You’ve written your book and you’re looking forward to seeing it on Amazon or store bookshelves. Just one big thing is left on the list before that: getting your book edited. If you’ve been published through a traditional house or small press before, you probably have reasonable expectations for book editing. If you’ve self-published and you hired an editor in the past, you probably do, too. If it’s your first time working with an editor, you might not know what to expect, and that’s okay, but you may be in for a shock when you approach an editor. Maybe this post will help prevent that.
Within one week recently, several authors approached me about editing their books, and a few of them had very unreasonable expectations. It prompted me to write this post.
Book editing overnight?
One author wanted me to edit a 350-page book and to have it done that week. With editing and three rounds of proofreading, assuming an average rate of 10 pages per hour, that would be about 80 hours of work, not counting the important eye-rest time and mental-break time between rounds. The last thing you want as an author is an editor/proofreader who is too fatigued to do her job, so it’s important for an editor to take visual and mental breaks sometimes.
I had to explain to that first-time author that what he was asking for was 80 hours of work to be done in 20 hours, and for me to behave unethically—to drop the book I was working on at the moment and to boot the other people from their places in line in order to work on his book. One of those expectations is simply impossible: 80 hours of work cannot be done in 20 hours by anyone, even yours truly (although I’d love to be able to produce that much that quickly). The other is simply not happening: I’m not going to break a contract with a client so I can land another client. It wouldn’t even matter if the new guy offered double the industry standard rate plus a rush fee. Nope. Not happening. While my services may be bought, my integrity cannot. I’ll treat him with the same respect and integrity by not bumping his book when it’s his turn.
Another author asked me to edit a manuscript in one week and for one tenth the standard rate. I know that many authors simply cannot afford to pay the standard rates set forth by Writer’s Digest in the Writer’s Market. My purpose is to get helpful writing out into the world, and to that end, I’m sometimes willing to accept payment that is somewhat lower than the industry standard rates, but not 90% lower. That’s totally unreasonable. Copyediting and proofreading are both valuable services. They improve the manuscript and the reader’s experience (sometimes immensely), and make the author look good. Valuable services do and should have a price tag.
Book editing rates
Expect to pay at least $1,000 to have your book edited by a copy editor. If the editor is good, expect to pay more than that (Writer’s Market says up to $5,500 per book). If you need developmental editing, expect to pay at least $2,000 for that kind of editing. If your book needs both (many books do), that means budgeting at least $3,000 for editing. Proofreading costs, on average, $4 per page, and that’s almost always a separate process, done by a different person.
It is possible to find good editors who are affordable. I charge $6/page for copy editing and proofreading together, saving authors a substantial amount of money, and I know a few others who also are affordable. I’m happy to make referrals if that would help you find the best fit.
How long does book editing take?
Editing can take anywhere from two days to 12 weeks. Two days is very rare (or very bad), but I know it is within the realm of possibility because I’ve done it. I copy edited and proofread a book on a deadline of 48 hours. I knew it was coming and planned for it, and during that time, I left my chair only to sleep and use the bathroom. There was a deadline, and I was doing a big favor for a wonderful friend. That effort is still bringing dividends, years later.
Would I do that again? There are only a couple of people in the world for whom I would do a two-day deadline. That was one wild ride. Sorry, but you’re not one of those people. It’s two weeks, minimum, especially now that my calendar is pretty packed and I can’t just “clear the decks” and dive into one thing for days. Expect your book’s editing to take two to three months. The only way to know how long book editing will take in your case is to ask your editor.
Reasonable book editing expectations
Have reasonable expectations, and no one will get hurt. Okay, people will be less likely to be hurt. Without a good fit between author and editor, even reasonable expectations won’t help much. So make sure you find a good fit.
Expect book editing to cost a few thousand dollars, for it to take a couple of months, and for it to result in a few errors remaining in your book. I’m the only one I know who guarantees anything to be typo-free, so expecting that from anyone else will set you up for disappointment. Your book probably won’t be perfect, but with the right editor, it will be much better.