Question: I got a quote from 2 content editors recently. They said they typically charge $.05 to $.08/word and were referred by a reputable publisher. I understand you get what you pay for and have no problem paying more for additional value. I LOVED your energy and the connection we shared when we met recently. Due to my ignorance I have no idea how to evaluate content editing and how to determine value at what appears to be double the cost for moving forward with you. 

As I believe you’re truly an awesome human, would you mind giving me some unbiased (I know that may be tough) guidance on where to spend my money? I’m having trouble deciding between what you and two other editors have quoted me. 

Answer: This is a great question. It’s one that I get frequently, albeit from other freelancers rather than clients. 

So, first, I don’t know what those two other editors offer — are they offering developmental editing and line editing? Are they offering something more along the lines of line editing/copy editing? That will affect price in a big way. 

It’s not unusual for freelancers to charge by the word. If you google “editing rates” you’ll get some of the industry standards. And that’s great, but let’s also keep in mind that 50% of freelancers make under $10,000 per year — and they consider themselves full-time. How do they live, you may wonder? I have no freaking clue. 

So, as you can guess, I don’t really care for industry standards. I price based on the value I provide. Charging by the project helps the author know exactly what they’re getting and gives them both the creative feedback and product they need. Editing is not only a product but a service, so there is more to it than a “per word” cost. 

I can’t speak for the other editors, but I can tell you what I would be thinking if I charged by the word. I would be trying to get that book off my desk as fast as possible to move on to the next project. It would be a dead sprint from project to project. I would not be taking my time with it to give it what it needs because I would need to take on more work to pay bills. In fact it wouldn’t be a developmental edit at all — it would only be something akin to copy editing. 

Now, when you’re evaluating different editors, be sure to ask the people they’ve worked with about their experience. You would think that they wouldn’t have passed the name onto you if they weren’t in love with their work, but you would be surprised. If this wasn’t a referral, ask the editor for the titles of books they’ve worked on and then download a few of them to quickly read through (it’s worth the time). If you notice errors, or jumps in the text, or anything else that negatively affects your reading experience, you might want to pass on working with that editor.  

Here’s what it comes down to: What does your book need? 

If you’re a solid writer, your sentence structure and syntax won’t need much more than a good line/copy editor. The tough part is knowing whether or not the idea and the book itself are developmentally sound. If they are, then hey, you can probably get by without a developmental edit. If not, then you’ll need that help. A few questions to consider:

1.Did you feel as if it flowed when you read through it on your last revision, or were there gaps and holes that needed to be filled? Most first time authors will readily admit that the reading experience is not as smooth as they would like it to be. If that’s the case, then you’ll need a developmental edit.

2.Have you had anyone in your trusted circle read it? Are you willing to allow them to do so? You could choose several people to read it, either A. In your field or B. In your desired audience (i.e. Ideal Readers). This is called a beta-read, and you tell them that you are only giving it to them because you trust them and want to know their honest and insightful feedback about what the book needs/doesn’t need. If you get good feedback, then you might be able to skirt around the need for development.

3.Have you taken time away from it yet? One of the key aspects of fully getting a grasp on your own writing is the ability to walk away from it for a time and then come back to it with fresh eyes. (Stephen King lets his manuscripts sit for six weeks in a locked desk drawer.) When you’re still in the writing process, that’s not happening. Have you had time to let it breathe for a week or two? If so, what did you think of it when you came back to read it?

I know it’s a tough decision, and you’re taking a very healthy amount of time to think it through (good for you!). I hope this helps a little, and feel free to shoot me any additional questions you might have!

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