What Writers Should Know Before Paying for Editorial Services

What Writers Should Know Before Paying for Editorial Services

What Writers Should Know Before Paying for Editorial Services
Photo by Michal Jarmoluk / via Pixabay

What Writers Should Know Before Paying for Editorial Services

Do you have a polished novel manuscript that is ready for copy editing? Or did you find out from an agent that your novel needs professional editing?

Finishing a novel is a thrilling achievement. After all the time you’ve spent slaving away at producing a quality draft, you’re eager to get it into readers’ hands.

But first, if you’re self-publishing your manuscript, you need an editor. Not just any editor though. You need a book editor, and preferably one who specializes in your genre.

Before paying for editorial services though, there are some things you should know…

1. What’s a good price for copy editing novels?

Editors’ rates vary across the board. And some editors charge by the hour and others charge by the word. Some will give you a firm quote and others will give you an estimate. And still others will adjust their fee based on the writer’s skill.

Then, of course, there are the different levels of editing, like developmental and substantive editing.

It’s hard to nail down a ballpark figure for standard copy editing rates because there are so many variables and personalities. Plus freelance editors have varying needs. Some are able (and happy) to offer quality editing at a lower rate while others charge a much higher rate for a similar quality.

So, what’s a good price? For an 80,000-word manuscript, you’re looking at anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000.

But price doesn’t always represent skill level, and spending more money won’t necessarily yield better results.

The big key is finding the right editor for YOU. Don’t choose your editor based on price. Choose your editor based on your admiration for his work or for his personality or whatever makes you feel the editor is the perfect one for your work.

2. What service will you get with copy editing?

The service level of copy editing is important to understand. Some editors offer different levels of editing (developmental versus substantive, for example). Others only assess grammar and spelling (because, traditionally, copy editing is one of the final steps in the publication process). Then there are the editors who evaluate all aspects of storytelling when reviewing manuscripts. If there’s an issue with character development (inconsistency, perhaps), the all-aspects editor will let you know.

The thing to keep in mind is that if you hire an editor for developmental editing or substantive editing, you’ll end up needing to hire one to handle the traditional form of copy editing to catch the mistakes that were skipped over (because they weren’t included in that type of service level).

But if you hire the all-aspects editor, you’ll get it all. That does mean though that unless you and your editor have agreed on a second edit, you’ll need to handle your own proofreading for the parts that you modified.

3. How do you know if you’re getting scammed?

One of the big things to be aware of when seeking representation for your novel manuscript is if an agent tells you your manuscript needs professional editing and then gives you a referral or says his agency also provides editorial services. This is a red flag.

One of my editing clients ran into this scenario with her manuscript. The so-called agent told her the manuscript needed revision and said her own editor could handle it for roughly $5,000. What a price! Later, my client found me and got her book edited for just under $1,600 (at my normal copy editing rate).

Any time an agent recommends an editor and even provides her own, I urge you to investigate further, especially if the fee is a hefty one.  

4. Is your manuscript ready for editing?

Not all manuscripts are ready for editing. If you have any qualms about your novel, there’s a good chance it needs more revision or time. Same with if you have any nagging thoughts about it.

On the other hand, feeling overly confident about it can prevent you from realizing things that your manuscript still needs.

Confidence about and satisfaction in our work greatly depend on skill level. If we think we know everything there is to know about writing, then we may feel confident and satisfied. But if we know our writing needs more revision, but we’ve committed to doing the best work we’re capable of right now, then we could be confident, too.

Most of the time, if writers work on revisions until they feel satisfied with their work while understanding that it won’t be perfect, that will give them the opportunity to provide a quality manuscript while staying open to ways to improve it.

If you’re not open to improving your manuscript, if you think all it needs is some minor proofreading, then you’re not going to be ready to review an editor’s comments.

There’s a learning curve to getting a manuscript published, but the same goes for just about anything else. It’s your responsibility as a writer to learn as much as you can about the process so you know what you’re getting into.

Before you pay for editorial services, do your industry research. Take the time now to learn how the publishing industry works. Get connected with other writers and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of writer’s resources available, both online and offline. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.

Jody Calkins
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