The Price of Success: How Much Should You Pay for Editing?

If you’ve ever wondered what you should be paying for copyediting, you’re not alone. Rates can vary wildly, and it can be challenging to pit one editor’s services directly against another’s[i]. You want to know you’re paying a fair rate. At the same time, your editor wants to balance value with the desire to earn a living wage.

The Editorial Freelance Association posts a standard rate card on their website, and it’s a great reference for writers and editors alike. Their rate card assumes that a manuscript page equals 250 words, but acknowledges that quotes may be produced on a flat rate or hourly basis. A sample of their rate card is excerpted below.

Type of Work Estimated Pace Range of Fees
Basic Copyediting 5–10 manuscript pages per hour $30–40 per hour
Heavy Copyediting 2–5 manuscript pages per hour $40–50 per hour
Developmental Editing 1–5 manuscript pages per hour $45–55 per hour
Line Editing 1–6 manuscript pages per hour $40–60 per hour

Using the EFA’s rate card, here’s a breakdown of what a 150,000-word, 600 manuscript-page science-fiction novel could cost you in terms of time and money:

Type of Work Hours (minimum) Total Cost (low-end)
Basic Copyediting 60 hours $1,800
Heavy Copyediting 120 hours $4,800
Developmental Editing 120 hours $5,400
Line Editing 100 hours $4,000

Holy cow, right? Relax. Many freelance editors know those prices will scare off some of the most intrepid independent authors—even if their time, services, and expertise are well worth the expense. As an example, here’s what that same novel might cost if I provided those services:

Type of Work Total Cost (low-end)
Basic Copyediting $750
Heavy Copyediting $1,050
Developmental Editing $1,200
Line Editing $900

“But Jen,” you might say, “we know you’re a fabulous editor with varied professional experiences. What’s the catch?” The “catch” is that I’m not a full-time freelancer, which means that when I give you a quote, I may need more time to complete your project than another, full-time editor. I have a 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. corporate job, and I work on your projects during my nights and weekends. As a result, you get a lower total price if you’re willing to spend a little more time on the editing process.

That being said, each project has its own personality, and there are a multitude of factors that might influence your rates:

  • Workload. Editors are busy people. Your editor of choice may be willing to take on more work, but it may raise your rates. On the flipside, scheduling gaps may lower rates to bring in more business.
  • Rush requests. You want it fast? You’re going to have to pay for it.
  • Education level. Let’s face it—you don’t need an MFA or a doctorate to be an amazing editor. That being said, if you go out of your way to seek an editor with a hefty resume, you may need to pay accordingly.
  • Specialization. Some editors specialize in specific genres (e.g., nonfiction, fantasy, romance, etc.) or topics of interest (e.g., medicine, gender studies, history, etc.). These editors can be incredibly valuable, and you’ll probably have to pay extra for their expertise.
  • Content complexity. If your manuscript contains highly technical or specialized content (or, if your manuscript is just a mess), your editor will need to spend more time on it. More time equals more money.

Your work is important. Editing is an investment that helps ensure your work—your product—is polished, engaging, and effective. Finding and hiring a top-notch editor within your budget will not only improve your craft, but also make your work more marketable and financially viable.






[i] If it’s important to you, make sure you ask questions about what’s included so that you can better compare quotes. Am I paying by the page, by the hour, or by the word? Will you take phone calls, answer extra e-mails, or talk via instant message—and will you charge me for that? Will you issue a formal contract? Will I be charged extra for a final report? If I’m only paying for proofreading but you find some other glaring inconsistency, will you still query it? What kind of experience do you have?





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