How to Hire a Skilled Editor, and What You’ll Pay

Dec 4, 2013

In our last blog post we explained the different stages of editing. This week we’ll explain what a freelance editor costs and how to find a skilled editor. 

We’ll give you some average costs in a moment. First, these are the variables that determine an editor’s fee:

Experience: A brand new editor should charge less than a veteran with thirty years of experience.

Deadline: If you want your manuscript edited in the next three days, you’re going to pay extra. Think of this as headache pay. That editor may need to work twelve-hour days and skip her morning yoga classes to meet your deadline.

Length: An average manuscript is about 70,000 to 80,000 words. If yours is 160,000, expect to pay double the average, because the editor will spend twice as long on it.

Complexity: If your manuscript is full of footnotes and figures and proper names that need checking (how do you spell Zbigniew Brzezinski?), or your thoughts are disorganized and sentences confusing, you will end up paying more than if the manuscript is straightforward and clearly written and organized. The editor will need more time with it.

Many editors will ask to see a sample of the manuscript before quoting you, because depending on the complexity of the manuscript, they may be able to edit three pages an hour, or they may be able to edit fifteen. If they quote a project rate, they need to make sure they won’t get stuck earning $3 an hour on an unexpectedly laborious  edit.

Hourly editorial rates

Now that you know the variables involved, these are the average rates you’ll pay for different kinds of editing. Note that a manuscript page is considered to be 250 words.

  • Substantive editing: $40-$70/hour (expect them to edit 3-10 pages/hour, depending on complexity). Some substantive editors will quote on the entire project, rather than give an hourly rate, in which case you should confirm how many rounds of editing that includes.
  • Copy editing: $30-$40/hour (8 pages/hour)
  • Proofreading: $25-$35/hour (10 pages/hour)
  • Indexing: $3-$5/page

Total editorial costs

So for an average book of 70,000 to 80,000 words, you might pay:

  • Substantive editing: $3,500-$4,000
  • Copy editing: $1,200
  • Proofreading: $900 (this applies to print and print-on-demand books; if you’re producing an ebook only, you can skip this step and just check the file for glitches instead. Ebooks don’t contain a lot of the pieces that a proofreader checks in print, such as page numbers and running heads.)
  • Indexing: $1,000

How to find a skilled editor

There are a lot of people with limited experience promoting themselves as professional editors. You don’t need a licence to practice, so anyone can call herself an editor.

That’s why we highly recommend that you ask other writers for recommendations, and that you look for someone with book-specific experience. Editing a book-length work requires a different skill set than editing a newspaper article or corporate brochures.

It isn’t necessary for your editor to be an expert in your particular subject, but it does help if she has experience editing your genre. If you’re writing memoir, find an experienced memoir editor, for instance. Ask her which books she’s worked on, and see if any of her authors’ books have won awards, received notable critical acclaim, or made the bestseller lists. Those are all good signs.

Editors’ Association of Canada database

The EAC website contains a database of freelance editors. However, the editors listed there have not been vetted in any way; they’ve simply paid an annual EAC membership fee, which includes a listing on the site.

The EAC does offer a rigorous certification program, though, and editors who have been certified in their particular area should be trustworthy. Click here for the list of certified editors.

Some of the best editors we know have not undertaken the certification process so aren’t listed here. Some editors just don’t feel they will gain enough new business or credibility to warrant completing the lengthy process. Others worry that they might fail the tests, even though they’ve been practicing editors for most of their careers. Whatever the case, an editor’s not being certified doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified. At Page Two we often connect our clients with uncertified editors we’ve worked with and trust.

Enjoy the experience

Finally, once you’ve hired your editor, listen carefully to what she says. You make the final call about what changes you accept, but remember that she has thought carefully about your manuscript and is bringing all of her professional experience to bear on it. In the right hands, most authors enjoy the editorial process because it’s an opportunity to discuss their work in detail with a deeply attentive reader, and to make it the best it can be.