Looking for a Book Editor? Here’s How Much You Should Expect to Pay

Looking for a Book Editor? Here’s How Much You Should Expect to Pay

I wish I could tell you that proofreading will always cost one cent per word, copyediting two cents per word, and developmental editing three cents per word, but the truth is much hazier than that.

While I will provide hard numbers, you should first know certain essentials about hiring an editor.

This information may help you understand why editing costs seem to vary widely from one editor to the next, but it should also assist you in comparing possible editors.

How much you can expect to pay an editor depends on at least eight variables:

1. What kind of editing are you seeking?

Developmental editing (aka content editing, big picture, or macro editing) costs more than copyediting (aka micro editing), and copyediting costs more than proofreading.

2. What’s your total word count?

Editors charge by word count or page count. Some may charge by the hour, but that’s rare, especially for editing long books.

Knowing your total word count is essential to an editor’s cost estimations for taking on your project.

3. How complex is your book?

Editing academic work to a niche style guide will cost more than editing a novel per the Chicago Manual of Style.

Editing a book with hundreds of footnotes or endnotes should cost more than editing a book without citations.

4. What’s your deadline?

If you ask for your 100,000-word novel to be copyedited within two weeks, you might have to pay a premium for such a fast turnaround, especially if your editor is already booked.

5. What’s your experience level?

Do you consider yourself a beginner, mid-level or expert writer?

An experienced editor can often assess an excerpt from a manuscript and deduce the amount of time they need to fix the full manuscript. By default, beginning writers will need more help, which means more time, which can mean more money.

For the beginning writers: always look at hiring an editor as an investment in both your book and yourself. With the right editor, you should always grow as a writer because of the experience.

6. What’s your editor’s experience level and/or demand?

You shouldn’t expect to pay a novice editor as much as you would an editor with decades of experience and multiple best-sellers in their portfolio.

Likewise, you shouldn’t expect to pay as much to an editor with ample room in their schedule versus an editor who’s booked six months out.

7. What’s your flexibility?

If an editor is booked solid, can you afford to wait six months to get the editor you want?

Or, will you pay a premium to jump their queue if they offer such an option? Or, will you choose a lesser-known or less experienced editor at a lower price so that you can have your editing accomplished faster?

8. What’s your budget?

Of course, this question might be the most significant driving force of your decision, but I encourage you to think through the other items listed in this article before considering your budget.

Do your homework on how to find a book editor you can trust, gather estimates from your top five, then consider your budget.

How to compare editing costs (free spreadsheet download)

If you’d like to get truly organized about your search, use this editor comparison spreadsheet template to help in your search for an editor who meets most of your desired criteria at a price you’re willing to pay.

I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

By using that spreadsheet, you should be able to quickly and easily compare the editors you’re vetting.

Note: On the spreadsheet, the editor’s total cost will be automatically calculated once you insert your total word count and the editor’s per-word rate. If you’re given a per-page rate, you can calculate a per-word rate by assuming the industry standard of 250 words per page, e.g., $3 per page equals $3 per 250 words. Dividing 3 by 250 equals $.012.

If you’re given an hourly rate, ask the editor how many pages per hour they can edit, then extrapolate their per-word rate.

The rightmost part of the spreadsheet also includes pre-calculated per-word rates based on per-page rates.

Compiling this information is a headache (especially for math-averse writers like myself), but seeing every editor’s rate as a per-word rate will help you better compare editors.

The hard numbers of editing

Now, let’s talk actual rates.

Many writers point to the Editorial Freelancers Association rates page as a guide toward setting editorial rates. (Disclaimer: I’m a member of the EFA.)

Last updated in July 2015, the EFA rates page lists various editing and writing tasks and their attendant hourly rates as self-reported by EFA members who took the rates survey. They break down editing into five subcategories and list proofreading as a separate category. (Tip: they also list per-hour and per-word rates for writing work.)

For comparison purposes, let’s look at the editing rates and use an average page-per-hour and an average hourly rate. For instance, the EFA lists basic copyediting of 5–10 pages per hour at a cost of $30–$40 per hour, so I’ve assumed 7.5 pages per hour at a cost of $35 per hour. The other total calculations also use their respective average rates.

For a 70,000-word book, your editing costs could be:

  • Developmental editing: $.08 per word, or $5,600 total
  • Basic copyediting: $.018 per word, or $1,260 total
  • Proofreading: $.0113, or $791 total

It’s easy to extrapolate from this what your total expected editing cost could be. Fantasy, sci-fi, and epic novel writers should be forewarned.

For a 120,000-word book, your editing costs could be:

  • Developmental editing: $.08 per word, or $9,600 total
  • Basic copyediting: $.018 per word, or $2,160 total
  • Proofreading: $.0113, or $1,356 total

Realize that these are simply one website’s average estimates for editorial costs. For further comparison, CreateSpace offers copyediting at $.016 per word for books longer than 10,000 words. Pronoun’s list of editors is also an easy way to compare many editors’ costs.

Use these numbers as a barometer for what you might expect to pay for an editor. 

You may pay much more for an editor—and you may also be extremely glad you did.

As in life, so too in books: you often get what you pay for.

If you’re unfamiliar with editing costs, do these numbers surprise you? Has cost prevented you from seeking editing? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Karan Bajaj

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27 comments

  • Lyla says:

    Hey there! In my experience (as a freelance developmental fiction editor with friends in the same profession), developmental is actually the cheapest option–I think you may have made a decimal point error 🙂 The going rate in my corner of the edit-verse is around $0.008/word, not $0.08, which means a 70,000-word edit will be $560 or so. It’s possible this is different across genres, though! Just wanted to drop a note so any aspiring budget-minded fiction writers out there can take heart .

    • Conni says:

      Good call. I think it’s .008 too.

    • Developmental editing is the most expensive option, and I usually see prices of ten to fifteen cents per word for it. Someone is steeply undercharging.

    • Shayla says:

      I can’t think of a world wherein I’d edit a 70,000-word book for $560. In fact, I would delete the email that asked me to do that, because the author either didn’t value my time and skill or didn’t have a clue what professional editing is worth.

      For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.

      Here’s the deal, guys: editing is a tough job, and it’s worth every penny. If I’m going to edit a 70,000-word book, I know what I’m going to bring to the table that the cheap editors can’t.

      Blake, you are spot-on here with this article and your pricing. Thank you for taking the time to educate and inform authors and editors.

      • Lyla says:

        We may be talking about different services. I’m referring to a full read that usually creates a 5-10 page edit letter–no in-line editing. Or, perhaps we’re just working in different corners of the market. I’m around those who are freelance editing pre-query for writers hoping to traditionally publish their genre fiction, not the kind of rigorous editing a self publishing author would need, which should rightfully be much more expensive! It’s true that most people doing freelance editing at the lower rate/rigor aren’t doing it full time. It’s an optional step for those traditionally publishing, and the prices reflect maintaining access for those writers, I believe.

      • Cynthia says:

        I have a 64,000 word manuscript I need edited for publishing. It is a religious book with only two or three footnotes. How much would you charge me?

    • There seems to be something half-way between beta-reading and development editing. I think it’s right for many new writers — I’m just finishing my first book, and was not about to pay a real development editor, but beta readers weren’t engaged enough (especially friends unwilling to point out the negatives). But it this kind of editing doesn’t really have a clear name.

      • Blake Atwood says:

        Stephen, you’re right, and I think much of the confusion about editing and its pricing stems from the fact that editors offer a range of services (in addition to a range of experience). It might be best to view editing on a spectrum from broad (developmental) to detailed (copyediting and proofreading). And it’s always best to have as clear an idea as you can about the kind of editing you believe you need.

        From your comment, you may be in search of a manuscript critique, where you pay a professional to essentially conduct a beta read with the added benefit of their experience and knowledge about the craft. Then they’ll give you a few pages’ worth of considerations. When I don’t have the time for such critiques (and I only critique nonfiction), I refer my clients to andilit.com.

        • I wrote non-fiction — and found that almost all the resources assumed fiction. I found my editor through personal connections; seeking people through organizations I’d never heard of before was daunting.

  • Colin says:

    A good editor is invaluable when starting out. Later on it perhaps depends on how complex the story or writing is. Editors can be looking for similarity not originality. The final script a poor representation of the original story or article. An article of mine, which was picked up by Wikipedia for its originality and informative ideas was given forty edits from around the world! It was like a mechanical invention rather than an interesting article in the end!
    Editors, understandably, want to be associated with well known authors and genre. My latest novel, which is in near to final preparation script wise is scientific/ futuristic. By then, hopefully, writers will glean impartial and less partisan advice from expert automata editors!

  • Thanks so much for this article. My experience as a freelance editor has been that many self-published authors have drastically underestimated the costs of editing, and your numbers will help them budget more realistically.

    I love what I do, and it can be heartbreaking to fall in love with with a project that is right in my niche, only to be unable to reach a meeting point on price because the author assumed a thorough copyedit would only cost a few hundred dollars.

    I would add the suggestion to be prepared for the editor to request a look at the manuscript (not just a short sample) to prepare an accurate estimate. This has been my practice for some time, and it allows me to provide a flat fee for the entire project. This makes budgeting much less complicated for the author, although of course I am willing to bill by the hour if preferred.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    epiclesisconsulting.com

  • Very interesting blog but your figures are really high here. I am a multi-published romance novelist with over 200 books under my belt. I don’t pretend to know everything so of course I work with editors and beta readers, too.
    Most editors in my genre charge from 002 to 007 per word. That’s for developmental and FLE, (Final line edit) – three rounds in all. The 10,000 fee you mention here would put off anybody from ever hiring an editor. I know few writers who could pay that, which is why Amazon is flooded with poorly written and badly edited books. I would encourage writers to contact other authors in their genre for tips on editors and to cultivate good beta readers.
    I have heard so many horror stories about editors and experienced a few myself. If an author is uncertain about an editor, most editors will do one sample chapter or 10 pages (whichever comes first) for free to give the author an idea of their style. Edits can be very intense and I would encourage authors to listen if they keep hearing the same things about their work from different sources. That said, they also don’t need an editor who is so brutal they never want to pick up a pen again.

    • I was going to tell Blake that his figures are actually a little low. The EFA uses lower prices than Writer’s Market (which is what I use as a starting point for my pricing). Two tenths of a cent (.002) per word? That comes out to $100 per 50,000-word book. It’s a rare editor who can accurately process 50,000 words a day, so that would be dooming an editor to living off of about $50 a day. If an editor is earning such low amounts per book, then one of two things is happening: that editor has someone else to pay the bills (thus not needing a real income), or that editor is blowing through books far too quickly in an attempt to earn enough money to survive, and is leaving errors—in which case it’s pointless to hire that editor. Undercutting on prices is unethical and it hurts everyone in the industry. I would not trust that editor. Anyone who pays such low prices is exploiting another person, which is also wrong. Authors, be prepared to pay fair prices. Editors, charge enough to survive and don’t undercut the industry standards, because you’re causing harm to everyone in the field, including yourself.
      HarshmanServices.com

    • Whoa. I try to keep my rates low (most authors aren’t rolling in cash) but that is insane. The average novel takes me about 40 hours to edit, and I’m fast! $0.002 would mean I was effectively earning $2.50 per hour … before I paid taxes.

      I would absolutely encourage authors to find someone who fits their budget, offers payment plans and will work with them to get the services they can afford (some authors might be able to get away with just a manuscript evaluation, for example) I have to agree with the previous comments. Someone who is working for two bucks an hour can’t possibly be a professional, no matter how fair their prices, and that does not bode well for your end product.

      Sonnet Fitzgerald
      http://www.sonnetfitzgerald.com

      • The quotes I posted are for a specialized genre – romance. These books are shorter than many other types of fiction and yes the editors are professional. Many do this as a favor to authors they love and work with in publishing houses…so they lower their rates for private work. Over time of course, their rates increase but the prices I quoted for my industry only.

  • Farnian says:

    as a freelancer i am always looking for cheap ones. and for a Book Editor i prefer to use a free software and not to pay any price.

    • Shayla says:

      That is a bad idea, and I can assure you every reader knows you skipped out on professional editing while reading your books. In fact, if you’re using a software for “editing,” that book is riddled with errors. Overflowing to the brim with them.

      Your book is your baby, so why wouldn’t you want to take great care of it?

    • Lyla says:

      It’s best, if you decide to hire a freelancer, to figure out what the going rate is for the service you need, and expect to pay that amount. Otherwise it may turn out to be a waste of money, because the quality of the service will suffer. Sometimes there are payment plans to help with high costs! But it’s really a good investment to pay industry standard for editorial services; I agree with Shayla.

  • Conni says:

    This is an excellent article. Authors should print it out for future reference. I am an editor and often need to justify my charges. Now I can just send my authors a link to this! Thank you!

  • Thank you for this article. I’m researching now to figure out my budget. I’m also trying to understand all the different terms for editing and this helps. I knew I would have to budget a decent amount so it’s nice to a have a solid idea.

  • About 25% of my (fiction) editing work is direct with authors, and the rest is split between two publishers. It my be of interest to note that these rates are close to what publishers pay their editors. That is to say, if you, as an author, were to traditionally publish your book, you would be paying this amount via royalties. Creating a professional product via self-publishing is not cheap, the costs (and income!) just shift from the publisher to the author.

  • Sandy says:

    Wow finally a post that explains the nitty gritty of the editing pricing world. Thanks for the info!

  • Megan Harris says:

    Great article! I’ve been passing it around to people in my editing network as well as among other service providers. Lots of great tips and food for thought. I’m thinking about how to apply some of the discussion to my own rates.

    Loved your pricing editors spreadsheet, by the way! I feel like most authors look for a ballpark number but aren’t necessarily taking a systematic approach to vet editors. Going off of more than gut feeling and a sample edit seems like an effective route to go.

    Really appreciated the insight, Blake!

  • Excellent article! Some of the confusion about pricing may be with those darn decimal points. $0.02 is two cents. $0.002 is two tenths of one penny. I like to just go with cents, as in 2.0¢ per word, because it’s much clearer—but harder to multiply!

    As was pointed out previously, “developmental editing” can mean a couple of different things, from just an evaluation that doesn’t touch the manuscript at all to an involved structural review that includes examples and tips to a full-package deal (what I offer) that also covers the copyedit and proofread.

    Authors need to be sure they know what they’re paying for.

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