I do developmental editing mostly, so I charge a flat rate to read once and build an action plan, half before and half afterwards. Then we contract to work through the plan, where the bulk of the editing takes place and for this I charge 25% up front, 50% after the developmental edit, and 25% on completion of the final proof. I find that authors appreciate the spread payments and the transparency this brings.
Even if you wrote the book in your free time, this is my day job. The per-project cost many new authors would consider “manageable” would, if broken into an hourly rate, end up paying editors less than minimum wage. They don’t intend to pay what someone could earn making french fries; they just greatly underestimate how much time must be invested in editing.
Check out freelance websites like UpWorkor even a great site called Scribendi. (Warning: if you source an editor from these sites, make sure you hire another, professional editor to go over it afterward. There is no way to know what you are getting otherwise. Just because the draft comes back better than it was before, does not mean it was well-edited!)
For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
I like the idea of embedding “fine print” into the initial email. I also think it’s a good idea for an author to check references; the questions Val suggested are great. Third, as another commenter said, an editor can give the author a general assessment of their book, which will help the author decide if that particular editor will be a good fit or not.
Just launched my new novel "Who is Waldo Wiggins?" this past weekend and the response has been great. Ebook Launch did all the cover art (front and back) for the paperback and ebook, and they knocked it out of the park. The first thing people mention is the cover art and the great job that was done on it. Personally, I couldn't be happier. The end result was beyond my expectations.
As a freelance editor, I would like to express my strong disagreement with the idea that a freelance editor must work as an employee of a publisher for three years to be any good. In my field, spirituality, many publishers have gone to having most editorial tasks beyond acquisitions performed by freelancers, so the in-house positions being held out here as a prerequisite for freelancing simply don’t exist; many editors must cut our teeth as freelancers. It also occurs to me that self-published authors usually bristle at the idea that they are not “real” authors unless their work is accepted by a commercial publishing house. Is it fair to apply this standard to the people they propose to employ as editors?
A good editor is invaluable when starting out. Later on it perhaps depends on how complex the story or writing is. Editors can be looking for similarity not originality. The final script a poor representation of the original story or article. An article of mine, which was picked up by Wikipedia for its originality and informative ideas was given forty edits from around the world! It was like a mechanical invention rather than an interesting article in the end!
Hey Elizabeth – I get what you’re coming from. I try to work in some flexibility with clients due to budget. Like you said, many people are charging the market rate regardless of experience. However, most good editors will work with your budget in one way or another, be it payment plans or reduced rates. I find it’s easier for me to retain clients and provide better services if the costs go down over time. Some people choose to discount the first project. It’s all very fluid. But yes, cost can be a deterrent for some folks. Self editing can drive these costs down, so taking the time to go through your work first is very helpful for the editor and for your own pocketbook..
Recently a client asked me to do a sample edit and quote to copyedit his MS, which is a biography of his late grandfather’s career (and exploits) as a senior police officer early last century. When I did a short sample edit (4 pages), I realised there were some pretty major issues with his writing and the structure. So I sent it back with my comments and we discussed doing an MA, which I did. Now he’s working on sections of his MS and then sending them to me (he has poor health so we are doing it in stages). It’s a collaborative effort and we’re enjoying working on it together. If you have a client who is open to working with their editor, their book can become something they are really proud of, and it’s equally satisfying for the editor.
And a word of warning. The Editorial Freelancers Association, mentioned in this article as a potential source for finding an editor, does not vet its applicants. Anyone, including “self-proclaimed” editors, can join. As stated in the membership guidelines: “Any full- or part-time freelancer may join EFA.” It is basically a listing of freelancers offering services online, and for a fee, members can have access to a job board. While some legitimate editors list themselves on the EFA, so do a lot of other people. Membership is by no means evidence of professional qualifications.
I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.
Call or write to the publishing company the editor works for to see if you can talk to them. You may be able to reach an editor directly by asking to speak with them at work. Send a formal letter or place a friendly call asking to speak with the editor. Ensure that you’re able to articulate why you want to speak with them ahead of time by practicing the conversation.
Developmental editing (may also be called structural or content) – looks at the book’s big picture and overall structure in nonfiction or plot and characters in fiction. Developmental editors may assess a book idea, outline, or early draft to tell authors what works and what could be better. The big picture questions need to be answered first before an editor ensures your words are polished and used correctly.