What does editing cost and what’s a typical editor’s rate? Unfortunately, there’s no cut and dry answer. Rates vary wildly between editors, but by understanding what factors influence rates you’ll be able to make informed decisions about this step in your writing journey.
This blog covers:
- factors that influence an editor’s rate
- what professional associations say about rates
- how to decide what to spend
The Editor’s Perspective
Editors are diverse. We live all over the world, have different costs of living, different strengths and specialties, and different approaches to doing business. If you sat even a handful of us together in a room, chances are we’d all have different rates; there is no universal.
Neither is there a single, universally accepted way to calculate that rate. Some editors charge by word, others charge by the hour or by the page. Some editors offer flat fees. Some editors form quotes based on seeing a sample of work while others offer editing packages with fixed fees.
So, let’s look at some influences that an individual editor considers when deciding on a rate.
Cost of Living
We’ve all got bills to pay. A professional editor needs to be able to survive off their income, so it’s not unusual for editors living in expensive regions to charge more than those living in places where rent, food, etc. is more affordable. That doesn’t mean you should avoid editors in expensive cities—they might be just what you need. Just keep in mind that editors have to eat too.
Cost of Business
A professional independent editor is a business owner. Their rate must reflect the cost of running a business to remain profitable (and continue to operate). This includes expenses like internet, a computer, software, and professional development, as well as sick pay, vacation pay, insurance, and taxes.
Just as you can expect in any other field, those who’ve been around longer generally earn more. Editors who are further into their career are often faster and more skilled, and they’ve got a proven track record and reputation. All of this justifies raised rates.
Furthermore, a good reputation can mean that an editor has a lineup of people who want to work with them. Can you blame editors for choosing to work with those who are willing to pay more for their expertise?
Complexity Of The Project
I know it’s cliché, but time is money. While not all editors charge by the hour, even page rates and word rates are influenced by the amount of time an edit will take. And the main thing that affects how long an edit will take is the complexity of the task.
What makes an editing job complex? Usually, it comes down to two factors: the type of editing required and the manuscript’s state when the editor gets it. In short, the more work a manuscript needs, the more it’s going to cost.
In general, this means that a developmental edit will take longer than a line edit, which will in turn take longer than a proofread. But there are exceptions. For example, I’ve seen manuscripts come in for a developmental edit where only one or two plot points need to be ironed out. Such a task takes less of an editor’s time than a line edit in which there are a lot of ambiguous pronouns, slips in point of view, and grammar issues that have to be resolved.
This complexity factor is why many editors will ask to see a sample or offer sample edits. Seeing a sample allows them to better estimate what work needs to be done and how long it will take them to do it, thus enabling them to provide you with an accurate quote.
What Professional Organizations Say
Despite the variation between individual editors, professional organizations have attempted to provide some guidance on editing rates.
Editors Canada does not provide specific rates because Editors Canada members work in a variety of industries and each industry has its own set of expectations. However, Editors Canada gives the following guide to editing speeds from The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz:
- Substantive, structural, or stylistic editing of a difficult text: 1 to 2 pages/hour
- Substantive, structural, or stylistic editing of a standard text: 2 to 3 pages/hour
- Copy editing a difficult text: 2 to 4 pages/hour
- Copy editing a standard text: 4 to 7 pages/hour
- Proofreading a difficult text: 4 to 6 pages/hour
- Proofreading a standard text: 6 to 9 pages/hour
The Editorial Freelancers Association (USA)
The EFA has a comprehensive rates guide that includes many types of work and what pace and range of fees you can expect.
- substantive or line editing: 1-6 pages/hour at 40-60 USD/hour
- heavy copy editing: 2-5 pages/hour at 40-50 USD/hour
- basic copy editing: 5-10 pages/hour at 30-40 USD/hour
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (UK)
CIEP (formerly known as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders) suggests minimum rates for editors with training and some experience, stating clearly that not all editors charge these rates. Note that CIEP does not include editing speeds.
- substantive editing £34/hour
- copy editing £29.60/hour
- proofreading £25.40/hour
Are These Rates Accurate?
It’s difficult to say. No chart or guide that’s meant to address an entire field can fully address the factors that influence an individual editor. Furthermore, not all organizations and editors define the stages of editing the same way. There are also matters like currency exchange rates and regional taxes to consider.
So, you can use these to get a ballpark for what what your project will cost, but expect for quotes to vary. Remember, independent editors are business owners. Their rates will reflect this and account for everything any other business would (insurance, sick pay, vacation pay, professional development etc.). If they’re to continue providing their services, they have to be profitable.
How To Decide What To Spend On Editing
Evaluate Your Finances
No good editor wants you to go broke to get your book edited, so start by looking at your own finances. Editing is an investment, and if you believe in yourself and in your story, you might think that any cost is worth it. But be honest with yourself about what you can afford. Don’t go broke or into debt for editing. After all, there is no amount of money you can spend on editing that’ll guarantee you’ll be a bestseller. (Plus, there are alternatives to paying for professional editing.)
If you don’t have the money already, think about how much time you want to spend saving up to hire an editor. It’s always good to have your finances in order, and it’s even more important when you’re making business decisions
Evaluate Your Manuscript
How long is your manuscript? Your word or page count will likely impact the cost of your editing project, so have those numbers ready to go (note: a manuscript page is often 250 words). Also, think about what kind of services you need and the complexity of those services.
Do Some Math
Editors determines their page, word, or hourly rate and then calculate their fees based on the information you provide them. It can be helpful for you to know what calculations an editor might do to determine how much you should budget. So let’s look at some examples based on a 280 page (70,000 word) manuscript.
At a rate of $6/page:
280 pages X $6/page = $1,680
At a rate of $35/hour at a speed of 5 pages/hour:
280 pages ÷ 5 pages/hour = 56 hours
56 hours ✕ $35/hour = $1,960
And the same $35/hour rate but at a speed of 3 pages/hour:
280 pages ÷ 3 pages/hour = 93 hours
93 hours ✕ $35/hour = $3,255
Finally, let’s look at a rate of $30/1,000 words:
70,000 words ÷ 1,000 words = 70
70 ✕ $30 = $2,100
See how much the cost of editing can vary? Even so, if you do these kinds of calculations yourself, you might start to get a general idea of what editing costs you can expect. You can also work backward from the amount you’re hoping to pay to see if it comes out to a reasonable rate.
For example, say you decide you have $2,000 for a copy edit of a 50,000 word (200 page) manuscript.
$2,000 / 200 pages = $10/page
If your work can be edited at 2 pages/hour, that’s $20/hour.
If your work can be edited at 4 pages/hour, that’s $40/hour.
And if your works can be edited at 6 pages/hour, that’s $60/hour.
Once you’ve got these numbers, ask yourself, do these seem fair? Remember that the highest hourly rate is the fastest edit. Is it reasonable to assume your editor will meet that speed? If you’ve got a long list of things you need help with, then maybe not.
Do Some Research
The more informed you are, the better your chances of finding an editor that fits your needs. Google editors that work in your genre, and if you want to avoid exchange rates, look at editors in your area. If you’ve got writer friends or colleagues, ask about their editors and what they’ve charged.
If you can find rate information, revisit that math to see what you can expect for a project like yours. Just be aware that some editors provide rate information on their websites with the caveat that a real quote may differ upon seeing a sample, and some editors don’t provide rate information until seeing a sample.
Get A Quote
You can certainly ask for a quote right away, but I’ve listed getting a quote last because I think going through the above steps first can prepare you for surprises and set your expectations. It also helps you avoid wasting time approaching editors who are clearly beyond your means (and maybe screen out inexperienced editors who will charge way below your budget but may not meet your needs).
When you get a quote, look at how the charges are broken down. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you come across an editor who feels like a good fit and is within budget, you’re good to go!
If you have trouble finding someone who fits your budget:
- re-evaluate your budget (can you reasonably afford more?)
- consider delaying editing so you can save up
- try doing more editing on your own (remember: the more work you do, the less an editor has to do)
- try an alternative to professional editing (like joining a writing group or having friends read your work)
Finally, if you find someone who quotes just a bit above what you’re comfortable paying all at once, ask about payment plans; many editors are willing to break up payments to ease the financial burden on their clients.
A Few Final Considerations
Editing is a business. Your relationship with your editor is a business relationship. You should ask questions if there’s something about a quote your unsure about, but do so respectfully. Don’t reply “Holy crap, that’s way too expensive!” or accuse someone of trying to rip you off. If you can’t afford someone, a simple “Thanks for the quote, I’m afraid that’s out of my budget” will suffice.
Similarly, if an editor is being overly pushy or dismissive of your concerns, or if they rudely accuse you of trying to rip them off, you probably don’t want to work with them either. Some editors are open to negotiation, but there should be good will on both sides.
Finally, remember that editing is an investment in your writing and in yourself as an author.
I hope this article has given you insight into the cost of hiring and editor. If I’ve missed something or you’d like to know more on this topic, let me know!