In Part 3 we discussed how editors determine costs. And before you scoff at or otherwise leap to judgment of the rates, it’s probably pertinent to mention another facet of this — it’s a generally accepted rule that whatever hourly rate a freelancer settles on, you can estimate their annual salary by multiplying it by 1,000. An editor charging $35 an hour, therefore, will make around $35,000 a year.
The thing to remember above all is the cliché, “You get what you pay for.” If an editor’s rates fall significantly below these figures they are probably not editors, but beta readers deciding to make a little extra on the side.
Sadly, I’ve seen the damage a poor editor can do to a novel and it’s heartbreaking. Someone offering ludicrously low rates is not confident of their work. Run away from them. But also, don’t hesitate to negotiate with someone at the higher end; see if you can get a discount based on potential loyalty, for instance.
I don’t mean this contentiously, but there really is no excuse for writers not knowing this stuff. It’s literally at your fingertips — Google’s been around for 15 years, folks. Recently a writer who has published numerous books approached me, and I simply assumed he knew the industry well enough to have some idea of what it would cost him. He even asked for a structural edit, initially, but I talked him out of that and told him I could cover a little structural stuff but mainly give his MS a medium-to-heavy copyedit, thus lowering his costs right there. I even reduced my rate further, but when I quoted him the estimate, he balked. To me, it’s astounding that someone with so much published material could be apparently unaware of the real costs of editing, and it felt insulting that he’d expected me to do such exacting and time-consuming work for even lower than I’d already gone. I’m sorry, but that moves beyond ignorance into exploitation territory. Which, of course, can go both ways, depending on which hat you happen to be wearing.
Do other editors or writers out there have stories, good or bad, of their book editing experiences?
Note: A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on Dec. 5, 2013.