4 Levels of Editing and Their Pricing Explained

All the different editing terms can drive one crazy. You would think as editors, who value precision of language, we could agree on terms, but we don’t.

Despite all the different terms, editors offer four levels of editing. Your book doesn’t necessarily need to go through all four levels, though it might.

This blog will break down each level: the scope of work, the various names editors use to describe it, and the typical price range to expect.

What to understand about the prices listed in this blog:

To understand why editing is so expensive, why a freelancer charging $50 an hour is not really making $50 an hour, and how to stay in your budget, check out another blog I wrote on that topic.

How I got the listed ranges: The ranges are based on what the editors I know are charging. The lowest price in the range is what I feel is the lowest an editor can charge while still being fair to themselves; the highest price in the range is the highest I personally have seen an editor I know charge. Of course, you will find editors who charge below and above the ranges I have listed. However, through observation, reading the EFA rate chart, and discussing with editors, the price ranges listed in this blog are the general price you can expect for editing fiction and non-dense nonfiction manuscripts. The listed ranges are not for technical-, scientific- or academic-based manuscripts.

Different methods of charging: Editors use different methods of charging: per hour, per page, per word, project fee, or per 1,000 words. In general, editors determine the price based on how much they want/need to make per hour. Even if they quote a project fee, price per page, or price per word, they arrive at that quote based on what they want/need to make hourly.

Understanding per-word pricing: $0.02 = 2 cents per word, not 20 cents per word. $0.031 = 3.1 cents per word, not 31 cents per word. $0.05 = 5 cents per word, not 50 cents per word, etc. Some editors charge per 1,000 words to avoid the confusion of the decimal.  So they might quote you $20 per 1,000 words, which is the same as $0.02 (2 cents) per word.

Understanding per-page pricing: Industry standard is 250 words per page. Since the amount of words on a given page depends on the font used and the margins, when an editor quotes you a price per page, they are basing it on 250 words per page. So if your manuscript has 50,000 words, the editor will charge you for 200 pages (50,000 divided by 250), even if your manuscript has 150 pages.

Why the wide range in pricing: 

For each level, I list the typical price range. An editor’s pricing depends on their experience, the type of material they are working on, their speed, and their needs.

Type of material: Editors charge more to edit academic and technical texts because they are more time-consuming to edit, and at the developmental level, editors often have degrees in the subject matter. Lighter nonfiction, less technical like self-help books and memoirs, will cost less per word or per page than technical texts, etc. Some fiction genres, such as epic fantasy, require more knowledge and are also more time-consuming to edit.

Needs: Some may be the sole income provider; some may live in an a high-cost area. Thus, these editors would need to charge more.

Speed: Since editors work at different speeds, a faster editor may quote a lower price, while a slower editor will quote you a higher price. In the end, both may be getting paid, say, $50 an hour.  A faster editor isn’t necessarily worse or better skill wise than a slower editor, and visa versa. An editor should go at the speed that allows them to deliver their best quality for the best price, and that will differ.

Experience: All editors who have the right to call themselves an editor have undergone some type of editing training—whether that be through editing courses, editing certification, reading professional development books, on-the-job training, etc. An editor with more training and more years of experience may charge more than someone weith less training and experience. Essentially, just like employess, freelancers give themselves raises as their skillset grows.

Essentially, you will see a wide range in prices because of the difference in speed, type of material, experience, and needs; and yes, some may actually be charging based on a higher hourly rate than even the industry average,* which may be fair given their demand, experience, and needs.

*Industry average according to Editorial Freelancers Association’s Rate Chart.

Level 1: Developing the Manuscript through Big-Picture Issues

At this level, the editor does not make any markings on the text. The editor reads your manuscript and provides feedback; sometimes they help you develop the story or book from just an outline.

For this, the editor writes a rather lengthy report (often 10+ pages). The editor will focus on the most glaring big-picture issues.

The author then uses that feedback to make changes to the manuscript (or to write the manuscript if the editor was just working with an outline). Making the changes is entirely up to the author as the editor’s job is done after they write the report.

This is cheapter than level 2, which also deals with big-picture issues, so this is an option for authors who can’t afford full big-picture editing.

Fiction:

  • Plot: Does the plot have holes? Is the conflict clear and compelling? Is the plot interesting? Does it reach a satisfying conclusion? Do you have a good balance of narrative summary and scenes?
  • Characters: Are the characters consistent, unique, and well developed? Are their motivations clear?
  • Setting: Is the setting effectively conveyed?
  • Pacing: Does the story lag in certain parts?
  • Genre: Does it conform to the requirements for that genre?
  • Point of View: Is it consistent? Is it the best point of view for the story? Do you head-hop?

 

 Nonfiction:

  • Organization: Are the chapters in a logical order? Do the ideas build upon each other? Does everything in a particular chapter belong in that chapter?
  • Content: Are the concepts well explained? Is there redundant content? Are there enough pieces of evidence or examples to explain each concept? Is it interesting with a unique selling point? Does the content match the sub heads?
  • Audience: Is a clear audience defined? Is the word choice and language engaging and geared towards the intended audience?
  • Purpose: Does the manuscript meet its intended purpose? Is the purpose clear?

Terms to describe this:

  • Developmental editing (this term is also used by some in the next level)
  • Manuscript evaluation
  • Manuscript critique
  • Editorial report

 

Typical Pricing: $40–$60 per hour. This is more often listed as amount per page or per words. Some editors list it as a flat price based on total words (e.g., $400 for manuscripts with 50,000 or less words; $700 for manuscripts with 50,000–75,000 words, etc.). Per word: $0.01–$0.03 per word.

 


Level 2: Big-Picture Editing

At this level, the editor will deal with the same big-picture items addressed in level one. But now rather than just writing a report, they make comments and changes directly to the text, pointing out problems as they occur and offering suggestions on how to fix them.

Editors often also include an editorial report to exaplain the overarching big-picture issues and suggest solutions that take place over several scenes so can’t list in one specific spot int he manuscript.

If your book went through level one, you will have less big-picture issues remaining. But while level one addresses the major big-picture issues on the manuscript as a whole, they may still remain on the chapter or paragraph level. Additionally, you may still have big-picture issues on the whole as the report dealt with the most glaring issues; it did not necessarily address every issue. And  you may not have sufficiently fixed the issues mentioned in the report.

So a level one edit doesn’t automatically negate the need for this.

Fiction:

  • Everything addressed in level one, but now making comments and changes directly to the text as the plot, character, setting, pacing, and point of view issues occur.
  • Do you have the right level of narrative distance at any given point?
  • Is there a good balance between showing and telling?
  • Do you info dump or let the reader learn information in a natural way?

Nonfiction:

  • Everything addressed in level one, but now the editor makes comment and changes directly to the text as the organizational or content issues occur.
  • Do you have clear transitions between ideas?
  • Are there too many or too few subheads?

Terms to describe this:

  • Developmental editing (yes, some use this term for this level as well)
  • Substantive editing
  • Content editing
  • Structural editing
  • Heavy copyediting
Average Pricing: $45–$70 per hour. $0.025–$0.08 per word. $7–$20 per page.

 


Level 3: Word- and Sentence-Level Editing

At this level, the editor makes changes and comments to the words and sentences you use and fixes grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation errors.

Some editors actually separate this in to two services: 1) making stylistic changes to sentences and words and 2) fixing errors.

So you may see editors who offer two different services at this level.

Since some editors break it down into different services, I will define each type, but for me, I just call it all copyediting and include both types.

Terms to describe this:

  • Type 1—Line Editing/Medium Copyediting/Stylistic Editing: making changes to sentence structure and word choice, ensuring your language is clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read. This could mean rewriting awkward sounding sentences, querying sentences with unclear meaning, fixing syntax issues, suggesting more powerful word choice, etc.
  • Type 2—Copyediting/Light Copyediting:  fixing grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage errors
Average Pricing: $35–$60 per hour. $0.01–$0.05 per word. $3–$12 per page.

 


Level 4: Proofreading

Everyone calls this level proofreading. Finally, a standardized editing term we can agree on. However, proofreading can mean different things in the indie world than its use in traditional publishing.

In traditional publishing, a proofreader comes after the book has already been designed and formatted, and they work on the page proofs; thus, the name proofreader.

In indie publishing, a proofreader often comes after the editor and they work on a Word document rather than page proofs. This is because indie authors often only have one editor so they need a second pair of eyes on the words. Also, it is cheaper to have the proofreader come first. When the proofreader comes after the layout, the author needs to pay either the proofreader or the book designer to input the proofreader’s changes into the InDeisgn (or whatever program was used) file.

A proofreader acts as your last line of defense. The proofreader should not be the same person who worked as your editor at any level. (You may have had one editor or multiple editors.) Your editor or editors are too close to your material now and may easily miss the remaining errors.

A proofreader checks the following

  • Grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation errors
  • Consistency in usage and presentation
  • Accuracy in text, images, and layout (if they are proofreading after your book was designed and formatted)
Average Pricing: $30–$50 per hour. $0.01–$0.04 per word. $2–$9 per page.

 


A TIP FOR YOU: I realize these different terms can make it hard for writers. However, most editors will list the type of editing they do and define what that means to them.

So if you go in knowing you want a developmental edit, but you mean that as level two big-picture editing not a level one developing the manuscript, make sure the editor defines that the same way as you.

If they don’t, then look to see if they call it something else or if they don’t offer that service.

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