How Much Does Editing Cost?

June 2, 2013
Copyeditors Handbook

Ever wonder how much editing costs? The cost of editing is by far the question authors ask me about most often. I feel a little like I’m giving away a trade secret by talking about this, but in reality, the average cost of editing can be found on many sites, and it’s almost impossible to predict because (as you’ll soon see) there are so many variables to consider. If you are interested in how editing costing works, read on!

Most editors that I’ve met price a project based on four factors:

1. Length of the work:

Proper editing takes time. The more words in the piece you’d like edited, the more time it’s going to take to edit, and the more it’s going to cost. Another consideration here is how much work your writing needs: the rougher your work, the more time it’s going to take an editor to clean it up, so to speak. It’s a good idea to edit your own work a few times (or more!) before you seek out an editor to save yourself some money.

2. Level of edit required:

There are several different degrees of editing, from a proofread for typos and formatting errors to a substantive edit to repair structural issues. The Editor’s Association of Canada has a great list of the types or levels of editing. More involved levels of editing (like a substantive edit) are going to take an editor more time, and will therefore be more expensive.

3. Deadline:

How soon do you need your work edited? If your turn-around time is short, an editor may need to charge more for your project.

4. The Editor:

Just like other professions, more experienced editors will charge more. Editors need to have a complex set of skills. They often have advanced degrees in publishing or literature or experience, and writing their own work. An editor might have advanced knowledge about a specific topic or genre (e.g. Sci-Fi writing or gardening). An editor with less experience will likely be less expensive, while an experienced editor will charge more for their expertise.

How Much Does Editing Cost?: The Not-So-Secret Formula

If you’d like to get a high level view of how much your next project might cost, you can do a rough calculation using the information below. A big warning here: every editor I know prices differently. There are many intangible factors when it comes to quoting on an editing project, from how many other projects you have your plate to how much overhead you have for your business. The information below is just a guideline — if an editor gives you a quote that doesn’t fit the guide below, it could still be a great price. If you ever doubt that you’re getting a good price you can always ask for referrals, or get a quote from another editor.

Here is a very high level formula that editors might use to calculate how much a project will cost.

Many editors calculate the cost of an editing project by using a variation this formula:

Pages/hour x charge per hour = total cost

The number of pages an editor will be able to complete in an hour depends on the level of edit required. For a standard guide on how much an editor might charge per hour based on the level of edit, see the rates on the Editorial Freelancers Associations site. The more involved the edit, the fewer pages an editor can complete per hour, and the more your project will cost.

Depending on their level of experience and the level of edit required, an editor may charge anywhere from $15/hour to $100+/hour.

A side note about the level of edit required: I have found the level of edit required can occasionally be a touchy subject with writers. You may only want our work proofread, but if there are bigger issues with your writing, it might be very difficult (or impossible) for an editor to only proofread your work without fixing some deeper issues (e.g. poor grammar habits). A good editor will let you know what your project needs, and occasionally, refuse your project if they feel they can’t complete the level of edit required within the budget you are looking to meet.

Do you have any questions about the cost of editing? Leave a comment below!

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  • Robert Runte, Ph.D. June 13, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Sounds about right.

    Some editors (myself included) like to edit a sample of a writer’s work before taking on a large, expensive project. Often, they will do the sample at a discount, just so a potential client can get a sense of what they can expect from the editor, and the editor can get a realistic idea of how much editing the writer’s manuscript requires (and so, are able to provide a realistic estimate of costs). When the writer gets the sample back, if he hates the editor’s comments (too blunt, too focused on style or grammar or whatever), all they’ve invested is $100. It’s kind of like going out on a first date rather than proposing marriage sight unseen. If, on the other hand they are satisfied, and can afford the editor’s estimate for the project, then they can go ahead and sign a contract for $$ with some assurance that they know what they’re getting.

    Editors might also refuse to take on a client. I’ve had to tell a couple of writers that their manuscript would require so much work, they could not possibly recoup the expense in book sales.

    Professional editing can be expensive, but one alternative is to take your manuscript to a small press. For example, in addition to my freelance business, I edit for a small press. that can’t offer advances to writers, but what they do offer is my free free. Some manuscripts come in requiring only a little copy editing, but most require substantial developmental editing. It is not uncommon for me to put in the equivalent $2500-$3500 worth of editing into a manuscript, but it’s the press that pays me, not the writer. (Same with cover art and book design and so on.) Often writers think that small presses have nothing to offer them that they couldn’t do for themselves if they self-publish, but paying some of these types of expenses up front is often a very real service. Just saying.

    • Carrie Mumford June 19, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      Thanks for such a detailed comment, Robert! I had completely missed the sample edit — thank you for noting it here. I think the sample edit is under-utilized, but can be so valuable, as you mentioned.

      Your comment about small presses covering editing brings up another pro for publishing with small presses. This has the makings of another blog post…

  • amandasumner June 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this, especially “Proper editing takes time.”

    I see authors tout people who only charge a couple of hundred dollars for a full-length novel. Sure, everyone wants to save money, but I want to ask the authors: Do you think the editor is paying himself or herself minimum wage? Or is the editor just spending very little time on your manuscript? At those rates, it has to be one or the other.

    • Carrie Mumford June 19, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      I think it depends on the editor. I definitely agree that editing is a profession and you can certainly get what you pay for. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. I’d recommend asking for references if you have any doubts!

  • Ben Lane Hodson August 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Just thinking through the numbers here. If I wanted an editor to help me with a full edit (developmental & copy), looking at the average EFA prices, it appears that would be around $40 per hour (for around 3 pages per hour – I just split the middle on this since my writing is about average).

    I have a 70,000 word novel that is almost complete (about 280 pages if I do the standard 250 words per page average).

    Bottom line:

    280 pages / 3 pages per hour = 93

    93 hours x $40 per hour = $3,720

    So close to $4k to get an average length novel edited. Is that sounding in the ballpark of what you’d expect? Did I misunderstand the rates? Or is that what I should expect for a good editor?

    • Carrie Mumford August 26, 2013 at 7:34 am

      Hi Ben,

      Your math looks sound to me! I would caution though that rates can vary drastically between editors. There are so many factors involved (their level of experience, how quickly you need the work complete, the level of edit required, etc.). I encourage you to get quotes from several editors and check out their past editing credits. Good luck with your novel!

      • Ben Lane Hodson August 26, 2013 at 9:28 am

        That’s good advice. I was hoping to spend more in the $2,000 territory for a first release but it sounds like it may be much more than that. I agree it varies between editors but I kind of subscribe to the “you get what you pay for” theory. So if an editor is much lower cost, my immediate thinking is they may not be as good either.

        • Carrie Mumford August 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm

          Are you sure you need a full edit? If you plan on submitting your work to publishers, perhaps what you’d need is a manuscript evaluation? You can get a manuscript evaluation for a lower price, especially if you only submit the first section of your work. If you are submitting to publishers, I don’t think you need a full edit, unless you know for sure that your writing needs some serious work :) If you’re planning to self-publish, then I’d definitely recommend an editor.

          • Ben Lane Hodson August 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm

            That’s a great question. Since this is my first book, I really want it to be great. So I was thinking I would need both a developmental edit by a professional to make sure my story is well told and also a copy edit once the developmental was completed to assure I have not grammar or spelling issues.

            I find a lot of self published work is very poor quality (and appears to be self edited). I want to be considered a professional writer and pro’s have their work edited so that’s why I am doing it.

            Not sure if that means a “full edit” or not. I certainly will want to do as much editing as I can on my own to get it close before handing it to a pro editor.

          • Carrie Mumford August 28, 2013 at 7:21 am

            I’d definitely recommend seeking out a manuscript evaluation first — even a partial one. That way the editor or author can let you know if they think you need an editor’s assistance before you seek publication.

            If you live in Alberta, the Writer’s Guilde offers this (http://www.writersguild.ab.ca/) for a reasonable price. But if you don’t live in Alberta, I’d recommend checking in with your local writer’s guild or association.