It’s the rare book that doesn’t require a good stiff edit.
–Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published
With the importance of editing well established, it’s time to find out how editors figure their fees. It may seem mysterious, but it’s really quite a simple formula:
amount of work × rate of pay = the cost of editing
Different editors may charge by the hour, by the word, by the page, or a flat fee. However, all of these metrics translate into an estimate of how much work will be required of them. The other variable in the equation, rate of pay, is based on the service requested.
Here’s a breakdown of how the two variables are determined.
Amount of work
Length, complexity, schedule, and level of edit are the main factors in determining how much work a particular manuscript will demand. Very long manuscripts, even the well-written ones, take a lot of time to read and edit. Very complex manuscripts, such as those with a significant number of references or large amounts of artwork, take a lot of time and even more brain power to keep the details straight. Short deadlines mean the editor may have to put other projects aside and work nights and weekends to finish on time. A stiff developmental edit, which covers high-level issues such as arrangement of individual chapters, transitions from chapter to chapter and paragraph to paragraph, and organization of the book as a whole, requires vision, attention to detail, and an impeccable ability to work with authors at their most vulnerable.
An editor evaluates these factors and balances them against her experience as to the amount of effort it will take to complete the project on time and with the highest possible quality. Cost estimates based on word count, page count, or a flat fee all attempt to capture this amount of work. Pay by the hour is easiest for most people to understand, and often these other metrics come down to how much of the editor’s time a project will take.
Rate of pay
Different services are charged at different rates. Often the rate is commensurate with the amount of work required, so developmental editing is more than copyediting, and copyediting is more than proofreading. Why is this? As I mentioned in part 1 of this post, the cost of editing tends to be a question of value added. If your book is in terrible shape, the value your editor brings to the project increases significantly. At times it would seem the editor deserves coauthorship. In place of that, the editor is paid up front for her work.
For standard rates you can expect to pay, see the Editorial Freelancers Association rate chart. These rates are based on a national survey of what publishing professionals charge. If they seem high to you — “$45 an hour? I wish!” — remember that the self-employed pay higher taxes and are responsible for their own health insurance, a significant burden for some.
When looking at rates, particularly per page or per hour, it’s important to note that your editor does not skim through your work. I recall one author saying to me, “Four dollars a page? I can read a page like that!” as she snapped her fingers. That may be true if you’re simply reading for pleasure. Editors, conversely, who question every word and every sentence as they read, are generally able to edit between 5 and 10 pages an hour. This takes into account the two or three passes through the manuscript needed to ensure as many errors as possible have been corrected.
How You Can Save on Editing Costs
Look at what the variables are that drive cost. Which of these can you control? For example, is the length of your book on target? Does it pass the bikini test — short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover the subject? Is your art program (photographs, drawings, charts, and graphs) appropriate for your genre? Have you set aside a reasonable amount of time for the editing to take place? Have you done everything you can to achieve a manuscript in tip-top shape?
Some of the more expensive aspects of your manuscript may not be up for debate. If you are writing an exhaustive history book, for instance, you probably need a long manuscript with lots of artwork and plenty of reference material. In that case, to save money you need to have a flexible schedule and to prepare a manuscript that is as clean as your ability allows. If you opt not to perform a thorough revision of your own work yet want a high-quality product, you are essentially choosing to pay someone else to do those revisions for you. If you are concerned about costs, do your part to alleviate some of your editor’s work.
As with all services, you are encouraged to request bids from multiple editors until you find the one who can both meet your needs and meet your budget. Part of finding the right editor is finding someone you trust is earning what you are paying her.
(Read Part 1 of this post here.)
Like this blog? Look for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, coming Fall 2014.