How Can I Afford Professional Editing? – A Guest Post by Sue Archer

To many people, editing is the dark half of producing a book. The creative work is done, and now someone comes in with a red pen and decimates your beautiful manuscript.

In reality, editing is a vital part of the process, a creative act in its own right, and one we can’t afford to neglect. Today I’m privileged to have a guest post from the ever insightful Sue Archer, an entertaining blogger and professional editor, on how you can afford professional editing. Over to Sue…

How can I afford professional editing?

One of the challenges indie authors face is the cost of hiring a professional editor. Writers on a tight budget often wonder how they can possibly afford such a service.

Picture by Matt Hampel via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Matt Hampel via Flickr Creative Commons

Like all professionals, editors need to make a living, and charge accordingly — but there are ways that authors can reduce their spending while still benefitting from the services of a professional editor.

As a freelance editor who works with indie authors, I’d like to share three ways that you can reduce your editing costs: improve your self-editing, obtain a lower-cost editing service, and negotiate a services contract that is right for you.

Improve your self-editing

If your editor charges based on an hourly rate (which many editors do), the more effort that your editor spends on your manuscript, the more cost to you. So anything you can do to improve the shape of your writing before submitting it for editing will benefit you. Submit your work to writing critique partners or beta readers for feedback. Take advantage of good self-editing resources like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. And find out where you have weaknesses and work on them.

Picture by Joanna Penn via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Joanna Penn via Flickr Creative Commons

One of the most common issues with initial drafts is that they are too long. Almost any manuscript has areas that can be cut to tighten the writing. Find out the standard length for your genre and work towards it. Take some time between your drafting and revisioning stages, so that you have the objectivity to spot things you can remove or change. Reducing the word count will lower your editing costs.

When you get to the detailed self-editing stage, I recommend using a style sheet. A style sheet is a place for capturing stylistic decisions on items such as spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. (I have a free style sheet template on my website that you are welcome to use as a starting point.) A style sheet will help you confirm that you’ve applied the same style consistently throughout your manuscript. In addition to helping you self-edit, it will save your editor time and potentially help your wallet as well.

Obtain a lower-cost editing service

You’ve done all the self-editing you can. Now it’s time to see if you can find a really cheap editor who will catch the rest of your mistakes — right?

Nope. (Sorry!)

There’s no getting away from the axiom that you get what you pay for. Qualified editors charge for their services accordingly. Going with an editor who advertises an extremely low rate could result in you wasting your money. What I recommend instead is that you find a flexible, professionally trained editor who offers lower-cost types of editing services. (And yes, I am biased here — but I have heard many horror stories from authors who received the equivalent of a spell-check when they thought they were getting a real edit.)

A manuscript assessment, for example, is an excellent way of getting feedback from a professional editor for a lower cost than a substantive edit. The editor writes a report outlining the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript and recommends changes. You can then apply this feedback to your writing.

Another alternative is a time-based mentoring service. I have seen this service become more popular in editing circles, especially among editors who work primarily with indie authors. It allows authors to get some advice on an area they need to work on without going through a full edit. I offer this service for writers who are looking for feedback on a particular section of a manuscript or have editing-related questions.

In general, having a flexible editor is an asset. Some editors offer set prepackaged services, while others package each project individually. Ask your editor if there are ways you can reduce the cost of an edit, such as paying for fewer editing passes.

Negotiate the right editing contract for you

So you’ve done all you can to find the editor and editing service that’s right for you and your budget. Now you can relax!

Not quite. Before going ahead, I’d make sure you take a thorough look at the terms of the editing contract (and if there is no form of contract, whether formal or informal, I recommend you look elsewhere).

The editing contract is a key tool for controlling your costs. And, like any contract, it is negotiable.

Be sure to verify exactly what is included in the service. What does a “substantive edit” or a “copy edit” mean? Will the editor review the manuscript again after you make changes? If you’re not sure about something, ask, and get the answer in writing.

Check to see what the maximum fee will be under the contract, and how things will be renegotiated if more work is needed than originally estimated.

Finally, pay attention to cancellation terms. If you are not satisfied with the service as things progress, can you cancel with partial payment? Is there a kill fee? How much notice is needed? The last thing you want to do is continue to spend money on something that is not working for you.

You can afford a great editor

There are many wonderful professional editors who provide great work for a reasonable cost. You’ve spent a long time working through your manuscript — why not spend a little more time and money to make it the best it can possibly be?


If you’ve worked with professional editors, what was your experience? If you haven’t, and you are a writer, is there anything holding you back from hiring one?

If you have any questions about editing in general, please feel free to ask me below or contact me directly. I’d be happy to answer them!