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.
Whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been writing for some time, it’s no secret that the most successful writers specialize in a niche. Why? Focusing on a niche helps you become an expert in that area, write better content, ask better questions, and know where to find sources and research. The best editors typically specialize in one or a few niches for similar reasons.
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.
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
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.
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.
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One thing is becoming clear to me. Authors and editors have been mistakenly pitted against each other by a self-publishing system that is not currently working. Remember in the scheme of things that self-pub is very new, only a few years old. Twenty years ago, publishers put out a selection of the best and most marketable books. Editors were well-educated and got paid a fair wage. Authors received advances and royalties.
Anyone wishing to pay someone 500 bucks to read their book just so they can be given a short and unhelpful overview is arguably getting what they paid for. Naturally, self publishers and the like can’t really justify the amount they’d have to spend on a real editor of story structure, but it still baffles me that these so called developmental editors exist. That is, unless they have a follow up service after the fact that is actually worth it.
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I cannot speak for all editors, of course, but I know I and many of us would be open to editing just part of your book at first, say, a particular chapter or two that you sense needs a lot of work. That is often enough to show you mechanical errors that you tend to make repeatedly. You can then go through the entire manuscript yourself looking for as many of the same kind of errors as possible. You will sharpen your basic writing skills in the process, and it will pay off in all future projects.