Why Is Editing So Expensive?

Editing is a costly endeavor. It can cost thousands of dollars to have your novel edited, and that may only be the first round of editing that it needs. Why is editing so expensive? I’ll explore that in this blog, focusing on developmental editing since that’s the most expensive.

Time-Consuming = Expensive

The best answer for why editing is so expensive is because it’s time-consuming. The editor will read through your manuscript at least twice. And we’re not talking about speed reading here; this is in-depth reading.

The editor will perhaps make an outline or a book map as she goes along, being sure to capture the key aspects to the story. She will also make comments about her reactions and questions upon first read. The first read-through will probably take about twice as long as someone who is just reading for fun. Alternately, some editors read through the manuscript once pretty quickly to see how the story is, then on the second read start doing some of the work I described. Each editor has her own process.

Then the editor thinks on your manuscript. Here, it’s best if I describe my own process only since others have their own processes, but my process should give you an idea of why it’s time consuming for any editor. At this point, I would review my outline or book map and evaluate each aspect for strengths and weaknesses. I would look at the overall plot and subplots, the conflict, the theme, and the character arcs for the primary and secondary characters. I would look back through any notes I made on the manuscript to see if the questions I had got answered further on in the book. I would consider my initial reactions to things, especially negative ones, and determine if there was a reason the author wrote it that way or if it needs to be improved.

After evaluating all of this information, I would decide on the top three to five aspects that should change to make a substantially better novel. I focus on three to five areas so that the author can make significant improvements without being completely overwhelmed. For example, a lack of conflict needs to be resolved before we worry about secondary characters’ arcs. Changing the conflict could change nearly everything else in the story, so the secondary characters may change or not exist any longer. In other words, we have to work from the most important and high-level down.

After I decide what areas I’m going to focus on, I go through the manuscript and add concrete recommendations on where improvements can be made, why they are needed, and suggestions on how to implement the improvements. These suggestions are there to better illustrate the problem, because sometimes it’s easier to see the problem if you can see a possible solution. They’re also there to help stimulate the author’s mind to develop his own solutions to the problem, though the author is welcome to use the editor’s suggestion.

This is yet another read-through plus a lot of detailed thinking and commenting and cross-referencing (e.g., In Chapter 2: “I recommend moving this to Chapter 5 where you discuss blah, blah, blah and cutting back this chapter”; in Chapter 5: “I recommended in Chapter 2 that you move the mention of blah, blah, blah here instead.”) for clarity and ease. This read-through takes a significant amount of time.

The last step is to prepare a letter to the author to outline the three to five aspects I recommend changing and why, mentioning things the author is doing well, and discussing next steps, which could include recommending another developmental edit if it looks like it’ll be needed or recommending that he have a beta reader look over the changes before sending it for copyediting. It also takes some time to prepare this letter so that it’s useful and clear but, since the topic is mostly critical, not something that should be devastating to a sensitive author.

Freelancer Costs

Another aspect to the cost is that freelancers have to cover their costs other than just their time. They had to develop their expertise and must maintain it, so they have ongoing education costs and time they must cover. Additionally, there’s no employer to pay employment taxes; that all falls on the freelancer to cover. There are also things like health insurance that employers often contribute to or have group rate plans for, but the freelancer must usually cover solo. They have to purchase their own equipment, such as computers, monitors, paper, bookkeeping software, editing software, Microsoft Word, desks, chairs, and so on. They have to purchase business licenses in their state and city and maintain their websites. They have to take time to write blogs so that search results will pick up their websites rather than assuming that they’re no longer in business. They have to do free sample edits to try to get work.

Sure, none of these costs or activities directly affect you or your manuscript. But the freelancer has to make enough money to cover these costs and the time spent on essential activities that don’t generate income and still make it worthwhile for them to get out of bed to work on your novel.

It’s a little bit different of a mindset if you’ve always worked for a company, but surely it’s something you can relate to as you also have essential bills to cover and chores or errands you must do.

Package Deals

A popular offering is package deals for editing where you get a developmental edit, copyedit, and proofread all for one package price. This can be a good deal, and you can maintain a relationship with just one editor.

But beware the packages that are too good to be true. Remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” If you’re getting all of that for $600, for example, that’s 20 hours of work at $30 per hour. That’s simply not enough time to do all of the work I described for one round of developmental editing, much less copyediting and proofreading.

Before jumping into a package deal, discuss the editor’s process. Judge whether it’s thorough enough to truly make your novel better. You can also ask for a short sample edit to judge this. Ask if it ever happens that a book needs more than one round of developmental editing and what happens then. Ask if she limits the number of big picture recommendations to avoid overwhelming you or creating confusion by recommending you change smaller things when a bigger change may make it moot.

Worth the Investment

Ultimately, it’s important that you find an editor who’s going to help you meet your goals for your novel. If you want it to be the best it can possibly be, it’s going to cost you a significant amount of money, and you’ll have to do a few rewrites. If you just want someone to check for grammar issues, that will be substantially cheaper, and you won’t have to do nearly as much work. But, your novel may not appeal to audiences either, and you may hurt your reputation before you get your career off the ground.

Instead of thinking of editing as a cost, think of it as an investment. If you were building a house, you wouldn’t expect to be able to move in without first shelling out some cash, right? Similarly, editing is an investment in your career. The first impression you make in the market can never be erased. Make sure it’s a good first impression by making your novel as strong as possible and investing in developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading prior to publishing.


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