Many authors are shocked to find out that professional editing for their novel isn’t going to be cheap -- unless they use an undercharging editor, whose quality of work will often align with their price. The many costs of publishing a book (editing, design, advertising, formatting and more) are a major reason why so many writers aim for traditional publishing, through which they don’t pay any fees.
But when self-publishing, you have to take on all the costs of creating a good product for your audience. Many authors hoping to be traditionally published will also work with an editor to make sure their book is up to scratch before querying. But this can cost thousands.
As an author, especially a first-time author new to the publishing world, looking for a freelance editor can be scary. You're putting your hard work in someone else's hands and paying them your hard-earned money. I know that would terrify me!
That's why I think it's important to explain why editing costs what it does - that you aren't being ripped off, or scammed (most of the time; do your research!) but you're investing in your author business.
*Note: This blog is focused on fiction editing, although some information will also apply to non-fiction. All editors and genres are different, so individual research is important. For a list of standard editing fees, look up your country's professional editing association.
Here are three reasons why editing can be expensive:
It takes skill
Your editor should be an expert not only on English, but on your genre and target audience. Editing isn’t about ensuring grammatical perfection – it’s about ensuring the author's voice comes across in the most effective way. Understanding your voice, characters, themes and intentions means that an editor needs many more skills than just knowing English rules; they need to know how to break the rules to create written magic.
This isn’t a skill that happens on its own. Learning to cultivate an author's voice takes training and practise. An editor isn’t just someone with a good eye for detail – though that’s very much a requirement – they’re someone with education in editing and fiction, with experience working with that genre. They should read consistently in the genre, staying up to date on trends, and knowing exactly what audiences are looking for and which books you’re competing with.
For example, I spend a lot of time outside of 'work hours' to make sure my skills and knowledge are up to date - and to create other offerings for clients. I take courses on editing and listen to webinars and podcasts; I'm signed up to mailing lists to receive news on the industry; I aim to get work experience in aspects of the industry I'm less familiar with. I also run a 'bookstagram' account to keep an eye on reader trends, review and read ARCs of YA books, and can therefore offer promotion of my clients' books. I create resources for writers - like this blog and my social media - and network with publishing professionals and authors, which also creates valuable connections for my clients. And I keep a database of beta, ARC and sensitivity readers, which my clients can access to save time finding people.
So when you’re paying an editor, you aren’t just paying for the time it takes to look over your document and make corrections you could just get from spell-check. You’re getting a wealth of knowledge and experience to help make your book even better.
It takes time
How long does it take you to read a book? There’s a reason movie adaptations of novels usually cut so much of the story – books are long, and they take time to get through.
All editors are different, as is every project, but a standard speed for editing is about 1000 words per hour. If you consider that most editing associations' suggested rates start at around AUD$50 per hour for a beginner editor, and many manuscripts are at least 80,000 words – you’re looking at a base of $4000 for 80 hours of work.
That’s many, many hours going into your manuscript – it isn’t going to be free. Many editors don't charge that much, but any editor significantly undercutting the suggested rate is either going to not be very good, or is negatively impacting the editing profession as a whole by devaluing our work. Just like any other workers, editors deserve to be paid for our time and skill – and fairly.
It's an investment
Some people argue that a professional edit isn’t necessary to publish a book. In some ways it’s elitist to insist that they do, when some authors simply can’t afford it.
Although I completely understand where this argument is coming from, I can’t agree. Of course every author deserves to be able to publish their work. But a book is a product, and it costs a reader time and money. Therefore I don’t believe it’s fair to publish a book that doesn’t meet readers' standards.
A book with confusing prose or distracting typos is difficult to enjoy, and certainly doesn’t stand out from the crowd of well-polished books that are available. Skipping editing, or any other important phase of publishing, like professional design, is going to cost you long-term.
That’s why I see editing as an investment. The better the product you release, the better reception it’ll receive, the better reviews, and therefore the more sales you’ll make. It helps you in the short and long term.
Want more? Head to my shop and use code AWSOCIALS20 for 20% off my writing worksheets!
Make sure you're following my socials so you don't miss Part 2 of Editing Costs, where I’ll talk about how to self-edit to get your editing costs down.