If there’s one thing we hear from people over and over again, it’s that editing can get downright expensive. Publishers and independent authors alike often find the price of quality editorial services somewhere around the range of “absurd.”

A woman with shoulder-length hair in a yellow turtleneck peers into an empty black leather wallet. She seems upset or confused, possibly as to why there is no money in the wallet.
Our opinion is that editing shouldn’t make you make this face. (Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com)

We’ve seen it ourselves. We’ve been quoted more than $10,000 for an editing project. We try to be much more reasonable at Inkwell’s, but we also know that quality comes with a price tag. Sometimes, you get lucky and book a great editor for a discount price. Sometimes, you end up overpaying for mediocrity.

The roulette game of editorial quality is another reason authors and publishers often feel editorial rates are just too high. Why are you paying so much for a kinda-sorta-okay editor when you often book someone else who charges much less and does an amazing job? It makes no sense.

Understanding how editors set editing rates can help you as you book new editorial projects. So just how do editors decide on their prices?

There are a variety of factors that determine editorial pricing, including the type of service, the length of the manuscript, the timeline, the editor’s experience, and more.

Editor’s Education, Experience, and Certification

A general rule of thumb is that the more experienced the editor, the more you’re going to pay. While this isn’t always true, editors who have been in the business for 15, 20, or 25 years generally command higher prices because they have a reputation. They know what they’re doing, and hundreds of projects and satisfied clients can attest to this. Senior Editor Ashley has been in the biz for more than a decade herself, and she commands a higher price than Junior Editor Nikki, who is still building her portfolio and reputation.

A person wearing a silver wristwatch and a black graduation gown with a crimson silk cuff holds up a rolled piece of paper tied with a red ribbon, against a green wallpaper with an intricate gold pattern.
Accreditation is becoming more common among editors. (Ekrulila / Pexels.com)

Both of our editors have educational credentials to attest to their editorial skills and training as well. They’re also graduates of Humber College’s Creative Book Publishing Program, an intensive four-month post-graduate program for people interested in the Canadian book publishing scene. Both have also completed the Copy Editing course at Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education, which is part of their publishing program. And both our editors have BAs from the University of Guelph.

Other editors will have educational credentials from different programs and schools. Some might have no training at all, except their experience. Education and training don’t always trump experience, but they can be good indicators of who might be more knowledgeable.

Type of Service Can Determine Editing Rates

The type of service being booked is another factor in editing rates. If you’re booking a substantive edit, you’re likely going to be charged more than if you book a proofread.

This is because different levels of editing indicate different levels of work. A substantive edit works on a much deeper level than a proofread, so it makes perfect sense the editor would want a higher price. For the same length of project, a substantive editor will also likely put in more time and effort than the proofreader.

The Length of the Project

There are two ways to think about the length of a project. The first is the actual size of the project itself. We’re talking word counts and page counts here. Quite simply put, it takes longer to edit 250 pages than it does to edit 150 pages. It takes longer to edit 50,000 words than it takes to edit 5,000 words.

The other factor is the schedule, or the length of time available for the edit. If you want to book an editor to edit your 100,000-word manuscript and you want it done in a week, the editor might charge you a premium. Why? They may have to delay other work or turn down other projects in order to work on your manuscript and prioritize it. If you book the same manuscript on a three-week turnaround, the editor might charge you a lower price.

The Project Quality Can Affect Editing Rates

How messy is your manuscript? If your editor only cleans up a few spelling mistakes and tidies up your punctuation, they’ll be able to move through it quite quickly. As the amount of work demanded by the project diminishes, the editor will usually consider a lower price.

Essentially, editors evaluate how much time and effort a project will take them. A messy 50,000-word novel might take as much (or more) time to edit properly as a clean 100,000-word manuscript.

How Can You Get Service to Fit Your Budget?

Understanding how editors set editing rates might help you see why prices are the way they are, but it probably doesn’t solve the fundamental problem. You have a budget for your project, and you know you need a service. How can you ensure you’re getting the service and the quality you need with the budget you have?

This is a particular problem for independent authors and small presses. Budgets are often very tight, and it can be difficult to find a truly great editor who fits the bill. In most cases, you’ll end up paying for someone who does an okay-enough job, because they fit the budget needs of the project.

A silver pen, a blank spiral-bound notepad, and a black calculator sit atop scattered American bills, a likely sign someone is trying to budget for current editing rates.
We try to make budgeting simpler. (Karolina Grabowska / Pexels.com)

Sometimes, you get lucky, finding a great editor who also meets your budget needs. One of the things you can do is see if the editor you want to work with will negotiate or accept a flat fee. Many editors do work this way with their clients, recognizing not everyone can afford to pay the same price.

Some editors may offer sales or special discount pricing to particular categories of clients. Some will have special pricing for students, while others may offer publication packages for indie authors. Small presses and academic publishers may find some editors are willing to negotiate prices with them or create a discount.

Finding the Right Editor for Your Project

The right editor for your project will consider every factor when it comes to determining pricing. They may even offer payment plans. Negotiation should almost never be off the table. If an editor doesn’t want to negotiate on price, will they want to negotiate about edits to your project?

Finding the right editor for your project can be a trick. Pricing shouldn’t stand in the way, not even when you have budget constraints.