Now we arrive at the crucial topic of cost, and the seemingly arbitrary variations in same. Some editors are so brilliant that they really can and do charge top dollar. I know someone who can quote $5,000 for editing an 80,000-word manuscript.
Before you gag on that, bear in mind that editing at that rarefied level is an incredibly skilled, precise and comprehensive service that almost literally dots every i and crosses every t. Each word is examined, both individually and in the context of the whole document. The entire structure of the novel is often evaluated and fine-tuned. Each punctuation mark is carefully considered. For example, did you know that Microsoft Word will turn smart quotes the wrong way if you type them after an em-dash (something that’s quite common in dialogue)? A good editor/proofreader will catch every instance and flip each one back the right way. Same with the single quote you get when you type an apostrophe at the beginning of a word, as in ’80s. Or double spaces between sentences. Consistent indents. Homophones. POV shifts. There are myriad ways in which a good editor’s eagle eye is essential.
Done well, editing truly is the greatest hybrid of art and science. But the writer’s job at this point is simply to ensure that prospective editors are as good as they claim. Feel free to test them. Send them a sample rife with errors and see if they catch them all. If they miss a couple, that’s not disastrous — no one catches 100 per cent — but if they catch only half or two-thirds, politely move on.
But anyway, back to price. How do editors determine this? Sometimes it’s fairly straightforward. For each type of editing they might set their rates by the word, so they would (for example) charge $0.01 per word for basic proofreading (this skill is actually not inferior to copyediting; it simply takes less time, hence is cheaper), $0.02 for copyediting and $0.04 for content developmental editing. Then you simply multiply it by the overall word count and you’re done. Others charge by the page, which is a standard page of 250 words. Others figure out an hourly rate based on how many pages they can edit an hour (which they estimate using your sample, so you need to ensure it’s representative). Here’s a useful table and formula, adapted from fellow editor Arlene Prunkl and the EAC:
- Developmental, substantive, structural editing, rewriting — one to three pages per hour
- Heavy to medium copy editing, stylistic editing — two to four pages per hour
- Medium to light copy editing, stylistic editing — four to seven pages per hour
- Proofreading — four to nine pages per hour
- Manuscript evaluations — 10 to 15 pages per hour, plus evaluation report
Then they insert the values into a formula based on the hourly rate they charge:
100,000 words (for example) / 250 words per page = 400 pages
400 pages / (insert editing speed here, say 8 pph) = 50 hours
50 hours x 15 per cent project management time = 7.5 hours
Total hours x hourly rate = total cost
And if you want to know the range of hourly pay for editors, here’s a handy chart at the Editorial Freelancers Association.
Note: A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on Dec. 5, 2013.