Why is hiring an editor so expensive?

expensive book editingWhen I started my business in 2003, I wanted to offer really good services that I could afford. At the time, I lived in two small rooms above my landlord’s house thought $6 burritos were expensive. (Hey, we all were young once.)

Small-business wisdom says that this type of thinking is a bad idea. Instead, supposedly, I should have charged as much as I possibly could. The sky’s the limit! I didn’t like this approach very much, either. It seemed arbitrary. And for that matter, doesn’t hiring an independent editor always feel a bit arbitrary and expensive, if we’re being honest?

Take, for instance, the following price sample:

In 2011, I hired a top New York editor for a critique of my own novel. The letter was fewer than seven pages, offered some good ideas but no roadmap for revision, and I paid $1,800. At the time, I was living in Texas and charging about $900 for a similar service, except that my critiques were usually more than twelve pages long.

In 2003, I line edited my first novel-length project for about $600. I was just starting out, and needed the work. Excellent editors in similar positions will often underprice their services because some income is better than no income.

As an established editor with almost 20 years of experience and a successful client list, I offer a variety of services at a variety of rates. Most critiques cost $1,100. Critiques with margin notes cost $1,800. Line editing costs around $2,200. But the math always adds up to about $200 per day. 

Is $200 per day expensive?

Consider what an independent editor is. I work full-time and pay for my own health insurance and housing costs in the San Francisco Bay Area (not in an attic!). I maintain a number of professional subscriptions, and manage up to four other editors at a time. A typical day includes two hours of client communication, an hour or two of admin, and about five hours of editing. Most weeks, I work seven days a week, but I try to afford rest days, too.

When I add up all the real and hidden costs of running a business, $200 a day is what I need to work at a thoughtful pace and provide quality editing.

Editors located elsewhere charge less and also more. In New York City, $300 is a middle-of-the-road daily rate. When I lived in Texas, I could charge $160 per day. Some editors also have higher expenses, larger families, or larger obligations. Others have exceptional careers, skill-sets, or experience levels that allow them to market their services at a higher price. 

The Bottom Line

1. What you’re paying for is a skilled editor whose full-time job is making your novel better.

2. Your manuscript is front-and-center for a week or more, getting the full complement of a lifetime of expertise.

3. It’s a one-on-one meeting of the minds, and it can shave months or years off of your project completion time.

If you’ve put thousands of hours into a manuscript, how much is your time worth? Is it enough to skip the editing and hope the novel doesn’t get rejected?

Or for $200 a day, is it worth hiring a professional to share a roadmap for successful revisions? In some cases, the cost is tax-deductible (check with your accountant), and there are grants to help writers defray the cost of professional expenses.

Your writing is worth it!


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