Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Should You Hire an Editor?

This week’s post is a reprint of the November 13, 2013 IWC blog post, which was written by Kathryn Page Camp. The cost figures may be outdated, but the advice never is.

The original post was directed at self-publishing, but the information also applies when preparing a manuscript for submission to traditional publishers.


What do you think of when you hear the word, “self-published”? I think of substandard work. While there are many great self-published books, they aren’t the ones I remember. As a self-published author myself, I’m ashamed of anything that gives the category a bad name.

I like to support my fellow authors, and I’ve bought my share of self-published books. I also download those “free” Kindle books when the description sounds interesting. And some have been a pleasant surprise.

But most are riddled with typos, inconsistencies, and just plain bad writing.

That’s why every self-published author should hire a freelance editor.

Yes, I know it’s expensive, ranging anywhere from $500 to $10,000 for a 60,000 word manuscript. The actual price is based on a number of factors, including the type of edit and the experience of the editor. And the poorer the manuscript, the more it will cost to edit. But if your goal is to produce a professional-quality book you won’t be ashamed of five years from now, it’s well worth the money.

What types of services do editors provide? For our purposes, we will concentrate on three.

Proofreading is the cheapest and most basic service that editors provide. A proofreader looks for typos, misspellings, and grammar errors. If your book has been typeset or reformatted, a proofreader can also check the final copy against your original manuscript to make sure they match. The cost to proofread a 60,000 word manuscript may average from $500 to $950.

Copyediting is probably the most common. I always pay for a copyedit before finalizing a book manuscript, even when I am submitting to a traditional publisher. After all, why wouldn’t I want to submit my best work?

Like proofreading, copyediting looks for typos, misspellings, and grammar errors. But it also looks for inconsistencies and for words and sentences and paragraphs that are confusing or awkward. I own a self-published non-fiction book that is easy to read and gives me interesting information, but it mentions that a woman was 12 in 1817 and 76 in 1871. That means I can’t trust the facts without double-checking them with another source.

That error is evident on the face of the manuscript, and a good copyeditor would have caught it. If you request it, a copyeditor will also check other sources to verify facts and references. Obviously, however, the more you ask a copyeditor to do, the more it will cost. For that 60,000 word manuscript, a copyedit may average anywhere from $750 to $2,500. 

Substantive editing—sometimes called line editing—is the most expensive, but it is also the most comprehensive. Although it includes some of the elements of a good copyedit, a substantive edit also looks at the contents and tells you what works and what doesn't on both a macro and a micro level. The editor may go so far as to recommend that you reorder your chapters to make the plot more suspenseful or eliminate your favorite passage because it’s irrelevant. For a 60,000 word manuscript, a substantive edit will average between $2,000 and $10,000.

What type of edit you need depends on your human resources. Do you belong to a writers’ critique group that includes knowledgeable members and provides honest feedback on both craft and clarity? Do you have someone (preferably not a family member or good friend) from your target audience who will give you candid comments from a reader’s perspective? And do you take full advantage of these resources? If so, you may not need a substantive edit.

I’m a grammar geek and, given time to do a careful read, am also good at catching typos and confusing words and phrases. Even so, it’s hard for me to edit my own work. I know what I wanted to say, and my mind reads it that way. And I’m not alone. Very few people can edit their own work and end up with an acceptable product.

Of course, not everyone has the financial resources to hire an editor. Still, there may be a way. What about giving up that cappuccino you always buy on the way to work? Or do you have skills you can barter?

Start by asking yourself why you are writing and publishing. Because if you want to produce your best work, you will find a way to polish it before releasing it to the public.

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