If you're thinking about hiring a professional editor, the first step is to consider your goal. 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 help, learn as much as you can about creating sound copy. (If you need some help, you can download my free resource here.)
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 if you both own the project. You'll want to be able to work together efficiently. You should enjoy the process and feel supported as well as assisted.
How Quickly Can a Professional Editor Work?
Granted the term professional is not regulated, but there is a wide range of skill when it comes to editors. Keep in mind that 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 one worth hiring.
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 copyediting 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 Hiring a Professional Editor Cost?
I recently took a continuing education course in which the topic of fees was raised. According to instructor Jacqueline Landis, an editor with more than 15 years of experience, “The rock-bottom rate for an established editor is $20 per hour for light to medium copyediting. An average rate is $35 per hour, and the top rate ranges from $50 to $75 per hour.” The higher fees are usually for very heavy developmental editing.
If you have a 25,000-word manuscript (approximately 50 single-spaced pages in Times New Roman 12-point font), editing fees can range from $150 to more than $5000! For a typical light to medium edit, expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for a professional edit.
What do copyeditors do?
So what 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, as you probably can imagine. 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? (If you were in school more than a few years ago, you may not realize this is now optional.)
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 is not reasonable 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 6 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 3 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 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 a great editor. There is no consensus on how “copyeditor” should be spelled. CMOS (and I) spell it as one word; AP (the style guide for journalists) spells it as two (copy editor). Go figure!
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