What Do Different Editors Do (and What Do They Charge?)

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.

Line Editing

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. 

Copy Editing 

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

Proofreading 

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.

Proofreader Fees:

  • $0.01 – $0.02 per word
  • $1.50 – $3.00 per page

In Conclusion 

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! 

Do you have specific questions or want tailored advice? Leave a comment or send us an email. Keep the writing love strong by sharing this post. Follow us on Instagram @ghostwritersblock. 

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. 

Do I Need an Editor, a Writing Coach or a Ghostwriter?

I often hear: I need help with my writing project but I’m not sure what I need. This can be especially true for those just starting on longer pieces of fiction or nonfiction. Whether it’s your first essay or your second novel, having someone else provide feedback on your work can be a crucial part of the writing process. A helpful starting point is to understand what each type of writing expert does, then to look for someone with whom you connect. 

Do I Need an Editor? 

There are several different types of editors out there, mainly: developmental editors, line editors, copy editors and proofreaders. In the next post, we’ll be going into plenty of detail on what each type of editor does (and what they charge), but here is a high-level view. 

An editor is for writers who have at least some form of their draft written and need another pair of eyes to provide feedback. These clients don’t necessarily need to speak with someone (though that can always be helpful), but will typically email their work to their editor and receive said work back with comments and edits. Depending on your agreement, the editor might then read the material a second time and provide a final set of eyes on the changes you made. 

A couple things to keep in mind with editors:

Always establish what your workflow will be. Will the editor leave the track changes feature on then send their edits back for you to approve? Or do you prefer they just make the edits and point out anything major they changed?  

Is the writer savvy with Word or Google docs? Using Google docs is my preferred means of sharing material, since they’re live docs we can work in together. This prevents the creation of multiple versions, lost work, confusion, crying. Some of my less tech-savvy clients are not as comfortable using the track changes or the commenting feature, and that’s fine as long as we work out a system that works for us both. 

Do I Need a Writing Coach? 

A writer’s relationship with their writing coach can be a beautiful, long-term relationship, not unlike a client and their therapist. Typically, the writer will send materials to their coach between meetings so both parties can attend their sessions prepared with feedback and questions.  

Agreements vary, but typically, writer and coach meet weekly, biweekly or monthly, depending on the writer’s needs. I’ll meet with my clients more regularly at the start of our relationship, and/or at the start of a new project. When I was a writing coach for people creating online courses, we met weekly for the first two to three weeks, then backed off to give the client some time to work and send me materials to review before our next meeting. Over the course of about six months, we’d typically meet five times. For clients working on a novel or full-length nonfiction book, we’ll usually meet regularly over the course of one to two years. 

Do I Need a Ghostwriter? 

A ghostwriter is for people who have ideas, stories and expertise, but they are not “writers.” A quick pause on this term: some people whole-heartedly state that they are not writers; they do not enjoy it, they do not want to learn how to do it and they want someone else to do the writing for them. Writing is just not what they want to be doing with their time. These clients are the sharers of knowledge, the weavers of tales. Hey, I wouldn’t enjoy being a real estate agent but I’d enjoy writing a book about it if you tell me what it needs to say. We all have our passions and strong suits. That said, I don’t want to get into the realm of who “can” write and who can’t, because the answer is: anyone can write if they enjoy it and want to practice the craft. 

But back to ghostwriting. 

To clarify, a ghostwriter is someone who will actually write your book, article, script, whatever, for you. Whether you give them credit for this work is up to you. I’ve had clients who prefer my name remain out of it (though I’m usually thanked in the acknowledgements, which is nice), and I’ve had clients say they wouldn’t feel comfortable not having my name as a co-author. As long as this is established up front, no hard feelings or attorneys need be involved. 

In Conclusion 

Depending on where you’re at in your writing or professional career, your needs might vary. If none of the above roles seem like they’d be helpful for you, a mentor might be a good fit. We’ll be going into more details on mentorship and writing programs in another post, but finding some form of writing community can be an excellent way to keep you on track and feel supported. With writing, it’s important to like who you’re working with, whether it’s your writing coach, editor, ghost, mentor or group. 

Do you have specific questions or want tailored advice? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. Keep the writing love strong by sharing this post.

Michelle Kicherer is the founder of Ghost Writer’s Block. She is a ghost herself, writes her own fiction and nonfiction, and teaches online classes through Litquake and others. 

How Does Ghostwriting Work?

In November 2021 Will Smith published his much anticipated memoir Will, which Oprah said was “The best memoir I’ve ever read.” Wow, what a great writer Will Smith is! Sort of. Smith hired Mark Manson (author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) to help him write the book. Still, the partnership of Smith and Manson is a superb example of a ghostwriterly match made in ghost heaven. Smith’s story was shared in a cohesive, honest and compelling book: Smith’s words and stories; Manson’s structuring, writing and finessing. 

Take almost any celebrity, politician or business guru out there and chances are they hired a ghostwriter to tell their tale. Tennis star Andre Agassi famously paid a pretty penny to J.R. Moehringer (Pulitzer-winning journalist and author of the acclaimed The Tender Bar) to write his best selling autobiography Open

For both Smith and Agassi, being up front about the ghostwritten nature of their books was a must, though the ghostwriters’ names do not appear on the cover. In fact, Moehringer insisted his name not appear on the front or back of the book. In a 2009 NY Times interview, Moehringer said: “The midwife doesn’t go home with the baby…It’s Andre’s memoir, not our memoir, not a memoir ‘as told to.’ It’s his accomplishment, and he made the final choices.” 

Being forthcoming about one’s ghostwriter is a very personal choice and one that should be made clear from the beginning. The important thing is to pair with a ghost who will hear your unique voice, who will champion your project, and who will help structure and write the book you want. There are plenty of ghostwriters out there and not all of them are going to connect with your project or personality. The trick is to find that special ghost who will. 

Before looking for a ghost, it’s important to understand a little more about the process of how ghostwriting works. Or for writers interested in ghostwriting, this post is part one of our “how to break into ghostwriting” series. 

So How Does Ghostwriting Work

Different ghostwriters have different writing capacities with their clients. It’s important to establish these roles up front so that both client and ghostwriter are clear on what is expected. I’ll share an example of a fairly typical book project. 

Before deciding to work together, I always schedule an initial interview with a client (preferably via video) to hear a little of their story, understand what their book will be about, and to hear how far along they are in their development. This interview is always free (see below for more on pricing). So, let’s say me and my client have decided to work together. Great! 

First, I have the client send over an outline of their book with a simple synopsis–a “what this book is about” in a sentence or three. If they do not yet have an outline, we’ll work on that together first. 

Next I’ll ask to see any other work or projects the client has written (whether by their own pen or a ghost’s), so I can better understand their voice and potentially pull from some of that material as I go. 

Then, we’ll schedule weekly or biweekly meetings where I interview the client about each point on their outline. The material grows and grows, I’ll send clarifying questions between interviews, and I’ll start writing the book, restructuring the outline as I go. 

Structure is a huge role of the ghostwriter. Two notes on structure:

One: A client may have all of their ideas and anecdotes ready to share, but are quite unclear on how everything will fit together. Ghost to the rescue!

Two: Oftentimes, I’m not certain of a book’s final structure until fairly deep into the creative process. Writing takes time! After I’ve had a few weeks to work through a portion of the book, I’ll send the first chapter or two to the client to make sure I’m on the right track, that the material is aligning with their vision, and that the voice is theirs. Once I get the green light, I forge ahead, consistently checking in along the way.

What Should I Ask of a Potential Ghostwriter? 

There’s plenty more I could share here but I’ll save that for part two of this piece. Some of the most important things to ask for are: 

  • Writing samples and testimonials. Do you like their style? Does this writer have other published works and good client relationships? 
  • A getting-to-know you chat. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together. For both sides of the table: don’t you want that time be enjoyable? If every time you hear your ghost (or client) speak you can’t wait until they shut up, probably not a great fit. 
  • What are their areas of expertise, if they have any? This may be important for some projects and less so for others. For example, memoir doesn’t require a subject matter expert, but most medical books might need someone with a medical background in some capacity. My undergrad is in nutrition, so my initial area of writing expertise was nutrition and general wellness. With experience, my expertise list grew. After years of working in mental health, then working with several clinicians on their books and online courses, I now include “mental health” on my list. For the right ghost, the subject matter is less important than their ability as an interviewer and writer.
  • Don’t be afraid to do a (paid) trial piece. This can be a great way to see if you’re a good fit for each other. For some clients, I’ll write an essay or article first. If they like the style and we both dig our relationship, we’ll move into the larger pieces. If it’s not a great fit–good thing we both realized that early on! 
  • What their calendar is like? It’s a good idea to make sure you’re both on the same page regarding timelines. Speaking of which…

Timelines 

How long does it take to write a typical book? Again, this largely depends on the nature of the project, as well as the clients’ availability to put in their side of the work. Some people think that they can just pass some notes over and the writer can take it from there–and in some cases, that can be true (say, with fiction pieces or when the client already has ample notes). But in the case of most nonfiction, industry-specific works, it’s particularly imperative for the client to impart all of their expertise and stories to their ghost so the work is informed and complete. 

Or say the project is a memoir–the ghost will need to spend plenty of time gathering those juicy family stories and asking verbal (and sometimes written) clarifying questions throughout the process. 

SO. How long might this take? 

  • A smaller, rapid-fire project could get knocked out in 3 to 4 months. 
  • If we’re talking full-length book, 9-12 months is a more realistic goal.
  • Sometimes pushing 18 months depending on the client’s availability and involvement, and of course, the nature of the material itself.

How Much Do Ghostwriters Charge? 

Ghostwriting fees vary greatly depending on the nature of the project, the expertise of the ghost, the involvement of the client, and of course, the length of the book. J.R. Moehringer is reportedly getting paid seven figures to write Prince Harry’s controversial memoir, but again, Moehringer is a Pulitzer-winning journalist and writer of other #1 best sellers (and…it’s Prince Harry). It’s difficult to give an estimate since projects vary so greatly, but general ranges are as follows: 

  • Full-length manuscript (80-100k words): $10,000 – $40,000  
  • Short pieces (1-5k words): $250-$1500 
  • Articles, blog posts, etc (500-1k words): anywhere from $100-800

Why such ranges? There are a lot of variables to take into account. Let’s assume here the ghost is an experienced, talented writer and we’ll make the client the variable. Some clients start with an idea, or perhaps a simple outline. These clients need a lot of help exploring how to expand on their ideas and in structuring their book; these clients might need their ghost to do quite a bit of research and conduct many more interviews with them than say, someone who shows up with a mostly-written draft that needs a heavy rewrite.

The moral here is: the client and the ghost should communicate clearly on this piece before getting started so everyone is clear on the process and how much of the ghost’s time this the project will require. If a project will take up the better part of a year, you have to take this into account. Ghosts gotta eat. 

Take a Meeting 

An initial meeting with a potential ghostwriter should be free of charge. They will typically ask about all of the aforementioned items, but good ones will also want to get to know your vibe. Do you enjoy talking to each other? You don’t have to be buddies, but think of the ghost-client relationship like a relationship with a therapist: it’s gotta be the right fit to do good work. The right ghost will feel comfortable asking questions that get their clients to open up and share their story. If you take a meeting and it doesn’t click right away–either try out a sample project with them first or look for someone else. 

Ghosts: be prepared to spend a lot of time thinking about your client’s book. And if it’s a topic you like, say dogs (or Prince Harry), that’s not a bad thing at all. 

Do you have specific questions or want tailored advice? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. Keep the writing love strong by sharing this post.

Michelle Kicherer is the founder of Ghost Writer’s Block. She is a ghost herself, writes her own fiction and nonfiction, and teaches online classes through Litquake and others. 

How to Build a Writing Portfolio (and Start Getting Paid to Write)

At a certain point in my writing journey I realized that I had to make my writing career happen. Not just writing my fiction on the side, but really writing all day and getting paid for it. I was tired of answering the What do you do? question with, “I’m a nutritionist and I write sometimes,” then, “I’m a nanny and I’m working on a book.” I wanted to say, “I’m a writer for XYZ Magazine,” or whatever. I go into a lot more detail about the early writing years in another post (and in my forthcoming memoir) but here I’ll just say: you have to start wherever you are. Never gotten paid a buck for your writing? That’s fine. Do you care so much about writing that you’ll regret your existence if you don’t try? Good, start with that feeling and let it pull you through. It’s a lot of work, but if you know how to navigate the writing world and you’re ready to put in that work, you can start now. And you can start making money soon. 

Note: in this post we’re talking about nonfiction; fiction is a beast for another time.

First, Write About What You Know

When you’re starting out, the first step is to build a writing portfolio. For most of us, this means taking any writing gigs you can get. The goal is to build up a collection of work that you can show to editors as proof you can write and that other places hire you, so they should hire you, too. Especially if you’re still finding your niche, the more variation (and quantity) the better. 

There are two ways to start finding writing gigs:

1. Write about what you love

2. Write about everything 

I’ll expand on both. First, the everything part.  

My undergrad is in nutrition. For five years I worked as a nutritionist in an educational mental health setting. By the time I was ready to focus on writing, I was sick of thinking about nutrition. But when I was ready to start finding writing gigs, this gave me three areas of expertise: nutrition, education and mental health. I had zero pieces in my writing portfolio, so I started looking for blogs and websites that focused on these three things. Soon I found a website that was looking for a nutrition and health blogger. I told them about my expertise and they started paying me $40 per post to write about what I was most familiar with. I didn’t love it, but I knew the topic well, so producing the work didn’t require much research on my part, and writing one post each week was very manageable. 

As soon as I had a couple of pieces in my portfolio, I found another website that was looking for a wellness blogger. I didn’t want to be a nutritionist anymore, but I could start writing about nutrition-related stuff and start shifting my career in the writing direction.  

Here I am at work. Illustration by Jesse Rimler.

Typically, outlets are looking for people whose (online) portfolio they can easily reference as proof that they can write. However, if you have no work yet and can prove that you’re an expert on your topic in a passionate cover letter (more on that in another post) many places will hire you based on your professional experience. Remember, not everyone can write! There are many outlets that are looking for experts who can write about topics that most people can’t. Use your expertise. This is not a degree-based thing. Expertise is not something that needs to come from a formal education.

And now, the first thing: writing about what you love.  

Write About What You Love

The easiest and most efficient way to start a writing career is by writing about something you love. Not only is it more fun, it is much easier to write about something you love than something you don’t. What do you love? Is it baking or cats or woodworking or education or social justice? All of these things? Whatever it is, WRITE ABOUT THAT. 

After about a year of writing one to two nutrition-related posts every week, I was dying to start writing about cool stuff. I wanted to love what I was writing about. It was hard to get rid of that “but I’m so many steps away” feeling. But as Prince once said, “Just start by creating your day. Then create your life.” With that Purple wisdom, I thought okay, just start looking. One day at a time. 

I started spending a few minutes everyday looking at the Craigslist “writing gigs” section to see if anything I loved came up. One day I saw an ad that said, Associate Editor for Music Blog. Holy smokes, what a dream. Music is at the tippy top of my Things I Love list. And I know a lot about it. I wrote a banger of a cover letter. I wrote a couple reviews of new albums I’d just heard. I wanted to prove that I would be great at this. The editor wrote me back the next morning and boom. My first writing job

Writing and Money: What to Ask For and How Much to Expect

Once I started writing about music, I couldn’t wait to sit down at my computer each night. I’d write on my lunch breaks. I’d decline drinks with friends because I couldn’t stop thinking about a certain piece I was working on and I just wanted to get it right. Not that I didn’t have a life, but my life shifted. 

I was writing two to three music pieces each week and I loved it. 

And guess what? For the first piece I wrote, I was paid $5. And for the second, and the third, and the fourth. Over the course of many, many hours I wrote a couple dozen pieces for about $100. A sweet Franklin for my time. 

But I f***ing loved it. And I was quickly building a portfolio. 

After a few weeks I sent that portfolio to other music outlets, who saw that I was writing regularly and passionately. They started paying me $20 then $40, then $100. Then it was $800 per piece. Then $1,000, $1200. I did this in the span of a little more than a year. How?

I quickly created a portfolio because 

I wrote a lot and

I did a great job because I loved it

And guess what? No one is going to ask how much you’ve gotten paid for any of the stuff in your portfolio. Whether it was $500 or $5, all that your potential clients will see is that you have work. And if your writing is good, they’ll not give a s*** about what you got paid to write it–they’ll just see that you’re able to do the work and will want you to do it for them. 

Truly, you have to expect to get paid little-to-nothing at first, especially if you’re writing about the arts. Because, sadly, the arts are historically and absurdly underfunded (but that’s a topic for my next book). So what are websites and magazines looking for, and what do they typically pay? Each industry is different and you’ll have to do a little homework, but generally: 

Some websites are looking for unpaid contributors — When you’re starting out, take these. Even just a couple here and there. You’ve got to have a long list of work in your portfolio and free or cheap gigs are a quick way to build a collection.  

Some blogs pay $5 per post — I know. But no one knows you’re making that little. And if you started off writing for free–now you can say you get paid to write about a thing. That just feels good. Congratulations, you’re officially getting paid to write. 

$50 for contributing articles — A lot of companies want to hire people to write regular posts to keep their blogs relevant. This is a bump up from a fiver and a good way to develop an ongoing client relationship. 

Interviews and longer pieces — These can vary greatly across industries and outlet sizes. With music, smaller websites might pay anywhere from $30-75 to write a feature, and larger ones can be anywhere from $150-$1200.

Whenever possible, write at least twice for the same publication. This allows you to say you’re a “contributor” or even “regular contributor” to an outlet, which demonstrates that an outlet liked your work enough to hire you again–which vouches for your worthiness and shows other editors that you’re legit.  

A final word of advice: no matter how much you’re getting paid, write your best work. Do not blow through and submit a piece of s*** because you’re only getting paid 5 bucks to write it. The whole point is to show that you’re a great writer and that you can cover a topic. Do a great job, and people will hire you (and again: no one needs to know what pieces you wrote for a Lincoln or a Franklin). 

How Practice Leads to Professional 

It’s all practice. Everything you’re working on, if it has anything to do with writing, is practice. Even if it’s a topic you’re not in love with, you’re learning how to be as concise as possible, you’re learning more about how the industry works, and very importantly: you’re adding things to your portfolio that will lead to more gigs that you really want.  

In Conclusion:

1. Write about what you love

2. Also write about everything

3. Add everything to your portfolio (for now)

4. Don’t worry about the money yet

5. Look for new gigs regularly

6. APPLY to writing gigs

7. Write, write, write

Do you have specific questions or want tailored advice? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. Keep the writing love strong by sharing this post.

Michelle Kicherer is the founder of Ghost Writer’s Block. She is a ghost herself, writes her own fiction and nonfiction, and teaches online classes through Litquake and others.