5 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Professional Editor

In Discussion by Guest Contributor

Jim Dempsey of Novel Gazing describes five easy fixes for authors who want to save money on professional editing services.

By Jim Dempsey, Novel Gazing

Jim Dempsey is an associate editor at NovelGazing.org

Jim Dempsey is an associate editor at NovelGazing.org

As an author, you want your novel to be the best it can be. A top quality product means good reviews and that means more sales down the line. But just a few typos and grammatical errors will put readers off. Before they’ve even fallen over your plot holes, they’re filling message boards with mocking remarks about a couple of innocently misplaced hyphens or an occasional dangling modifier. 

Authors know this, and they diligently take time to search for editors who can check their manuscript for errors. But, often, a glance at the editor’s price list is enough to send an author clicking back to more fun ways to procrastinate. Suddenly, those increased sales seem a little too far down the line to justify the investment. But they needn’t be intimidated by those price lists. In fact, there are many ways to cut the cost of a professional editor. Consider these five before you decide to stick with your potentially flaw-filled manuscript.

1. Don’t send your first draft

Don’t even send your second or third draft. Wait until you feel you can do no more with your story beyond changing that comma to a full stop and back again. It’s at that moment, when you feel you’re ready to self-publish your novel or send it to an agent, when you should, in fact, send your manuscript to a professional editor.

Unless you’ve been through a revision process with a story consultant or writing coach, then your first contact with an editor will be for substantive editing where you’ll get help with plot, structure, character development and flow. If these story elements aren’t already well established, you’ll be paying for the editor to help you rewrite. Revise as much as possible first, and you’ll definitely save on editing costs.

2. Reduce your word count

This is particularly important when dealing with editors who charge per word. But, generally, more words mean more work, so you’ll still win with editors who charge per hour.

It’s that simple. Except it’s not. Almost every author we work with at Novel Gazing would like to reduce their word count but can’t choose which of their darlings to kill.

There are lots of articles on the web with tips to reduce your word count, but here’s one editing trick that can get rid of whole chapters: cut the backstory. Backstory is anything that happened before your main story started. You’re most likely to find it in the first pieces you wrote, those that have survived every redraft. That’s because you, the author, needs to know these specific incidents to understand the characters. That’s why you think they’re so important. In truth, the reader doesn’t need quite so much information and you’ve probably included the same details in a shorter and more subtle form elsewhere in the text.

These will be the most difficult cuts, but try it. Look out for those flashback scenes in particular and ask yourself if the reader, not you, really — really — needs those few hundred extra words.

3. Go for quality

There’s more to finding an editor than looking around for the cheapest. You’ve worked many long hours on your story, and there’s a lot of personal investment in every word. You need someone to handle that manuscript, and you, with care. And you want them to get it right first time. The last thing you need is to have to employ another editor to undo the previous one’s bad work.

Look around for editors that suit your maximum budget and ask them for a sample edit. You don’t need to send the whole manuscript. At Novel Gazing, we’ve found that the first 1,500 words (about five pages) is enough for author and editor to make a good assessment of the other’s work. So, look for an editor that fits both your budget and your style.

4. Negotiate

Our tagline at Novel Gazing is “…because authors need editors.” But editors clearly need authors just as much. They each have something to offer the other. And authors can make use of what they have when trying to cut the cost of a professional editor.

For example, if you have a strong social media following you could promote the editor’s services through your networks (as long as you think they’re worth promoting). You could agree to give the editor a mention in the acknowledgements when the book is published, or write a testimonial for their website. An honest one, of course.

Or maybe you have other skills that would be valuable to an editor. You could offer advice to help them build their own social network, improve their website or marketing strategy.

Editors are not always the best business people, and many will appreciate help where it is needed.

5. Write a masterpiece

Who wouldn’t want to work on the next To Kill a Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye? You don’t even need to reach those heights. A good editor will be able to spot potential, and those sample pages are usually enough to judge if your novel is significantly better than average. At that point, don’t be surprised if the editor comes back to you to offer a discount.

This is another reason why you shouldn’t send an early draft, and only contact an editor when you’ve given your novel your very best work. That’s when you’re in the best position to bargain.

So, don’t be discouraged by the apparent cost of editing. Take another look around and see if you can work out a deal to get the best out of your novel, and your profits.

Jim Dempsey is an associate editor at Novel Gazing. Novel Gazing offers professional editing services to authors and publishers.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.