision of your own work yet want a high-quality product, you are essentially choosing to pay someone else to do those revisions for you. If you are concerned about costs, do your part to alleviate some of your editor’s work.

Katherine PickettKatherine Pickett is the owner of POP Editorial Services, LLC and the author of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro (www.HopOnPublishing.com). Since 1999 she has edited more than 300 books in a wide range of topics and genres. She is an active member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and the St. Louis Publishers Association and is president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association. You can find her blog here.

Feature Photo Credit: Isaac Torrontera via Compfight cc

17 Responses to “Easy Tips to Help You Save Money on That Necessary Edit”

  1. Krystol Diggs September 1, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Great tips! I will pass them on!

  2. DeAnna Ross September 1, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Sharing this on twitter. Great advice. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Scott Hunter September 1, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    — every time you see an exclamation mark, ask yourself: do I really need this?

    — every time you see the word ‘suddenly’, remove it

    — every time you see an adverb, think hard about whether you can lose it without affecting the meaning (chances are you can)

    — every time you reread your manuscript, note that it’s much better than the first/second/whichever draft and treat yourself to a glass of wine/bar of chocolate/[insert personal pleasure here]

    • Katherine Pickett September 1, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

      Terrific additions, Scott. I like that you don’t recommend cutting out adverbs entirely. I don’t know where that directive started. But yes, you must choose your words carefully and with a purpose.

  4. Marcy McKay September 1, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    Terrific, Katherine. I not only appreciated all the ways to save on my edits, but you gave me a better understanding of how editors charge. Thanks so much!

  5. Kristen September 2, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    What is the range that it would cost to have someone edit a novel that is around 250-300 pages? Just a ballpark figure. Does anyone know? Thanks!

  6. Violet Carr Moore September 2, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    My advice: Never pay an editor an hourly rate. It’s like riding in a taxi where the driver always takes the longest route to your destination.

    • Katherine Pickett September 3, 2014 at 11:05 am #

      I understand where you are coming from. My thought on that is, if you don’t trust the editor enough that you believe he or she did the amount of work reported, then you should find another editor. There are too many editors out there to work with someone you think might rip you off.

  7. Laurean Brooks September 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    I agree with all of the above. Speaking from experience, it’s tough being an editor when the author’s work needs an entire rewrite. I should have charged by the hour instead of word count. Or maybe I should look into Ghostwriter’s fees. 🙂

    • Katherine Pickett September 3, 2014 at 11:09 am #

      I have experienced the same thing, Laurean. Asking to see a portion of the manuscript before you begin editing is one way to cut down on under-quoting a project. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Linda Austin September 3, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    Great explanation for new authors – I’m sharing. The list of simple self-editing tips is much longer than this, but these tips are a start (that third one commonly takes up my time). Another important tip is to watch for sentences that start with “There were” and re-word to start with the real subject. You’re one of the best, Katherine.

  9. Peter Klein September 5, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    The very first thing an author needs to ask herself is: do I have anything to say? Do I have life experiences that could lead to a good story.

    The second question to ask is: am I a good writer. And believe me, that is the second question, because nobody cares if you are a good writer if you don’t have anything to say. If you have got something to say, you could learn to be a good writer. Not a great writer, but a good writer.

    If you don’t know grammar, punctuation, usage, sentence structure, learn it. Don’t expect your copy editor to teach you that. A sentence without a verb. Learn when you can get away with that sort of thing. Learn how to punctuate and paragraph for dialog. That’s easy. What is not so easy is to know what to tell in dialog vs. what to narrate.

    Now you are ready to figure out what you need: proof reading, copy editing, or a critique. Make sure you are buying what you want. You can buy a critique for a few hundred dollars. She can read and skip around in your book and tell you whether it’s worth anything at all. Not tell you what’s wrong with it, just tell you it’s no good — you need to go back to your day job. That may sound harsh, but it’s money well spent. She’s not a publisher. She does not have a dog in the fight. You pay her green money and she tells you the truth.

    If she says it’s good, then you need to learn to write. After you learn to write, and you write something, then you need a copy editor.

    • Walt Sautter September 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      I suddenly realized I like you’re advice on editing! Its very good! They make for lots of good writing! These things are very good!

      “Every time you see your, ask if that is the correct choice. If you mean “you are,” then you know you want the contraction you’re instead.
      Every time you see it’s, ask if you mean “it is.” If that’s not what you mean, then you want the possessive its.
      Every time you come across a pronoun, particularly they or it, ask what noun it refers to. If you can’t find the noun or it is very far away from the pronoun, replace the pronoun with the noun or rewrite the sentence.
      Every time you come across the word things, ask if you can be more specific.
      Every time you come across a list, ask if each item in the list is in the same form—sentence, phrase, or single word, for example. Make all of the list items match.”

      Now seriously, your suggestions will be very useful in my editing. Thank you.
      Walt S.

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