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What is the Cost of Editing a Book?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

To every writer who tells me, “It’s not about the money,” I first say, “Good.” (Something like 1 percent of writers are able to support themselves through writing.) Next, I say, “Think like a publisher.” Some authors aren’t keen to view their books as commodities, but books are products, and it’s best to make financial decisions with a publisher’s mindset.

Publishers edit books to ensure quality and to ensure their products are competitive in the marketplace. If what you’re publishing meets the criteria of being a potential revenue stream, either through direct sales or ancillary ones (think how-to lead-generators), then decisions about pre-publishing costs are quantifiable.

Industry norms and ego play dual roles, but if a book has a goal to be in the market, have it professionally edited, and if it doesn’t, don’t. Ask yourself this: what's the cost of editing a book? Is the cost of book editing worth the investment? When can I expect to see a return on my investment?

Money Changes Everything

As a publisher, have a clear idea of expenditures, be it for book marketing, layout, and book cover design, or editing. As you earmark pre-pub costs, know your editing budget is partly about community-building, partly about perfecting your product, but it’s mostly about money.

Your editing “line item” will likely be a third of what’s allotted for book promotion, assuming you’re not spending thousands on a book trailer or swanky swag. For our immediate purpose, focus on costs associated with an author website, advanced reader copies, and paying for book reviews. As a publisher, you’ll likely spend more money marketing your book than havingthe book edited, and ideally, a book will go through rounds of editing, be it content, line, copy, and proofreading.

On the upside, as a cost of doing business, depending on how you’ve tracked your efforts, once your book begins to earn revenue, editing services are a business expense, like your printing costs, research materials, association fees, and conference admissions, and are tax deductible. Keep your receipts; let your CPA take it from there.

Checks and Balances

Most novels are between 60,000 to 80,000 words on up to even 100,000+. Children’s chapter books are often closer to 25,000, whereas nonfiction books, excluding memoirs, run between 30,000 to 50,000. Let’s go with the middle ground for one and the higher end for the other.

Let’s assume we’re budgeting for a 60,000-word manuscript and that the manuscript is well-written. Ideally, you’ll collaborate with an editor on a level of editing that includes content editing as well as line and copyediting. (Typically, this means a manuscript will go back and forth between you and your editor until the manuscript is exactly where you want it.) For example, at $0.03 per word, your budget reflects $1,800 with an additional $300 for a final proofread. (Proofreading is a level of scrutiny solely focused on typos and best executed by someone other than your editor.)

When it comes to choosing an editing team, IngramSpark offers a pro list. When it comes to worrying about overpaying, don’t let your book be a blood diamond. You’re paying for a service like one does at a doctor’s office or a hair salon. I like to think editorial pay is equivalent to that of one of Bruno Mars’s backup dancers (your book is Bruno Mars in this analogy), and I’ve never met an editor who isn’t doing what they do but for a love of books.

Pressque typically pays editors per word rather than per hour. Part of our mission statement is to secure fair wages for professional editors. This also means authors are off the hook when it comes to whatever might interrupt an editor’s workspace. Take this to the bank: Track change receipts don’t lie. From one sentence to the next, approaching it forensically, one can follow the thread and pinpoint where an editor jumped ahead, ostensibly, to see where something’s going and too when she or he has gone back to review some part of the narrative. (If I wrote a couplet to toast track change receipts, I’d title it “Ode to the Comfort of Modernity.”)

Publishing is a glorious business. Successful storytelling hinges on collaborative technologies and efforts. Yet, it still bows to legends and myths. It can be life-affirming, even life-changing. While platforms and business models change and shift, ours is a place where commas and character development still matter. It’s not Twitter or Snapchat. In book publishing, end products have long shelf lives; content doesn’t easily disappear, and neither do mistakes. While not all books need editing, hiring the right editor is smart business.


Experts in the Publishing Industry

Ellie Maas Davis

Ellie Maas Davis owns Pressque, a publishing consultation firm located in downtown Charleston that offers editing and ghostwriting services to authors and publishers.