Last week I wrote about why book editors are so expensive, and I was overwhelmed by the response — from both writers and editors. Thank you for all your feedback, both here and on social media!
I’m a book editor myself, so you’d think I’d be saying, “Oh no, we’re not expensive, we’re very reasonably priced.”
But I’m also a writer, and need to hire editors for my own books, a situation that I and my bank account dread! So I can see it from both sides of the fence.
Last week, in the Prologue I explained that even though book editing is expensive, editors are, strangely, not rich!
In Chapter 1, I explained the first reason for this: it takes a long time to edit a book well – often around an hour per thousand words. (I gave lots of details for how that works.)
Now we move on to the other big reason.
Chapter 2. An editor’s fee is not their salary
I find that people are often shocked at the HOURLY RATE an editor might charge, because they compare it to the hourly rate of their own wage or salary. (Many editors work on “per word/per page” rates to help sidestep this confusion.)
A freelance editor’s fee is not their salary. Only a small portion of that fee goes to pay their salary. It also has to cover a whole lot of business expenses, and a lot of tasks other than paid editing that are needed to run a business.
When I first started freelancing back in the late 90s, I didn’t actually understand this. I worried that the rates recommended by my national association seemed too high, and no one would pay them. I charged too little, and ended up working 60-80 hours a week for less than minimum wage, even though I had two university degrees and lots of experience.
I burnt out, got cranky and depressed, gave it away. Went back to “workin’ for the man”.
During that time of “workin’ for the man”, I was on staff at a particular company. They used to charge out my services to clients for $110 an hour (and this was about 10 years ago, so adjust that for inflation).
I was astonished. It seemed like a king’s ransom to me.
Do you think they paid ME $110 an hour?? Of course not! In fact, only a small fraction of it.
I finally grasped that the hourly rate they charged to the client needed to cover the whole cost of employing me:
- my salary
- leave entitlements — holidays/vacation and sick leave
- superannuation/pension fund contributions (compulsory in Australia)
- computer and software
- my percentage of all the infrastructure of running a business (buildings, desks, cleaners, coffee and tea, insurances, phone and internet connections etc etc etc etc)
- all those support staff whose employment cost they couldn’t charge out directly to any client, like admin and IT and accounting and human resources, etc etc etc.
What about freelance editors?
Freelance editors need to do something similar to that company. A freelance editor doesn’t have the large overheads of a big company of course… but then again, they also don’t have lots of people to share the costs, or the tasks.
Just one person has to bear all those financial burdens, and either do those tasks themselves or pay someone else to do it.
These are some of the expenses that most freelance editors need to cover:
- computers and software
- internet and telephony (mobile and fixed)
- professional assistance from accountants, lawyers, coaches
- insurance of various kinds
- holidays/vacation and sick leave
- retirement savings
- professional development (ongoing training)
- business development, marketing expenses, websites, stationery/business cards
- their professional library, subscriptions and memberships
- etc etc etc.
In case you’re thinking that’s just a couple of hundred bucks, for many freelancers it can easily add up to $20,000 a year or more, for someone working at a highly-professional level.
And if that isn’t bad enough, on average, freelance editors find that they can only spend roughly half of the hours in the week actually doing what are known as “billable hours”. Those are the hours that are charged out to clients.
The other half of the week is spent running the business, doing administrative tasks, interacting with clients and potential clients, building the business.
I’ve had times when it’s taken me up to 8 hours just to prepare a detailed proposal for a potential client — without any guarantee of income from it! If I worked for a big company, that would be someone else’s job, and I could get on with my editing.
And when my internet went down for 10 days last year, I spent a total of 16 hours on the phone to my service provider (talking to call centres in foreign climes who asked me the SAME QUESTIONS over and over again… but that’s a gripe for another day 😉 ).
If I worked for a big company, the IT department would have been handling that while I got on with my editing. As a freelancer, I had to do it myself. More time gone.
So, out of only perhaps 20-25 “billable hours” per week a freelancer has to pay their own salary plus many expenses.
And if you find yourself thinking, “But I shouldn’t have to pay for all those things,” the followup question is, “Well then, who should?” It has to be shared around the freelancer’s clients, that’s the only way.
A tale of woe
I’ve seen so many great editors give it all away after a year or two of working themselves into the ground because
a. they failed to understand what they needed to charge in order to make a reasonable living and
b. they continually yielded to pressure to underprice their services, from clients who didn’t mean to hurt them but just didn’t understand the situation.
The alternative is to do such a rush job that they become little more than glorified spell-checkers, and there’s not much job satisfaction in that. (Or many good books, for that matter.)
So what will I do?
I’m not going to lie to you, I’d love to get someone to do a great edit on my book for a tiny price. Who wouldn’t?
And I’m going to find it a financial burden to come up with the editor’s fee, even though I’ve been saving for a while.
But having been on the other side of the fence, I’m going to have to show some integrity, and try very hard NOT to be one of those people pressuring an editor to live in poverty. (Yikes!)
I’ll let you know how that one goes. 🙂 (EDIT: Yes, I’ve independently published several books now. And hired at least one and up to three different kinds of editors on each project.)
Editors are expensive, yes, but very few of them are overpriced. It’s just an expensive part of the publishing process, that’s all.
And I see good editing as something that adds enormous value to a book. In case you missed the significance of this little tale, I’ve been writing and editing for a living for decades, and I had multiple great beta readers on my manuscripts… but I still hire editors for my own books.
That’s how much difference good editing makes.
What about you?
What can you do if you simply can’t afford to hire an editor for your book? That’s understandable. I’m a pragmatist, not one of those people who say, “If you can’t afford this, this and this, you’re not allowed to do it.” Publishing as a hobby is NOT something I sneer at.
I’ve got some ideas to help you maximise the quality of your book on a teeny-tiny budget, and I’ll write another post about that soon.
Plus my downloadable ebook Should I Self-Publish? gives some suggestions about which things to pay for and which to get another way, depending on whether you are a business owner, a self-publishing entrepreneur or a hobbyist.
And how do you find a good freelance editor? Whew, what a task! Well, I’ll write about that soon, too, just as soon as I’ve found one for myself, hopefully without going nuts.
Stay tuned! (Subscribe for updates using the form below.)
And next week, I’m going to give a list of some of the tools I use for writing, publishing and blogging, to see if any of them might save you some time.
For today, let’s give the last word to oil firefighter, Red Adair, shall we?
“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” ~ Red Adair
Are you a writer? What is your experience of hiring freelance editors? If you are a freelance editor, how many hours a week are you working? Feeling desperate yet??
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