I wish I could tell you 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.
While I will provide hard numbers, you should first know certain essentials about hiring an editor.
This information may help you understand why editing costs seem to vary widely from one editor to the next, but it should also assist you in comparing possible editors.
How much you can expect to pay an editor depends on at least eight variables:
1. What kind of editing are you seeking?
Developmental editing (aka content editing, big picture, or macro editing) costs more than copyediting (aka micro editing), and copyediting costs more than proofreading.
2. What’s your total word count?
Editors charge by word count or page count. Some may 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.
4. What’s your deadline?
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 experience level?
Do you consider yourself a beginner, mid-level or expert writer?
An experienced editor can often assess an excerpt from a manuscript and deduce the amount of time they need to fix the full manuscript. By default, beginning writers will need more help, which means more time, which can mean more money.
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 always grow as a writer because of the experience.
6. What’s your editor’s experience level and/or demand?
You shouldn’t expect to pay a novice editor as much as you would an editor with decades of experience and multiple best-sellers in their portfolio.
Likewise, you shouldn’t expect to pay as much to an editor with ample room in their schedule versus an editor who’s booked six months out.
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?
8. What’s your budget?
Of course, this question might be the most significant driving force of your decision, but I encourage you to think through the other items listed in this article before considering your budget.
Do your homework on how to find a book editor you can trust, gather estimates from your top five, then consider your budget.
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.
If you’re unfamiliar with editing costs, do these numbers surprise you? Has cost prevented you from seeking editing? Share your experiences in the comments below.