Can You Afford A High Quality Editor? (The Answer Might Surprise You) by Catherine Foster

There are many decisions that factor into choosing an editor, but one of the most important for authors is usually the price. How much will it cost to edit your novel? Can you even afford it to begin with, or is this something so expensive that you need to take out a loan? What’s the ballpark for this kind of service? Unfortunately for many new authors, cost is also often a confusing question that doesn’t seem to become any clearer upon initial investigation. Many editors seem coy about offering up a flat rate, which can lead to a sense of elusiveness about price that many authors find frustrating. There is no set industry rate, leading to wild price fluctuations from one editor to the next. Can you determine worth between editors? Is there a way get a firm answer on what the final price for your project will be? Is it even worth it in the end? Can you even afford an editor?

The answer to these questions is yes … and most likely. Selecting an editor is difficult for many reasons. Currently, in the U.S. and in the rest of the world, there are no definitive tests or certifications that exist to standardize editors. This means that the onus of investigation into the practice and knowledge of each editor falls onto the consumer. Namely: you. Since there is no agreed upon way for an editor to point the consumer to a degree or certification to show his value, this means that each and every editor has his own way of demonstrating worth. Some positive things to look for would be many years of experience in professional editing, a significant list of clients or a record of edited and published titles, a well-designed website and a fully-entrenched social media presence. Red flags include a hastily designed website, spelling or grammar errors and someone without a list of references or much experience.

A good resource for finding reputable editors is through the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) or ACES (American Copy Editors Society). These are places that cultivate professional membership, and you can search profiles of thousands of qualified individuals. You can post a listing for an editor for whatever you are working on, and you will receive hundreds of responses in an hour. Your only decision will be how much money you want to spend.

The next step in selecting an editor is contacting them. Are they prompt in returning your e-mails? Do they edit your type of work? Some editors are academic editors while others work in the medical field. If you are seeking an editor for your memoir, you want someone who has experience with that genre. Do you like their personality? Remember, this is a job interview for a personal project, and you have to be able to work with them closely for (potentially) a long while. You want to be able to take direction from someone you like. Some other things to consider are: is this person clear and professional in their responses? Do they have an opening in their schedule for your work that suits your timeline? How will they communicate with you, and how will they make their edits? These are all important questions that will help you determine who you will select.

That brings us to the question of budget. There are many ways to determine to how charge for editing, and each editor is different. This is the cause for confusion among authors, and understandably so. At more professional places such as the EFA, it is the standard to charge an hourly fee, usually between thirty-five and fifty-five dollars an hour. Some editors charge by the word and some charge by the page. The matter can become more complicated when we define a “page”: to an author, they simply look at the number of pages in their word processor. To an editor, a page is defined as 250 words. There is usually some calculation necessary when looking at the total of the work, which renders the actual number of pages displayed double or more. An author, therefore, must be aware that if they are being charged per page that it will not necessarily be per the number of pages they believe but a much higher number. The same applies to the word count. Oftentimes different word processing programs count characters differently—a hyphen or an ellipses or a comma in one program is not considered a “word”, but in the transfer to the editor’s program all/some of those characters may become words. This may seem like a small detail, but when it is your dollar, they add up fast. It is something of which to be aware.

Should you just have a friend edit your document or find someone on Craigslist? They will be cheaper, certainly, but in our experience, if you are serious about getting your work published, you need a professional editor. It is possible to find someone through the classifieds in this way, but beware a discount price—the old adage that you get what you pay for is, unfortunately, true. Many of our clients are people who are on their second or third round from just such an experience. They hoped to economize, but in the end they chose to spend the money twice over to get the appropriate service they required—one which they all have expressed that they did not end up finding through lesser means.

How, then, can you make sure that you can afford your edit? The first step should be asking for a sample edit. There is a schism amongst professional editors: half of them do not provide sample edits, and the other half do. It is your right as a discerning consumer to ask for one. If you find an editor that you like and they don’t provide a sample edit, you may of course go forward, but you should proceed with caution. A sample edit serves to protect both you and your editor. Your editor is assessing how much work is involved in your piece and the time it will take him to complete this work. Only then can he give you an accurate quote of price. On your end, you will get a chance to see what he can provide, if you like his style enough for a thorough edit and if you truly want to pay for his entire service.

Once you are agreed, an editor should be able to give you an accurate quote based on that sample edit. If this is a time-based quote, he should be able to tell you how many hours it will take him to finish the job. It is important that he agree not to exceed this number, and that he agrees to finish the project at the same price even if he underestimates the time. If it is based on the number of words, it will still be an exact price. There should be a contract in place, and most editors require a certain payment schedule throughout the project and before delivery; this is normal. When you deal with a professional editor, you will find that you are contracting a person for a specific service, and that is all outlined in the contract. This is, again, for your protection and theirs. It may seem daunting at first, but it should be viewed as a relief. If you ever deal with an editor who does not have a contract, you should not ever pay any monies! This is a warning sign to you. Having a contract in place is a record that this person is obligated to provide exactly what they outline; they promise to do so by a certain date and time. You should read your contract carefully. You do have legal recourse should your editor not provide what they promise. While it should never come to that, it is a protection to you as well as to them. It is also something you can refer to as the project progresses as a record to make sure that both sides are holding to their end. This is a benefit to contracting a professional and part of your contracted service.

Each freelancer is different, and each way of handling payments is as varied as there are editors and authors. At The LetterWorks, we understand that editing can be expensive, and it isn’t always easy to work into your budget. We want everyone to have access to high-quality editing, and to meet that goal we try to structure creative ways to budget. We’ve worked out a lot of different ways to work with our clients, from changing the timeline to the size of the project to the methods in which we can work on it. We are ready to meet your needs in any way we can. Editing may be more affordable than you think. Please check us out and let us help you make your writing dream a published reality.

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