The #1 question we get is: “How much will it cost to edit my book?”
Here’s why book editors can’t give you a blind price quote:
Is English your first language? Did you ace every English class you took? Do you write in dialect or “proper English?” Are you a writing a cookbook? A religious soul writing about your beliefs? A regular person writing about an irregular life? If you’re writing fiction, did you head-hop or change points of view at the wrong spots?
If you’re not an English professor or a professional journalist, your manuscript may need more editing and proofreading than you realize.
Before You Hire a Book Editor: The Sample Edit
Providing an editor/proofreader with a sample allows the editor to see what you have missed. Editors and proofreaders inspect all elements of content for issues usually missed by “regular” people, including so-called beta readers, which may include family and friends. Editors and proofreaders view words and punctuation in a way that is unnatural for general readers.
Picture yourself with a magnifying glass and a ruler, and you’re using those items to enlarge every word and punctuation mark on a page. That’s copyediting and proofreading.
To receive a price quote, the book editor will do a before-and-after edit of the portion you submitted. That helps the editor know whether you need a light, moderate, or heavy edit (almost a rewrite).
If you’re a journalist, you may only need a proofread, and the proofreader can review 10+ pages per hour. If you need a moderate edit, the editor may be able to do 3-5 pages per hour. A heavy edit/rewrite may take an hour per page. That’s why quoting an hourly rate is telling you nothing, and why our policy is to quote per word once we have your sample.
Editing Levels and the Manuscript
Editing and proofreading can range from light, to medium, to heavy. Developmental editing and ghostwriting are the most time-intensive. If you already have a sense of what your manuscript needs, your editor will be able to give you a more accurate estimate of the cost and time involved.
Let’s say that you seek only light proofreading. But after looking over a substantial sample, your potential editor points out, with examples, the need for heavier editing in order to reach your goal of a print-ready manuscript you will be proud of. The editor knows that the manuscript is going to take much more time to copyedit and proofread carefully and is aware of your budget. (That’s why our submission form asks about your budget. It’s not a trick question; we will tell you whether the services you actually need can be accomplished within your budget.)
Often, however, we find that clients aren’t sure what the manuscript needs and are relying on an editor to help them determine the best use of time and resources. A representative sample is crucial for this process, too: A professional editor will evaluate the main issues that can be addressed, possibly offering more than one level of editing, again depending on the client’s budget commitments.
What Should You Send?
I’ve encountered a few clients who were reluctant to send a substantial portion of their book, let alone the whole manuscript. Of course, since you have labored over your project, it is understandable that you could be worried about losing control of the material in some way.
Professional editors are not looking to lift other people’s work and ruin lifelong reputations; but if you are worried, just send a few pages from different chapters. When you feel confident that the book editor you’re selecting is a true professional, the editor will send you a service agreement that includes a confidentiality clause. Then you submit the entire manuscript for editing.
The more information you give a prospective editor, the more productive the editing process and relationship between author and editor will be.
I encourage my clients to include any thoughts they have on what might improve the book so that I am focused on their needs rather than mine. Sending a lengthy sample of your book is one of the tickets to editing success.
JEFF KARON (PhD English) edits and proofreads poetry, creative nonfiction, biographies/memoirs, novels, short stories, articles, self-help books, business reports, proposals, dissertations, theses, and websites.