Why You Can’t Get a Cheap Editor AND a Great Book Project

There is more than one way to edit a book.

There is more than one way to edit a book.

If you shop, you can, without much trouble, find a book editor (or a ghostwriter!) who will quote you, and maybe even work with you at, a really soft price. Like maybe $500 or $600 to thoroughly edit your book. Now, I’m an outstanding developmental editor—well trained, decent reputation, deeply engaged in helping my authors attain their personal success. But I cannot compete with fees like that, nor would I want to, and I don’t understand how those fees support businesses run by professional edtiorial practitioners.

The Boogie Person Behind Cheap Editing

Let me see if I can explain how cheap editing goes awry. Please read this discussion of technical editing and how long it should probably take.  I used technical editing purely because those were the only factual numbers I found in a quick search for editorial speed expectations.

In this post, I’m talking about book editing—mostly fiction…novels. We can stipulate, it takes a far deeper look to sculpt fiction than it might to do technical editing, thus it takes more time. But, nevertheless, using the figures in the article…

Say the book we’re editing is 80K words. At 1500 words per hour, the editor puts in about 54 hours @ (an assumed) $600 flat rate (a rate that I know is not unusual in today’s climate, and not even the lowest to be found among editors, especially those who market their services on social media) = $11 per hour.

Consider that a substantive or even a line edit, as opposed to a copy edit, would likely take at least twice the time to do well. Add hours to consult with or write explanations, suggestions, and motivations to the author, re-read the changes he or she sends back, and deal with additions (sometimes whole new chapters) he or she will inevitably throw in as the process unfolds. Conservatively, keep assuming the technical edit time figures, add an additional five or six hours (very low estimate) for the finishing work and consulting.

Now the editor’s hourly rate is $10 per hour or less. If you review the Editorial Freelancer’s Association 2012 survey of common editorial rates, you find that basic copyediting comes in at $30-$40 per hour. Substantive at around $60. There is no task listed in the field of editing, according to EFA, that pays less than $15 an hour, let alone $10 or $11.

The Scary Part of Cheap Services

With that in my head, all of that information, I truly want to understand how a professional, educated, experienced, trained, editor can afford to sell services at flat rates that equate to subsistence wages.

I ‘m mind-boggled and would love to understand this dichotomy. I wonder if sometimes, these editors see the work as, basically, pro-bono to bolster the growing community of burgeoning, struggling writers. Noble idea.

But I hear horror stories from more than a few new clients who come to me after having made a deal with a cheap editor. They tell me the editor disappeared. Just stopped working after collecting half or more of the fee up front. Then, I hear that he or she did not have the background or experience to structure an already written novel. The cheap editor, say my clients, may be very argumentative, or indeed, even mean and pushy, using the sort of motivation a middle school English teacher would use…remember?

The End

I do a fair amount of substantive book editing, am mostly busy working when I want to be working, and I charge more than $600 or $700 per full-length book. I never run away, even when I feel like I should. I’m never mean. No, really. My clients are almost always delighted with our mutually crafted results. My clients have won prizes and some have sold an impressive number of books (especially those who understand the marketing and business side of being an author.) They comment that my work is a value, even at my rate. Many other successful editors base their fees on the quality of work they do.

I don’t have statistics on how books edited by real cheap editors do in the long run. But it would scare me to think of an editor running away in mid-project when the project is my book, my darling, my sweated-over triumph. And if said editor has trouble understanding, for example, that you CAN use passive voice effectively, and adjectives aren’t always a writer’s best option, well, what can I say?

I’m not contending that ALL low-priced editors are nefarious villains. I’m sure there are some who don’t understand their own worth, or they fear the marketplace. However, someone told me you get what you pay for, and what I’ve seen and heard over years in the publishing industry tells me that’s certainly true when it’s your book at stake.

If you’re an editor or ghostwriter, consider your fees, and base them on your skill level. If you’re an author, a writer, be very leery of the proverbial free lunch.


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