All editors are not created equal.
It is virtually impossible to find professional-level editing for bargain-basement prices. This handy checklist will help you determine if you’re looking at an experienced editor or a green freelancer. You may not have the funds, desire, or need to hire a top-notch editor, but this checklist will help you avoid untrained and unqualified individuals.
These guidelines are for editors who work on a sentence-by-sentence basis. They may call themselves line editors, copy-editors, or even proofreaders.
Look for experience specific to editing. Degrees in English and published books are nice, but they do not constitute copy-editing training.
Writing and editing are related skills, but not interchangeable, kind of like being good at running and being good at soccer. If you are a fast runner, that will help you in playing soccer. However, you can’t simply run around the field and expect to spontaneously learn the rules of the game. Editing is the same.
Check to make sure that your potential editor has training or formal experience in editing and he’s not just running around the field. An English degree is not enough. Look for education directly related to editing as well as in-the-field experience, such as editing for a book publisher or newspaper.
Editors may charge by the hour, by the page, by the word, or by the project. Low hourly rates start at $15/h. The average rate is around $45/h, while high hourly rates reach $80/h or more. The lowest per-page rates start at $1, with an average of $6 and a high of $12. Per-word rates range from half a penny per word to ten cents per word.
Here’s the basic philosophical difference:
Inexperienced editors try to compete on price in order to gain clients, especially when their skills are lacking. Established professionals know the fair market value of their work
One more warning:
Beware of decimal points! I’ve seen more than one editor with rates of .005 cents per word. That’s 200 words for a penny, or $3.75 for a document of 75,000 words. Fork over a few dollars for fun, but otherwise avoid editors with such egregious mistakes on their own websites.
Experienced, established editors tend to stick to their rates. They may offer discounts in rare cases, like if you’re offering multiple long-term projects.
Willingness to compromise on any assignment is a hallmark of inexperienced freelancers. They’ll offer discounts, samples, refunds, free work, and more. Beware: this new breed of editors often thinks of your document as practice, not work. They’ll exchange cheap work for the ability to count your manuscript as ‘experience’. To return to the soccer analogy, this may work for backyard soccer, but it won’t help you reach the writing big leagues.
Publishers should make their money from the sales of books, and editors should derive their income from editing. Watch out for editors who also offer marketing services, website development, cover design, ebook formatting, and their own books for sale. Multiple services shouldn’t necessarily deter you, but it’s a warning sign of an editor spread too thin. If you want a top-notch editor, look for one who only edits.
A business website is expected to have a certain amount of style and an intentional design. Look for personalized URLs (like popularsoda.com, not popularsoda.blogspot.com).
With an editor’s website, the focus should be on the text, and the text should be easy to read. You should easily be able to find out the editor’s rates, experience, and contact information. Watch out for websites that are image-heavy and rely on animations, slideshows, and multimedia elements. Ask yourself if the site is selling the strength of its services or a flashy image. That’s a good rule of thumb for evaluating any company, not just editors.
Is it ever appropriate to hire a new, inexperienced, or untrained editor? Of course. If you’re having a hard time finding beta readers, need someone to commit to your full novel, or you simply don’t have the funds for professional editing, a less-experienced editor may suit your needs just fine.
However, you should be aware that hobbyist editors do not provide the same level of service as professional editors. You are getting what you pay for. It’s your money, but you should go into negotiations with your eyes open.