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..
I implemented this way of working years ago and see how empowering it is for authors, and helpful for editors to boot. This doesn’t mean you’re asking your editor to do a free sample edit. (I discourage editors from doing this and caution authors who push for it as asking editors to work for free before you hire them may result in resentment.) Paying an editor for a few hours of their time to ascertain whether they’re a good fit for you is a great way to put your toe in the pond before submerging yourself. You can then see for yourself if the editor’s suggestions and comments resonate before moving forward with the whole project.
I want to thank the author of this article, the people responsible for this website, and the helpful comments I’ve read here, before discontinuing my watching of this thread. I have reached out to several developmental editors through emails and by posting my need for such an editor on the-efa.org. If anyone decides to go that route, the response has been tremendous. Be aware of their policy for posting jobs, though. They require aspiring authors to adhere to the ‘going rates’ shown here: http://the-efa.org/res/rates.php.
After doing your homework to find the perfect editor, you might discover that the person with the most experience and rave reviews also charges the most for their services. If you don’t have piles of cash to pay a top-ranked editor for your first book, consider giving a newbie a chance. You can find affordable editors on the Freelance Writer’s Den job board, social media groups for self-publishers, and online platforms like Upwork, or Reedsy.

Definitely not unreasonable, Frank. However, you have a couple of options. Rather than pay for a full developmental edit on what you have written so far, you can ask the editor to do a manuscript assessment – which includes a detailed written report. An MA is usually done for a fixed price based on the word count. Alternatively, you could ask the editor to do a sample/developmental edit on one chapter only. Using track changes, they can go through and make edits and comments. It’s good that you are already thinking of hiring an editor before you complete the MS. It will help guide you with the other 40% and revisit what you’ve written so far, so that once you are finished, the MS will be in much better shape for the next stage of editing.
Before we explore what you ought to be looking and asking for when you hire an editor, let’s talk about you, the author of the work, for a moment. On the one side are authors who, in response to an editorial query questioning the reason a particular scene was included, immediately suggest ditching the whole thing. On the other side are authors who will fight editors to retain even the slightest word changes. Before you embark on an editorial journey, ask yourself which side you fall on, and then own this truth and be willing to share it with the person you hire.
As one person who “woke up and decided since I’m published and an English major, I should be an editor,” I can see your point of being only one type of editor. I’m not a good copyeditor at all and don’t offer my services for that situation. It’s funny that you would say a traditionally published type editor would be better than the independently published editor. I found this to be totally untrue since I have worked with both. My traditional editors from St. Martins Press and Bantam books working a total of 35 years in the industry, was the worst editor of all. My independently published editor/book coach, is the most knowledgeable. So there is a bit of a disparage. It’s not an absolute science, editing.
You also said it’s not fair for self-publishing authors to apply those standards to editors when they don’t work with publishers themselves. It’s one thing for authors to have the right to publish their work and make it available for readers to judge its merits, and quite another for someone to ask those authors to invest in them for their expertise.

Not that I’m not looking forward to seeing the author’s work. I am. Seriously, I am! Book editing, despite the sticker shock first-time authors often get when they hear the estimate, is not a profession anyone enters in hopes of getting rich. I truly love helping a writer make his or her work the best it can be, and I’m always eager to get started. But I realize the task of writing takes time, usually more time than the author (even many an experienced author) expects.
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!)
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.
Every author must decide what is important to him or her in an editor, but in these days of electronic communication, honestly I do not think it is important to seek a local editor unless your book is specifically related to something of local interest. Even in that case, you may benefit from the perspective of someone who does not have all the local knowledge it can be easy to presume, so that you can prepare your book for a wider audience.
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