For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about working with different editors and the spectrum of editorial roles. There are so many types of editing, it can be quite confusing! If you didn’t get a chance to read those earlier posts, here they are:
I can sense the question you’re asking, could feel the tension as I was writing: Yeah, but how much do these people cost?? And how do I afford it?
I refrained from going there, because this is a much bigger question than it seems. But let's dive in now!
There’s no set rate for any editorial services. Some organizations, like the Editorial Freelancers’ Association and Reedsy, post average rates. In my experience, the EFA rates reflect the bare minimum for editors who actually want to make a living doing this (along with paying their mortgage and health insurance and car payment and groceries…). Reedsy’s posted rates are far too low.
The important thing to remember about any posted rates is that they are descriptive rather than prescriptive; in other words, they do not set a standard for editors to follow, but merely try to give authors a holistic perspective of the average across the industry so that you can set your expectations and budget accordingly. There is SO much variation in and around these posted rates!
So how do book professionals decide what to charge?
There’s no science to this, but from what I observe, a variety of factors influence a book professional’s rates:
There’s also much debate amongst editors around the best method to setting rates. Do you charge by word, by hour, or set a total fee for the project?
Again, there’s no right way to do this, and each editor has to decide for him/herself what works best for their style.
Here’s what I do.
I start with a basic rate for developmental editing. It is slightly higher than the EFA average for developmental editing ($.06/word, depending on the content area), but I set that starting point based on the fact that I’ve edited over 150+ books on a variety of topics, worked at a traditional publisher for many years, and I need to set my rates high enough to be taken seriously by the authors I want to work with—people who are equally serious about creating a high-quality book and willing to make our partnership a priority.
I recoil when I sense that authors are price-shopping or just looking for a straightforward transaction. I’ve worked on plenty of projects like that, and it’s never fun. I know that the best way for everyone to enjoy the process is for both parties to be invested. I care a lot about what my authors are trying to accomplish, because I want to partner with good people. I’m never just thinking about the book itself; I’m always thinking about the comprehensive plan to make this book successful and the impact it’s going to have.
Once I have a general price point set, then I can and do take into account all of the things listed above. Sometimes I keep the price there. Often, I lower it. I promised myself when I left my job at a publishing company that I would prioritize taking the projects I really care about and working with incredible authors whose work and stories I believe in. Sometimes, even my discounted rates are too much, and that always makes me sad. I can’t work with everyone I want to!
I do this for all of my services: ghostwriting, book proposals, coaching. And, from what I can tell, every editor and book professional I’ve worked with or discussed rates/pricing with does the same thing. Every quote is a little bit different and incorporates a variety of factors.
When you’re trying to find professionals to work with, I recommend talking to a few different people—not to price shop and hire the cheapest one, but to find the best partner who is excited about what you’re doing. Someone who buys into your mission and vision. I promise that you’ll both enjoy the process more!
I recommend budgeting $3000-5000 for developmental editing, and around $1500-2000 for copyediting, depending on the length of your book and all of the factors listed above. That might sound like nothing or an exorbitant amount, but in my experience, you should be able to find great partners in that range.
Ghostwriting is a totally different ballgame. Again, if you look up pricing, you’ll find various estimates and ranges, and it often depends on word count. I’ll share what I’ve seen from my experience: $20,000 tends to be the low end, up to $100,000 or more on the high end. Newer ghostwriters tend to charge less, while more experienced ghostwriters tend to charge much more. The average is somewhere around $40-50,000.
Getting help with your book is a big investment—one that I take very seriously, and I’m always honored when authors make it a financial priority to work with me.
Here are some ways that you can ease the burden on your budget:
In Kate Moore’s book, The Woman They Could Not Silence, Kate writes about how Elizabeth Packard was wrongly imprisoned in a mental institution during the 1860s for the crime of disagreeing with her husband. When Elizabeth finally secured her freedom, she was determined to write a book about her experience and raise awareness about the injustices she witnessed. The problem was, no publisher would go near the subject.
So what did Elizabeth do?
She went door to door and campaigned for her book, collecting money until she could successfully self-publish.
DANG. That’s a hungry author, if I’ve ever heard of one.
Thankfully, none of us have to go door to door. Instead, from the comfort of our homes, we can create a Kickstarter and start collecting funds almost instantly. Yes, it takes work to promote the Kickstarter, but what I love about this strategy is that it’s also a great way to test your ideas and provide proof of concept. You can also create a community around these passionate early supporters of your work, inviting them behind the scenes of the creation process to provide feedback so that you know you’re delivering something they’ll love.
If you can split up the payment for your air fryer on Amazon, most editors will consider some kind of flexible payment arrangement as well. I usually split payments up into threes:
Obviously, depending on the project that might not work, but you can almost always find some other sort of arrangement. I’ve also recently started offering a monthly rate for long-term projects like ghostwriting. I like it because it means dependable income every month, and authors like it because it’s usually easier to break the payment up over a longer period of time.
If the editor you want to work with only suggests one payment plan that’s over your budget, try asking if they’d consider another type of payment plan—within reason, of course. Remember, editors have to be able to pay their bills every month, too!
Another way to help ease the burden (not eliminate it altogether!) is to enhance your own writing and editing skills. The more you can improve your writing on your own, the fewer rounds of editing you might require.
Remember: you shouldn’t try to cut out an editor altogether. As Ryan Holiday says and I quoted in my last few posts, “Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else. Nobody.”
But I do think you can cut down on the number of rounds required so that the ultimate price isn’t as high. Plus, the better you can make your writing on your own, the deeper an editor can go in the editing process.
If you want to learn more about editing your own work, my friends Liz, Mara, and I created a class that walks you through our process!
Use this strategy with caution! I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “Oh my neighbor’s best friend’s sister’s daughter edited my book. She got all A’s in English.”
Maybe she could do a great job, but good editors/writers spend years studying how to make great books. Experience really does enhance the result. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now, and I am still learning and growing all the time. I know I’m a better writer and editor now than I was even 2-3 years ago, and I plan to continue getting better.
If you want to ask friends for help, do it. But be very specific about what you want from them. For example, “Please help me make the dialogue more interesting,” or “Please correct my, terrible, use of commas, I have no idea, what I’m doing with, them!” You’ll get better results when you give them more specific instructions.
My hope for you is that your experience working with a ghostwriter, editor, or any book professional is as enjoyable and life-giving as it can be. And, of course, if you’re interested in working with me, you can find out more information right here.
What other questions do you have about working with an editor? Email me (ariel at arielcurry.com) and I'll get back to you or write a post answering your question for everyone!