Why pay for editing?


Savvy authors understand why they receive such a small percentage of royalties on book sold when their books are published by traditional publishers. The publisher assumes all financial risk and invests in producing a book of the high quality the reading public expects and deserves. That effort entails the employment of professionals: copywriters for the back cover blurb and marketing; editors for the manuscript, cover blurb, and marketing materials; graphic designers for page layout and cover art.

I have yet to meet online or in person another author who’s an expert at copywriting, editing, and graphic design, yet all too many self-published authors believe that self-publishing means “do it all yourself.”

Not so.

The worst mistake, in my opinion, an author can make is to edit his or her own books. Because in my “real” life I freelance as an editor, I made that mistake and learned the hard way that relying on my own editing did not serve my book’s best interests. Having learned that painful lesson, I now hire a wonderful editor to edit my manuscripts before the public ever sees them. It’s not cheap, but I care about the quality of the stories I publish.

There are several reasons why too many authors don’t hire editors:

  1. An editor will overwrite my voice. This is false. A competent editor refines the author’s voice. Any editor who doesn’t let the author’s voice shine through isn’t a good editor. This does not mean an editor won’t rewrite some sentences within the manuscript to clarify or strengthen the writing, but it does mean the story retains the “flavor” of the author’s style after editing. Another way to say this is good editing is invisible. Think about it: if you’re reading a book and errors and sloppy phrasing catch your notice, then the author did not invest in good editing. If the author invests in good editing, you don’t notice because nothing interrupts the flow of reading.
  2. I use editing software and that’s good enough. This is false. Editing software is a helpful tool, but it cannot take the place of a human for discerning nuance and context. Software understands rules, not context. Editing programs may also introduce as many errors as it corrects. When you use editing software—and you absolutely should—check each recommended change (I won’t say “correction”) before accepting it to ensure the suggestions improve what you wrote.
  3. Editing is expensive. Yes, it is and for good reason.
    • An editor is a professional and may be expected to charge fees commensurate with the sophisticated skill required to do the job well. Many authors gasp at the idea of paying more than $500 for editing a book manuscript. If you break down an editor’s rate, consider that a (very) rough average editing speed is 1,500 words per hour. If your manuscript runs 75,000 words, then expect the editor to need at least 50 hours for a single pass. (An editing pass differs from an editing round; most editors will review the manuscript multiple times [i.e., passes] within a single round of editing.) In Ohio, minimum wage is $10.45 per hour, so 50 hours of work at minimum wage would be $522.50. A skilled editor who is a professional will quote a rate exceeding minimum wage, so don’t expect your editor to work for less.
    • Editing takes time. Different levels of editing require varying amounts of time due to the nature of the work and the quality of the content being edited. A hot mess of a manuscript requires a gread deal more effort and attention than does a manuscript the author has already rigorously and ruthlessly self-edited and revised. Editing a clean, well-written manuscript costs less than one riddled with errors that an editing program could have easily rectified.
  4. I’ll just hire a proofreader. Unfortunately, this shows a lack of comprehension for what a proofreader does. Proofreading is not editing. A proofread will catch those small errors that slip past an editor and/or page designer. A proofreader puts the final polish on the manuscript before it goes to press. An editor works with the manuscript before it goes to page design; a proofreader works on the manuscript after formatting. A proofreader’s job is narrowly defined: the proofreader corrects errors. A proofreader does not address anything is not an error but could still be improved.
  5. I won’t recoup my investment. This is probably true, but I know of no way to determine an author’s return on investment for editing. You can’t know how many sales you lose because readers posted reviews lambasting the book for its lack of editing or poor editing. You can’t know how many future sales you lose because a customer bought the book and was disappointed in the quality, and resolved never to purchase another book by that author again.

I don’t think good editing gains an author book sales because the customer contemplating the purchase is already predisposed to buy the book; however, those customers are yours to lose.

Authors should not only recognize that editing is a crucial part of publication, but also that it occurs as steps in a process. First, there’s developmental editing. Developmental editing focuses on the big picture; the editor takes a bird’s eye view of the story’s structure. Next is line editing. The editor focuses on how the language is used. Third is copy editing which focuses on the mechanics of language.

Many self-publishing authors cannot afford to hire three editors and a proofreader; therefore, many have to make hard choices. An author taking on the responsibility of publishing may use beta readers who are generally volunteers who read the unpublished manuscript and return their feedback. The author then revises according to that feedback. This often serves in place of developmental editing. An author may use editing software for line and copy editing, although I’ve already mentioned the hazards of decision. Or an author may hire a substantive editor.

Substantive editing (which is what I do) combines line editing and copy editing with a smidgen of developmental editing. It may still require multiple rounds described as: 1) an initial, intensive round of editing that always results in revisions; 2) a lighter round of editing that focuses mainly on copy editing (necessary after all that revision and rewriting); and perhaps 3) a final round of proofreading.

Some of my books will never break even on the cost of editing, page design, and cover design; however, others already have and still more others will. I learned through the school of hard knocks that editing is not a step I can or should relinquish in an effort to save money because I care about the quality of my books.

If an author won’t invest in the quality of his or her book, then why should a reader invest his or her hard-earned money to buy it?

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