“I’ve written a book. How much do you charge for editing?”
Those words or variations of them appear in my inbox frequently. I know some editors do have a per-page or per-word rate, but I can’t understand how they can price their work that way.
I find that one 75,000-word novel may take me thirty hours to edit while another 75,000-word novel may take me a hundred hours to edit. Some manuscripts may need little more than proofreading while others require extensive substantive editing.
Depending on the writer and the manuscript, my job as an editor may include any or all of the following:
- Ensure that the vocabulary and grade level of the writing are appropriate for the genre, the audience, and the manuscript. For example, a memoir may include idioms and colloquialisms, perhaps even some minor grammar errors that are typical of the author; the reader should feel like he or she is sitting down for a leisurely visit and conversation with the writer. An academic paper must use formal language and a more extensive vocabulary, follow strict style guidelines, and sound more like a lecture or textbook than a conversation.
- Make sure that the manuscript fits the conventions of the genre. A mystery must end with the crime being solved, and the heroine and hero must live “happily-ever-after” in a romance.
- Help the author determine the most effective opening, which in fiction often means starting in the middle of the action and bringing in backstory later, and make sure the middle and ending are as strong as the beginning.
- Improve the flow of the text so the story (fiction) or information (nonfiction) is presented in a logical order and there are smooth transitions between chapters, scenes, and sections.
- In fiction, see that characters are well-developed, with flaws as well as good qualities, and that the plot is effective and entertaining.
- In nonfiction, see that the information is provided in a clear, understandable way that accomplishes the author’s purpose.
- Correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors and make sure that the book adheres to the appropriate style for the genre.
- Eliminate wordiness and repetition of words and ideas, and ensure there is variety in word choices and sentence structure.
- Verify facts and raise questions as needed so nonfiction provides accurate information and fiction is believable.
- Check for consistency so a character doesn’t go from brunette to blonde unintentionally.
- Make suggestions to improve any and all aspects of the manuscript.
- Ensure that the book sounds just like the author—only better.
The amount of time it takes me to do edit a manuscript depends a great deal on the skill of the writer as well as the complexity of the material. In addition, the word or page count changes with editing. I once edited a 160,000-word manuscript down to 110,000 words. So charging the same per-page or per-word rate to every client wouldn’t be fair. I would make more per hour editing a well-written novel without a lot of subplots than I would editing a nonfiction manuscript that required a lot of fact checking or a memoir by a writer who repeated the same stories several times in different places.
Therefore, I base my price on an hourly rate, but I give each client a project quote based on a sample edit.
The author submits about five pages of the manuscript to me along with the answers to a questionnaire. I edit the pages just as I would edit the full manuscript, including asking questions. Most writers have several pet mistakes that they make frequently, so I point these out. Sometimes, an author can reduce the amount of time required for me to edit their manuscript if they do another round of self-editing based on my comments.
I extrapolate the time it took me for the sample edit to estimate how long will take me for the complete manuscript. My quote is determined by the estimated time.
The sample edit gives me confidence that I’m quoting the most accurate price possible. There is a disclaimer on the quote that says the price can be adjusted if the rest of the manuscript is markedly different from the sample pages. For example, writers often spend a lot more time on the first chapter than they do on later chapters. If that is the case, I ask that the sample pages be sent from later in the manuscript so they are a good representation of the work.
The sample and especially the questions I ask also give me the opportunity to see if there is anything in the manuscript that I would not be comfortable editing. If I am not excited about the project, I’m not the best editor for it, so it’s best for me to see upfront if there’s something that I don’t like or that makes me uncomfortable.
The sample edit is advantageous for authors, as well. They can readily see if they agree with my suggestions. Although I don’t expect writers to accept every change I recommend, an author who disagrees with many of my ideas should look for an editor that is a better fit.
Prospective clients also know exactly what the editing cost will be (unless there are surprises later in the process), and they know that the price is based on the amount of work that will be required on that specific manuscript. Experienced authors don’t have to worry that they are paying a price more appropriate for beginning writers, and less-skilled writers don’t have to worry that I will give their work less attention than it needs because I’m not being compensated adequately.
If you have a book in need of editing, I highly recommend that you get several sample edits so you can choose the editor that is the best fit for you and your work. If you would like a sample edit from me, you can read more about my services and email me for instructions.
I’ll be happy to give you a sample of what you can expect from me.
Image: © Depositphotos.com/alexmillos