Once you’ve finished a draft of your book, the natural next step is to look for a book editor.
And of course, if you’re in need of book editing, you’ll wonder how much it will cost.
I wish I give you a firm rule: that proofreading will always cost one cent per word, copyediting two cents per word, and developmental editing three cents per word.
But the truth is much hazier than that. How much a book editor will cost depends on several factors.
So my goal here is to flesh out those factors and give you a sense of how much book editing might cost. Editing costs vary widely from one editor to the next, so I’ll also help you think through how to compare different editors and decide which one to hire.
How much it costs to hire a quality book editor
When you’re ready to move to the editing stage, think through these questions. They’ll help you figure out how much you’ll need to pay an editor to review your book.
1. What kind of editing do you need?
Not all editing is created equal. Here are a few different kinds of editing:
- Developmental editing: big picture, content editing, macro editing
- Copyediting: micro editing, grammar editing, flow and structure editing
- Proofreading: consistency check, format and layout
Developmental editing costs more than copyediting, and copyediting costs more than proofreading.
2. What’s your total word count?
Book editors typically charge by word count or page count. Some charge by the hour, but that’s rare, especially for editing long books.
Knowing your total word count is essential to an editor’s cost estimations for taking on your project.
3. How complex is your book?
Editing academic work to a niche style guide will cost more than editing a novel per the Chicago Manual of Style.
Editing a book with hundreds of footnotes or endnotes should cost more than editing a book without citations.
In other words, the complexity and niche of your work will affect the book editing rate.
4. What’s your deadline?
How quickly do you need the work done? The more flexible you are with your deadline, the less you’ll pay.
If you ask for your 100,000-word novel to be copyedited within two weeks, you might have to pay a premium for such a fast turnaround, especially if your editor is already booked.
5. What’s your writing experience?
Do you consider yourself a beginner, mid-level or expert writer?
By default, beginning writers will need more help, which means more time, which can mean more money.
An experienced editor can often take a look at an excerpt from a manuscript, get a feel for your experience level, and deduce the amount of time they need to edit the full manuscript.
For the beginning writers: always look at hiring an editor as an investment in both your book and yourself. With the right editor, you should grow as a writer because of the feedback.
6. What’s your editor’s experience level and/or demand?
A novice editor will cost less than an editor with decades of experience and multiple best-sellers in their portfolio.
Of course, you get what you pay for, and an experienced editor might bring more value.
Likewise, if you want to work with an editor who’s in high demand and booked six months out, you’ll likely have to pay more than if you choose to work with an editor who has lots of room in her schedule.
7. What’s your flexibility?
If an editor is booked solid, can you afford to wait six months to get the editor you want?
Or, will you pay a premium to jump their queue if they offer such an option? Or, will you choose a lesser-known or less experienced editor at a lower price so that you can have your editing accomplished faster?
How to compare editing costs (free spreadsheet download)
If you’d like to get truly organized about your search, use this editor comparison spreadsheet template to help in your search for an editor who meets most of your desired criteria at a price you’re willing to pay.
I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.
By using that spreadsheet, you should be able to quickly and easily compare the editors you’re vetting.
Note: On the spreadsheet, the editor’s total cost will be automatically calculated once you insert your total word count and the editor’s per-word rate. If you’re given a per-page rate, you can calculate a per-word rate by assuming the industry standard of 250 words per page, e.g., $3 per page equals $3 per 250 words. Dividing 3 by 250 equals $.012.
If you’re given an hourly rate, ask the editor how many pages per hour they can edit, then extrapolate their per-word rate.
The rightmost part of the spreadsheet also includes pre-calculated per-word rates based on per-page rates.
Compiling this information is a headache (especially for math-averse writers like myself), but seeing every editor’s rate as a per-word rate will help you better compare editors.
The hard numbers of editing
Now, let’s talk actual rates.
Many writers point to the Editorial Freelancers Association rates page as a guide toward setting editorial rates. (Disclaimer: I’m a member of the EFA.)
Last updated in July 2015, the EFA rates page lists various editing and writing tasks and their attendant hourly rates as self-reported by EFA members who took the rates survey. They break down editing into five subcategories and list proofreading as a separate category. (Tip: they also list per-hour and per-word rates for writing work.)
For comparison purposes, let’s look at the editing rates and use an average page-per-hour and an average hourly rate. For instance, the EFA lists basic copyediting of 5–10 pages per hour at a cost of $30–$40 per hour, so I’ve assumed 7.5 pages per hour at a cost of $35 per hour. The other total calculations also use their respective average rates.
For a 70,000-word book, your editing costs could be:
- Developmental editing: $.08 per word, or $5,600 total
- Basic copyediting: $.018 per word, or $1,260 total
- Proofreading: $.0113, or $791 total
It’s easy to extrapolate from this what your total expected editing cost could be. Fantasy, sci-fi, and epic novel writers should be forewarned.
For a 120,000-word book, your editing costs could be:
- Developmental editing: $.08 per word, or $9,600 total
- Basic copyediting: $.018 per word, or $2,160 total
- Proofreading: $.0113, or $1,356 total
Realize that these are simply one website’s average estimates for editorial costs. For further comparison, CreateSpace offers copyediting at $.016 per word for books longer than 10,000 words. Pronoun’s list of editors is also an easy way to compare many editors’ costs.
Use these numbers as a barometer for what you might expect to pay for an editor.
You may pay much more for an editor—and you may also be extremely glad you did.
As in life, so too in books: you often get what you pay for.