Understanding Editing Costs

Editing Costs And Budget

A lot goes into writing and publishing a book. So much that you could find a lifetime worth of reading just on the subject. And while there is no shortage of guides to ‘make publishing easier in 5 easy steps,’ there’s good reason to budget for some editing costs. 

There’s no trick or hack; publishing requires a few specific skills and if you don’t have them, you should pay for them. It’s really that simple.

Budgeting For Authors

It’s pretty common that authors naturally avoid thinking about budgeting, right? I know I do. I want to be at my keyboard making lavishly, eloquently designed sentences. Not planning out how to spend money so I can hire an editor to delete all my flashy adverbs. 

Still, budgeting is a must for authors who plan to self-publish. Publishing a book can be expensive, but with some smart budgeting, it doesn’t have to be unreasonable. 

Here’s a budget I suggested as a minimum for publishing and launching a book:

Budget Plan - low budget planning for book publishing costs

In this budget model, I’ve allocated $600 for Editing a 200-page book. If you know anything about the process involved in turning a draft into a book, you know I’ve packed a lot into that single word. For most, editing costs will exceed my meager estimate.

A lot goes into editing; from proper spelling and usage to the structure of sentences/paragraphs/chapters to the choice of one word over another. And let’s not forget deleting all those adverbs and tightening your prose to fit your genre. Editing is a process. So while it may be easy to allocate $600 to Editing while drafting your publishing budget, how do you actually spend those funds?

The Many Types Of Editing

Before you can figure out how to allocate your funds, you need to pin down what kinds of editing you’ll need. It can be confusing, but recently Chelsea broke down the different kinds of editing to help you know which options you need.

Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Developmental Editing – Develops and improves the story
  2. Line Editing – Line by line review of sentences for consistency and concision
  3. Copy Editing – Corrects spelling, grammar, and usage mistakes
  4. Proofreading – Thorough reading looking for stray errors and typos

You might think your story is missing some element but you’ve got a friend who’s a good line editor. So you’d want to concentrate your spending on a great developmental editor and bake cookies for your friend. And maybe you’ll even have some budget left over to hire a proofreader!

The key to maximizing your editing costs is balancing your needs with your budget. Thankfully, the Editorial Freelancers Associations has made it very easy to see the going average rates:

EFA Freelancer rate sheet

Plan Your Editing Budget

Now let’s use the rate estimates provided to build a couple of sample budgets.

Word Count

The most important factor in determining editing costs is your word count. Most editors will bill you by the word (or at a words per hour rate). You should look at some of the average word count ranges for your genre; if your manuscript is 130,000 words, you will pay a lot for editing and you’re likely pushing the limits of your reader’s interest. 

Before you send your work to an editor, try to trim as much as you can. It can be hard, but you want to maximize the effectiveness of every dollar you spend.

Editing Needs

You need to plan for a proofreader; that final dispassionate review is vital to getting the best book you can. But for the other kinds of editing, you may be able to pick and choose to help control your total editing cost.

Authors self-publish for the control. You might not want a developmental editor telling you how your characters should act. You might have a group of fellow writers to trade line editing with. There are a ton of factors that impact how much and what kind of editing your unique book will need.

I suggest you think about the kinds of editing you need most before you consider how much you’ll spend.

Budget

Okay, you’ve got your word count and a tiered list of editing services you want. Now you need to decide how much you’ll spend. This is a difficult and personal decision. There are so many factors that impact your budgeting, it’s almost impossible to say ‘you should spend this much.’

I’m going to do it anyway. 

You should plan to spend at least a couple hundred dollars on editing. At least. 

Editing Budget Samples

Alright, we’ve got our editing types and the going rates from EFA. I’m going to provide some sample budgets based on different author/publishing needs and budgets to help you imagine what kind of editor you need.

Big Audience

First, let’s look at an author, likely a fiction author, with a sizable mailing list (1,000+ contacts) and social following. This author is confident they will sell their book and has a larger budget for editorial work.

Fiction - High Budget

As you can see, this budget is large. I think most authors can get by on a much lower budget. This is the ‘all-in’ editing budget for the author who knows (with relative certainty) that they’ll sell a lot of books.

Low Budget

The other end of the spectrum, we have the author trying to publish for the minimum. This might be an author who publishes for fun or as a side job. We can assume there will be less marketing, so a smaller audience and less expectation of sales.

Low budget plan for a fiction writer's editing needs

I mentioned earlier that my ‘low-budget’ plan included $600 for editing (plus $465 for proofreading). But that budget wouldn’t afford even one editing option from EFA rates sheet! What gives?

I cheated. Sort of.

I used Fiverr, the freelance marketplace, to price some editors at lower rates. Just today I found multiple editors with 4.8+ star ratings (out of 5) priced at:

  • $375
  • $800
  • $780
  • $400

For the low-budget self-published author, freelance services like Fiverr will help you stretch that budget. You may not hire a ‘professional’ editor, but these are skilled freelancers who do this work to earn a living. 

Nonfiction/Academic

Guides, manuals, investigative nonfiction; there are lots of ‘books’ that we need every day that don’t tell a story.

This is why nonfiction authors want to prioritize developmental editing to make certain their book is as readable as possible. Note too that the estimated rates for nonfiction editing are higher. I couldn’t find a concrete reason for this, but I suspect nonfiction work with complex sentences and language may drive up the average.

Nonfiction writer's plan for editing budget

The nonfiction writer will often have an established audience within the particular niche their writing for. Of course, this audience will be limited, but it helps ensure consistent sales.

My example utilizes Development and Copy Editing; I’m assuming the nonfiction author may have some diagrams, images, or graphs that require more design work. That means keeping to the minimum editing to allot funds for graphic designers.

The Entrepreneur

Last sample. The entrepreneurial author is the toughest one to budget for accurately. Some entrepreneurs are writing books about their experience (so a biography); these authors are using the book to supplement their work. And other entrepreneurs, like chefs and artists, may use their books as the primary means of income.

For this example, I’m going to use a cookbook. I think it’s worth considering that even a book with a low word count is still important to have edited.

Editing breakdown for an entrepreneur publishing a cookbook

No need for developmental editing, so the cookbook-selling entrepreneur can put all their editing budget into fine-tuning the words. Cookbooks are so unique; various elements like weights and measurements need to be consistent.

And with high sales expectations, the entrepreneur wants a book that is perfect down to every period, and comma. 

Go Get Edited

Please. Get your book edited. Even if you only spend $600 on a freelance editor for one review; it will improve the quality of your work and the potential to earn fans. You’ll struggle to get readers to come back for your next book if the one they have is riddled with spelling errors and plot inconsistencies!

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