Editing: an investment you can’t afford to skip

You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating: it’s not a great idea to edit your own manuscript. Revise, yes—as much as possible. Polish that sucker up! But editing is a very demanding, tedious process that must be done right, and as such, should be done by a professional.

And it’s an investment you can’t afford to skip.

Here’s why: it’s a fact that you are much less likely to catch your own mistakes, whether we’re talking about little typos, or bigger issues such as plot holes, factual errors, or improperly developed characters. But why is this? Because once you’re intimately familiar with a manuscript, and you’ve been over it a thousand times, you simply don’t notice these things anymore. They fade into the background.

So you definitely want another pair of eyes on your work. And it really should be a trained pair of eyes. Your friends can beta read it and offer feedback, and that feedback will certainly be valuable in its own right, but an editor knows precisely where the problems lie and can articulate exactly what needs to be done to fix them.

Good editing isn’t dirt cheap, but it can be affordable when you choose the right editor. Prices run the gamut, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association (and total investment will also depend on how quickly an editor works, and what type of editing you need), but I’ve listed some averages below.

Here are the most common types of editing:

Developmental editing. Need help with your plot, the structure of your story, or character development? This “big picture” service will help you organize your novel and tie it all together nicely. It is quite time consuming, therefore requires the highest investment. Expected investment: 3.5¢–10¢ per word

Substantive editing (also called content or line editing). Okay, you have a story written. But you know it’s not perfect—the narrative could flow better, some paragraphs could be rearranged, sentences rewritten, or it may need that little extra…something? Hire a substantive editor to help with this. Still time-consuming, but cheaper than developmental editing. Expected investment: 2.5¢–8¢ per word

Copyediting. Let’s drill down to the sentence level. Do the words flow? Do the sentences have rhythm? Any grammar or punctuation issues? A good copyeditor will also keep a keen eye out for dangling modifiers. It’s like a car wash for your writing. Expected investment: 1¢–5¢ per word

Proofreading. All the major work’s been done, so now let’s sweep up and mop the floor, leaving it sparkling clean. Any remaining (minor) issues such as misspellings, extra or missing words, punctuation errors or anything else that shouldn’t be there are wiped away, and you’re left with the final text for your book. A proofreading pass takes the least time, therefore costs the least. Expected investment: less than 1¢ to 3¢ per word

Your investment will depend heavily on the editor’s experience, how polished your manuscript is going in, and the time frame you give the editor. And some charge by the hour, not by the word. But as you can see, this doesn’t have to break the bank, and you’ll end up with a much better finished product, very much worth the investment.

Remember, your reputation is at stake!

I’m Timothy Pike, a publishing consultant based in Philadelphia, PA, specializing in helping you publish a beautiful book and grow your audience.


5 thoughts on “Editing: an investment you can’t afford to skip

  1. Reblogged this on Author and commented:
    This is for the writers out there! Don’t skip on this extremely important part of writing your book. This is where self-publishing is taking a hit. If you don’t have your work edited and formatted, it looks and reads terrible, even if you have a terrific story.


  2. Let’s say that author has a 100,000 word novel, not uncommon these days.

    Let’s use the minimums you suggested:

    Developmental edit: 100,000 words x $.05/word = That’s $5000!

    My first book did a bit better than most debut novels. It earned around $2000 the first year.

    How in the world would an indie author ever make any kind of profit at the price point you suggested?

    Are you sure you didn’t mean POINT 5 cents/word? That’s more in line with what most of us actually pay.


    • Hi, I appreciate you taking the time to read this and do the math. What I was going for here was more a middle average of what one might expect to pay for editing, but I admit that translating hourly rates and pages per hour into per-word rates is difficult, especially given the wide range of acceptable fees published by the EFA, coupled with the fact that some editors work much faster than others.

      My intent here was not to insist that every author go in for a high-level edit, but rather to stress the importance of professional editing, at least at the copyediting level, and also to introduce new writers to the different levels of editing.

      Ultimately, each author will have to make a decision as to what level of editing he or she needs and feels comfortable with financially, while keeping in mind that a well-edited book will only help sales.

      You hit the nail on the head with your question, though: how do you make this profitable? To which I answer, stay tuned! I’m going to be offering a variety of courses that cover ways to generate sales for your book.


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