Hang out on any writing-related website, and you’ll see authors discussing the cost of editing. While plenty of these authors feel the edit they received was worth every penny, there are also quite a few people who feel the quotes they received or the fees they paid were too high. I’m not here to tell you that editing is cheap. It isn’t and shouldn’t be. Editing a book-length manuscript takes a lot of time, extensive knowledge, and a wide range of skills. It’s a professional service and those don’t tend to be inexpensive. Think of the last time you hired an electrician or a plumber. I’m guessing they weren’t charging $10 an hour.
But even if you agree a thorough edit is worth the money, you may still find yourself in the position of not being able to afford it due to a limited budget. Luckily, there are things you can do to bring down the cost of an edit. When an editor decides what they will charge for a particular project, they are taking many factors into consideration, including how long the manuscript is, the quality of the writing, and how many errors they find in a sample edit. Much of this is under your control. To help you figure out how you can make it easier for your editor to charge you less, here are some processes you can put into place and some common errors to look for.
Cut, cut, cut: Every first draft and almost all second drafts will have flab that can be cut. Whether that’s overly long scenery descriptions, too many side plots, or sentences loaded with filter words (e.g., “She noticed the man pull something from his pocket and then heard a shot ring out” instead of “The man pulled something out of his pocket and a shot rang out”), there are plenty of things you can take out to get your word count down. A longer book costs more to edit, so anything you can do to get that number down will help. Even if your manuscript is nearly pristine, an editor will still have to read through the whole document, which takes time. Cutting anything that isn’t essential will have the added benefit of making your story tighter and your writing stronger.
Use beta readers: Beta readers are people who read your book specifically to provide feedback. Some beta readers charge for this service, but many others do it for free with the expectation that you’ll return the favor. Getting help from beta readers is especially helpful before a developmental edit, as they typically point out story-level issues such as a boring plot or a character that is unlikable. Developmental editors will read a couple of chapters and skim a few more to look for common big-picture issues before they provide a quote, so the more of these you can eliminate on your own, the lower the quote will be.
Run spell-check and do some self-editing: This may seem like a no-brainer, but I frequently get manuscripts that have obvious typos, indicating spell-check hasn’t been run. I also have authors tell me they’ll be finishing up their draft the day before it’s due to me. If my sample edit takes longer than average for the word count because there are lots of basic errors, I will raise my fee to accommodate the extra time this will take. So, run spell-check and correct the big stuff. (Spell-check isn’t always right, especially when it comes to grammar issues, so don’t blindly accept every suggestion. If you can’t verify whether it’s right, don’t worry about it. The point isn’t that you have to catch every error—if you could, you wouldn’t need an editor—but that you should make the document as clean as you can.) Once you’ve run spell-check, it’s always a good idea to read through your manuscript again to look for errors spell-check won’t find (for instance, words that are spelled correctly but wrong for that context).
Use the Find feature to locate common errors and crutch words: Do you always get affect and effect wrong? Are you constantly typing in their when you meant there or they’re? Do you add actually or basically to every other paragraph? Use Word’s Find feature to locate these words and correct or eliminate them.
Keep your eye out for your verbal “tics”: In almost every book I edit, I find that the author has a word or phrase that they repeat throughout the book to the point that it really stands out to a reader. Maybe the characters in your book are sighing all the time. Maybe instead of saying all you say each and every each and every time. (Do you see what I did there?) Or perhaps your protagonist answers every question with “Why not?” instead of “Yes” or “Sure” or “I can do that” or any of a hundred other ways to answer affirmatively. With authors for whom I’ve edited several books, I find that this tic can change from book to book, so you’ll have to look closely at your current project as well as search for tics you know you’ve used before.
A professional edit is a valuable service that can improve your chances of a successful book launch, and you can expect to pay rates that reflect the expertise of the editor. But following these simple practices will help bring that fee down so you aren’t paying any more than you have to.