You’ve decided to hire a book editor and now you need to figure out where to best spend your money. To a large extent, your budget will determine your decision. A smaller budget might afford you only proofreading services whereas a robust budget could hire an editor for copy as well as one for developmental editing. Also take into consideration your skill level—I do a lot of my own editing for nonfiction but for fiction, I definitely like to have a developmental editor go through the manuscript and point out its flaws. You may be able to pick and choose what type of editing you hire out according to your skills and the work itself.
Hiring an editor is much like hiring any other service provider. You ask people you know who they would recommend, you go into your networking groups (either in person or online) and ask, and you can hire online, which is what most of us do. Unless you live in a larger metropolitan area, you are unlikely to find the right editor for your project locally. So, let’s look at online sources.
How Do You Find an Editor?
Where you find your editor depends on the level of expertise you can afford. Let me rule out Fiverr (and other very low-cost sites) right now. You may get lucky and hit on someone who is competent, but the odds are very low.
If you are going to go the freelance editor route, you’ll find lots of independent book editing services (myself included). Just Google “find an editor” or “book editors for hire” and you’ll be swamped with sites. Read the “About” page and look for testimonials. I also like to know how long someone has been in the business: Those who have been editing for decades are old school sticklers and that’s what I want in an editor. Yes, if your writing is conversational, you want the editor to work with that, but you also want her to steer you away from sounding too informal. Balance is key.
If you’re going with an individual freelance editor, look for someone who works specifically with books in your niche or genre and who has agency experience (I don’t, by the way). In the publishing industry, everyone seems to have a specialty and you want to find someone who understands your world. Agency experience usually means that they understand how a published book should read, what the standard grammatical formats are, and that they have edited many books. You don’t want to be someone’s first book.
Sites like Upwork or Freelancer.com are solid sources of freelancers for just about every conceivable need and you’ll find plenty of freelance editors for hire here. You want to look for someone who is a native English speaker. If you’re a North American, you want a North American editor. If you’re British, you want an editor based out of the UK. While many people from India and the Philippines and other countries speak flawless, grammatically correct English, most don’t have the slang and just the cadence that native speakers do.
Print On Demand Publishing Platforms
Your print on demand publisher has affiliated professional editing services that have been vetted (to some degree).
At the time of this writing, Amazon KDP is still transitioning out of Createspace and one of the downsides of that is the editing services that Createspace offers are not part of the Amazon publishing process (yet). Amazon does have a page for provider resources such as cover creation, formatting, and editing. IngramSpark also has editing services under their Resources tab (choose “Experts”). If you’re using a POD publisher, take a look at their “Services” or “Resources” pages and see if they have an editing service available.
I place more confidence in hiring from editorial associations than from Upwork or just Googling for a freelancer. There are many writers and editors associations, including the Editorial Freelancers Association, ACES or National Association of Independent Writers and Editors. As with anything, associations can’t vet every member, and membership in these groups seems to be open to anyone with the membership fee. But most people don’t pay to join an association just to “slide one by” unsuspecting prospects. EFA actually has chapters with meetings as opposed to just an online presence and newsletter. It also has the highest membership fees. Perhaps not coincidentally, their rates seem a trifle higher than other places. It may be that you pay for quality; it may be that EFA takes a cut of what the editors make and the rates reflect that.
Proofreading rates are lower than full copy editing rates which are lower than line or developmental editing rates. If the only thing you can afford is proofing, do it. It’s going to improve your book. (Many proofers will pick up on grammatical errors and some other common mistakes such as changing tense. The better ones will give you a heads up on those things.) Freelance editing rates vary by freelancer (and probably location—an editor in New York City is going to charge more than one in Ames, Iowa).
Also, a smart editor will ask you for a writing sample, usually a chapter of a book or something long enough so they can get a feel for your writing style and, speaking candidly, how much work your manuscript is going to be. If I get a sample from someone that is riddled with errors and fairly incoherent in communicating information, I’m going to charge more because that manuscript is going to take a lot longer than a “clean” manuscript. I’m also more likely to not catch every error just because of the sheer volume of errors.
One of the editing services that is used by many of the POD publishers is Kirkus (AKA KirkusReviews). I’ll pull out their packages and rates here because they are fairly standard when it comes to editing services (as opposed to one-off, freelance editors).
Kirkus has Basic Copy Editing at $0.02 a word, with a $500 minimum. So, if your work is less than 25,000 words, you’re paying more than $0.02 a word. You can either pay the minimum or look for another editing service with a different or even nonexistent minimum. You might find someone to proof your 10,000 word manuscript for $0.04 a word and still come out ahead of the game.
The next level is what Kirkus calls “Collaborative Editing” (again with a $500 minimum). This package gives you line and some copy editing at a rate of $99 plus $0.03 a word. Going back to our example of a 25,000 word manuscript, it would run $750 plus the $99 fee, or $849.
The Professional Editing Package is three rounds of editing starting with their “Collaborative” (line/developmental editing), then copy editing and a final polish round. A 25,000 word manuscript would run $1625 + $99 ($1724).
You can see where editing gets pricey fast. Just to give you some perspective, POD platform Lulu charges $0.09 per word for a full developmental edit (similar to the Kirkus Pro Package). That would be $2,250 for that 25,000 word manuscript. It pays to shop.
A note on payment: Sites like Upwork take full payment up front, but hold it in escrow until the work is completed and you release the funds to the freelancer. Sites like Kirkus take the full payment up front (and I’m sure they don’t release funds to their contract editors until the work is done). When you’re using a straight-up freelancer, they may have their own payment requirements. For editing, I charge a 50% deposit and 50% when the work is completed. I don’t feel comfortable giving the whole payment to someone in advance (especially when there are no hard costs involved) and I understand that other people might have the same policy. But, as a freelancer, it is rare that I start work without a deposit. Fifty percent deposit is a fair compromise to me.
Timing in Life is Everything
More important than price, is the turnaround time. Editing could take (according to Lulu’s website) as much as four to five months (YIKES!). Kirkus merely says it has a “custom timeline” for their pro package. If time is of the essence (and it usually is), you will probably want to get a firm time frame—in writing—from your editor, no matter who you use. On the flip side, if you want a lengthy manuscript edited in a week, understand that you will have to pay an extra fee (sometimes as much as 50%) and that a rushed editing job is not going to be as good as one where the editor had more time.
You Need to Hire a Book Editor
Your book is important. It took you a substantial amount of time to write it. Treat it well. In fact, treat yourself and your work with the respect you have earned. Hire a book editor.
To recap: When it’s time to hire an editor, there are a number of factors you need to examine. First is your budget because for many of us, our budgets make the decision for us. (That’s okay, it will make a funny story to tell Oprah during your interview.) While price may be a determining factor, turnaround time can be a deal breaker. Take a look at all the factors involved, and do the best that you can for your book. After cover art, the best money you can spend is on editing.