Editing is the final step that transforms a manuscript into a novel. Or it’s the first step in turning a novel into a published work. Better yet, it’s both. That should tell you how important editing is. But how much should it cost you? Would it shock you to realize that the answer depends on what you mean by editing?
Editing What You May Think About Editing
Let’s start out by saying there are two types of editing you should be concerned with. These are extremely broad types and they break down into different things that often use names interchangeably. This is one reason that any conversation I have about editing usually begins with a few questions just to make sure I’m on the same page as whoever I’m talking to.
I’ll describe the first type of editing loosely as Copyediting. This is editing focused mainly on grammar, punctuation, sentence layout, and maybe clarity.
The second type of editing I’ll put under the umbrella of Story Editing. It may start all the way at the outline stage (developmental) or it may come in at the end to make sure the plot points hang together and all the characters sound consistently like themselves.
You might get a copyedit from the person who does your story edit, but not necessarily. And you might get some typos or rough grammar pointed out by the person who does a story edit, but only if they catch it.
What I’m saying is that you often (though not always) use two different people for these processes. And you often (though not always) will pay very different prices for them.
Blow the Trumpet and Charge!
Before we talk about what each type of editing entails and what it might cost, let’s talk about how editors charge. Very broadly, there are two ways I’ve seen editors tally their price: by the hour and by the word.
Speaking for myself, I personally prefer to pay by the word. This is especially true if I’m trying out somebody new. If I don’t have a rapport or trust built up, it’s much easier to keep track of my word count than it is their hours.
Somebody Needs to Edit This. Do You Copy?
As I said above, copyediting focuses primarily on grammar, punctuation, sentence layout, syntactic style, sometimes language clarity, maybe tone. Very rarely does copyediting deal with actual content. A copyeditor is not typically going to wonder if a fact is correct or if this character would really use that word. A copyeditor will note if you misspelled the species in your fact or if a character dangles a participle.
This is typically the least time-consuming and, therefore, least expensive type of editing. I’ve seen this service priced as low as a fraction of a cent per word all the way up to $35 or $40 per hour. If all you desire is a copyedit, be shrewd, and you can get it for a relatively small investment.
You may need more than a copyedit, though. Unfortunately, you might also be the least qualified person to know for sure.
The Story of How You Made Up a Story
You’ve typed “The End” on your manuscript. You’re thinking about publication. But you aren’t sure that you nailed the three-beat meant to bring home the main theme of your story. You also aren’t sure if the two characters you merged into one on your third revision now read inconsistently. If you’re brutally honest, the plot point that transitions from the second to the third act really does kind of come out of nowhere. If you feel this way about your manuscript, then you probably need a story editor.
A story editor is going to do exactly what the label says: read your story and look for places where the actual storytelling is weak, the characters are ill-defined, or the tone is inconsistent. They are not (unless you negotiate something different) going to look at your grammar, punctuation, or style. The story editor is looking at the architectural framework of the narrative.
If you feel like you need this help even before you’ve started writing, you need a development editor. Development editors typically help you through the process of setting up your story at the scene and beat level before you even start writing. But keep in mind, some story editors consider themselves development editors even if they come in at the end. Make sure you’re all talking about the same services before you agree to anything.
This service is always quite a bit pricier than copyediting. You can imagine why. This is a much more thorough reading of the work and involves a lot more conceptual thinking. You’re looking at a lot more per word and are probably talking mostly to people who refuse to price by the word anyway. You could be talking about as much as $30/hour without a complete insight into how many hours this could take.
Confidence and Self Awareness
Nobody but you can decide what kind of edit you need. While you may be tempted to make this decision based solely on your budget, this may not be the best criteria. Remember when I mentioned that some part of this process would cost way more than you expected? If you’re less than confident in your storytelling skills, this is probably that part.
But that’s okay! I’m writing this for the 101 self-publisher, which may mean you’re a 101 novelist. If that’s the case, spring for the story edit. It’ll make your end product more professional and polished, which only increases your chances of garnering fans. And once you get a little more confident and have a few fans, you have access to a whole new resource: beta readers! They can often do the job of a story editor and will do so for the price of $0. Remember, these are fans. They already *want* to read your work. Then you’ll find yourself only budgeting for a copyedit.
Which brings me to my final piece of editing advice. ALWAYS BUDGET FOR A COPYEDIT.
And with editing under our belt, you’re probably ready to publish that book. So next week, we’ll turn to the expenses that (hopefully) come after you’ve enjoyed some publishing success. Tax preparation and incorporation! See you then.