Although many writers talk about having friends, family, and old college professors help them edit their work, that’s really not the ideal way to go about the editing process for a book or short story that you plan to publish. A professional editor with years of experience and training in your market or genre can provide valuable feedback and advice that goes far beyond simply correcting spelling errors, typos, grammatical errors and usage errors.
You might hire someone for a proofread, but let the editor know that you’re open to hearing from him or her if the work needs a heavier edit. The editor would need to present you with evidence in the form of sample pages that showcase what’s needed—and your job is to make sure you agree. You want to feel like an editor’s edits are polishing your work and making it shine. If you feel dread or anger, or even if you feel misunderstood, it’s likely not a good fit. At the very least you want to share your reactions with the editor so they can respond or change course.
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.

Editors’ fees vary so drastically that authors are often (rightfully) confused about how much to pay. I’ve seen copyediting fees that range from $20/hour to $300/hour. That said, I’ve seen plenty of authors pay $20/hour for a poorly executed copyedit that needed to be redone. I know one author who paid $200/hour for a copyeditor who’d worked on a famous best-seller, operating under the false assumption that a good copyedit would be their ticket to best-seller status. That didn’t happen. Get a few bids and consider paying a couple different editors for two hours of their work and compare. It’s important to judge the work rather than the fee. Consider this investment as research rather than money wasted.
I was recently directed to your excellent article from almost a year ago by a colleague at SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a freelance literary editor of memoir, poetry, and novels, I offer authors guidance and support similar what you describe, but of course I cannot handle editing every genre. I was gratified to know that I’m doing the right thing by sticking to my specialties. By coincidence, someone who reached out to me last week on LinkedIn was looking for a children’s book editor and one of your readers in this conversation recommended one. That reminds me… Read more »
I am late to this discussion. But I would like to speak for all those authors starting out…editing, although a necessary evil, is very expensive. Let’s face it, writing a novel is not a paid venture. If you sell your book to traditional publisher, or self publish, you will rarely make this expense up. To spend $5.0-$10.0 on your novel is just out of reach for most. I realize that editors “work hard” and “put a lot of time” into their work. But there seems a disconnect in the market place. Writers are writing for free, and shelling out all the money for little return. And yet it seems the only ones profiting is the “market place” on services. It is more an “industry” for publishing, than a means for a writer to get published, or make a living. I wish there was a middle ground for writers: an editing service that prepares your novel for submission to agents and editors at publishers, but doesn’t cost your first child! There is a need, and is truly an untapped market. But what you have are editors, at all levels, “demanding” the market price, whether they are experienced, starting out, or good. There seems to be no heirarchy with an equal level of professionalism for new writers vs experienced who might have a bigger budget for editing. I liken it to buying cars. You can buy a car at $15.0 and still get a good, safe car that looks nice and is drivable.. Or, you can buy a car at $50.0 if you want more prestige, quality service, personal attention, more features. Both are acceptable and worthy, just at different levels of affordability. Although editors are arguably at different prices, as the comments have indicated, the less you pay is for limited services, not a varying level of editing. It’s like getting a car with three wheels. But new writers do need a full service of editing…at an affordable price. I am not sure how to get there, or the value to editors, but there does seem to be a gap that needs to be filled- reliable editors, who can help bring a novel to a professional level for submission, and it be worth their time in doing so, at a rate that is more manageable for a writer’s pocketbook.
I am not without sympathy when some new authors get “sticker shock” upon hearing an estimate for my editorial services, and I am actually relatively affordable. (Most reasonably well-written novels would not cost even close to $3000 for me to edit, let alone $5000.) I also offer generous installment plans and discounts for bundled services. But there is a limit to how low I can go.
Obviously there is a big difference. I actually started with screenplays (with some mild success) partly due to hearing that as long as you have a good story, the grammatical errors won’t be a big deal. Well, that was not true. Maybe if a producer liked the story or I was already established but every contest I entered always came back with feedback about the grammatical errors. Even if I won or placed as a finalist, I always received critique on that. Very little is spelling error, it was more about structure, etc.
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