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!