I belong to a listserve of freelance editors, and I find the topics of conversation interesting and often thought-provoking. One recent topic that elicited many comments was about pricing the work we do.
The initial post was by an established and well-respected editor who wrote, “I recently was asked about my rates by someone at a local company who was looking for writing and editing help. She balked at my quote . . . Her response: < … we can find English majors for $10 to $15 [per hour] and many of them are quite good. >”
I get it; no one wants to spend more than necessary for anything—goods or services. I mean, if I can buy a knock-off designer widget that looks just like the brand-name widget, isn’t that a better value than buying the real thing just for the brand name? If I can get my next-door neighbor’s artistic son to design my book cover, isn’t that a better value than hiring an expensive professional cover artist?
And if I can get an English major to edit my book for a few hundred dollars, isn’t that a better value than hiring a professional editor?
No. No. And NO.Why Hiring an English Major to Edit Your Book Is Cheating Yourself #editing #selfpub… Click To Tweet
The knock-off widget is often less expensive because it is inferior quality; regardless of his artistic talent, the next-door neighbor’s son has no clue about the elements that create a compelling and balanced book cover; as a fellow listserve member wrote, “Not to disrespect English majors, but knowing where the commas go does not make one a professional editor.”
I was an English major in college. I’ve always loved words, and one of the greatest lessons I learned while earning my degree was how to analyze the writing of others—which was the first step on my path to become an editor. It certainly was not the last.
I have to agree with this comment made by another listserve member: “I’d say that there were two kinds of English majors at my college, so far as I could see. Some were serious about reading and writing. Others just didn’t know what to major in but they kind of liked to read novels. Maybe those are the kind of ‘English majors’ who come cheap because they are still kind of clueless.”
Another commented, “I have an English degree, and while I learned many wonderful skills, professional editing was not among them. The degree gave me a nice skill-set to begin to learn editing and proofreading, but that’s it. Years later, I’m still learning and striving to improve.”
I believe one of the reasons my clients hire me initially (and continue to hire me for subsequent projects) is because I have real world experience (which you can learn more about here). I have acquired a skill set far beyond the one I had when I graduated from college, and I continue to invest in myself by continuing to educate myself so I can help my author-clients produce the best stories possible.
If Editing Is Editing, Why the Variation in Price?
There are several levels of editing: developmental or content editing (looks at the big picture), copy or line editing (corrects spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors), and proofreading (the last stop before publication to check for typos and consistencies in the final product).
The Editorial Freelancers Association lists a range of pricing for each type of editing, and the variables have to do with the amount of work the manuscript needs, the editor’s experience, and the amount of time the project will take.
If I had a dollar for every time a writer asked for a quote to “proofread my manuscript before I self-publish it,” when what that writer really wanted (and needed but didn’t know to ask for) was developmental editing and/or line editing, I’d be ready to retire. Many writers understand the need for some level of editing help, but they don’t understand that proofreading is not a review for adverb abuse or making sure characters are fully fleshed out.
If you are unsure of the level of editing help you need, talk to several freelance editors about your wants, needs, and concerns. A manuscript evaluation is another way to get a professional opinion about the overall strengths and weaknesses of your WIP and is a less-expensive option than a full edit, especially if you know you still have more revising to do. (There’s no sense in paying to line edit work you may later delete.)
But please, don’t expect an “English major” to have the level of editing experience found in a professional freelance editor who has spent years learning and practicing the craft of editing. Nowhere is the axiom “You get what you pay for” more true than in editing.
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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.
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