A New Perspective on the Cost of Freelance Editors

a pile of $50 bills, editing costs“I can’t afford to hire a professional editor,” you say.

But you can’t afford not to hire one. The quality—or lack thereof—of your story directly impacts your ability to land a traditional publishing contract. If you publish indie, it impacts your sales. And who doesn’t want lots of sales?

I don’t say this just because I’m an editor. Even I send my own work to a writer friend to edit. That’s because it’s hard for us see the mistakes in our own writing.

That’s why I encourage you to hire an editor.

We all know professional editing costs can add up, but I often get the impression that writers expect it to start at $5000 and go up from there. Even $1000 is a lot when that same amount pays the mortgage for a month or two.

Let’s take a look at the industry standard fees given in Writer’s Market 2017.

The per hour rates for content editing (those big picture issues):
HIGH: $125      LOW: $19     AVG: $54

The per project rates for content editing
HIGH: $20,000     LOW:  $1,000     AVG: $6,538

The per hour rates for copy editing (fixing the mechanics):
HIGH: $100     LOW: $16     AVG: $46

The per project rates for copy editing
HIGH: $5,500     LOW: $2,000     AVG: $2,892

Admittedly, I don’t like the per project rates, so I’m sure you don’t either. The per hour averages are okay.

But there are things we don’t know about these figures:

  • The hours an editor spends doing the job? Is there an average?
  • The word count of the manuscript?
  • How well or how poorly written the manuscript was?

We have no way to put these dollar figures into context or determine the cost to edit our manuscript.

So let’s look at this from another angle.

The standard format for manuscripts is Times New Roman, 12 pt font, double spaced. That means approximately 400 words per page for narrative, and less if the page contains primarily dialog. So let’s figure 375 avg. The typical word count for fiction books at CrossRiver is 85,000. That comes out to 226 pages.

In my freelance work I quote on how many hours I anticipate the project will take. Many editors do.

According to Forbes magazine the average adult can read 300 words per minute (WPM) and have a 60% comprehension rate. I know I don’t read that fast when I’m editing, and I stop to make comments or if copy editing, I making changes and comments.

So let’s say I spend an average of 10 minutes per page. That means I would edit 6 pages per hour, for a total of 37.7 hours to complete the 226 pages. If I charged the average $46/hr, the job would cost $1,738. Granted that might still amount to your mortgage and car payment put together, but it’s far better than the nebulous $2,892.

Unless you write children’s books, plan on a minimum of 25-30 hours for editing.

In the 7 years I’ve been editing I’ve come to average about 8-10 pages/hour to copy edit a decent manuscript. By decent I mean I’m making a few minor punctuation, spelling, or grammar corrections on each page.

With a badly written manuscript it can take me an hour to get through 2-3 pages. By badly written I mean correcting something in nearly every line on the page. At 2.5 pgs/hr at $46/hr, a project like that would cost $4,158.

I hope that helps put the cost of editing into a better perspective. Begin saving for your editing costs as soon as you start your draft!

How Can I Produce a Good Manuscript and Lower my Editing Costs?

  • Be ruthless with your manuscript as you self edit
  • Join a critique group
  • Enlist beta readers
  • Learn the basics of punctuation and grammar
  • Learn to show rather than tell
  • Learn correct point-of-view construction

Want to get published but don’t know where to start?

Maybe you have a finished manuscript or just an idea stuck in your head. Email me today at Deb [at] DebraLButterfield [dot] com, and let's discuss how I can help you reach your dream of publication.


  1. Wow, those earlier numbers where you said, “Admittedly, I don’t those numbers, so I’m sure you don’t either.” scared me at first!

    The tricky thing is finding a good editor. My last book I wrote got edited by a “Christian” editor. The process for knowing what was actually being done was difficult but I knew she had a hard time with my manuscript. I am dyslexic and I’m sure you can just guess some of the challenges facing that task.

    After it was “edited” it got picked up by Tate Publishing who also “edited” the book. Tate went belly up and so, I pursued the book again recently and sent it to The Writer’s Edge Service. There, I received a rejection letter. In it, was all of the issues of the book that I had just paid to get rid of. Some of the comments were actually changes the “editors” suggested to make too or had commented on and I assumed was dealt with.

    Though initially disappointed, I was seriously happy to have finally gotten an honest critique that actually pulled out some of the mistakes that not only one, but two editors missed all together.

    The sad thing is that I had paid over $1000 for the editing to be done originally. To me, this was quite a lot at the time. The manuscript was 60,000 words.

    This is upsetting because with a disability, mistakes can go unnoticed for me and obviously is a great disservice to the patron who paid someone to catch those mistakes. There is no way I would see some of those issues. I put full trust in the person doing the editing.

    Debra, I know you would do a wonderful job at editing, what is your advice for those who may not have the skill set to critique the editing work they are receiving?

    Is there any vetting system for editors to go through?

    Thank you so much for this great article.

    • Sorry to hear about all your difficulties. There are so many organizations and individuals out there that simply bilk the client. A website called Preditors and Editors used to list publishers, agents, editors and served much like the BBB does for businesses. However, it is undergoing changes and no longer has that listing. They do offer this article, http://critters.org/c/pubtips.ht that as I skimmed it appeared to have great advice. The Christian Editor Connection does screen their editors. https://christianeditor.com/

      Your question about how to critique the editing work you get is a tough one. After all, you realize you don’t have the skill set you need so you hire someone. I’ll have to give that some real thought. My best advice is to thoroughly investigate any potential editor before hiring her/him. It’s just so easy to lie and project credibility online. Asking writer friends who they’ve used and their satisfaction level is one place to start.

      • Thank you so much Debra! That seems like great advice, as I am sure I am not the only one. I can’t wait to look at Christian Editor! Thank you again <3

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