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David Antrobus

The Editor’s Fedora Part 3


woman_writing_chequeNow 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.

Thursday’s Part 4 will conclude this series on what authors can expect from editors. See also Part 1 and Part 2.


Note: A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on Dec. 5, 2013.

12 Comments on “The Editor’s Fedora Part 3”

  • Arlene Prunkl


    David, thanks for citing me. I appreciate the reference. However, the editing speeds you cite here are quite different from mine. In particular, I would never suggest proofreading would go as slowly as four pages per hour. That’s a substantive editing speed! On the whole, your speeds are slower than mine. I just don’t want readers to see a discrepancy between your speeds and mine.

    PS. Speaking of each punctuation mark being carefully considered, I’m fond of saying I can spot a period in italics. 🙂

    • David Antrobus


      Right, I hear you, Arlene. And you’re welcome. Yes, this was pretty much a hybrid of a number of sources, adapted from your breakdown and the EAC’s (check the links: they do cite four pages per hour for proofreading a “difficult text”), which itself was adapted from The Copyeditor’s Handbook. These are all ranges and, of course, they vary between editors, too. My real aim was to give new writers (for whom these posts were originally written) a sense of the bigger, perhaps blurrier, picture without bogging everything down in details. Tough line to walk, admittedly.

  • Frances Peck


    Great series of posts!

    The link to American editing rates will be very helpful for those working in the U.S.

    In Canada, hourly rates for editing (and most of the other tasks listed on the EFA site) usually run a bit higher. EAC members can check their peers’ rates and incomes in the highlights of the 2012 membership survey, posted in the Members section of (Your EAC, Surveys).

    • David Antrobus


      Oh, good point, Frances. These posts were originally written for an American website (Indies Unlimited), but perhaps I could have acknowledged the difference between the two countries’ rates for these reworked versions. Thanks so much for your comments.

    • Adrienne (scieditor)


      Yes, PLEASE; the EFA rates are abysmally low for the Canadian market. For a substantive edit of 80,000 words I charge over $6000 for each draft. Gag away; my prices are mid-range, as is my market.
      The pace noted is pretty much on par with my experience, for the reasons David noted. There’s an instant estimator on my website that gives people a ball-park estimate of both time and cost.
      Thanks for the frank discussion! I hope this leads to reasonable expectations for all.

      • David Antrobus


        Just to be clear, the “gag” comment wasn’t intended as a dig at editors; the impetus behind the post was to gently steer newer authors (the original target audience) toward the idea that editing is a skilled, specialised activity and that compensation reflects that. Yes, expectations, exactly.

        And thanks for contributing to the discussion, Adrienne.

  • Margaret Sadler


    Wait! There are editors who don’t examine each word, individually and in context; who don’t consider each punctuation mark or note double spaces between sentences, consistent indents, homophones, POV shifts? Hmph! Thanks so much, Arlene and Frances, for weighing in.

    • David Antrobus



      Thanks for your comment, Margaret. You made me smile.

  • alex schultz


    How common is it for editors to edit in the manner described here (combining a structural, stylistic, and copy edit)? In my experience (traditional trade publishing), that’s the work of two different people, and $5,000 for it all sounds distinctly low, not high.

    • David Antrobus


      I think the boundaries blur a little more for freelancers, although we need to be careful. It might be possible to include some proofreading in a copyedit, but I think developmental editing needs to stand alone. Not many of us (if any) can edit for trees when we’re looking at the overall forest, and vice versa.

      The issue of price is a sticky one. The vast majority of my clients are new or fairly inexperienced self-publishing authors, and I tend to think we’re seeing a disconnect between these writers (whose pockets are far from deep) and established editors who are used to a certain hourly in-house rate, and the crux of it all is whether these disparate expectations can find common ground in an increasingly freelance context.

      Appreciate the comment.

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