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How much should you REALLY be paying an editor?

This was an interesting conversation that came up the other day between myself and some of my writer friends. How much should you reasonably expect to pay an editor?

One friend told me he was seeing rates of about $0.04 per word for a full blown edit. That’s for the works. His 365 page manuscript (250 words per page) would garner a fee of $3,650! WOW!

Another friend of my said she was recently quoted a fee of nearly double that by a big, not to be named, editing firm. Her novel is about 90,000 words and would cost her over seven grand to have edited at those rates.

And people wonder why so many self-published works out there don’t look like they’ve been edited professionally?

So I started thinking. What SHOULD you expect to pay an editor? There are a lot of them out there it seems. Type “manuscript editing services” into the search engine and you get tens of thousands of hits.

An editor can, because we live in a free country, charge whatever they want for their services. But I want to apply a little math to the problem and see where that gets us.

The average U.S. salary is something like $43,600 per year. So let’s just go with that. Let’s say that an editor wants to make that as a purely freelance endeavor. It’s just them, in their home, editing. No big fancy building to pay for. No real office expenses.

Ok, so, accounting for holidays and two weeks of vacation, and let’s say they don’t want to work on the weekend (boy, wouldn’t that be nice), they are going to log 1,960 hours in a year being an editor. That means they have to charge you $22.24 per hour.

Now, how many pages can an editor read, ponder, and edit in an hour? Well, I am not a whiz a reading, some say I am rather slow. But I do clock around 15 pages in about 15-25 minutes for an average novel. I think that if I can do that, an editor, someone who gets paid to read, can do the same. Plus that leaves them most of a given hour to do editing stuff, making comments, etc. on your work.

So, if the editor can do this, then they should, if your manuscript is formatted like a novel, charge $1.48 per page.

Now, I’m not done. Let’s say they want to take into account the fact that they might not have something to edit every day of every week. Let’s give them a markup of 20% to take into account that they still want to hit their salary of $43,600 for the year. That ups their wage to $1.78 per page.

I’ll go even further here. Let’s say they want to afford health insurance and maybe some other perks as a self-employed individual (website, advertising, etc). Or, maybe, they are part of a bigger firm and not doing this on their own. Let’s give them another 30% markup to account for other expenses. Now we are at $2.31 per page.

Now, I think that is fair. Of course, these prices can vary. If you are dealing with a big, big, big editing firm who has more expenses, with a lot of high priced editors who are uber good and very desirable to have edit your work because they are flawless, you could pay a lot more. Likewise, if you have a housewife in Oklahoma who has a degree in English and is looking to pick up some extra coin to support the family, you might even pay less.

Quality matters too. An editor that is horrible better be charging less than one that is good.

But even at that, I think the price I calculated above is pretty reasonable. Heck, let’s round it up to $2.50 per page just to add a little more cushion. That’s almost a 70% markup.

Now, what I think my first friend should be paying for his manuscript to be edited is $912.50. My second friend should probably be paying around the same. But that’s not what is being quoted to them. And if these places are super busy at those rates, who can blame them? Supply and demand after all.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that it isn’t way, way, way out of the ball park. My advice to people like my friends getting these sorts of quotes is to keep looking. I’ve seen repudable firms charging less.

  1. Tony
    September 4, 2012 at 6:04 pm | #1

    This is an excellent writeup. Never thought of it this way. I think I overpaid for my last editor!

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