You hired an editor who worked with you for weeks, perhaps months, helping you transform your first draft into a polished manuscript. Your sentences are crisp. Your paragraphs communicate your message in your voice without awkward phrases, redundant points, or vagueness. Now your editor suggests you hire a proofreader. And you’re wondering why. Why do you need a proofreader? The manuscript should be perfect, shouldn’t it?
Well, no. (It will probably never be perfect.)
An editor’s job is to collaborate with authors to help them communicate well. What that entails depends on the writer. I work with seasoned professional writers, new writers, non-writers (business people, service providers, teachers, and healers), and folks with varying degrees of English language knowledge. The work I do is creative and collaborative with a dash of rule following.
But it’s not proofreading.
I know some folks assume a typo or missing word means the editor did not do her job.
Those people don’t understand what good editors do.
So, do you need a proofreader?
A better question may be whether you want proofreader. But here’s the thing. You need a proofreader if you are a perfectionist who can’t bear the thought of a single error—even if it’s an error only you notice or care about.
As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you, perfection is worth aiming for, but it should not be your goal. If you work too hard to achieve perfection, you’ll almost always sacrifice something else (like your sanity).
The purpose of writing is effective communication. A writer’s primary goal is to connect with a specific audience. You may want to educate, inspire, comfort, or convince your reader. If you write fiction, you want to entertain and tell a great story. If you’re a memoirist, your to tell your true story in a creative, engaging way.
Your editor will help you do that. And to help you do that, she will likely read your manuscript several times.
Which side of readers’ brains do you want to engage?
Don’t get me wrong. Attention to detail—the kind needed to spot typos, missing commas, and the like—is a good skill for an editor to have. As an editor of technical reports, I’m often praised for my attention to detail.
But when I edit books, technical details are not my focus. I use the other side of my brain first, because the books I edit are not dry technical pieces.
Two-sided brains are the reason you may need (that is, want) to hire a proofreader, even if your editor has eagle eyes.
Why? Well, try to do something creative perfectly. If you’re a creative type, you know aiming for perfection can be so stifling that you stay stuck in your head, unable to express yourself fully.
As you create, your brain fills in gaps here and there. We all do this when we know what we want to see. The phenomena is called “filling in,” which doesn’t sound very technical, but it has been widely studied.
I used to get upset when I’d spend hours on a complex editing project only to have someone notice a typo. But over time, I noticed that technically perfect writing is often boring. It can even be bad.
And writing that inspires, intrigues, motivates, or engages—writing I’d rather read—isn’t spoiled if it’s not perfect.
Perfection is the enemy of done
When I first heard someone say perfection is the enemy of done, I was both inspired and relieved.
Almost every book has at least one “error.” I’m not referring to factual errors, but the kinds of errors proofreaders fix. Most have more than one, and in many cases, you won’t notice them. Your brain fills in gaps as well.
That’s not to say you should settle for sloppy writing. Too many errors will distract readers from your message or cause them to question your credibility. But the inevitable few are usually harmless.
So, as I tell my authors, if you’ve gone through rounds of creative editing, and you love the way your message is presented but are still going to lie awake at night fearing a bad review if there’s a word missing or misspelled, hire a proofreader—ideally someone who has not read your work before—if you can afford to.
If not, trust your creation. Share your story! If you wait for it to be perfect, it may never be told.
One of the first questions people ask me about editing is how much it will cost. Of course, I understand. When I’m interested in a service, cost is one of the first things I wonder about too.
The answer—and I don’t think this will surprise you — is it depends.
Factors That Affect Editing Cost
Once you understand the editing process and know where you are in that process, you’ll be able to estimate how much it will cost to edit your book, or at least how long the project will take to complete.
So, the first question I have for you is how much have you already done?
One reason there’s no simple answer to the question of cost when it comes to editing is there are a few types of editing. Another reason is every manuscript is different. I edit manuscripts from people with a range of writing skills. Some are professional writers. Many are service providers and small business owners who are not writers, and some are folks whose native language is not English.
An average-length book (which is somewhere around 300 pages or 60,000 words) can take anywhere from 25 to more than 100 hours to edit. Why the big range? Some books can be edited in one or two passes. Others require a third or fourth reading to get everything in order.
Four Types of Editing
Think of editing the way you’d think of building a house. You start with the foundation and work in stages until you’re ready for an inspection before your certificate of occupancy is issued.
When you write a book, you start with a raw concept, polish it in stages, and then dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
Generally speaking, the stages of editing are:
1. Developmental editing
2. Line or content editing
Actually, proofreading is technically not editing. It's a service that checks the final manuscript against the editing you’ve already done. The term goes back to the days when proofs needed to be read against a red-lined (edited) copy. But these days, most people use the term proofreading to mean a final or light edit.
Ideally, the person who proofreads your book will not be the same person who edits it.
A Closer Look at The Editing Process
If you have an idea, an outline, or a very rough draft, you may need to start with developmental editing. A developmental editor will help you shape your idea into the pages of a book.
Once you’ve written a draft, you may move on to line editing (also called content editing), which focuses on how the sentences flow, how well you tell the story, readability, and logic. It ensures you’re telling the story you want to tell the way you want to tell it. If you’re an experienced writer, you may not need deep line editing.
The last stage of editing (before proofreading) is copyediting. At this stage, the editor focuses on consistency, verb tenses, punctuation, succinctness, and other details that make sentences more readable. If you’re using a style guide (that is, if your manuscript will be traditionally published or you are self-publishing but want your book to have a professional look and feel), a copyedit also ensures adherence to that guide.
Finishing Touches: Proofreading
Most professional writers and editors know it’s nearly impossible for writers to proofread their own work. If you’ve written it, your brain knows what you meant to write, and that’s what your brain will see. The same idea holds true once an editor has read your book two or three times during the editing process. That’s why it’s smart to have a new pair of eyes do a final proofread.
What’s the Bottom Line?
So, now you can see why there’s no easy way to say how much it will cost to edit your book unless I see your writing and know a bit about your project. But I understand that you’d still like some numbers, so here are some ballpark figures.
A professional editor working on nontechnical nonfiction may charge $40 – $60 per hour, though most will give you a flat-rate estimate based on that rate. That means the 60,000-word manuscript I mentioned above will cost between $1000 and $6000 to edit (give or take).
Now that you know the factors involved in narrowing that range to a quote for your project, you can probably pinpoint whether the fee an editor will charge you is at the lower or higher end of that range. When you’re ready to hire an editor, ask for a sample edit. That will give you and the editor a solid idea of whether you can work together within your budget and time frame.
If you still have questions about how much it will cost to edit your book (or any other aspect of the writing or editing process), feel free to reach out. I’d be happy to discuss your project and point you in the right direction!
If you're thinking about hiring a professional editor, the first step is to consider your goal. Why do you need editing help? Are you self-publishing a book? Do you want to put your best foot (or word) forward when marketing your well-being service? Do want clickable content that search engines will find and people will read?
Of course, you can do a lot of this on your own. Before you think about paying for editing help, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about creating sound copy.
But we all need help from time to time. Even editors hire editors. (I do!)
How Can an Editor Help You?
Think about what you want help with and set some realistic expectations about the time and cost involved. The most important piece of advice I can give you is find a professional editor who knows about your topic. Better still, find someone with a passion for it! Also be sure to find someone you connect with.
A carefully selected second pair of eyes can cut your workload by more than half, because neither you nor your editor will burn out when you're both committed to the project. You'll enjoy the creative process and feel supported as well as assisted.
How Quickly Can a Professional Editor Work?
There is a wide range of skill when it comes to editors. Fast is not better. (On the other hand, slow doesn't necessarily mean detailed or thorough.)
Knowing a bit about how editors work can help you decide if you've found editing help worth paying for.
In her book, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, editor and teacher Amy Einsohn, a leader in the field of copyediting, gives the following estimates of a “typical pace" for editing hard copy. The estimates are based on two passes (the minimum necessary to do the job well).
Light copyedit: 4-9 pages per hour
Medium copyedit 2-7 pages per hour
Heavy copyedit 1-3 pages per hour
The “pages” Einsohn refers to are manuscript pages, which are typically only 250-325 words in length. (Manuscript pages are double-spaced for ease of editing.)
How Much Should Editing Help Cost?
According to the Editorial Freelancers Association, the median rate for a nonfiction copyedit is $45 per hour. So if you have a 25,000-word manuscript (approximately 50 single-spaced pages in a typical Word document), editing fees can range from $250 to more than $2000. For a light to medium edit, expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for professional editing help.
What do copyeditors do?
So what kind of editing help do you get for your investment in professional editing? The short answer to this question is probably more than you realize. If you are hiring a professional editor, ask about his or her process. Look for clues that the person is a qualified, experienced editor.
Here are some questions (and answers) that may help.
1. Does the editor use a style sheet? You shouldn’t have to ask this question, because all professional editors do. In case you’re not aware of this tool of the trade, a style sheet is a form of keeping notes, usually on a chart. The goal is to keep track of anything that may be inconsistent or need attention as the editor reads. Style sheets are crucial to accuracy. For example, while editing a book that is hundreds of pages long, it would be easy to miss that a name is spelled one way on page 3 and another way on page 233 without a style sheet.
Editors also use style sheets to note stylistic preferences. For example, should there be a comma before the conjunction in the last item in a series? Does the author want to use "vanity caps"? Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition? (If you were in school more than a few years ago, you may not realize this is now okay.) How should vertical lists be punctuated?
2. How many “passes” will the editor do? “Pass” is editor-speak for reading the manuscript once. As I mentioned before, two passes are the minimum for quality work. In some cases, due to budget or time constraints, an author may request only one, but be aware that it's unreasonable to expect perfection if you do this.
3. How does the editor ensure accuracy? Some tricks of the trade include reading the manuscript out loud, taking a break at least once every two hours, or spending no more than six hours editing on a given day (except in emergencies). Yes, we all want things done quickly, but as I said, quick does not mean good. Editing is tedious work. If an editor promises to complete a 300-page manuscript in three days, find another editor!
3. Does the editor work on hard copy with traditional proofreaders’ marks or on electronic copy using a feature like Microsoft Word’s Track Changes? If the editor doesn’t know much about either of these methods, don’t expect professional results.
4. Which style guide does the editor use? There are different guides for different purposes. Some companies (and authors) have their own house style as well. I use CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style) or AP (Associated Press) unless a client requests something else. Ask this question to ensure the editor you hire will not simply be working from memory of high school English class.
One quick tidbit before you get out there and find the right editing help for you. There is no consensus on how “copyeditor” should be spelled. CMOS (and I, unless instructed otherwise) spell it as one word; AP (the style guide for journalists) spells it as two (copy editor).
I mention this to show you why it's a good idea to have some guidelines in mind before you hand your copy over to an editor. Or at least be sure your editor has a plan!