One of the most common questions people ask when looking to hire an editor is How much will it cost me? It’s a completely reasonable and important question, but it’s also deceptively difficult to answer.
It’s similar to hiring a contractor to do some remodeling on your house. You don’t want to overpay, but you also want someone who will do a quality job and finish the project within the deadline and budget.
What factors affect the price?
Like with a building contractor, editing fees fall within a range, depending on the level of editing required by the project, what services are included in the edit, how quickly you need the edits done, the skill and experience of the editor, and the cost of living where the editor is located.
A heavier edit requires more time per page than a lighter one, taking more of the editor’s time, and, consequently, costing more. A developmental edit is more involved and time consuming than a more general manuscript evaluation. Are there tables, footnotes, or illustrations involved? Or a reference list to format?
An edit with just a single round where the author is expected to do all of the cleanup work will cost less than one that includes multiple rounds of editing and manuscript cleanup. Does the edit include fact checking?
Many editors have a waiting list for taking on new projects. After all, there is only so much editing one person can do in a day. If you need a rush job, it’s probably going to cost you extra because the editor will have to give up personal time to squeeze it in. Essentially, you’re paying them overtime.
An editor who specializes in a specific field like science or medicine and has twenty years of experience will, justifiably, charge more than someone who just finished their training and hasn’t yet chosen a field to specialize in.
The cost-of-living factor is an expense passed on to the client that may not seem fair to some, but I mention it as an explanation. In this digital age we live in, you could hire an editor from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Editors can work from anywhere in the world, and that editor has to charge a fee that allows them to pay their bills wherever they live. The editor isn’t necessarily trying to overcharge you. They’ll most likely understand your hesitation to pay their higher fee, but you’ll just have to decide if the skills they offer are worth the price. Their pricing model needs to be competitive for their local market, not yours.
How do editors calculate their fee?
While it may seem like an editor is quoting you the highest amount they think you’ll pay, there is an actual method to their calculations. The thing is, though, that not all editors charge the same way. There are three main ways most editors calculate the project fee they quote you, and none is right or wrong.
Some editors charge by the hour, and based on the sample you provide, they estimate how many hours the project should take them to complete. Then, they add in a certain amount of time for administrative tasks, and that final number is what they quote you.
Others charge a flat per-word fee. The administrative tasks might be added on or already calculated into the per-word rate. However, this rate can vary, depending on the level of editing.
The third group uses a combination of the two, calculating an amount for the actual editing on a per-word basis and an amount for the administrative tasks based on an hourly scale, then quoting the client a single project fee.
Can you hire an editor for cheap?
The short answer is yes. There are multiple online job-bidding sites, like Upwork or Fiverr, and you can find some skilled editors there. Some of those skilled professionals are even desperate enough or ignorant enough of their worth that they will take on jobs for really low fees.
However, in general, you get what you pay for. There’s nothing wrong with those sites. (I have a profile on Upwork myself.) But they also don’t have very strong filters to keep just anyone who feels like doing a little editing in their free time from billing themselves as a professional. If something seems too good to be true, the sad fact is that it usually is.
If you’re on a tight budget and looking to save on editing but care about quality, I have some tips in a previous post.
How do you find the best value for your dollar?
First, you need to take an honest look at your needs. You can’t properly evaluate who can best meet your needs until you know what those needs are.
What exactly does your budget look like? What kind of timeline/deadline are you looking for? What kind of editing does your manuscript need? What kind of return are you looking to get from your investment (sales, personal satisfaction, etc.)? Do you need a specialist?
Then, get recommendations from other writers you trust. Shop around. Get quotes, just as you would from any other contractor, and compare them to others. Go to their website, social media profiles, or professional listing and look at their qualifications, experience, and testimonials from previous clients.
Sample edits are an excellent way to judge what an editor can do for you. Some editors charge a small fee; some don’t. But it may be worth it to feel confident in your choice. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, get multiple sample edits.
Also, many editors offer free resources on their websites that can give you an idea of what they can offer.
I wish I could tell you an editor should charge you $X/hour or $.XX/word. As both a consumer and a provider of services, I like simplicity and clarity in pricing. Unfortunately, there are just too many factors involved.
There’s no set price for editing. A good price is whatever you and your chosen editor agree to that you both feel confident is a fair exchange of services. Do your homework and look for someone who is skilled but will also be honest and upfront with you about what they offer.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.