A question I hear all the time is: what kind of editor do I need? Followed closely by: what do editors charge? Each type of editing requires a much different time commitment, and accordingly, a much different fee structure. As I always say, fees and timelines vary depending on your project, the depth, the writer’s experience and the editor’s experience. So what type of editor do you need? Depends on your project.
Developmental and Structural Editing
This type of editing usually happens early on in the writing process. For both novels and nonfiction pieces, a developmental or structural editor (the terms are pretty overlapping) will give you feedback on the flow of the entire manuscript, which means they’ll provide feedback on structure and story arch. In the case of nonfiction they’ll pay extra attention to how concepts are introduced, making sure new information is presented in a logical order.
Cost-wise, developmental editors charge a fairly high rate, with fees across the board. Here more than ever, I say: you get what you pay for.
Developmental Editor Fees:
- $45-75 per hour
- $0.08-$0.12 per word
- $3-5 per page
With the above in mind, a 70,000 word manuscript would cost anywhere from $5,600 to $8,400. Hiring a developmental editor is certainly an investment, but SO WORTH IT.
For fiction writers: you want your readers to be engaged throughout your story, to be invested in the characters and to feel fulfilled in some way at the end of the book. A good developmental editor will provide extensive feedback on the actual plot of your story and help you to strengthen your plot points, story arch and character development.
For nonfiction writers: you want your book to not only be factual and informative, but you want it to flow well so your readers don’t get lost, especially when the material is complex and intended for a lay audience. And of course, you want your readers to enjoy the material. A good developmental editor will get in there with their red pen and help transform your manuscript into a book your audience will love and learn from.
Some writers at this phase opt to go with a writing coach–someone they can meet with semi-regularly to share their manuscript’s progress, bounce ideas, and share material along the way. Some writing coaches charge a monthly retainer, some charge a per-session fee, and some charge a package rate. If you’re checking out the fee structure on an editor’s website and don’t see what you’re looking for, just ask! Many editors can be flexible with custom packages to fit your needs (or at least that’s how I’ve always operated). To learn more about what type of writing help you might need, check out our article on editors versus ghostwriters versus writing coaches.
Whether or not you use a developmental editor, line editing is the next phase in the editing process. Line editors read through completed manuscripts and offer creative feedback throughout. A good line editor will point out redundancies, look for areas where you can say the same thing using fewer words and will ask smart questions to make sure your meaning is clear.
As with all editors, line editing fees vary greatly depending on experience, project type and etcetera, but generally:
Line Editor Fees:
- $0.04 – $0.09 per word
- $4 – $15 per page
A good line editor is an invaluable person! They are not emotionally attached to the work like you are, so they read through a different lens and are able to notice the little sentence structure things that you don’t.
Think of copy editing as a semi-final pass once your material is already written. Copy editors won’t edit for structure or content, but they will point out any words or sentences that are confusing. Copy editors will also fine tune your grammar and make sure your word choices are consistent throughout.
Copy Editor Fees:
- $0.02 – $0.04 per word
- $2.50 – $5.00 per page
A piece is ready for a proofread once it’s basically good to go. Ideally, there should be hardly any mistakes at this point. A proofreader will not make comments on writing style, content or flow. They will look for simple stuff like grammar and spelling. You always want to have a proofreader take a final look at a manuscript, and ideally that person should be someone different than you previously worked with. A fresh set of eyes is much more likely to catch little there, they’re and theirs.
- $0.01 – $0.02 per word
- $1.50 – $3.00 per page
A good editor is a beautiful, cherishable creature and well worth the money if you can afford one. If your budget is tight, some editors might work with you on their fees or allow you to send a partial manuscript along with a synopsis instead of your full manuscript. Sometimes rather than reading any of their manuscript, I’ll hold an hour-long session with a client who verbally explains their book to me and asks questions. Maybe we’ll meet twice and they’ll send me a small sample. This type of feedback can go a long way and help you feel like you’re not working alone in a bubble.
If you opt to go with any editor who is not willing to show you work samples, to have a quick phone or video call, or to produce a short trial piece for you, shy away. I’ve many times been handed a piece that was allegedly already proofread by someone the writer hired from a cheap editing service and the manuscript was riddled with grammatical mistakes. Not fun to have to re-pay for that, or worse: publish a piece with grammar and spelling mistakes. Yeiks! I mean, yikes!
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Michelle Kicherer is the founder of Ghost Writer’s Block. She is a ghostwriter and writing coach, writes her own fiction and nonfiction, and teaches online classes through Litquake and others.