by Nomsa Chirisa

Finding an ideal editor is an author’s dream but agreeing on a fee may seem like a nightmare. Authors often wonder how editors come to a charge or a fee and, without the right information, they may feel somehow short changed. At accepting a manuscript for editing, the editor considers several factors that help them come to an editing fee. Editing fees are not reached from a vacuum and they are a once-off payment despite the number of copies the author will print, and they should be accounted for when pricing your book.

1. Extent

The length of a manuscript is one clear factor which determines the editorial fee to be charged by the editor. While there are no restrictions on word count, lengthy manuscripts take up more time and other resources subsequently. Some editors charge per word count while others consider the total number of pages, line spacing and size of the book in order to come up with a fee. Despite the length of your manuscript, you need a great editor for your book and its length determines the fee to be charged.

2. Quality of the manuscript

Upon receiving the manuscript from the author, the first thing done by the editor is to take a rough look at the quality of the work (skimming and scanning). The editor assesses the font (typeface) used, leading and kerning, the extent, illustrations, and headings in order to get a general overview of the content. We all could agree that congested work is not easy to read through and takes much of the editor’s time. The type of font used also determines the readability of the content.

Sans-serif fonts are easier to read compared to serif fonts. Use of illustrations in the content is also one thing to note and the editor should make sure to seek permission for use of images from various sources. However, most authors argue that the book has less text but more of illustrations but the time required to edit may not be affected as illustrations carry a lot of work, including captioning, finding their relevance to the content and making sure they convey the intended message to the audience.

While clustered work is more costly, better presented work is easier to go through and is less costly.  Assessing the quality of the manuscript provides an estimation of the resources required for editing the work and brings the editor to a fee.

3. Number of read throughs

Reading through a manuscript ensures that ambiguities and anomalies are picked by the editor, but the number of read throughs will determine how thorough and clean a copy is. Both the author and editor want the best product but reading through a manuscript once does not fully eliminate all errors. An editor I once spent some time with disclosed how she reads through a manuscript for thoroughness and presented to me a checklist which entailed a number of aspects which the editors look for when editing. Among these were content issues such as the language level, language used and depth of the content while copyediting issues include spellings, punctuation, sentence formatting and structure. Going through a manuscript to deal with each of these issues individually at a given time is the way to go for a conscientious editor and each time they read anew, it’s with a fresh eye and mind and this is costly. It is the long route but it ensures that nothing skips the eye of the editor, leaving a clean copy – a product desired by both the author and editor in order to satisfy the reader. One clear fact is that each readthrough is time spent and this attracts a higher fee, hence an editor may elaborate on how many times they will go through your manuscript so that you have an appreciation of the fee as it relates to such input.

4. The Editor’s Competence

The expertise and knowledge of the editor is evident in the end product. Well experienced editors who have the expertise to produce high quality results and are efficient in their work. The skills possessed by the editor are accounted for when determining a fee to be charged to the author. In essence, their competencies are a sure guarantee that they know what they are doing and will deliver as per agreement. The author will rest assured that their manuscript is in good hands and those hands attract a higher charge. In contrast, less experienced editors are likely to charge lower fees for editing your work. Their level of expertise and knowledge limits the degree to which they will edit the work, such as only agreeing to copy editing while leaving content editing to the experienced editors. The higher the expertise, the better the quality of the output and surely, good skills which produce better products do not come cheap.

5. Genre

Picking an editor in your genre is always recommended. Editing work which you constantly have to refer to the dictionary or internet is not an easy job and editors take note of this when coming up with a charge for the author. Although great editors are widely read, there are genres which they find difficult to edit. They keep going to reference materials for meanings, further information and verifications, thereby prolonging the editorial process and making it more frustrating to do the work. Without realising it, a huge fraction of their time and money (internet cost, phone bill, etc) is lost and has to be recovered through their preferred fee. Editors may want to be specific about the genre of work which they are good in but it’s not always the case as they want some challenge and have the devotion to successfully publish a book.

6. Deadline

The time available to edit a piece of writing determines the fee charged by the editor. Time as an input is a resource which should be used effectively and in business, time is money. Hurried work costs much more than scheduled work. Editors do not want to produce sub-standard publications and they strive to give value for money to their clients, while working towards meeting the agreed deadlines. Short deadlines see editors working overtime and spending sleepless nights. This deprives them of their much-needed rest and family time. I remember frowning one time when I was given work to take home and submit to my supervisor first thing the next morning. It took up all my family time, free time and consumed half of my night. It was a little traumatic and this is straining in the editors’ line of work which requires them to work with a fresh eye and mind.

You can imagine reading a book when you are extremely tired and can hardly concentrate. Editing requires a considerable amount of time to enable the editor to work without any hassles, with less pressure and to award them their deserved rest to prepare them for the next job, hence deadlines affect the cost of editing a piece of work.


Editing fees and rates vary from one company or editor to another but their work is significantly the same. The end goal is to publish a clean copy that will serve its purpose to the intended audience. While an author may be aware of the cost drivers in the editing process, that should not stop them from expressing themselves through writing or publishing their work. At the end of the day, the cost is nothing compared to the profits you will make and the difference your book will make to your tribe.

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