corrected paper
by Nancy M. Bell
Nancy M. Bell

Do you need an editor?

In a word ~ yes. Everyone needs an editor.

Why do you need an editor?

As authors we know our story inside out, what may be blatantly obvious to us may not be so obvious to your reader. We read what we ‘think’ we wrote not always what is actually on the page. It’s easy to skip over words like ‘the’, ‘a’ etc which may be missing from the text.

What’s the difference between content edits and line/copy edits?

A content editor looks at the over- all structure of the story. Does it make sense; is it following the plot in the correct timeline; are facts correct; over use of words i.e. that, then, given names; passive voice vs active voice; does the plot move at a good pace or does it drag; does it make sense or are you confusing your reader; are the names of characters, places etc. consistent. The list goes on.

A copy/line editor looks at things on a more granular level. This is a check missing or reversed quotation marks, missing punctuation over all, formatting issues, grammar errors etc.

Choosing an editor

editor working

If you are traditionally published the publishing house will assign you an editor, often two, one for contents and one for lines, this depends solely on the house and your experience. In this case you have little say in the choice of editor.

If you are self-publishing you will have to search out an editor for yourself. You can look at trade publications [like Quill and Quire in Canada or Writers Digest (US)] where you will find free-lance editors advertising for clients. If you are a member of your provincial guild there will be listings on their website- Writers Guild of Alberta. You can also look at The Writers Union of Canada site and there are numerous other places. You want to ask for references and titles of books they have edited, do your due diligence before committing yourself.

What if you hate your editor?

This is a two sided question as well. If you are with a traditional publisher your only recourse would be to contact the publisher and explain the problem. Depending on the house and the nature of your complaints, they may or may not be willing to mediate for you or assign a different editor.

If you are self-published and have entered into an agreement with a free-lance editor it may well depend on the agreement you signed or verbally agreed to. If there is no opt out clause, you can of course fire your editor but that may mean you have no way to get any monies already paid back. To protect myself when I free-lance I ask for half of the agreed fee up front with the remainder payable upon completion of the project to the author’s satisfaction.

Open Dialogue and Open Mind are key

edited page

Your editor has your best interests at heart. They want to help you polish your work and show it in the best possible light. If you are a new unpublished author (and this has nothing to do with chronological age) be prepared to approach the experience with an open mind. You are not always going to like what the editor says. Remember, if you confuse your editor with aspects of your plot then you will also confuse your reader and the last thing you want is for them to put the book down and never buy anything else you’ve written.

Conversely, don’t be afraid to defend elements of the plot that may be essential to something that happens further on in the story, or in subsequent books if you’re writing a sequel. It is important to feel comfortable discussing things with your editor. At the end of the day it is your name on the cover.

Resolving Conflicts

This is hand and glove with what we just talked about. Keep a cool head and your temper under check. Flaming your editor is not conducive to a good working relationship. On the other hand, if you’ve not been careful with your choice you may find yourself with an editor who refuses to compromise.

In most cases the editor should explain why they think something should be different than what you’ve written. The editor should be familiar with the genre you’re working in and they will know the market much better than you, in most cases it will be in your best interest to listen to their advice. Very often compromises can be reached. If I encounter an impasse, I state my case and then let the author make the final call. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course.

The difference between a beta reader and an editor

We’ve already discussed earlier what an editor is. A beta reader is NOT an editor and should not be used as such. A beta reader is usually a friend or acquaintance who is willing to read your rough draft and offer comments or ask for clarifications in places where your plot may be weak or suffering from plot holes.

If you’re self-published ~ How much is too much dollar wise?

This will depend on your budget of course, but be wary of paying thousands of dollars. The length of your work will help dictate the cost as well as the topic. Non-fiction will be more expensive as your editor will want to check your data and sources. Just to give you an idea I pulled some info from the internet.

Cost image

Be sure you know what you’re paying for. Know what you are agreeing to and set a mutually agreed upon time frame for the completion of your project.

[ED note: See the below data sources Nancy found for help estimating editing cost for your project based on type and length. These are general in nature and should only be used in researching purposes.]

These rates are from the Editorial Freelancers Association (USD)

Type of Work Estimated Pace Range of Fees
Editing, basic copy editing 5-10 ms pgs/hr $30-40/hr
Editing, heavy copy editing 2–5 ms pgs/hr $40–50/hr
Editing, website copy editing $40-50/hr
Editing, developmental 1–5 pgs/hr $45–55/hr

This information is from the Editors’ Association of Canada

Rates and Billing

Each industry—trade publishing, custom publishing, educational publishing, academic publishing, government publishing, corporate communications, non-profit publishing, and individuals preparing a manuscript to submit to agents or publishing companies or to self-publish—has its own set of expectations and, often, sets its own rates. If you would expect to pay an editor $60,000 a year in your industry, you should expect to pay a freelance editor about $60 an hour.

Sometimes the fee is calculated as an hourly rate; other times it is calculated as a flat project fee. Hourly rates vary depending on the type of work and the difficulty of the text. For example, a substantive edit of a document written by someone working with highly specialized terminology (for example, an academic) or by someone for whom English is a second language is more time-consuming than a proofread of a children’s book for a trade publishing company.

Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook, Second Edition (University of California Press, 2006) provides the following guide for estimating the amount of time a particular project may take: 
   • Substantive, structural, or stylistic editing of a difficult text: 1 to 2 pages/hour
   • Substantive, structural, or stylistic editing of a standard text: 2 to 3 pages/hour
   • Copy editing a difficult text: 2 to 4 pages/hour
   • Copy editing a standard text: 4 to 7 pages/hour
   • Proofreading a difficult text: 4 to 6 pages/hour
   • Proofreading a standard text: 6 to 9 pages/hour

Like any self-employed service provider, a freelance editor charges hourly rates that reflect the cost of operating a business. An experienced freelance editor will, typically, bill between 20 and 25 hours per week.

Well-established editors are registered with the government and must collect tax on top of their work. In Ontario, this tax is the HST and is 13%. However, an editor performing a service for a client in another province must charge according to the other province’s tax rate. For example, an Ontario-based editor who edits a document for a client in British Columbia would charge that client 5% HST rather than 13% HST. Editors Canada recommends that expectations from both parties be established before a project is started. Our Standard Freelance Editorial Agreement spells out which elements should be clarified in advance

Other Post from or about Nancy M. Bell:

The Importance of Accuracy–More writers tips from Nancy

Mystical Travels–In depth interview with Nancy and her writing

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