Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Can editors be affordable?

"How are indie authors supposed to be able to afford editors?" - this is a question I have encountered numerous times on social media lately, sometimes accompanied by "I have a budget of 300$ for this. Is it enough?" And someone somewhere in the comments usually suggests, "there are plenty of affordable editors out there".

As both an indie author on a budget and an editor doing my best to offer my clients quality service and fair prices, I understand both sides of the equation, and I will look at them both here. First, let's try to do some math and figure out whether editors are overpriced and what a reasonable fee would be.

While editing, I put in close to one hour per 2,000 words, on average. Does that sound too long? Consider that this includes corrections, comments and suggestions for the author, and often revision. How long would it take you to revise your own book? An editor would likely spend more time on it because they would see more stuff that needs to be addressed.

So that comes up to 50 hours of work per a 100,000-word novel.

How much would you say an editor should earn per hour?

If I charge a 1,000$ for the editing of a 100K book, I earn roughly 20$ per hour. It is modest but something I can live upon. Many people, however, expect to have their epic novel edited for 500$, or worse. That would mean the editor earns 10$ per hour or less.

You won't find someone experienced for 10$ an hour, because people who charge so little don't tend to stay in the field. They are unable to support themselves and their families. They quit in burnout and frustration and go flipping burgers, because it's more financially rewarding.

So that's the editor's side of the story.

Authors, on the other hand, are often told, "Save up for self-publishing. Don't even think of releasing a book before you have a 2,000$ budget for editing, cover design, and marketing."

The sad truth, however, is that many self-published books will never make enough to pay off a 2000$ launch budget. Even if they are well-written, well-edited, and have a great cover. Many wonderful books just don't make it, and it's really hard to predict which ones will.

For an author who is struggling financially, pouring that much money into a single project can be devastating. They can literally discover they had taken food out of their children's mouths for nothing. I understand perfectly well that authors aren't simply being cheap. People are struggling to put food on the table.

Sometimes you get lucky and can find an editor who's really good but just starting out, and they'll work on your book for 500$. Or maybe you happen to be a brilliant cover designer and can arrange for an exchange of favors with an author-editor who needs cover design. But otherwise, yeah, when you say that you can't afford an editor, I hear you. I couldn't have afforded me if I had to pay myself to work on my own books.

There are no easy answers to this conundrum, that's for sure.

So what I suggest might sound harsh, but if you can't afford an editor, you can't. Revise the heck out of your book, invest in programs like ProWritingAid, and arrange for swap reads with other authors. Try your best and save up what you make from this book for editing the next one. It is not an ideal solution, but it's better and fairer than trying to find someone who will work for 5$ an hour.


  1. I went down the 'save up' route - and budgeted for high quality editing, cover design, formatting and a print run with a local printer - much more economic than POD. Yes it was a gamble and yes it took a year to get the money back and I worked hard at promotion that didn't cost me anything much if at all - offered myself as a speaker to local groups and sold PBs there and at local craft fairs etc. once I had the money back I used it for the next physical book production. The ebooks picky-backed onto the PBs. 7 1/2 years later I have 5 high quality novels ranging in length from 102k - 132k - so it is possible but it's been a hard grind and only this year was I just beginning to see the fruits of it all until Covid 19 struck. I may have very little income this year as a result as I was still heavily reliant on events and PB sales. But I shall pick myself up and try this year to focus on ebooks instead. I would rather have lived on potato skins as not get an editor. They are worth their weight in gold and also worth the wait.

    1. I admire your tenacity! The Covid has hit the world hard, but do see this as an opportunity to capitalize on ebooks. The lion share of my sales come from ebooks and I see things are beginning to pick up after the initial slump in March.