I’ve talked before on this blog about the cost of hiring a copy-editor. That post was a close look at industry-standard rates, the truth behind unrealistically low editing costs, the outside factors self-employed editors have to consider, and how authors can try to reduce the cost.
This post is going to focus more on how editors – in particular me, since I can’t speak for all of us – go about building a quote, so you can get a better idea of what aspects we take look at. As I said in my other post, some editors charge a set rate for editing, but I prefer to tailor my quotes for each project. Why? Because there are a number of factors that influence the cost of editing, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work for me.
So that’s what we’re going to look at here – the three factors I take into account when I’m building a quote.
1) The type of editing required
First up, the cost of editing depends on what service your manuscript needs. Now, I specifically said ‘what your manuscript needs’ and not ‘what you’re looking for’ here because I can’t begin to tell you how many authors request proofreading when what they actually need is copy-editing or even developmental.
Of course, it is ultimately up to the author what service they want to pay for, but it’s going to be really tricky to find an editor who is happy to do proofreading, say, on a manuscript that needs far more work. We’re either going to work beyond the scope and fix as much as we can – without being paid for it – or we’re going to be ignoring glaring issues, and it really stings to do that, even if we’re honest with the author about it.
That aside, there are different editing services that are useful at different stages of writing, and I tend to fit them into three categories:
This includes developmental editing and manuscript critiques. These services are for when you’ve got a decent first draft, but you need to make sure that the foundations are solid enough to keep building on. They focus on plot holes, character development, pacing, structure etc.
This includes line- and copy-editing and these services have a narrower scope. By this stage, there should be no plot holes or major narrative flaws, and the editor should be focused on improving the flow of sentences, correcting formatting, and looking for spelling and grammar mistakes or inconsistent details.
This is the proofreading level and it comes right at the end, just before publication. It is typically done on a ‘proof copy’ of the manuscript, hence the name, and is there to find the last few typos that slipped through the net or were introduced during typesetting.
The cost of each of these services varies, starting out more expensive for big-picture editing and slightly cheaper as you go down. You can read more about the different levels here.
2) Level of intervention
The second thing I have to evaluate is how much of a particular service is required. I could be sent two 80,000-word manuscripts that both need a copy-edit, but they will likely require different levels of intervention. It’s not necessarily about the quality of the writing, but for things like fantasy of sci-fi – where there tends to be a higher level of invented words, for example – I’ll need to dedicate more time to checking for consistency and clarity.
I can’t know how much work I’m going to have to put into a project until I see it, which is why I offer a free sample edit. After reviewing 1500 words or so, I can usually come away with a fairly confident assessment of how much editing is needed and how long it will take me. If you’re curious about what sample edits are and how they help both the author and the editor, you can find out here.
3) Word count
The last thing I have to factor in is the word count. Even if I’m sent a very tidy, almost flawless manuscript, it is still going to take me a certain amount of time to actually read the whole thing. And this is reading with an editorial eye, too, which is considerably slower than when I’m reading for leisure.
I keep pretty detailed records of every manuscript I work on, tracking the word count and time spent on the project, so I have a good idea of how much I’m capable of reading per hour for each editing service. But, again, this does also depend on the level of intervention required.
How can you affect the cost?
I know paying for editing is not always possible for every writer, and I really do try to make myself affordable while still earning enough to live, but there are ways to reduce the cost. I’m not going to go into great detail here, because the knowledge is scattered all over this blog, so I’ll link to a few posts that will help: