Thursday, October 5, 2017

"Sticker Shock" and the Cost of Edits

Put a group of editors and authors together on any online forum, and not only will you get five helpful suggestions for every three people involved, you'll get a large number of opinions on editing, what it means, and of course the dreaded C-O-S-T.

I recently joined a group called Ask A Book Editor, and have enjoyed the interactions and information exchange. Self-promotion is strictly forbidden, so it's simple Q&A with authors and other editors. Someone recently asked about free evaluations, cost per hour v. cost per word, and costs in general.

After participating in a lively discussion of "if you charge X, you're not charging enough," I thought I'd check out the Excel file that lists all the editors who are part of the site so I could explore some of these people and their pricing structure—just to see where I landed on the spectrum.

And . . . wow. I'm a cheap date.

I knew from talking with authors I've worked with that I charge about half of what many freelancers do. In fact, when I started working with Raymond Esposito, he said he'd paid exactly twice as much with another editing house before working with me—and I ended up re-editing the two books that other business had worked on. But what an eye-opener to see what some of these people rake in! My cost per word is, at best, half of that charged by others . . . but in the majority of situations I found that these people were charging three times what I do, sometimes with an hourly rate added on. One editor quoted rates "starting at .018 per word plus $45/hour," which sounded outlandish to me. And yet, these people are all working steadily.

Funny thing: there were those who were almost pricing snobs. Their opinion was that editors who charged amount (actually, what I charge, though I was a little embarrassed to admit it to them) were either incompetent or trying to undercut the competition. I am neither. I like to think of myself as realistic with what the average indie author can afford and is willing to spend. I've given what I think is a reasonable estimate after a free evaluation, complete with discount, and have had people say, "Oh, I had no idea it would cost that much, to be honest."

What do I say to that? "Um, did you look at anyone's prices prior to contacting them directly?" comes to mind, even if it sounds incredibly snarky. Because if it were me, and I looked at someone's site to get their contact information, I would check out the pricing, calculate what my particular MS would cost, and then shop around to come up with three to five editors of varying rates for evaluation. The cheapest estimate is not always the lowest quality; nor does a higher rate guarantee better quality. In general terms, these things may hold truth, but the work itself needs to be considered.

In another online group, an author was looking for an editor, and many people in the group mentioned Reedsy. One author said it was "expensive but worth it" and when asked about cost, she mentioned about $2,000 for a typical-length novel. I can understand that for developmental editing, but for copy editing & proofreading (the type she was quoting), I can tell you that most indie authors can not afford that—nor will they pay it. They'll either go cheap and hope for the best, or they'll publish without professional edits and will continue to promote the stereotype of self-pubs putting out subpar work. This is why I offer more affordable pricing with options. I hate the idea that talented work is out there, unedited. In all other aspects of life, we manage to find the money and time for things that are important to us—and yet when it comes to editing a novel into which you've put your time, sweat, imagination, and future writing reputation, there's an attitude of "It's more than I want to pay, so it's okay to go without this step."

I can't compete with Reedsy, and thankfully I don't have to. The authors I've worked with are determined to put forth the best product they possibly can, and I help them to do so. Is a big name like Reedsy worth it? I don't know, since I'd have to compare their work side by side to my own. I do know the editors I've spoken with (who have been approached by Reedsy) say they prefer to work as freelancers because Reedsy doesn't pay well. One guy posted a status update last night, saying, "That time when you took a low-paying job with a big publishing house, hoping it would lead to bigger, better jobs . . . and six months later, I got another from them, at half the rate they paid last time. Never again. I much prefer working with the author directly."

It makes me wonder if, when all is said and done, their [Reedsy's] editors—and perhaps those employed by other large editing/publishing houses—aren't making a whole lot more than I am. Except in this case, the author is paying the difference.

Read that last sentence again. If we're making about the same, why not cut out the middleman—the one who isn't doing the work—and pay the freelancer directly? I may be biased, but it sure seems more cost-effective to me.

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And now a shameless plug from our sponsor: 

For the month of October, I'm running a special on editing packages for 2018, and it's pretty doggone good, so you may wish to check it out on my "Special Offers" tab. Plus you get to see a kickin' photo of an old, happy guy playing the accordion with one hand while holding a large mug of beer in the other. (Yeah, that'll get you running over there . . .)






27 comments:

  1. I guess that's why Reedsy gives a twenty-five percent discount to IWSG members - they can afford to.
    Glad I only have to work with my publisher's editor rather than pay her.

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    1. I'm glad you do also, Alex. I'm a huge fan of the small-business person and supporting them. I don't hate all big businesses, but would much rather give my business, or donations, or volunteer hours, to someone I can actually have a relationship with.

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  2. And you've hit on the reality of a poor situation. Editors have to make a living. I don't pretend to know how long it takes you to edit a novel, but I recognize that that's a chunk of time that you need to be paid for. At the same time, most indies don't have $1000 to pay to edit a book that's most likely to earn $100 in royalties. Then, of course, you need to pay for a cover; does $500 sound about right for that? Then you can bring it up to an even $2000 with an incredibly limited and marginally effective ad campaign... The reality of life is that the vast majority of indies are hobbyists, whether we care to admit it or not.

    A great point that needs to be raised, and thank you for taking it on.

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    1. Your numbers are fairly accurate, Jack. An average (50k) book edited by me costs about $550 if I give no discounts (and I tend to find a way to give some type of discount or another whenever possible). That includes line edits, copy edits, and a free proofread at the end if I've done the other two myself. A book of that length will take probably 3-4 weeks for me, since I also have a day job and the book goes through some back & forth with the author. Longer books take longer, of course, but I tend to put in at least 30 hours per book, if it's in decent shape. Cover design can cost $200-500 on average, depending on the artist and whether you're getting exclusive images, original images, or stock photos you may see on someone else's book down the road. The Writers After Dark folks just did a podcast where they compared Costs of Book Services and it was an eye-opening bit of information for me.

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  3. I must admit I have very little experience with editors, and most of the editing I've done for others was primarily proofreading. Having said that, I did have to do a lot of re-writing for my writing partner, whenever we published or posted work credited to the two of us. I described my re-writes to him as "editing for sameness of style" so he wouldn't be offended.

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    1. How polite! Who could be offended at that?

      When I looked around at suggested prices from the Editorial Freelancers' Association, and what other editors are charging, I was amazed. I have no idea where they're finding their clients, but I want some, haha. I am a firm believer that quality doesn't have to cost a lot, though.

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    1. Let's hear it for the cheap dates! *Raises coffee cup*

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  5. Thanks for the interesting post. Your pricing sounds reasonable to me as a new writer. I'm wondering however how a prospect checks out an editor to determine if they are a good match? Maybe you have a blog entry on that you can point me too? Thanks.

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    1. My Editor's Notes tab here should yield some answers for you, Heidi. "Is This Editor a Good One?" parts one and two are a good place to start!

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  6. I guess another issue might be, if you use Reedsy, that you wouldn't get the same editor each time? That might be a bit of an issue for consistency's sake, or like you do for your authors and you keep a style sheet, they wouldn't really have that? Regardless, I don't like the robotic type of relationship. I like being able to virtually barge into your kitchen and make us a big pot of coffee to enjoy while planning how to rule the world! :P All in all, I'm all for cutting out the middle man rather than paying that company for . . . existing? o_O lol

    Glad I have you as my editor. And what a FANTASTIC gift you're giving authors with your Special Offers. Thank you! <3

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    1. Thank you on all those things and more!

      I thought of that regarding Reedsy (and other "big" places): how can you make sure you get the same editor? From what I understand, you put in your request and can choose from a handful of who's available for your genre, etc. But what if that person has no availability when you go back for your next book? Any of the authors I've worked with for book series can speak of how I'm a little OCD when it comes to consistency across novels.

      I love the way you barge into my kitchen, do my laundry, make me bannocks, and share my coffee. I can't imagine working with people I can't have at least a little bit of fun with.

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  7. I wrote a reply here... then lost it somehow! Aargh!

    Take two:
    Interesting post! Got me thinking about lots of things...
    Am I correct in saying that many writers in this day and age don't buy into the higher editorial prices = better/quality job way of thinking?
    I sort of got that impression.
    Well I don't buy into it... not through any experience but through simple logic...and also hearing about lots of editor/client stories.
    So how does a writer snag the correct editor? Give me the super-short account.
    (Oh, one of the above commenters asked this question...and I did read your articles.)

    Tell me, what does developmental editing entail? Is it, amongst other things, logical story progression/picking up on missing chunks in a story...?

    Last question. Should a writer start researching editors before the first draft is complete? Or wait till after the first draft/a few drafts/rewrites? Just wondering...
    Happy October, Lynda!

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    1. What a great load of questions! No wonder you were frustrated at losing the reply. I'll answer as best I can.

      Yes, you are absolutely correct that higher prices today are no guarantee of higher quality . . . and writers who are scraping together their money for edits, cover design, and more don't want to spend a lot, only to be disappointed. At least three of "my" authors came to me after being burned on the "I paid more and expected more" idea.

      Thanks for reading the articles on how to find the right editor. Honestly, if the sample edits and quality are roughly the same from those you've contacted, I would go with personality, communication, and general compatibility as a guideline. In my "Links" tab, I provide a direct line for people to not only look through the Amazon "see inside" feature of the books I've edited, but also the means to contact any of those authors. Authors who are happy with their editors will say so. They may not always shout it out on social media (or they might, in the case of S.K. Anthony, who loves me both as a friend AND an editor), but they will be honest if you contact them privately.

      Developmental editing is almost like hiring a writing coach. Yes, indeed, a developmental/substantive editor will help with storyline glitches, plot holes, and even "how to get from here to there." Their involvement typically happens during the writing process, rather than at the end.

      Because copy editing happens when the book is at its most polished and revised stage, I would say you could start researching at any time, but don't bother contacting any editors for evaluation/samples until you're close to ready. You'll want to give them a very clean copy—most editors base their pricing estimate on a random sample from the middle of a manuscript—but you'll also want to allow yourself enough time prior to your publishing date in case the editor you like best is not immediately available. I went through an extremely busy season last year where I lost a couple potential clients and a book for a repeat client, simply because I was not able to start on their books within the time frame they'd set for themselves.

      I hope this helps! It's great to hear from you, Michelle.

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  8. I've been thinking I need to get a new editor since my current one (wonderful as she is) won't really be available anymore. You've given me a lot to think about.

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    1. I'm so sorry for you! I'm sure it's tough to have to change gears if you had an editor you liked. At least you've already worked with one so you know what you're looking for . . . experience in that arena always helps the search process. My only super-good suggestion (that you probably already know) is to get a solid handful of free evals while you're looking around. I actually have tons of other suggestions (I always do) but it really boils down to seeing what someone can do for a price you can deal with.

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  9. Greetings and Salutations from the great state of Florida,
    I like to make my posts look like letters, make me feel they are more personal, but I digress. I researched many editors both online and from recommendations before deciding to use your service. Not only was I amazed at your prices, but I felt our personalities meshed pretty well. I think that is more important than the price. You care about the quality of the novel along with the the quality of the editing. As someone having poor editing included in a package (along with image manipulation and poor quality cover design), I decided that my editor (and cover designer etc) should be partners in the production of my book. I will always use freelancers to do all the production parts of my novels that I can't do myself. *** PSA follows***Never make yourself the final editor of your book, you will regret it no matter how good you think your skills are ***end PSA*** I will just because of the personal touch. After dealing with a big company and not really being happy with the product I will never take that route again. High prices don't equal high quality. That is true in all industries. It was a chapter in my marketing class during my MBA. We discussed how you could lose sales by making your product too inexpensive and in that way making it seem inferior. I feel that is where the other editors are using to make them feel better about the prices they are charging. That is a significant difference between a partner and a contractor.

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    1. I pictured your comment on a postcard, so your personalized letter approach is working! I agree with you, of course, that I'm your best choice, but in all seriousness, I feel the personality mesh is as important as anything else. I remember years ago when you offered to send thugs with chocolate. Ahem . . . "gentlemen" with chocolate. That's backhaving.

      I'm glad you'd rather support the small business owners. I have found some incredible freelance cover designers online I will gladly recommend to people, and almost wish I were writing a book of my own to be able to hire them.

      And I think of the "too cheap scares people off" mentality as well, when I think of how people assume something is to be avoided when it's free (like puppies) but will pay even a small amount (like those same puppies at $25) because of perceived value.

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    2. Oh my I had forgotten about the Gentlemen with chocolate. Those were some good times

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    3. Another potential blog post, The Cost of not editing.

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  10. I hear you. Editors charge so high nowadays that struggling writers can barely afford them. And yet there are some out there...great ones and they don't get the job.

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    1. And that baffles me. There are hacks on the low end and overchargers on the other end, and they're working like crazy while someone else is better than the former and as good as the latter, yet struggles to get steady business. I'd hate for a great book to be out there, unpublished due to lack of funds.

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  11. Actually, you DID have me at old, happy accordion guy, based on the mug of beer alone.

    I think what you've proved here is that people will argue about the price of anything on the Internet. You can charge one price, and one guy will scream that you're ripping him off (he wouldn't pay any more than $99.99 for editing), while another will scream that you're incompetent to be charging that little.

    Also, I feel like your average self-pub author is scared of editors - all editors - because they don't realize people like you exist. So many of them find one of these corporately owned editing services, pay something like $2-3,000 to edit their novel, and have this ridiculous expectation that this service is going to transform their novel into a NY Times best seller and totally be worth the cost. Then they self-pub it on Amazon, make their handful of sales to friends and family members, and all they can think is that they wasted thousands of dollars on a book that acquired basic beer money in sales revenue.

    Therefore, editors = ripoff to them, simply because they don't know people like you exist and they also don't understand basic marketing.

    Then again, if I paid $3,000, that service better come with a full marketing package AND a 'happy ending'.

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    1. The old, happy accordion guy was the guarantee that people HAD to click. What if I lied, and he was sad to be playing the accordion, or even more sad because he had an empty beer mug? I was counting on concern and curiosity to win this one for me.

      Pricing and subjectiveness kills me. One of my friends is a dairy farmer, and she hates—I mean really hates—paying a lot for a dinner out. And by a lot, I mean anything more costly than Subway. However, she will pay a lot for a book, simply because it's a book. Editing costs are much the same in some people's eyes. What's cheap or reasonable to one person may be a Ramen-noodles-and-red-beans-&-rice-for-months sacrifice for another.

      I have to agree with you on the scary editor part. I can be intimidating . . . to small rodents and infirmed elderly birds. I do think many (writers, not rodents) are afraid of an editor changing so many things that their "voice" will disappear. This is one of the things I hear most when lurking on forums. Honestly, maybe I'm different because I don't write novels and only edit them, but I wouldn't know the first thing about changing someone's voice. Not in a tangible way, anyway. I offer suggestions for better sentence structure or clarity, or flow and the like, but I don't have the time or the inclination to make someone else's work sound like me. Heaven help them if I did. Even so, that is the number one thing I keep hearing when people consider edits.

      Funny you mention the NYT best-seller list: the Writers After Dark folks did a podcast they posted today called Best Sellers—The Awful Truth and it highlights much of what people think about getting on the list, and how much of it is myth, connections, and money to blow.

      If anyone paid me $3,000 for a book edit, I would suppose the full package should include breakfast.

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  12. Great post. I'm with you. I like to keep my prices affordable so that editing doesn't become some elitist service only available to those that can afford megabucks.

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    1. Like the ABftS guys mentioned above, many authors are already intimidated at the idea of working for an editor. To have them then feeling ripped off isn't going to help the situation at all.

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