An edit requires a substantial investment, many times greater than the cost of a book. Editors who spent years as assistants, learning the craft of editing and acquiring the knowledge of how to guide authors, are a safer choice. Their track record speaks for itself; editors at this level have bestsellers and award winners in both the traditional and the self-publishing space.
Additionally, I think that many GREAT, very reputable editors absolutely will not complete a sample edit for free. They can point you to their work, their testimonials, and their references, though, free of charge. And if you’re curious why editors I know do not offer a free sample edit, check out this video to illustrate the point. https://youtu.be/essNmNOrQto
The greatest benefit of an editor is that he or she is not the author. An editor is someone else. Some editors are professional writers, but every single one of them is a professional reader. As a writer, you’re probably a voracious reader, but you can never be a true reader for your book. By bringing forth a book into the world, you’re asking other people to read something you’ve never read. If you sincerely want the book to be the very best that it can be, then you must ask someone else to read it first. You owe it to your book, to yourself, and to your readers.
For my book, Career Change, I gave an early copy to people working in my department in the day job who I knew were dissatisfied with what they were doing. They came back with questions and suggestions for what to include as additional material. For The Healthy Writer, we asked medical doctors to read it as a sense check (even though my co-writer, Euan Lawson, is a doctor!)
Stephen, you’re right, and I think much of the confusion about editing and its pricing stems from the fact that editors offer a range of services (in addition to a range of experience). It might be best to view editing on a spectrum from broad (developmental) to detailed (copyediting and proofreading). And it’s always best to have as clear an idea as you can about the kind of editing you believe you need.

You know, Rob, I’ve learned people offer their services for pay for a variety of reasons, and they live in a variety of circumstances. Some do it just to make a little side money, because they love the creativity…it’s not everyone who’s doing it because it’s their main livelihood. Others are new to the field and don’t feel they can command more. And sometimes, maybe you connect with someone who’s affordable, but they still do a great job.
Wonderful article! The difference between the types of editors can’t be emphasized enough, escpecially when it comes to price. I’ve seen too many new authors seek out a copywriter when they need a content editor. (Most bad reviews that say “they really need an editor!” reflect that.) This is a relationship and you need to be able to work with the person. If you disagree with all of their suggestions, or they can’t see your perspective, then the edit is worthless. Writers also need to be aware of the difference between an edit that’s going to help the story and… Read more »
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book? and How to Sell Your Memoir. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com.
Hey there! In my experience (as a freelance developmental fiction editor with friends in the same profession), developmental is actually the cheapest option–I think you may have made a decimal point error 🙂 The going rate in my corner of the edit-verse is around $0.008/word, not $0.08, which means a 70,000-word edit will be $560 or so. It’s possible this is different across genres, though! Just wanted to drop a note so any aspiring budget-minded fiction writers out there can take heart .

I have over 30 years' experience in the publishing/writing industry, working as everything from an in-house editor to an investigative reporter to a novelist to a medical/technical writer to a screenwriter. I've been an independent contractor for 24 years working as a freelance editor (developmental and line editing), writer (fiction and nonfiction), ghostwriter, and copy editor.
Next, it is possible to follow the road to traditional publication without hiring your own editor, with editing being done at the publisher’s expense. However, you have to be a very good writer and self-editor to get on that road, and what you write has to fit into a very marketable niche. You also need to be very patient and willing to weather plenty of rejection along the way. Don’t jump too quickly to the conclusion that this option is closed to you. Do your research carefully. There may be a small press that is just right for your book and that will be happy to help you make it the best it can be while paying YOU rather than making you pay them.
I’d add that for UK writers, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Directory is the best place to search for editorial professionals. Each editor has been vetted for professional competence through the Society (you have to be assessed to become a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member), so it’s a pretty trustworthy source: http://www.sfep.org.uk/directory/directory.asp
About 25% of my (fiction) editing work is direct with authors, and the rest is split between two publishers. It my be of interest to note that these rates are close to what publishers pay their editors. That is to say, if you, as an author, were to traditionally publish your book, you would be paying this amount via royalties. Creating a professional product via self-publishing is not cheap, the costs (and income!) just shift from the publisher to the author.
Start with a google search and see what comes up. Click on a handful of options and see if you can find an editor who is specialized or who has edited books similar to your own. An easy way to do this is to open just a few of your favorites in tabs and check out each editors’ website and about me section. Take a look at their testimonials. See if any stand out to you.

Working with a professional editor can be one of the most rewarding experiences in an author’s life. You’ll probably learn more about the craft of writing — plot, characterization, dialogue, worldbuilding… — than if you took an creative writing course. However, as is always the case in creative endeavours, critique can be hard to accept. This is why you should seek an editor who’s not only experienced in their field, but whom you’d feel comfortable receiving feedback from. In the words of one of our Reedsy editors:

Another online editing service is Scribendi, which has over 300 experienced and educated editors. They've been around a long time. With this service, you decide how fast you want the book edited and how extensive the edit should be, then they match you with an editor. You don't ever actually meet the editor, but rather work through their customer service team. Their prices depend on your requested turnaround time and word count. You can get a free quote here.


Next, it is possible to follow the road to traditional publication without hiring your own editor, with editing being done at the publisher’s expense. However, you have to be a very good writer and self-editor to get on that road, and what you write has to fit into a very marketable niche. You also need to be very patient and willing to weather plenty of rejection along the way. Don’t jump too quickly to the conclusion that this option is closed to you. Do your research carefully. There may be a small press that is just right for your book and that will be happy to help you make it the best it can be while paying YOU rather than making you pay them.
I've done four covers through Ebook Launch for two different series, and they've knocked it out of the park every time. In one case they were creating brand new covers based on a high-concept mashup idea. In another, they were following in the footsteps of a different designer, who'd already established the look for an existing series. Both times -- whether coming up with something totally new or sticking to an established style -- they did fantastic work. I love my Ebook Launch covers!
I was going to tell Blake that his figures are actually a little low. The EFA uses lower prices than Writer’s Market (which is what I use as a starting point for my pricing). Two tenths of a cent (.002) per word? That comes out to $100 per 50,000-word book. It’s a rare editor who can accurately process 50,000 words a day, so that would be dooming an editor to living off of about $50 a day. If an editor is earning such low amounts per book, then one of two things is happening: that editor has someone else to pay the bills (thus not needing a real income), or that editor is blowing through books far too quickly in an attempt to earn enough money to survive, and is leaving errors—in which case it’s pointless to hire that editor. Undercutting on prices is unethical and it hurts everyone in the industry. I would not trust that editor. Anyone who pays such low prices is exploiting another person, which is also wrong. Authors, be prepared to pay fair prices. Editors, charge enough to survive and don’t undercut the industry standards, because you’re causing harm to everyone in the field, including yourself.
That said, I don’t recommend going to publication, particularly if your book is intended as a revenue-generating venture or as a vehicle of professional promotion, without making sure that someone with an eye for detail has gone through the entire manuscript and ruthlessly noted every typo, every spelling error, every misplaced comma, and every ambiguous sentence.
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