Karin Graham

You want to know how much your editing will cost and how an editor comes up with the estimate. But where does this estimate come from? It’s natural to want to know that bottom line immediately, but a professional editor can’t give you that estimate without seeing the whole manuscript.

You may have in mind that your work just needs a quick proofread, but a professional editor might spot a whole host of problems. It’s natural that you might not notice these issues because it’s impossible for any author to edit their own work. As proof, take a look at books by editors about editing: They were edited by other editors.

Also, “editing” doesn’t always include “proofreading.” Even editors can’t agree if “line editing” is part of “developmental editing” or “copyediting. (See some definitions on our FAQ page.)

Even the most polished manuscripts need the professional eye of an editor. But what can affect cost?

Length

This one is obvious. The longer your manuscript is, the more it will cost to edit it. You can save money—and almost certainly improve your manuscript—by cutting redundant material. The easiest place to cut is the prologue. If your book is a novel, you almost certainly don’t need one. You want to grab your readers with the first sentence and bring them right into the story. If there is information the reader needs, you can introduce it in the course of the narrative. If you can get rid of material that doesn’t help your story, you won’t just be making your book better, you will also be making it less costly to edit.

Condition of Manuscript and Scope of Work

You may want help with spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation (copyediting and proofreading). But editing is about so much more than that. In fact, if your book needs help with the structure, developmental editing is the first step. Since it’s an indepth, intense edit, it takes longer and costs more than copyediting or proofreading.

Here is a passage, which I wrote, that contains examples of common problems in even the most well-written novels.

Sample Passage

Information dumps, sentence length, repetition, danglers

Josephine opened the front door and called out, “I’m home!” but John didn’t answer. Strange. It was not like John, who was a very verbal man who loved to communicate, and he always greeted her whenever she came home, ever since they met four years ago at a bar, when he was looking at his phone and bumped into her and spilled his Heineken beer on her shirt, and they both laughed, and even as late as yesterday, he has told people about this incident, and how he loved how her blonde hair shone in the light, to not answer when she called his name.

It was really strange that he did not answer the door, and so she looked at her phone to see if there was a text from him, because he didn’t ever fail to text her when he wasn’t home. Her purse sitting on the table beside the door, she headed upstairs. He wasn’t in their room!

Inconsistencies, danglers, and plot holes

Heading downstairs, her purse was gone! Looking at the curtains, there was movement behind them! She parted the curtains and saw nothing unusual on the street below. She headed back downstairs. Seeing her reflection in the bathroom mirror, she saw her sleek blonde hair, which hung to her waist, and she regarded her tall frame with contentment. But who was hiding? Who left the door open? And where was her purse?

Factual problems, inconsistencies, information dumps

Suddenly, John’s brother Jonathan stood before her. He had always disapproved of her. He grabbed her short-cropped, curly black hair in his hand and shouted, “What have you done to John? He is gone! He has left you and he is now living with our sister, Josie!”
“Jonathan, Josie has always hated me! As you know, she attends Yale University on a scholarship and is majoring in finance, and it has been her lifelong dream to become a pilot.”

Josephine,” he said, looking down on her. She was only five feet tall. She always had to look up to talk to other adults. “As you know, you have lived in this townhouse for the past two years, and you have always wanted to move overseas. In Washington, D.C., you wanted to drive even though he wanted to ride BART, and he wanted to take stroll from the Washington Monument to the Chesapeake Bay, and you couldn’t even spare an hour.”

The editor’s credentials and experience, or lack thereof

This is a subject that causes tension between writers, faux editors, and real editors.

If you’re bargain hunting, you’re likely to find a low-priced “editor” who is still gaining experience or, for various reasons, can’t get professional rates.

If you use sites such as Upwork, Fiverr, and other pay-for-pay sites that boast about hundreds of editors, you’re likely going to find people offering the low prices you’re hoping for. They’re bidding against each other. Not good.

The person you hire may find some typos and errors in punctuation, but they don’t improve the story, and your reviewers won’t have mercy. A grammatically correct and properly punctuated “bad book” doesn’t become a “good book” when the writer insists on skipping the developmental editing stage, which should be the first step.

Are they proven and published editing professionals? If they’re on bidding sites, they’re likely not playing on an even field with the true pros in the publishing industry.

The last thing you want to do is ask a professional book editor to match those low quotes. The pros don’t need to compete with bargain basement, self-proclaimed “editors.”

The testing and vetting process used by Book Editing Associates can be stressful, but having the necessary qualifications and passing the entry tests is a big deal. Ninety-eight percent of applicants are declined.

The ethical policies may not make some writers happy. If a writer requests proofreading, and their proofreaders see that the material is bad (no other way to say it), they will decline to take your money.

Scope of Work

If the author only wanted an editor to address grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation here, the cost would be relatively low, but not impossibly so, because the editor still has to read the manuscript closely to check for errors.

I once edited a legal document for spelling that was nearly pristine, except for one typo: The author misspelled Bobby as Booby. The moral is that you may not have that many errors in your manuscript, but the editor still has to look for them. And one single error might be enough to cause you a major problem.

On other hand, if the author wanted an editor to address the real problems with this passage (and a whole book full of passages like this one), the cost would be significantly higher.

What an Editor Sees

Deleting, rewriting, or flagging

Josephine opened the front door and called out, “I’m home!” but John didn’t answer. Strange. It was not like John, who was a very verbal man who loved to communicate, and he always greeted her whenever she came home, ever since they met four years ago at a bar, when he was looking at his phone and bumped into her and spilled his Heineken beer on her shirt, and they both laughed, and even as late as yesterday, he has told people about this incident, and how he loved how her blonde hair shone in the light, to not answer when she called his name. It was really strange that he did not answer the door, and so she looked at her phone to see if there was a text from him, because he didn’t ever fail to text her when he wasn’t home. Her purse sitting on the table beside the door, she headed upstairs. He wasn’t in their room! Heading downstairs, her purse was gone! Looking at the curtains, there was movement behind them! She parted the curtains and saw nothing unusual on the street below. She headed back downstairs. Seeing her reflection in the bathroom mirror, she saw her sleek blonde hair, which hung to her waist, and she regarded her tall frame with contentment. But who was hiding? Who left the door open? And where was her purse?

Rewriting or Deletion, Flagging Inconsistencies

Suddenly, John’s brother Jonathan stood before her. He had always disapproved of her. He grabbed her by her short-cropped curly black hair and shouted, “What have you done to John? He is gone! He has left you and he is now living with our sister, Josie!”
“Jonathan, Josie has always hated me! As you know, she attends Yale University on a scholarship and is majoring in finance, and it has been her lifelong dream to become a pilot.”

Flagging inconsistency in appearance, rewriting or flagging dialogue, and correcting or flagging factual errors

“Josephine,” he said, looking down on her. She was only five feet tall. She always had to look up to talk to other adults. “As you know, you have lived in this townhouse for the past two years, and you have always wanted to move overseas. In Washington, DC, you wanted to drive even though he wanted to ride BART, and he wanted to take stroll from the Washington Monument to the Chesapeake Bay, and you couldn’t even spare an hour.”

You can see how much work an editor would have to do with just this passage.

A book can also have other problems. The story may take too long to get off the ground. There may be no suspense. Characters may appear, contribute nothing to the story, then disappear. The story may take a detour and get lost. The protagonist may be so unlikable that the reader doesn’t care. Characters might behave in ways that don’t make sense.

There may also be problems with dialogue. The way your characters talk may not be appropriate for their backgrounds. You may be trying to give your character an accent, and the result may be unintended.

Will you need any fact-checking? If your crime novel is set in Chicago, you will need to know whether the person investigating the murder is a detective or an investigator. In any given house in Loudoun County, Virginia, which agency has jurisdiction, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Leesburg Police Department, or the Virginia State Police? Is there a coroner or a medical examiner? Does the medical examiner go to the crime scene?

The Editor’s Work

Your book may not have this many problems—or not all at once. You may make one such mistake repeatedly. Or you may make it once. But one such problem is enough to trigger bad reviews for your book. Editors and proofreaders look for those problems and fix or flag what they find.

In fact, your editor or proofreader may make two or three passes before they return your manuscript.

Where to Go From Here

When you think you have found an editor and they have expressed interest in working with you, you should expect to supply the entire manuscript in order to get a reliable estimate. Do not be surprised if the editor spots issues that you have not. After the editor finishes their work, your manuscript will be more polished and you will have a sense of what needs revising so that your novel can be the very best that it can be.

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