Great editing translates into great writing, great reviews, and great sales. This means developmental and structural editing, copy or line editing, and a final round of proofreading. In this post I'll explain the various kinds of editing, how you can get what you need, and how much it costs.
Before Writing: Be Your Own Acquisitions Editor
Before you even write your book—that is, if you want to sell it—think like an Acquisitions Editor. This is the person in a traditional publishing company with the crystal ball, the one who acquires authors based on market trends and the author’s ability to deliver a book that meets the publisher’s standards. For the self-publisher, this requires no little amount of research and a certain amount of socialization with readers and other authors in your genre. I’m often amazed that this critical market research step is skipped by so many authors and that when it comes time to publish they don’t even know what Amazon category or BISAC code their book belongs in.
Beta publishing can help you figure out if you have an audience and where to reach them. Beta publishing is publishing “small,” before you distribute “big,” that is, distributing your final book to the online retailers, bookstores, and libraries. Beta publishing can inform you about your market, or lack thereof. It can help you avoid embarrassing mistakes that will haunt you to the end of your writing days, because once you’ve distributed your book, it will appear on Amazon for resale as new or used by various third-party resellers with that horrible self-created cover and all those copyediting errors in your manuscript, not to mention that character you later wrote out because she was portrayed a bit too much like your litigious ex-best friend. There’s no doubt about it, your book will be judged and reviewed by customers on that first edition. So play it safe and beta-publish first.
Free beta publishing tools include your own Facebook page (use Facebook Notes), document sharing sites (like Wattpad, Scribd, Issuu, Leanpub) and sites that allow you to sell (or give away) your book directly. (See my post on productizing your book for how to do this.) If you are deeply embedded in a popular genre, you should know what sites, magazines, and anthologies publish work like yours, and reach out to them. (See more about beta publishing in my post for IngramSpark.)
If you have written a book without outside input and think it’s ready for the market, I dare you to get a manuscript review from a qualified book editor. A manuscript review or critique identifies your book’s strengths and weaknesses, plot holes, adherence to themes, pacing, character development, non-essential sections, repetitions, nonsensical verb tense changes, narrative arc, dialogue, point-of-view (POV) and narrative (author) voice. Expect an editorial memo that opens with broad impressions of your book and becomes increasingly more detailed, providing specific advice for specific sections and pages. You’ll pay between $500 and $2500 for this service.
A development edit—also called substantive editing—addresses the art and craft of storytelling. This level of editing can be a very good investment if you are trying to break into a highly competitive market like literary fiction. A good developmental editor should know your specific market and be able to provide a list of successful authors who have benefited from their relationship. Your DE will provide a manuscript review and take it many steps further by working closely with you during the rewriting process until the manuscript is finished. Developmental editing is time-consuming, approximately 120 hours for an 80,000-word manuscript, and is accordingly priced. I’ve seen pricing as low as $5,000 and as high as $25,000 depending on the quality of your writing and the qualifications of the editor you’re hiring.
A line editor focuses on your prose and language issues like word choice, sensual detail, dialogue, voice, style, and general readability. You can replace a line editor with extensive beta publishing or a workshopping your book with a writing group. Like developmental editing, rates vary widely.
Most copy editors limit their scope to a technical check and correction of your existing manuscript, charging by the word. A copyeditor addresses grammatical and spelling errors, typos and punctuation, consistency issues (place and people names, tense, times, dates, and seasons). Copyediting fees range from about $1500 and $7000 depending on the length of your book and quality of writing, not to mention the skill of the editor you’ve hired.
In traditional publishing, the proofreader is employed after the galley is printed to make sure no errors have crept in during the printing process. In self-publishing, however, copyediting and proofreading tend to overlap. In any case, the proofreader/copyeditor will make sure your final manuscript is completely error free, catching typos and other mistakes that are not related to style. Costs for final proofreading can cost between $300 and $2000.
What Does Editing Cost?
So far in this post, I’ve made comparisons using word counts, but editors may also charge by the hour, as explained in Pricing Strategies for Freelance Editors by Iva Cheung. I think this post is a must-read for both editors and authors as transparency and fair pay is a win-win for both sides.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) publishes a handy Common Rates for Editors chart based on a survey they do among their own members. They also offer a Find-a-Freelancer search engine for authors who are looking for editors.
It’s a rare author who realizes what state their manuscript is in before they hand it over to an editor. Unless you’ve beta published or otherwise workshopped your book, you might be surprised. I’ve seen more than a few manuscripts from authors asking for final proofreading that actually should have a line edit.
How to Approach an Editor
The best way to find an editor is by asking for recommendations from other authors who have published quality, successful books in your genre. The best editors are busy and can afford to be picky about who they work with. Some freelance editors will ask to see a sample of your work, and then talk with you on the phone if they like your writing to see if they feel you would work well together.
The second best way to find an editor is to hire a respected editing service. Some of these services will charge for a trial or test edit before you commit, to match you with an appropriate editor and gauge your suitability for working together. For example, NY Book Editors’ trial edit includes a 2500-word read-through, 1500-word line edit, a short memo, and a twenty-minute phone call for a very reasonable $165.
Developmental and line editing is highly subjective. An experienced editor who is expert in your genre can be priceless. Once you’ve polished your story, hire a copyeditor or proofreader to handle the last, technical check of your manuscript before it goes to print.
If you’re writing a children’s book you may think it’s simple enough to edit yourself, but according to Dan Santat of WriteForKids, children’s book publishers wish you would pay more attention to punctuation, adhere to established age groups and word counts, and suggests that you shouldn’t rhyme (unless you have to). Read more in his post 7 Things Editors at Children’s Book Publishers Wish Writers Knew.
Writing groups can provide great developmental editing. My earliest writing group’s purpose was purely for encouragement. Once I started publishing, I was invited into a group of professional travel writers, all women, who produced several online magazines and a bestselling travel anthology. My third was a group consisting of just three writers who met once a week to intensely edit each other’s books to completion over a period of four months. A great writing group can take the place of a manuscript reviewer, developmental and line editor, and act as your beta-reading group, too.
I use the Grammarly electronic editor to alert me to copyediting and proofreading mistakes including overuse of adverbs, clichés, redundancies, overlong sentences, sticky sentences and glue words, vague and abstract words, diction, and misuse of dialog tags. (See my review of electronic editing programs in Practical Editing Software for Indie Authors for explanations of those editing terms and reviews of various electronic editing programs.) When you clean up your manuscript before handing it over to a human editor, you get more for your money. A good electronic editor costs under $150 for an annual subscription. Just imagine what a bargain that is when you consider how much you write in a year.
From an Author’s and an Editor’s Perspective
All authors need help stepping back and looking at both the big picture and the tiny details. As an author, I’ve learned to seek out honest and sometimes tough-to-hear critiques. This attitude makes me a better writer and ultimately makes my books and stories more saleable.
As an editor and publisher, I love helping authors enrich their prose, pare down and tighten their writing, pick up the pace, and hone a narrative arc that takes the reader on a compelling and emotional journey. This relationship requires not only that I like the book, but the writer as well. A good outcome counts on good communication, respect, open-mindedness, kindness, honesty, and trust. Whether you’re working with a writing group, beta readers, or an elite developmental editor, strive for that.
If you can find an editor based on a recommendation from another author, great! Otherwise, I can wholeheartedly recommend the following editing services.
Elite Editorial Services
Not surprisingly, the most elite editing groups are based in New York. They’re expensive, but the best in the business, with editors who have all worked at the Big Four publishing companies.
NY Book Editors matches you and your book with an editor who knows your genre and your market. You’ll get the same quality and personal service as authors publishing traditionally.
Independent Editors Group (IEG) is a small group of top freelance editors, all with at least 20 years experience working for the major book publishers.
Kirkus Editorial is a well-known review service that now offers book editing. You’ll pay about $1200 for basic copyediting of your 60,000-word novel, $1,899 for collaborative editing, and about $4,000 for consulting that includes two rounds of editing and final manuscript polishing.
BookBaby offers line editing at $1,710 for a 60,000 novel and copyediting at $1197. You don’t need to use their publishing service to use their editorial services.
An annual subscription for the Grammarly electronic editor costs $139.95. The Grammarly browser extension lets it follow you around the web to correct blog and social media posts, too.
- BISAC Codes and Keywords, Robin Cutler for BookWorks
- Mastering Metadata: the Key to Marketing Your Books, Carla King for BookWorks
- Social and Beta Publishing, Carla King for IngramSpark
- Practical Editing Software for Indie Authors, Carla King for BookWorks
- Order from Chaos, Developmental Editing and Common Rates for Editors, Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)
- Pricing Strategies for Freelance Editors, Iva Cheung
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