Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The cost of editing

It’s been a roller-coaster day at Fiction Feedback. First of all, a customer who had liked our critique service and asked us for a quote for editing, came back to say she’d found a recommended editor who agreed to do the work for half our quoted price and in less than half the time. Naturally, all we can do is wish the author well and hope it works out. I’m deeply envious of that editor, not from a commercial aspect but from a personal one – I’d really enjoyed what we’d read so far of this author’s work and, together with the editor who would have worked on this one, I was very keen to read more. I look forward to downloading the finished novel in the not-too-distant.

It got me to thinking, though. Our standard charge for copy-editing is £8 per 1,000 words. If the work is quite ‘clean’, that is, not needing more than a couple of tweaks a paragraph, then I reckon I can get through maybe 2,000 words an hour. So my hourly rate of pay is £16. Oh, no it’s not, because I go back for a second pass, and then a quick third. So we’re at £8/hour. If the manuscript needs a lot of attention, and I’m amending punctuation, spelling and grammar on every line, not to mention querying meaning and pointing out repetition, plot contradictions and discrepancies of all kinds, then it could take an hour to edit 500 words. So my pay goes down to £4 an hour – £2 if you take into account that second pass, and in heavily edited work that third pass wouldn’t be so brief, so I’m reaching the stage where I’m working for free.

Now, I’m not asking to be paid as much as a solicitor, or an accountant, or even a copywriter. However, I think my work is worth more than the national minimum wage. And frankly, even a very clean script wouldn’t tempt me to charge only £4 per 1,000 words, much as I love the task, and in many cases, love the novel too and desperately want to help it succeed.

In this particular instance I could well understand why our customer chose to go with someone so much cheaper; her manuscript was exceptionally long and so £8 per 1,000 words added up ferociously. But I don’t think this is a case where we can offer a volume discount, or at any rate, not much of one. As my calculation above shows, we’re not paid that much in the first place. And our full, expert attention is required right to the very last word. All we can offer is the ability to pay in instalments, and a considered, professional service. People can choose to pay for this or not.

One author who did choose to pay for our editing services recently, and has in fact returned to us for critiques and editing over four novels and two years, obviously found our service to her liking. So much so, there came about the big high of today. The doorbell rang, and there was a shivering delivery man getting somewhat snowed upon with a large box from Majestic Wine, sent by this delightful author. She thought I deserved it, she said, when I emailed to thank her.

Equanimity restored, I’ve got back to the enormous editing task I’ve been working on for nine months now. I dread to think how much the customer has paid altogether for edits then more edits to revised drafts. I dread to think even more how many hours I’ve worked on this rather splendid fictional biography. Still, let’s not think of that. The end is in sight, and our hero will meet it with properly punctuated gusto. Job satisfaction? I’m rich in that.


  1. There's an old adage, you get what you pay for.
    I've seen the results of cheap edits and they're pretty awful. Its hard to imagine how bad the script must have been for an improvement to have taken place.
    Dea, you're a brilliantly talented editor so put down that wine and get on with it!

  2. Thank you Dave! Very kind and much appreciated - you would know!

  3. I think there is a market for this kind of service, especially with the rise of self-published work. There is so much 'noise' out there that any work needs to rise above the crowd. I think well edited work is one way to go.

    The problem of handing over a large book for editing, say 100,000 words is that the writer would have to look at an £800 profit to cover the editorial process (Not saying it's not worth this, but just playing with the figures), which may put it out of the reach of many of the self published e-book market.

    One way around it may be to offer an in-depth edit of a single chapter as a service, which the writer can then use as a model throughout the rest of the manuscript.

    Publishing is changing, but I think writers who jettison professional copy-editing and proof-reading are risking damaging their market.

  4. Totally agree with you Dea! A good editor will really polish a piece of writing and make it shine.

  5. Send them off, I need my editor. Oz.