Over the years I’ve realised that there’s a lot of people who underestimate the cost of editing! That’s understandable if you’ve never been down this road before, but it can be a little frustrating to be constantly emailed by people who expect me to do several days’ work for fifty bucks. So if you are looking to hire an editor, here’s six things you should keep in mind.
1. Editing is work
Reading is easy. Editing is not. Editing is work.
Most of the time I have to read the document in full first. When structural editing, I need to know the ‘big picture’ of the document because structural editing is about enhancing the big picture, making sure the document clearly and efficiently gets across the message the author intends it to. When copyediting, I have to change text to convey ideas in the most effective way. To do that, I need to know what I’m talking about.
Structural editing involves letting the writer know the weaknesses in the big picture, but it’s a bit more involved than Read–Instantly Know Weaknesses–Articulate Weaknesses To Writer.
First, I have to reflect on my reading experience. Was the story boring? Did I have a problem with the protagonist? But my job doesn’t end there. I don’t then go and tell the writer “the story is boring and I don’t like the protagonist” because this doesn’t give them much to go on. I need to find the specific problems because I’m an editor not a beta-reader.
Since there’s a lot going on in stories, this can take time. Is the story boring because it’s paced too slowly, or is there no real plot? Is the protagonist unsympathetic, or are they poorly developed? I have to narrow the weak spots down to the exact problems or my feedback is not going to help the writer improve their story.
I don’t just tell the writer “The story is paced too slowly and your protagonist is underdeveloped”. They could read this, disagree because many writers overestimate their ability to take constructive criticism, and not make any changes to improve their story. When I tell a writer what their story’s weaknesses are, I need to explain the weaknesses using examples from the story – which means further reading. I need to make it clear why each weakness brings down the story so the writer can understand where I’m coming from, evaluate my feedback properly, and make effective changes to their story.
I also need to give the writer suggestions for overcoming the story’s weaknesses to support my explanation. If I identify a problem with the pacing, I’ll explain to the writer that slow pacing can make a story boring. If the reader doesn’t find the book exciting, it will be easier to put down and not pick it back up again. To increase the pace, scenes X and Y could be combined, Z could be removed, and the language could be more active.
I’m still not finished. Stories usually have more than one problem, so I’ll need to complete this analysis for each problem I identify. I then put this into a report and tweak the language I use so it’s tactful. Criticism can be hard to take, even when constructive, and I want to assure my clients that their confidence should not be shattered because they didn’t receive a big tick on their manuscript.
Structural editing also involves in-text editing. I look at the way paragraphs are structured, the way scenes are structured, the way chapters are structured and divided, the way acts are structured and divided and anything else you can think of involving structure.
Copyediting involves assessing the way ideas are conveyed sentence-by-sentence. First, I need to determine if a sentence is flawed. If it is, I need to identify the problem, which could be a number of things. It could be too long, too short, grammatically incorrect, have too many long words, use passive voice, or so many other things. Then I need to find a more efficient way to convey that idea.
By now you should realise that editing is actually a full-on process, and that means …
2. Editing takes time
Let’s focus on book editing here since that’s what I specialise in. How long does it take you to read a book from start to finish?
Depending on the size of the manuscript, this can take an entire day. A lot of people who contact me for quotes seem to forget that to edit their manuscript I have to read it and that reading tens of thousands of words takes hours. Editing is not a quick process.
On top of this reading, look at all the other stuff that’s involved. Breaking down a story, finding its weaknesses, explaining them, coming up with fixes and relaying this to the writer takes days! Identifying and solving problems in thousands of sentences takes days!
I expect to get paid for the hours I put in, and that means …
3. Editing is expensive
If I had a dollar for every time someone has cheerfully contacted me for a quote, received a quote, and then run for the hills, then I could afford to take a few days off. And I’m not even talking about big quotes. I have clients who are happy to pay a reasonable fee for my time and expertise. I also have people unwilling to pay me more than AUD$200 to edit a 70k word manuscript that would take me a day just to read.
Say a writer has a manuscript of x amount of words that they want edited. We talk about what service they want, I read a sample, and I tell them it’ll take 4 days. How much would you earn in 4 days? Don’t be surprised when you receive a quote for hundreds of dollars because …
4. Editing is a job
and just like everyone else, I expect to be paid for the hours I put in at a rate that reflects the difficulty of the job.
Further, I might charge a writer for 12 hours of editing, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get their document back in 2 days. First of all, I have other projects to work on. I’m not going to work on one writer’s document from the minute I receive it to the minute I send it back. Second, editing is work that strains minds, eyes and wrists. I need to take breaks from my work as much as everyone else. Often, this means that I won’t edit a single document for 8 hours a day, especially if I’m doing a heavy copyedit.
I’ve had clients try to call me at 9pm. I’ve have people expect me to edit their manuscript for free as if this is a hobby. I’ve had people expect me to work only on their document as if I have nothing else to do. This is a job. There’s more to being realistic about hiring an editor than understanding their services. Editors are people with lots of clients and with businesses to operate and with personal lives. Please respect our time as we respect your work.
It would also be nice if writers could do the tiniest bit of research about editing and proofreading before contacting me because …
5. There’s a process
There are few things more draining for me than receiving queries that say “how much do you charge for editing?” and “I need editing/proofreading”. These involve extra emails because I need to determine what type of editing the person needs and what “editing/proofreading” means because the two are completely different services and I can’t do both at once. I even have people asking me if I can do a structural AND a copy edit at the same time and I have to explain that they cannot be done together. The process is this:
Final draft -> structural edit -> revision -> copyedit -> revision -> proofread
As you can see, the manuscript goes back and forth between writer and editor because the writer needs to do work on the manuscript between edits. It’s nonsensical to copyedit a manuscript that’s had a structural edit but hasn’t been revised. It’s a bad idea for an editor to proofread a document they’ve just copyedited for the same reason a writer can’t edit their own work. I need a break between copyediting and proofreading, and the writer needs to finalise their copy before I proof it anyway.
It’s also a bad idea to have me proofread a document that hasn’t been copyedited because proofreading won’t fix badly worded sentences. And it’s a bad idea to have me copyedit a manuscript that hasn’t had a structural edit because copyediting won’t fix a story’s flaws. Each stage works on different aspects of a manuscript and skipping any of them usually does a disservice to the story.
It’s your choice what service/s you purchase, but please specify what service/s you’re after when querying rates. I need to know what service/s you need and how long your manuscript is (in words, not pages). And I need you to know that no two services can be delivered at the same time, and that skipping any stage of the editing process is not advised. I’d also appreciate a sample so I can determine how much work will be involved because …
6. Every story is different
I can quote two different prices for the same service for manuscripts of the same length. Why? Because some stories need more work than others. When copyediting manuscript #1 I might need to change 1 sentence in every 5. For manuscript #2, I might need to change 1 in 2. #2 is obviously going to take longer, which means it’s going to cost more. Keep that in mind when you can’t find a rates page on an editor’s website.
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