Last year we conducted an extensive author survey to tease out the strategies and tactics successful authors were using to achieve their success. It was one of our most popular posts in 2016 so this year we did it again! Last year, we focused on emerging authors and financially successful authors, isolating what the financially successful authors do differently than the emerging authors. This year we tweaked the survey to reflect changes in the publishing industry while also revisiting many of the same questions from last year. Thanks to everyone who completed the survey. We (literally) could not have written this post without you 😉
Last year we looked at authors earning over $5,000 per month vs. lower earning authors to tease out the differences. This year, we compared authors making over $100,000 in a single year vs. authors who earn less than $500 / month from book sales. We’ll call these two groups 100Kers and Emerging Authors. The following article will examine the differences between these two groups of authors with an aim towards helping authors get to that $100k goal. Approximately 11% authors surveyed fell into the 100K bucket, so it’s a pretty exclusive club but also one that is within reach.
100kers = Authors who have made $100,000 or more in a single year from book sales
EAs = Emerging Authors who earn less than $500 / year from book sales.
The article below is based on self-reported data from our Authors. Authors are, on the whole, an honest group and we are trusting their input for these results. If you are a market research professional or statistics professional, take a deep breath. We are drawing conclusions based on survey data, not doing heavy statistical analysis. Some of the findings run into the causation vs correlation challenge, and in those cases we do our best to tease out the relevant takeaways.
Finding #1: Success Takes Time
We wanted to look at the amount of time an author has been writing, but since that’s a tricky question, we focused on the publication date of their first book as a proxy for how long they have been in the publishing game. 88% of 100kers have been writing more than 3 years, compared to only 59% of Emerging Authors. On average, that means 100kers have just been at this longer. Experience counts for a lot and emerging authors shouldn’t get discouraged. It takes time to build an audience for your books.
Finding #2: Indie Publishing is a Viable Pathway to Success
We wanted to know if there was any correlation between how an author was published and whether or not it got them to the 100k club. The results were pretty surprising to us. Of all 100kers none were purely traditionally published. To be fair, only about 5% of overall respondents were solely traditionally published (James Patterson did not take our survey), so traditionally published authors didn’t make up a big part of the surveyed audience, but none of them were in the 100K club.
Of the 100kers surveyed, 72% were indie and 28% were hybrid. Publishing Independently rewards authors with higher royalty rates which means it is easier to start generating meaningful revenue when you self publish. The Author Earnings reports are showing a trend in which indie authors are taking share from traditional publishing, despite the fact that titles of indie books are priced lower than traditionally published titles. In May 2016 Author Earnings also reported that “the vast majority of traditional publishing’s midlist-or-better earners started their careers more than a decade ago. Their more-recently debuted peers are not doing anywhere near as well. Fewer than 700 Big Five authors authors who debuted in the last 10 years are now earning $25,000 a year or more on Amazon — from all of their hardcover, paperback, audio and ebook editions combined. By contrast, over 1,600 indie authors are currently earning that much or more.” The takeaway here is that publishing as an indie author may be the most viable path to financial success.
Looking at the graph below, you’ll notice that there was a much higher prevalence of Hybrid Authors among 100kers than Emerging Authors (28% vs 17% respectively), which means a lot of the 100kers have signed a publishing contract for at least one of their books. This can mean two things: 1) For some authors, publishing as an indie enables them to then get a contract with a traditional publisher. So indie comes first and traditional publishing comes second. Anecdotally, we’re hearing from publishers that they are looking for authors who already have a track record and a reader following before they extend traditional publishing contracts. So this lines up. It can also mean that 2) some authors who have traditional contracts are then subsequently publishing as an indie due to the higher royalty rates and earning power an author achieves as an indie. This means that publishing independently gives authors a greater opportunity to make more money from their books and achieve monetary success. As we wrote about earlier this year, hybrid publishing gives authors the perks of both paths: access to the support that a publishing house provides while also earning higher royalties per book on the sales of their independent titles. Many very successful authors are taking advantage of this “best of both worlds” scenario to facilitate success and earn more.
Finding #3: The Great Wide vs. Exclusive Debate is not Settled
The term ‘going wide’ is used to describe authors who have books available on multiple retailers (for example, Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, etc..). They are available through many stores, so they are casting a ‘wider’ net. Compare this to authors who have books in KDP Select, where those books are required to be exclusive to Amazon (for more on this read our article What is KDP Select). The pros and cons of being Amazon exclusive is a big topic of conversation among the author community. Overall, more people in both groups chose KDP Select over going wide, but the breakdown was the same in both groups. This means 100kers are not doing this differently than EAs. The takeaway here is that the choice to go wide or stay with Amazon doesn’t change your probability of making it to the 100k club. 100kers are doing the same thing emerging authors are doing here, experimenting. Knowing your audience and having a solid marketing plan has a larger impact on success than KDP Select enrollment alone.
Finding #4: 100kers Have Professional Covers and pay less than $1,000
Last year we found that 68% of financially successful authors spent over $100 per book cover. This year we found strikingly similar results. 68% of 100kers spent more than $100 on book cover design, whereas only 44% of Emerging Authors spent more than $100 on their cover. Interesting to note, this percentage of Emerging Authors moved up from last year when only 39% of emerging authors dedicated that much money to cover design. This indicates a trend that Emerging Authors are starting to spend more on book cover design. We’re happy to see this, as we know book cover design is a hugely important factor in determining a book’s success. Another interesting note, NONE of the 100k club spent more than $1,000 on a book cover, which means that there is a reasonable cap on what authors should be paying for this service.
Finding #5: 100kers Almost Exclusively Have Professional Editors
The results here were crystal clear. 96% of 100kers choose a professional to edit their books, and most Emerging Authors made the same choice (56%), but that still leaves a big portion of Emerging Authors who weren’t using a professional editor. In fact, almost 20% of Emerging Authors edit their books themselves. It’s been shown time and time again that having a second pair of eyes read your work helps minimize typos and unclear writing.
How much should you pay for editing? While prices certainly vary based on quality, about half of 100kers spend between $250 and $500 on editing, and 20% of 100kers spent between $500-$1000 for editing services. Emerging authors definitely skewed lower, selecting the bargain price of under $50. However, our takeaway is that 100kers consider editing to be very important, and always pay a professional to button up their novels. If you want to ensure good reviews and a good reader experience, then planning to pay $250-500 for an editor should be in every author’s launch budget. That said, we know lots of authors simply don’t have that money to spend. If you don’t have the budget to pay a professional editor, at least have someone else who is not you do the editing. Authors swapping editing services is a decent option: you edit mine and I’ll edit yours.
Finding #6: 100kers Use Paid Marketing Techniques and Handle Marketing Themselves
At Written Word Media, we’re marketers. We love marketing and we love helping authors with marketing – it’s our jam – so this topic was of particular interest to us. When we looked at who handles marketing for authors, the overwhelming answer was that they do it themselves. For both 100kers and Emerging Authors, over 90% of them report doing their marketing themselves. The only difference is that 100kers can hire some help. 45% of 100kers reporting having a ‘helper’ like an intern or assistant who helps with marketing. This makes sense, once you make $100K, you can afford to hire someone. Learning how to market your books yourself is very important part of the process, but once you have figured it out and have some budget to spare, it becomes a prudent business choice to hire help so you can focus on writing. Here at Written Word Media, we work with lots of Author Assistants who book features with us on behalf of their Authors.
To take the Marketing question one step further, we wanted to know which promotional techniques 100kers were using. In the graph below, notice that 100ers use 3 techniques more than EAs: Discount Deal Sites, Facebook Ads, and Amazon Ads. All of these are paid marketing techniques that require a budget. Additionally, notice that there are 3 techniques used more by EAs than 100kers: In-person signings, social media, and Book Giveaways. All of these are mostly free or very low cost but are more difficult to scale and may not be as effective. The pattern is clear, paying for marketing works, and 100kers have figured that out.
Finding #7: Don’t Quit Your Night Job
Many authors have day jobs to pay the bills. Writing takes time and not everyone can financially afford to take the leap right away. Of Emerging Authors, 66% have a day job (either by themselves or a member of their household) that pays the bills. Additionally, almost 20% of 100kers reported having a day job that supports their writing. Our takeaway is that having a day job or relying on a spouse’s income is pretty typical for writers of all kinds. Work during the day, write during the night, and never, ever quit your night job!
Finding #8: More Hours = More Books = More Success
Emerging Authors spent 19.8 hours per week writing, compared to 100Kers who spent 28.6 hours per week writing. That’s a 46% increase! The 100kers write a lot more than the emerging authors. This is pretty consistent with what we found last year. All that extra writing pays off. When we look at the total number of books published we see a huge difference. The 100kers have on average 30.3 books in their catalog! Emerging authors had around 7 on average. Averages don’t tell the whole story when we looked at the 100Kers the maximum number of books was 63 and the minimum was 7. Which means the 100ker with the least amount of books still had 7 books in their backlist! Spending more time writing yields more published books, which appears to be a successful strategy.
In Their Words
These findings are based on the data, and what we see in the marketplace. We work with over 34,000 authors at the time of writing this post, so we have a lot of experience to draw from. That said, there’s nothing like hearing advice from a peer to lend credibility, so we collected advice from our 100Kers and put some of our favorites below. The quotes are pasted verbatim from the survey results.
Don’t expect to get rich. Don’t expect to sell a lot of your first book. This is a journey.
Write and don’t stop. Get the next book ready, but take your time to make it excellent. Try to write and hold a book in a series so you can release the books more closely in time. And marketing is important, so learn how to do it, but don’t spend all your time doing it.
Commit your body and soul to producing the best work you can. Every reader is precious and connecting with them the most important thing you can achieve.
Being an Indie Author is a profession best done independently. Write what you love, write the way you want to, and forget everything. However, market trends should not be ignored in cover design and book title. Learn the market and how to promote within it yourself. Every aspect of your business. Authors are their own best marketing tool. Don’t trust someone else to do for you want you haven’t bothered to learn yourself.
Use a professional cover and hire an editor. If you can’t hire an editor right away, find a teacher or someone with excellent grammar. Also, when starting out, Kindle Unlimited is probably the best route to go unless you can market heavily and pay for advertising.
Write every day. Don’t wait for inspiration. If you were an accountant, you wouldn’t wait until you were inspired to go to work.
Never give up! I was told I could never make it, but I proved everyone wrong. I was rejected by one 300 agents and publishers. And it was a blessing in disguise!!! I now run my own ship and make my own rules. I keep 70% of my earnings! Getting shot down by publishers was the BEST thing to ever happen in my entire life! I wish I could give them a hug! They did me a huge favor and I found indie publishing.
Share your experience as an author in the comments below.
151 comments on “What Makes a $100k Author: 8 Findings Every Author Should Know”
Very interesting. I’ve shared it. I edit and critique more than 200 manuscripts a year, and I’m stunned by the amount writers are saying they spend on editing in this article. In the US, an average-length book costs about $2,500 for a content edit and proofread. Writers should not expect quality editing (certainly not professional or thorough) for only $250. I’ve never seen it. Nowhere close to that amount. So this stat, while it may be founded in research, isn’t the norm and I think doesn’t serve authors well (for them to expect to pay so little to have their book edited).
I’m glad you chimed in, I felt I must be a chump for what I’ve been paying all the while I thought I was getting a deal compared to some big firm’s advertised prices! Thank you.
Yeah, I was shocked to see such a low price. $1500 is average for a full court press on my 80-100K words novels.
Agreeing with C.S. Lakin here. Quality editing costs money, so definitely I would urge writers to investigate and ask for personal recommendations from authors who have successful indie books in the market. And remember, as good as some proofreaders may be, this is a different service than editing.
(I’m not an editor for hire, just stating an opinion.)
The responses for the prices on editing were pretty clear from our survey data, but remember, our data is limited to the respondents who filled out our survey so it’s great to get an outside opinion. Thanks for sharing!
Then it’s kind of a disservice to publish that figure the way you did, and your article should make it clear that the data you put in there may not be entirely accurate for the industry because it just reflects a small sample that filled out your poll. There’s no way to verify those authors actually spent that amount, just that they told you they did, and there’s nothing in the article that indicates the writer finds this trend odd. Indie authors who are successful need quality editors, not a $50 spell check that’s called editing.
Michelle, thanks for your comment. I’m glad that people are speaking out and sharing their data so we can show multiple viewpoints. I certainly understand your perspective – there are lots of professional editors out there that charge a justifiably higher price for their services. It is not our intent to do anyone a disservice.
As you correctly point out, our data is both self-reported and based on a sample of our authors. We cannot verify the actual sales of the authors, nor can we verify what they paid for editing, we’re trusting their responses. That’s why we add the disclaimer at the beginning of the article, to make sure people see our presentation of the data as both honest and imperfect.
Additionally, take a look at the graph and you’ll notice that 32% of 100kers spend $500 or more on their editing, which does support a higher price being paid for editing for a third of the 100kers.
How many “authors” responded? It is extremely rare for an author to pull in $100K from a book.
I can see your point, but I’d like to chime in that I understood from how they presented it at the beginning that this was a sample of volunteer (and mostly self-published) authors. I can see your point, and don’t think you are wrong. However, I wouldn’t perceive the article was misleading because they did not reiterate that in the paragraph.
Michelle, if you send out a survey, and the surveyees respond, and you publish it — how can that be called irresponsible? It’s the results of your survey, for God’s sake. Not every opinion that’s different from yours is ‘irresponsible.’ They’re just the opinions of a number op people who responded to a survey.
I shouldn’t be reading blog responses …
Yep, as a professional editor, I’d be insulted if someone wanted to pay me $250 to do a full-length novel. However, this explains the number of people who say “never mind” when I quote my rates. Depressing.
Ecru, I’m a professional editor, too, and when I went to a per page rate those “never mind” comments diminished. There’s something psychologically more palatable about hearing $4.25 per page (or whatever you charge) than hearing $1,275 for your 300 pages. Also far easier to manage on a daily basis. 🙂
I actually charge by the word! :/ But oh well. I’m not living under a bridge in a box yet, so I guess I’m doing OK!
Isn’t the entire point that these people, despite whatever they are paying for editing, are clearly making over 100k? Increasing their margins is just a part of that, and it means that the meticulousness of the work itself isn’t necessarily their path to success.
Apart from a very small percentage who seemed to write utter rubbish and get away with it, I would imagine most of those earning good money are paying decent money for a decent editing job. Plus while they might have initial success in a particular marketplace I highly doubt it is a path to long-term success! having read some of the reviews on these authors books it would seem the readers agree.
Why are you assuming that? The data above (and also personal anecdotes in the comments of everybody’s high-rolling author friends) is telling you repeatedly that $100k authors for the most part are not spending that much on copyediting. And yet they are doing well and to sustainably make $100k as an indie author in 2017 producing “rubbish” isn’t an option. You might have a lucky outlier but this isn’t 2009 or even 2011. It’s actually competitive out there now, and yet these authors are competing successfully without spending much money on editing services.
It could also be that they have multiple people look at their writing before they send it to a professional editor. I think editing is important and they deserve to be paid well, but I also understand that budgets are very tight, especially for writers who aren’t established and lack confidence they can make back what they put in, much less a profit. I had several friends help “edit” my manuscript, so it was fairly polished before I sent it to a professional editor. If you have multiple eyes before catching glaring and obvious problems and are diligent about rewriting anything that trips them up, you could get away with an editor without higher prices or as much experience and still have a decent product. In an ideal world, everyone could spring for $1500 for a highly experienced editor and another $1000 for a great cover, but most people are working with limited resources and doing the best quality that they can at a time. But I can see the point that a writer who is making six-figures could make that jump.
Well said! As a professional editor with over 30 years’ experience, I echo your suggestion that it would cost about $2,500 to copy edit a typical book length manuscript . The figures quoted in this article are unrealistic and misleading.
The article is not off. Most indies don’t pay more than $500 per book for editing. I’m a member of a number of indie forums and that amount is spot on. For most indies an in-depth edit isn’t necessary. They are writing pulp fiction, not literary masterpieces. A check for spelling, grammar, and plot consistency is about all that’s needed or wanted.
Please note that a significant number of indies surveyed did pay more than $500 per book. But in general indies are putting out a full book every month. They don’t have time for months and months of developmental edits. This isn’t a personal insult to you – but a result of what the market is demanding right now for. Again, these books are the equivalent of the old penny dreadfuls. So spending huge amounts on them wouldn’t’ make sense for the author.
I have never paid more than $300 on an edit and have never received any negative reviews regarding typos, grammar or plot holes. My books sell well because people like the stories. Most indie authors would not be able to afford $2,500 when first starting out. Even now that I can afford it, I would never, ever pay that much.
I found the article to be very useful, thank you!
I publish under a pen name that is suitable for my genre, because my real name is impossible to fins a domain for!
I agree. The only book that I did receive negative reviews was one where I spent over $1,000 for an “assigned professional” editor. Even in my early twenties and not completely competent, I found issues with her editing. It was my first book, so I didn’t know how to handle it. But when I released the next two books, I oversaw the publishing process and did pay for editing, as well as studying and cleaning up the manuscript as much as I could on my own. I never got any complaints about those two, even though they aren’t perfect. With all that said, now that I know more about the publishing world, I feel the first editor was not truly professional, though she was assigned to the company I published through.
I would agree with that. Many new authors might only make $2,500 in a year on a book – so expecing them to lay out in advance their potential full earnings is unrealistic. It’s okay if an editor is freelancing for Random House or Doubleday or editing an already well established author earning $100 K plus – but outside of that I would have thought laying out that sort of money in advance is unrealistic compared to the potential earnings for most indie authors.
Can you give me the name of different indie forums? I am wanting to get familiar with sites as I look for a home of my writing.
C.S. – I think that what you’re seeing is a skew based on the SORT of edit being done. For the $100k+ crowd… Most have 30+ books out. The *average* was 33. At that level, most trad pub writers don’t get content/developmental editing anymore. They don’t NEED it anymore. Ditto in the indie field, where at a certain point your story skills have advanced to the point where you’re better at the bits of the work involved in content editing than anyone except the very top dev editors in your genre. Who all charge so much that the value return is usually not worth the expense. (If a dev edit moves a very experienced writer’s book up 2% in sales, but costs $5000, it’s not a cost-effective business expense.)
What you’re seeing for that $250-500 is a copy edit. What you’re calling “proofreading”. It’s just typo correction, for the most part.
A really good comprehensive/content edit is still enormously helpful for “apprentice level” writers – those in their first million or so words of fiction. The main value at that stage of a writer’s career is really education – learning what things they are doing wrong in storytelling, so they can do it better the next time. The education value for ALL future books written by that author makes the $2500 price tag you’re talking about an often worthwhile investment.
“Typo correction” IS proofreading. Copy editing is far more than that. I’m sure that someone who edits and critiques 200 books a year might know the difference and use the proper terminology.
I disagree that established authors don’t have things edited. George R. R. Martin has his work edited and he is edits other people’s books. I think it’s not so much that it is needed as much as a second set of eyes just helps.
I’ve see so many books that I assume haven’t been professionally edited and the author says it has. Self-published books. I think it’s important to get a good editor. I have a BA in journalism, yet I would still have my book edited. But only by someone who I can trust will do a good job. Like George R. R. Martin. As he is clearly out of my reality field, I’ll need to chose someone else but I feel people should be very, very careful, in choosing an editor.
Would I pay 2-4k? Of course. It’s worth it.
I wrote over the years and just filed things away. I have several things and they are all about 80k words. I would pay according to the length and also for the expertise of the editor.
Anyhow, I just wanted to say, im pretty sure even the pros use a professional editor.
I also enjoyed the article. Thanks to the author.
Many new writers don’t understand the differences between editing services. I think the term “copy editing” is loosely thrown around as a catch all for all forms of editing which we know it isn’t. A lot of indies only get proof reading and that reflects that lower cost.
Yes, thank you, Ecru! Proofreading and copy editing are not even close to the same thing. Copy editing is not just checking for typos, inconsistency, and grammar mistakes. Professional copy editors (ones who know the Chicago Manual of Style inside and out) make $4.50 a double-spaced typed page — or more. And they’re worth every cent. I think the confusion comes from the large number of people in the indie field who set themselves up as copy editors without really knowing what the profession is about.
My first novel, in 2014, was professionally edited for $1400. It carried around 55k words. That said, I recently reread, and there were many issues with the amount of money I had spent. In my personal experiences, I’ve learned that once you know how to properly use MS Word, the program does much of it for you. I, like many, can’t afford to spend $1000+ for editing all my books. That would be over $30k! And that doesn’t include covers.
Every reputable editor needs to be paid for their time at a rate that covers their mortgage and living expenses and more – they don’t just want to subsist. It usually takes 4 hours or longer to even critique of a 32 page picture book for 3-6 year olds with editing suggestions, further advice on a couple of re-worked versions and providing written, encouraging and useful feedback at each stage …and then a final grammar, punctuation and spelling check. (And surely the author expects to pay a trained and experienced editor at the same rate as a garage mechanic or electrician – or at least, the hourly rate they earn themself?) This presumes that the author wants to produce a book that enhances their own reputation among professionals – librarians, magazine reviewers and awards judges, as well as to provide children with the best quality possible …which they need and deserve. Best-selling traditionally published picture books have often been edited both by the author and an editor to create 50 or more drafts over several years prior to publication.
I think you made a very good distinction when you say best selling traditional published authors have upwards of 50 drafts over several years before publishing.
Best selling Indie books typically take months, not years to produce, and certainly not 50 drafts.
Its a much quicker process, and that may be where part of the price point difference comes in as well
As you’ll have noted, I was specifically talking about picture books. I’ve read that Mem Fox’s ‘Where is the Green Sheep?’ (about 160 words and that’s sold millions of copies) took 3 years and at least 50 drafts. It’s not exceptional.
I’ve self-published and had books traditionally published and I’ll continue to do both. Those who traditionally publish usually have a number of books in progress and work on some of them for years.
I’ve recently mentored and edited a picture book for a friend. She had spent months developing it, had it critiqued by beta-reader buddies and really believed it was ready, but it took 4 more drafts before I thought it was anywhere near time to choose to self-publish or approach editors/agents, whatever is her choice.
The other big difference between traditional and indie published picture books is that self-publishers often try to control what the illustrator draws, which is mostly a big mistake if the author wants a truly wonderful and acclaimed book that will sell by recommendation. Trad publishers remove all illustration suggestions that the author inserts and choose the illustrator who is most likely to create what no one else would imagine from the words, and the author and illustrator will have no contact. Hard for the author, but the way the most satisfying books are produced.
In one of my books the words say that Crocodile invites a brolga bird to afternoon tea. I imagined a sly scary crocodile, but the illustrator has shown it in Fred Astaire poses tempting the bird with fancy dance steps. And I and children love it. Giving the illustrator free rein has made it ‘our story’ rather than purely my story …and it’s a better and more popular book than I would have designed.
In 2012 I had a 176 page non-fiction book traditionally published on calligraphy for greetings cards and scrapbooking. 600 emails were exchanged with suggestions and revisions in the editing process over 18 months. I’m very grateful that the publisher paid a freelance editor for this – her input made the book far far better than I would have created on my own. I wonder what the publisher expected to pay and what the editing actually cost them. If I had chosen to self-publish that one, to be honest, I would have ceased paying for editing much earlier in the process, with consequences to match.
C.S. So glad you made this comment because if you hadn’t, I would have. As an editor myself, I’d be hard pressed to earn even minimum wage at those prices.
I totally agree! That’s exactly what I thought as well. Editing is crucial. In my mind it is a huge aspect of writing a book.
I think the Authors who spent the lower end of the range would have had smaller books – say between 10,000 to 25,000 words. So it is hard to compare when there are different word counts.
Editing for $250 is not plausible. I believe many people are using the term “editing” to refer to mere proof-reading, with perhaps a few editing comments thrown in.
I agree. I pay a lot more in NZ and don’t regret a cent. I think people are being a bit economical – with the truth!
I paid $6 per double spaced 8.5×11 page with 12pt font. My editor helped launched Steven King and John Grisham.
C. S. Lakin, you spend less than two days per manuscript and make half a million dollars per year? Genuinely curious.
I love getting new info especially when backed up with studis and stats. Good job. I found the info useful. It justifies my spending habits; like paying for a great editor which incidentally is as hard to find as a great doctor or a great car mechanic. I shopped around for nearly 10 years until I found a great editor who came along with a good graphic artist. I’ve been working with them for nearly 3 years now and have been satisfied.
I also discovered FB ads which I now use for my opinion posts twice a month and my book posts twice a month. I haven’t tried Amazon ads bit I’m thinking about it. I do post on their Author Page and in their Amazon Forums. I publish on Kindle, Createspace and Smashwords . I tried NOOK and Kobo for about a year but I never sold any books on either one.
I also advertize on ASK David, Indies Unlimited, Twitter. I post on LinkedIN and Goodreads when I remember but I don’t use them on a regular basisi since I stopped doing GR Giveways. I hired a consultant to post on about 150 groups on FB but I stopped recently.
Once again thanks for your article.
I wonder if i can use some of your findings and blogs in my marketing magazine. All articles are linked to original and author is named if known.
My magazine is called Indie Publishing News. I have a group on facebook where i help Indie Authors.
To suggest that authors should find $250-500 to be a fair price for editing a BOOK is absurd and shows either a total lack of understanding of the time editing takes and the value editing brings, or an absolute lack of respect for professional editors and the fact that we have to make an actual living.
Absolutely correct. If I charged $250–$500 to copyedit a novel-length manuscript, I’d be making less than minimum wage.
Beta readers are great. Having other writers look over your work is great. Just know that writing and editing are different skills, particularly when it comes to copyediting. A Pulitzer winner might not know that the comma always goes inside the quotes in American English.
For $500, you get 7 hours of my time as a professional, certified editor with 20 years experience. That isn’t enough time to *read* a book, let alone edit one. This value is absurd. For a realistic estimate of the time and cost, Google “copyediting instant estimate.” For just one round of copyediting on an 80,000 word book, my lowest-paying client would pay over $2000 even to a fairly new editor.
I think you left a zero off the amount a 100ker would pay for editing. Even $2500 would be low. The real charge for a substantive edit would be in the range of $3000 to $5000, and $2500 to $3500 for a copy edit of an average-length book. Editors are professionals and their fees reflect their experience and training. In this field you get what you pay for, and $250 will not get you a professionally edited book.
I edit my books first. Then, my editor does a proofreading in two comprehensive checks. All for the price of £250. The results are excellent and I am blessed I don’t have to spend more than that on editing.
This is what I do. My writing group goes over everything in process, which takes the place of a developmental edit, and beta readers catch problems before the MS goes to the copyeditor. I paid $250 for a 52,000 word MS recently – it helps that it was pretty clean to begin with.
I applaud your statement that 100kers consider editing very important, but as a copyeditor I must chime in about the editing costs mentioned in this article. Thank you, Adrienne Montgomerie, C.S. Lakin, Dinah Forbes, and Oona O’Shea. There’s no way I could copyedit a typical-length book for $500. It takes much, much longer to copyedit a book than to read the same book. And it takes a professional. Second, I disagree that authors swapping editing services is a decent option. Even the best writer isn’t necessarily a skilled editor. Editing is a profession that requires specific training.
why does it matter that you disagree that authors swapping editing services is a decent option? What is it to you if an author decides to do that? If their book sells well and their readers are happy then what business is it of yours? Who cares what you think a decent option is? Just like editors, authors are running a business and have the right to make the decisions that are best for their situation. This goofy snobbery of “you must spend xyz on editing services I just so happen to offer” is just bizarre.
The comments from editors are correct in saying that it’s not reasonable to expect to get a full length novel edited for $250-$500.00. What isn’t addressed in the research published here is the fact that many of the 100kers write novellas, compendiums of short stories, and contribute to anthologies (shared editing expense among several writers). We don’t know (from what’s been published here) how many of 100kers crank out six to twelve short books per year, or write formulaic books that require little change from one to the next except location, names, type of threat/protagonist, etc. There is a difference between writers who sweat bullets to bring a story to life, and writers who do it solely as a means to make money. Perhaps some research into these things would add a layer of useful data.
I appreciate your comment, Dan, and the word count of the manuscript is definitely important. But because the article didn’t mention the average manuscript length, I think that a lot of indie authors will be misled into thinking that those editing costs are valid for full-length novels. In addition, even in your example of an author who “cranks out six to twelve short books per year” or “writes formulaic books that require little change from one to the next except location, names, type of threat/protagonist,” copyediting is necessary and important. And that copyeditor will examine each and every word of the manuscript, which takes time.
Lol at the people that are whining at the article for daring to mention authors are not willing to pay them more than what their book is probably going to make.
Written Word Media didn’t magically create those numbers, you can go nuts on them all you want. Indie authors aren’t willing to pay your prices. Screaming a lot in comments sections won’t change that.
No one is screaming; we’re commenting on an “error”, in that the article specifies to put aside $250-500 for editing, and that’s nowhere near enough. Indie authors can do what they like, but the amount cited low-balls the cost of a real edit to the tune of $2000 or more. If I wanted to publish a good (rdited) book, I’d want to know how much that would actually cost.
I’m not going to pay you to “rdit” my book. I’m just saying.
Indie, I don’t consider what I wrote “screaming.” Rather, I’m trying to provide information. If an indie author hopes to become a $100k author, he or she needs a high-quality editor. Such an editor won’t work for the prices cited in this article—even if the manuscript is a novella rather than a full-length novel. I understand that authors must think about how much profit their books will make, but we editors must think about earning a living wage. Would you really want to hire an editor who’s struggling to earn even minimum wage? Just my two cents.
But you’re missing the point. You are saying if an author expects to become a $100k author then he/she needs a quality editor (which according to you will be $2,500). But you’re glossing RIGHT PAST the fact that the people who were surveyed ARE $100k authors. I personally know several high selling authors who don’t pay that much for editing. Who knows, maybe you all are right. Perhaps the books are deeply flawed and poorly edited but if that is true the readers of these books aren’t complaining about it, and these authors continue to make bank. So like it or not, yes you CAN be a $100k author without spending what you personally seem to feel is the least that should be spent to accomplish the job of making sure the manuscript is clean and solid.
Lol rather at editors becoming filled with rage at successful authors who minimize their roles. Very interesting to see the conflict of interest here.
I earn over $200k a year and I never use an editor. However, a good proofreader is golden.
How can you not use an editor? Are you a trained CMOS editor? I can’t imagine publishing anything without it being professionally edited. I’m a copyeditor so I do my own books, but, as I said, on average it costs a writer about $2,500 US to do basic editing on a full-length manuscript. Often more.
I’d say these numbers are pretty spot on. I paid $455 for my last edit (65k words) and an additional $350 for a final round proof read. And my formatter commented that it was one of the cleanest manuscripts she’d ever seen. Roughly 3 errors she fixed.
I think part of the difference is a lot of indies do several rounds of beta editing with bloggers or even other authors before sending it off to editing. So they skip paying for content editing all together. Not only does it cut that cost out, but it gives a more up-to-date view of what readers are buying. Plus, I can use different people from different walks of life to get my feedback versus one person’s eyes. This came in very handy when I wrote a book where one of the characters had childhood cancer. My editor never went through that experience. But one of my beta readers did. Her feedback on the process and emotion it entails was way more accurate than my editor’s ever would have been.
I’m also going to agree that these numbers seem spot on.
That some editors charge more than $500 for a copy edit is…well, that’s their problem. Plenty of quality editors out there do basic editing for $250-500, and do a fine job.
Frankly I’m stunned the average was SO HIGH. Let’s not forget that 8% of those writers making $100k or more pay $100 or less for editing. Which means they’re probably counting their subscription to Grammarly or some similar tool as the cost, and they’re actually just editing the thing themselves. Which is what I do, on about half my books.
Interestingly enough there is NO pattern of sales or reviews based on which I self-edited and which ones I paid someone to edit.
I think if you weren’t a trained editor (and what’s that thing about nobody should edit their own books like nobody should be their own attorney?) then you wouldn’t be willing to pay this amount for “basic editing”. It seems to me that you are doing the same thing that many in the comment thread are freaking out about “editing your own work” or “finding cheaper ways to get the job done”. That you think someone has to be “professionally trained” to be able to edit a book to the standards of the average reader shows a lack of awareness of the average reader.
Also, in the long run, for most of us it would be a MUCH better investment to just get “professionally trained” to be editors than it would be to pay someone $2,500 for every book.
After reading this article and the comments, I would suggest incorporating something like the following questions on next year’s survey: How much, on average, did you pay for developmental or content editing (improvements to plot points, characters, point-of-view, etc.) of one book? How much, on average, did you pay for line editing (grammar, punctuation, stylistic changes, paragraph breaks, etc.) of one book? How much, on average, did you pay for copyediting (for grammar and punctuation) of one book? How much, on average, did you pay for someone to proofread one book? If you used software to proofread your book, how much did it cost? In addition to showing a more realistic rate for editing, these questions would also allow this study to examine how many authors are opting for developmental editing, line editing, and proofreading and how many rely on software rather than people to do it because these are very different things. The wording of these questions needs work, but this is just an idea on how you could perform a more nuanced analysis next year.
Given that students in my university English classes don’t understand the difference, I am not surprised to see this kind of confusion here. For example, Shawn Coyne, the author of The Story Grid, is a developmental editor. He identifies where parts of a story aren’t working and suggests how to resolve issues with plot and character arcs, turns in scenes, missing genre conventions and/or obligatory scenes, etc. On a somewhat related note, I edit a lot of grant proposals, abstracts, and other research-related material every day. The first read through involves checking global issues like headings and content blocks, which is somewhat like what Shawn does but for non-fiction. The person then fixes those things and sends it to me again. During the second pass, I make suggestions related to consistency (e.g., defining acronyms properly, maintaining consistent nomenclature, etc.), grammar (misplaced modifiers, subject-verb agreement, etc.), spelling, puncutation (comma splices and omissions, etc.), and style (eliminating passive voice and nominalization, etc.). (I tend to line- and copy-edit at the same time, not everyone works that way.) Once the person I’m working with corrects the draft, I proofread it one last time. They make those corrections, then it’s ready for submission or publication.
Outside of academia, I write science fiction. I am an author and therefore understand some of the authors’ concerns here. I do understand the concern about paying someone a lot of money to edit one’s work when the odds are against any ROI (return-on-investment). However, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: a slap-dash publication is unlikely to do well if content problems or errors prompt readers to stop reading. Yes, there are outliers where it doesn’t seem to matter, but those cases are the exception and not the rule. I would argue that we practically guarantee we will fail if we don’t engage in the actual writing process – everything from honing our craft to revising, editing, and proofreading. Even though I have hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of editing and proofreading under my belt, I still hire a proofreader (at the very least). I don’t balk at paying $350-500 for someone to do it; my earning potential is not their problem and they do not share my royalties if I somehow make it into the $100K club, do they? Like me, I assume editors enjoy putting food on the table and making a living wage. I would not, however, expect to pay the same rate for line-by-line or developmental edits as for proofreading. The former is much more time intensive, so I expect the rate to be exponentially more. I do not, however, see this structure reflected in the material here, but oversights like these happen.
One commenter, and this is not to pick on the individual but rather to rectify a factual error, claims that “Written Word Media didn’t magically create those numbers.” While this is veiled as a logical appeal, it really exhibits an availability bias fallacy. That is, it blatantly ignores wider implications of or problems with the data – namely that this survey does not take into account different types of editing and the rates thereof.
No one is forcing authors to pay anything at all, but I would tend to agree with the editors who have chimed in here that these rates seem delusional for actual editing (as opposed to proofreading). There is, however, a likely reason why that is: the survey likely didn’t ask authors what kind of editing they procured for their book, how much they paid for those different services, and whether or not those services were performed by a person or a piece of software. To that end, I hope the authors consider the questions I proposed at the beginning of my comment. I suspect attending to these distinctions would result in more realistic expectations for services and awareness on behalf of authors that editing is a multi-faceted and time-consuming endeavor. For the editors out there, the thing that many authors don’t realize is that they devalue their own work when they devalue yours. I suspect cultural ideology that diminishes arts and language is somewhat to blame. I suspect we’ll see a reversal in this ideology sometime over the next decade or, alternatively, embrace Idiocracy in its entirety. (Yes, that’s a terrible joke… but I’m appalled at what I’ve seen in self-published children’s books in particular. Suffice it to say that I comb through my son’s books very carefully before he’s allowed to read them. Indies aren’t off the table for him, but I check them more rigorously than traditionally published works. Children tend to reproduce what they see, and I don’t want my son to be one of the 20% of high school graduates in my state who rank at the lowest literacy level in the US. As far as editing goes, let’s think of the children…)
Anyway, I would like to thank Written Word Media for gathering, analyzing, and sharing their data. Your work has certainly given me a lot to think about, and I thank you for your contribution. I hope that my response is taken for what I intend it to convey: thoughtful consideration of the material. I do not intend to be rude, ungrateful, or to otherwise ‘troll’ this site or any of the commenters. I did, however, have some thoughts I wanted to share. As an academic, the pursuit of knowledge is paramount to me. Subsequently, I thought I’d put some suggestions out there on how this study’s methodology could be improved. As new needs are identified, so too are new metrics – you are not alone in this. It happens to me in my research all the time. Thanks again for your work. I sincerely appreciated data-driven explorations like this 🙂
Thanks Kris for your feedback and for pointing out the different types of editing that are out there. We are always looking to improve our methodology and will incorporate your suggestions into next year’s survey.
Research is always an ongoing process, and the survey you conducted is a great starting point for everyone involved in book publishing. Thank you for reading and considering my feedback. All we can do is adjust when we learn more about everyone’s needs and expectations. Thanks again for this great piece on what $100K authors are doing. I felt somewhat vindicated to learn that I didn’t waste my money on a professional cover designer 😉
This is as very, very good point. I don’t pay for developmental editing because I go through several rounds of beta reading with other authors as crit partners, some bloggers, some voracious readers. They find the plot holes, timeline issues, things that need to be worded differently, boring areas, etc. (The key is, of course, finding people who are good at this. It’s taken me a few years to find a handful of people who have a natural talent at this kind of beta reading). This cuts down a significant part of the cost, but by the time it goes to an actual editor, I’m only paying for line editing. And of course she’ll point out anything significant that jumps out at her, but usually it’s all been fixed by that point. Then I pay for a final round of proofreading with a different set of eyes.
There’s nothing wrong with my method. I’ve been complimented on how clean my books are. And there’s nothing wrong with paying for developmental editing. It’s just a different process with a different price point.
No, there’s nothing wrong with your method; it’s quite similar to mine, actually. I do a short-form grid to check turns and whittle down the middle (if there’s any bloat) then I give it to two beta readers: one is a plot-hole ninja and the other is a grammar nazi.
You are quite right: having the right people to do this is essential. I am very fortunate to have a mother-in-law who’s a retired LANL technician and voracious multigenre reader. She has both the science background and a eye for detail, so she acts as a litmus test for plot holes, scientific plausibility, and consistency. My mother is a grammar nazi and was compared to Steinbeck by a couple of reviewers when she was still writing and doing the traditional publishing circuit. This is, however, a mixed blessing.
She doesn’t understand the Indie world and thinks I ought to go the same route she did: the traditional route. She doesn’t think I ought to have to market my work, give a sample or samples away, invest time into building a mailing list, etc., and claims that is for “losers.” Yes, some people still stigmatize self-publishing. I guess we’ll see how much of a loser I am within the next three years. More positively, she’s doesn’t hold anything back in her critiques. The trouble with family is that they sometimes sugar-coat their feedback. I am fortunate that both my beta readers won’t hold back, which is ultimately better for my books. I only mention this because authors need to consider dynamics with their families and friends if they go that route.
Nonetheless, I revise according to their comments, and then I line edit from the last sentence of the manuscript all the way back to the beginning. For whatever reason, going in the order opposite to how I wrote it allows me to catch more errors. After that, I send it to my proofreader. She charges 5 cents per word, so I pay $350-500 per manuscript. (This is the same method I recommend to my writing students, and I pair them with a classmate ‘proofreader’. We also cover Lanham’s Paramedic Method to help them eliminate wordy structures in their writing.) Because I write science fiction, my manuscripts run a little longer than most. I could see people paying $250 or so for something shorter like a fast-paced romance or a novella. While I pay for proofreading, I do not pay for editing…. yet.
Because I’m just starting out, it’s hard to justify paying $1,500-2,000 to have it edited. In my case, I had to decide between using the money for a book cover and formatting or an editor. I went with the book cover and formatting, and I’m so glad I did. However, I wouldn’t continue DIY editing if my books sell well, but I wouldn’t expect to pay someone less than $1.5K to line edit my work. That would be grossly unfair, and I don’t want that kind of exploitation on my karmic plate. Still, I recognize that my time is better spent writing. However, I’m still curious to see how many other authors use an approach like ours… maybe next year. Happy writing, Just An Indie! “May the odds [of joining the $100K club] be ever in your favor” ?
It doesn’t matter what you would or wouldn’t accept to edit a book. The results are what they are for this particular survey. The authors were given several price points to choose from, one being $500+. Obviously some paid less than that, unless they lied, but what purpose would that serve? Moving on.
I think the point some of the editors are trying to make here is that editing doesn’t refer to a single endeavor – there’s developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. These are different things with different price points that reflect the time and work that goes into each process. As an author, I’d be curious to learn what kinds of editing the $100K authors opt for and whether or not they hire a person or use a piece of software.
While the authors were given several price points to choose from, this survey does not reflect the range of editing types, which is problematic. It has nothing to do with being honest or not, but it has everything to do with the categories the respondents had to choose from. In this instance, this survey only presents part of the picture. That is, an author may have paid $100 for someone to proofread a 20,000-word novella, but that’s very different from line editing a 120,000-word science fiction novel, now isn’t it?
I’ve noticed not a single author has chimed in to decry the numbers presented in this article as false. Some have tried to say that editors have a role and I agree with a few caveats.
Editors make far more than the average author these days (Average being those who make considerably less than even 50k a year). You are asking people to pay you $2000 for something they might see 200-500 dollars off of in the first year. That’s not a good ROI(Return on investment) for most authors if they put out 10 books a year(and yes you can do this without resorting to formulas; if you’re writing 3k words a day you’re going to come out with a smidgen over one million words a year).
Even if they make 100k a year that’s 20k gone when the author will probably only see about 50k of that 100k after things like taxes, accountants, and marketing are taken care of. I’m not saying your rates are unreasonable, I know the time it takes to properly edit something. I’m saying there are cheaper editors out there, and yes you might get what you pay for but editing isn’t going to make or break book sales.
It’s not devaluing an author’s work to say 250 is fine, it’s being realistic to a proportional average return. There are people who are making 40k paying their bills with their writing, and 2k a book isn’t realistic for them. Saying “well, they shouldn’t publish then,” is frankly horrible when there are even errors in books put out by the big five (or six if you count Harlequin which is synonymous with the romance genre).
The average reader’s not going to catch nor care about run on sentences, comma splices, garden path sentences (most don’t even know what this is), etc. That’s not to say editors aren’t necessary, but the price point is the difference between Moet and Stella Rosa. It might be nice to get Moet, but most people can’t afford to drink it–and Stella Rosa is 13 a bottle and the average person can’t tell the difference.
Harlequin is now part of the big 5. It was bought by HarperCollins.
Thanks for that!!! I was sitting here reading all the editors comments. I worked with an editor who complained constantly about all the work he had to do for the little amount he was making. I paid a lot more to him than I ever made on my first novel.. I would love to spend more money on editing. And my dream is to reach a level of success that would allow me to pay editors what they are worth. But as one of the EA’s two years into publishing fiction it ‘s absolutely not in my budget.
In the end who is anyone to say someone shouldn’t publish if their book doesn’t jump through some arbitrary set of standards and cost some arbitrary amount of money to be “properly whatevered”. That’s why people went indie to begin with, to break past gatekeepers. In the end, readers decide what they are and are not willing to pay for. If someone can do their own editing and readers don’t complain. Awesome. If they can get by with a mix of beta reads and an inexpensive copyedit or proofread, awesome. If someone can do their own cover and it look professional, awesome. Nobody here knows anybody else’s skill levels in anything (except maybe their skill at blog commenting). So you can’t actually discern what someone else “needs” to make their book a quality product. And if readers are happy and it’s selling like hotcakes, I think suggesting authors need to shell out irrational amounts of money just to “prove they did this right” is just nonsense and not good business sense.
I am a professional editor and I do believe that you can find a hobbyist to accept $250 to edit your 80,000-word masterpiece. A professional editor won’t do it for that.
I would be interested in who answered your survey because actual editors are reporting hourly rates for copyediting of $35–$50 USD for fiction. Developmental edits are more expensive. That is what editors are reporting.
Please understand that a heavy copyedit of an 80,000–word manuscript can take ninety to a hundred hours. There really are people who think skilled professionals should earn $2.50 to $3.00 an hour, but I won’t work with those people. I favor authors who know what a good editor can do.
I am aware that some professional editors will allow themselves to be exploited this way—mostly because most editors are women and we as a rule have not been taught how to advocate for ourselves.
As an aside, I did give birth twice. Neither time was I paid for my time conceiving, gestating, or giving birth to either child. I still have no problem with the fact that the obstetricians were paid gobs and gobs of money to deliver my children.
Please send me your details – re-editing
But one assumes you aren’t trying to sell your children?
It does no one any favors – not writers, copy editors, or the reading audience – to create expectations that editors will work for the laughably low pay that you claim they will. I have no idea how you came to such a conclusion, or who you interviewed, but please visit the Editorial Freelancers Association website at the-efa.org and look at their (very generalized) rate chart that they provide. Devaluing our hard work – especially in a piece aimed at writers earning $100K – is terribly insulting.
I agree – I’m insulted by this and think it gives indie authors damaging expectations of the cost of hiring a professional editor.
I would think that the editing quote is because most of these authors are probably only getting proofreading done.
Echoing the comments of other editors here, writers will be sorely disappointed if they only budget $250-$500 to have their MS edited. Editing takes years of experience and professional development. Simply having ‘a good eye for grammar and spelling’ or being an English teacher in no way qualifies someone to be an editor. The rates we charge should be commensurate with our professionalism.
No, it doesn’t. I am an English professor, and I know better. It’s like equating a GP (me) with a heart surgeon (you). I don’t balk at paying more to see my specialist than my GP, so why would editing be any different? They are very specialized and different endeavors. While I rock academic writing and editing, it’s very different from fiction. Even in academic writing, the conventions for each discipline (chemical engineering, medieval studies, etc.) and form (grants, articles, essays, etc.) are very different.
The same goes for fiction: genre expectations are different. What works in romance won’t work in science fiction. Indeed, there are structures that may be grammatically incorrect or misspelled in dialogue, but those structures work for the character’s voice. Getting rid of those ‘mistakes’ would make the character fall flat. Editing is about so much more than grammar or spelling. In fact, good writing is sometimes about breaking some rules while following others – Russell Hoban, anyone?
I suspect the rates reflected here refer to proofreading – and proofreading for something on the shorter side of the spectrum. Good editing requires much more than reading and adding a few corrections to a manuscript. Editors look at the macrostructure (global story), microstructure (paragraphs all the way down to semantics), and everything in between, which I don’t presume to know.
If being an English teacher doesn’t qualify someone to be an editor then it seems the level of skill is way outside the scope of what is rationally needed in our society. I think editors have elevated what they offer almost to some kind of sacred rite. I’m sorry but I just don’t buy the “magic of expensive editors”. I think a lot of people are starting to see through it, which is why so many editors are so upset and “insulted” in this comment thread. I’m insulted so many editors seem to think authors who have studied their craft (which includes learning proper grammar, punctuation, story structure, etc.) are incompetent to perform these tasks without you guiding us for a few thousand dollars a pop. I mean seriously. o.O
Outside of snotty bragging rights “I paid xyz to a top editor”, in what way exactly does a $2,500 copyedit increase my bottom line? I know plenty of $100k authors who pay much less and have scores of rabid readers who aren’t complaining about editing. (And I’ve read their books. They are WELL edited). Like what imaginary market is this premium service supposed to be serving if maybe less than 1% of the population can tell the difference in your editing and mine.
A good editor, especially a good developmental editor, helps a writer improve his or her craft. You can compare a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald to one by a moderately successful genre writer and find that both are relatively error-free when it comes to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You may also find that one writer has achieved a level of expression and depth and eloquence that the other has not.
A good editor can be more coach/ trainer than proofreader/spellchecker. They can help develop strengths in a writer the same way a trainer or coach develops strengths in an athlete. And if you think trainers and coaches don’t matter, take a look at how much those people get paid. The right trainer/coach can help make the difference between a journeyman and a champion.
So, yeah. $2500 is too much to pay for a spell-checker, grammar checker, or basic proofread. But when you broaden your conception of the editor’s role, and you find a good editor, you’ll find they’re worth the money.
Yep. Traditional publishers are only concerned with maximum profit and saving costs as much as possible. They would not pay expensive editors if they were not necessary or they believed they could produce good books without them. All authors, no matter how famous and how experienced, work with a structural and line editor at these houses.
Are the responding authors really getting a developmental edit for only $500? I doubt it, but the question is too broad as is and captured all the varying forms of editing within one response as if they were all equal in time and attention.
The disconnect for the “How much authors pay for editing” response stems from the broad definition of what “editing” a book means. There are varying degrees and forms of editing that range from the deep dive of a story/character developmental edit all the way up to a final proofread.
The same thing happens with the definition of a “book”. When I see someone advertise, “I will show you how to write a book and publish it in 24 hours,” they aren’t talking about a 1,000 page fantasy novel. When I think about the word “book” I think of a fiction novel, not a less-than-100-page non-fiction title; and I laugh when I try to imagine writing a 250,000 word novel and publishing it in only 24 hours.
I feel a more specific definition around the types of editing services being paid for, and at what price, will bring a better understanding of what the responding authors are actually doing in their process from first draft to published.
I also feel that for the next survey this should be broken out into several questions and not just one. The varying editing forms need to be specified and the price for each type of editing accounted for in turn.
As for my books, I usually paid about $600 for final proofing of my ~110,000 word thrillers, but these were to catch those misspellings or homonym words that slipped past previous “editing” phases.
I certainly couldn’t expect anything more for the same amount of money.
— Steve DW
Terrific article. I endorse the points you’ve raised here. I’ll share your article
I think something that also is missing in the survey is if authors, after publishing their work and seeing a profit, go back and have the book professionally edited at some later point. I’ve seen remarks from several successful indie authors who do just that. They release a book, check the interest level in it, then determine if a more thorough edit is justified.
In other words, they have friends, family, beta readers, and an inexpensive editor go through their work, then publish. If they don’t get a lot of movement in the project, they abandon it and move on. If they see a strong interest, on the other hand, then they’ll invest more money to get a more professional job done on it.
My books made just under £150,000 last year. I pay 400USD for copy editing on a 60-70K book. My editor takes a week to work on the manuscript and does an excellent job. In my opinion, the survey accurately reflects the amount many writers are paying for copy editing. I’m sure developmental editing cost more, but I don’t know many authors who pay for that.
I don’t see how any editor can make a full time living working for those rates. I presume your editor is a hobbyist/part-time editor as their rates are not sustainable or in line with the minimum recommended rates for editing.
It doesn’t matter whether or not they are a hobbyist. The question was how much do you pay for an edit? Authors are getting their books edited for that price as evidenced by the survey and the comments here from other authors.
It’s funny to me how you all care an awful lot about editors making a living but don’t give a single crap about authors (the people who you want to pay you large sums of money) making a living. Authors are saying they can’t afford those rates and make a profit on their books. So they find alternate ways to bring their books up to a standard of quality that their readers are happy with. But that’s not good enough for you because we aren’t willing to mortgage our lives to pay your bills.
It isn’t even as though we are asking any author on this thread to work for lower than their rate. I would NEVER ask and editor to give me a cut rate. But I’m also not going to work with someone providing services I don’t need at prices that aren’t smart for my bottom line. Because at the end of the day I’m running a business, and editors aren’t the only people allowed to eat food. The myopic navel gazing here is extraordinary.
*any editor (not any author)
I’m an indie author making closer to 70k. I pay about $750-$1000 per book for edits, but only because I have dyslexia
Most indies swap for content edits (plot inconsistencies, characterization, etc.) and we also get our fans to read our work pre-edit. Our fans love the sneak peek, and they are more likely to “get us” than a regular editor would. I write very unmarketable fiction, but I still get by because my fans like *my* style and don’t try to push me to write in the way that is “hot” at the moment.
After my fans / swap editors are done I hire a grammar editor ($500). After he/she is done I send to a final, very picky fan, and then I send it for a last edit for grammar and punctuation. ($250-$500 depending on who is available at that time.)
Lastly, I send to my ARC readers. Whoever catches the most mistakes wins an Amazon gift card.
You get what you pay for. Good professional editing costs more than that.
I agree a good editor is important. However, the fact is that the market a.k.a the readers have shown that they have a high pain threshold for mistakes if the plot is strong enough and the cover draws them in. Which is why indies can afford to skimp on things like developmental and copy edits while even borrowing money to get a good cover. Add in the fact that we now have sites like ProWritingAid that do some of the work copy-editors do, and it’s no surprise that the rates stated by the respondents were so low. The one essential editor most indies agree on is the proof-reader and you can find low-cost proofreaders everywhere these days.
I’m chiming in as an indie author that earns over six figures. The editing costs are spot on. I’ve been publishing for over three years and I don’t know anyone that has paid more than $800 for editing.
The people in my circle mostly earn over 100k, several over 500k and a few over 7 figures. Average cost is probably between $150 and $500. On books that are highly rated and hitting lists.
The editing is mostly proof-reading. I’ve worked with a few editors for developmental edits and they charge under $500–their developmental edit is a content edit–a read of the book and a revision letter pointing out areas that need addressing, or continuity things they may have noticed, but mostly it’s a focus on how to make the book better, more conflict, less confusing,etc. These are editors that worked for Big 5 houses.
I think $500 for a developmental edit is very fair. I do it for a few friends for free and it would probably work out to $125 an hour for an average 100k book for me. I do read fast.
Thing is, as editors you can be outraged by these prices, but they are realistic for what most indie authors are paying. The market dictates pricing.
I’m sorry but there is no way you can edit a full-length oil in 3/4 hours. It normally takes at least a week if not longer. A professional editor has many things to consider when working on a manuscript and it has absolutely nothing to do with how fast a reader you are. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to find a decent editor for such a ridiculously cheap rate – but I can almost guarantee they’re not a professional editor earning a living from their craft. Think how many books you’d have to edit a month to earn a living at $500 or less a book? Not to mention an 80,000 word book can take 2/3 weeks for a full edit. Do you think $500 is a good rate to earn for 3 weeks of full-time work?
It doesn’t take 3 weeks for a developmental edit–that is what I was referring to. That is when you read the book and then give suggestions on how to make it better, expand this area, more conflict, this confused me, that kind of thing. Very different from a line or proof edit.
It can take much longer than three weeks for a developmental edit if the book is sufficiently long/complex. Maybe you’re thinking of a briefer editorial review? A developmental edit involves detailed comments in the margins about specific passages, not just an editorial letter summarizing the issues.
No, it includes detailed comments…but on story, not on grammar. It just doesn’t have to take three weeks. I do it in an evening or two for several friends and I’m very good at it. I also love doing it.
Yes, on story, not grammar. When dealing with mechanical errors it’s better to simply make the changes directly. But do you write comments in the margins (with Word’s commenting feature) as well as writing up a summary?
Also keep in mind that professional editors have more than one client. A project that only takes two or three days might not get back to the writer for a few weeks if there are other projects in the queue.
This is what is involved in projects I get 5 cents a word for:
Where necessary for narrative clarity and quality, move paragraphs or sections from one place to another.
Delete sections that are repetitive or detract from the narrative, or flag such sections that, in editor’s judgment, should be deleted
Determine the language and reading level appropriate for the intended audience and medium, and edit to establish or maintain that language and level.
Establish or maintain a consistent tone, style, and authorial voice or level of formality appropriate for the intended audience and medium.
Flag sentences or paragraphs that require further development by author for effective narrative quality and flow.
Reorder sentences within a paragraph where necessary to ensure that the paragraph has a clear and coherent focus.
Adjust the length and structure of paragraphs to ensure variety or consistency, as appropriate to the audience and medium.
Ensure that transitions between sentences and between paragraphs are smooth and support the coherent development of the text as a whole.
Only where necessary, rewrite sentences, paragraphs, and passages to resolve ambiguities, ensure logical connections, and clarify the author’s meaning or intention, in harmony with the style of the material. Does not include research or writing original material.
Render jargon into plain language while leaving terms of art intact.
Ensure consistency of spelling and punctuation.
Ensure references are formatted pursuant to the Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition. Some elements may be formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition, forthcoming in September 2017, if known.
Notice that these are consistent requirements across genre.
Performing those tasks as a trained professional editor can goes at the pace of 5–8 pages an hour. If it’s ESL it’s more like 2–4 pages an hour. The second pass can be more like 10 pages an hour. Anyone who says they can do all that in three days is lying.
Most people don’t have the foggiest idea what goes into editing or what you have to know to do it properly. So naturally someone can claim to be able to do tasks like this in less time than it would take to actually read the book.
I’ve run a small business for many years in addition to writing and I would suggest that an editor who takes several weeks to get back to an author because they have other things they are working on, should maybe manage their time better, so they can give a faster turn around. I have one editor friend who couldn’t keep up with the demand because she was so good at this, turning things around quickly. She managed her time well and didn’t sit on projects–she booked them according to realistic timeframes so that when she received the manuscript, she could then turn it around swiftly. This is one way an editor can give themselves an edge and even charge a premium for a rush project.
So if we have twenty projects in the queue, we should be able to rip through all of them within a few weeks?
Efficiency only gets you so far, and we do have to sleep.
I do sympathize with the editors here, and I do think that for consistent, long-term success, and particularly if your goal is to write “evergreen” books that continue to sell over time, editing matters. You want a tight book, whatever that is for your genre, without distracting errors, plot holes, or WTF moments.
I’m an indie as well as Montlake Romance author. My developmental editor for Montlake was a very well respected acquisitions editor at a major romance house. She’s done a line/developmental edit on a 110K Montlake book for me in as little as 3 days. Generally it takes her a week. That’s comments, letter, etc. I write very clean so there’s no grammatical stuff in there and little editing for clarity. Mostly I found her useful for pace and for the suspense part of those books as I’d never written real-deal romantic suspense before.
I used her for one indie book to see. She charges $2K for a one-pass dev edit on indie clients, but she only works with Montlake authors who also write indie–people who already know their stuff pretty well and don’t require heavy editing. It was an interesting exercise, but I don’t think necessary. I know how to write my main genre, and I use alpha readers as I go that serve the purpose of a developmental editor for me–they are critical readers who think about the story. Mainly they focus on character development and how a character is coming across, which is what my readers care about as well.
For the record I am publishing my 23rd book. I’m on track for high six figures this year, and earned 125K my first year in publishing with my first fiction. My background is in legal and educational publishing–first the copyediting and then the marketing sides.
I can assure folks that there are indeed many indie authors putting out well constructed, clean books. My Montlake books, which go through three rounds of developmental editing, a copyedit, and a proofread, are ranked about the same as my indie books: for books written in the past few years, everything has a 4.4 to 4.8-star review average. I have thousands of reviews on Amazon. I guess you can say that “reviews don’t mean anything,” but an author who does mid-six or seven figures every year for five years and has consistently high reviews is doing something right–and there are plenty of us.
Karen – you just made my day!!! What a great parallel! I will NEVER again be able to think of book-writing as anything other than a laborious gestational journey. BUT, I think editors might have to go through a lot more mire than an obstetrician!!
I didn’t take the survey, but I make high six figures, and I do pay more than the average here for editing, though it should be pointed out that people whipping out a book a month are probably writing books on the shorter side. I see a lot of 30,000-word “novels” in the romance categories. I know I started out doing 120K-ish fantasy novels and am now more typically in the 75K range. I pay about $1,200 for a copy edit on a 100,000-word novel, which my editor typically turns around in five days or so. This is her day job. I am happy to pay her a rate at which she can make a decent living.
You shouldn’t need developmental editors after you’ve been doing this for a while. Many of us have beta readers who chime in on some of the big-picture things. I pay my beta readers (not as much as my editor, but a “thank you for taking the time to do this every month” amount). I also have fans who typo hunt for me for free copies.
Your comment is a direct reflection on the differences between writers and what the editing needs might be. Others have pointed out that after writing several books and running arcs past beta readers, they don’t need developmental editing. Someone learning the ropes probably would. Those who crank out eight or more 30,000 word books per year are writing machines who’ve identified their target market, romance, fantasy, erotica, etc., know how to hit every trope and have the formula so firmly fixed, they have no need for developmental editing. Many of their readers wouldn’t be bothered by grammatical errors either, some only read five pages at a time on a tablet as they ride the metro. Such writers only need basic proof reading not even true line edits. There are writers who hit $100K because of the superior quality of their writing. Others have superb marketing skills and write for profit only. Some get a boost from a traditional publishing house that provides all the skilled professional services. They pay nothing for editing. Others pay premium prices for multi-level editing. We’re all writers, but our methods, motivations and philosophies vary.
I make five figures a month. I had a developmental edit once. It was a wonderful experience I paid I think $500 for. These days my developmental edit is called a plot. Which addresses each character arc, stages of intimacy, sub plot arcs, etc before I even start writing. (50kish words). My editing process it to run it through two different spell checker, send it to alpha readers, send it to good proofreader for two passes, send it to beta readers and then to the ARC team. I’m getting several layers of editing from MY TARGET AUDIENCE. For between $150-$250. Hell, I sometimes know that isn’t anything cause after eight hours of self editing I need a drink and some hair implants. But the thing is, bemoaning that editing should be $2k a pop is like me moaning about .99 books. I hate that price point. It devalues the work. But that is what a large part of the market wants.
The point is, we’re making $100k+ on decent sized catalogs. So we must be doing something right. Gotta adjust to the market, man, or get left behind.
This is pretty much my process too! The only professional editing is generally proofreading.
Hard to believe that none of the high-priced editors pointed out the mistake in the last paragraph:” I was rejected by one 300 agents and publishers.”
Interesting article by the way.
Let’s be clear here. You don’t make $100,000 on self-published books by focusing on making high-quality books and putting them up on Amazon for people to discover and market for your through word of mouth. The authors we’re talking about here don’t give a rat’s ass about quality (judging from the pittance they’re willing to spend); they are totally focused on marketing (to their great financial benefit). They sell the sizzle. Once the customer has paid, it doesn’t matter how tough the steak is. So they don’t have to provide USDA prime beef.
Instead of us book editors getting our knickers in a twist about these cheapskates, let’s just acknowledge that they are not our target market and focus our own energies on reaching people who want books they can be proud of.
You don’t? And yet that’s how all the big earners I know do it–the mid-six to seven-figure authors. They focus on high-quality books. No, they don’t only rely on word of mouth. Some do a lot of advertising, others don’t do all that much, but they all have an engaged and large readership–that’s how you get to be a six- to seven-figure author. 🙂
You don’t build a career, and certainly not a high-earning career, on inferior books. You build that on repeat business. How do you get repeat business? Quality.
Marketing isn’t a dirty word. Marketing is, you know, how you let people know you wrote a new book. Or how you let people know your editing services are for sale. I mean, you could just put up a website for people to discover and rely on word of mouth, but . . .
First off, this is an article targeting writers, but I see more comments from editors. Why is that? Could it be that editors are afraid writers will finally start realizing their high-priced services are overrated?
I’ve never met an editor who didn’t think he or she was the best editor ever, and who didn’t think they were an absolute necessity. I’ve also never met an editor who returned a perfect piece to me. If I have to read over an editor’s work and catch mistakes they missed (mistakes I PAID them to catch for me), then what’s the point? If I can still find errors in Big-Five-published books that have been reprinted numerous times and have undergone multiple edits, then what’s the point?
Oh, I know most of the editors here would claim they are much more qualified and worthy of the highest pay rate, and they would brag that they never miss a thing. Well, if that’s true, then why are there so many grammatical errors in the comments that editors are leaving here? If I claimed to be the best plumber who ever walked this land but you came to my house and saw a ton of leaky faucets, would you hire me? Similarly, I’d never hire an editor who couldn’t string together two perfect sentences.
As a writer, I don’t claim to be perfect and I’m no editorial genius. However, based upon the comments I’ve read by many editors here (not all, because some of them impressed the hell out of me), I’ll keep my hard-earned money and take my chances.
Lastly, to the editor who talked about not working for the “laughably low pay” mentioned in the article–welcome to our world. It takes a writer MANY more hours and MUCH more creative energy to write a book than it takes for an editor to merely edit it, but do you know how much money most writers earn on any one title? As a hint, it would be much less than your “laughably low pay”.
Editor here! Gosh, where to begin.
“I’ve never met an editor who didn’t think he or she was the best editor ever, and who didn’t think they were an absolute necessity.”
You either haven’t met many editors or you’ve been meeting the wrong ones. Experienced editors will know their own limitations. Anyone who tells you they’re the best ever is on the wrong side of Dunning-Kruger. I’ll argue that EDITING is a necessity, but not necessarily from me. I might be a good fit for, say, your YA novel. I’d be a bad fit for your mystery novel or your medical textbook.
“I’ve also never met an editor who returned a perfect piece to me.”
You never have and you never will. None of us are perfect.
“If I have to read over an editor’s work and catch mistakes they missed (mistakes I PAID them to catch for me), then what’s the point?”
The point is to make it much better than it was. We strive for excellence, not perfection.
“Oh, I know most of the editors here would claim they are much more qualified and worthy of the highest pay rate, and they would brag that they never miss a thing. ”
That’s easily tested. Hey, editors! Do you brag that you never miss a thing?
“Well, if that’s true, then why are there so many grammatical errors in the comments that editors are leaving here?”
It’s been a while since I scanned all of the comments, and I don’t remember seeing “so many” grammatical errors. I’m sure there were a few typos, though. We’re not going to devote the same effort to a blog comment as we would to a professional piece of writing—we don’t have that kind of time.
Now, if one comment has a ton of errors, you’re right not to trust that editor with your manuscript. I doubt that most of them had a ton.
“If I claimed to be the best plumber who ever walked this land but you came to my house and saw a ton of leaky faucets, would you hire me?”
No. But one leaky faucet of three or four might simply be a faucet you haven’t had time to get to yet. In any case, it’s not a great analogy. Plumbers can work on their own faucets and do a good job. Writers who are also editors can edit their own work up to a point, but then they hit the same wall every other writer hits—they can’t see the flaws and mistakes because they’re too close to it. I’m writing a book, and you’d better believe it’s going through at least two different kinds of editors before it sees the light of day.
“It takes a writer MANY more hours and MUCH more creative energy to write a book than it takes for an editor to merely edit it, but do you know how much money most writers earn on any one title?”
Not much, usually. Your point? There’s a large difference between deciding to write a book that you want to write, knowing that your efforts might not be rewarded, and working for somebody else.
“As a hint, it would be much less than your ‘laughably low pay’.”
Doesn’t matter. You can opt out of editing if ROI is all you’re concerned about, but if you do hire an editor, you need to pay for the editor’s time and labor and expertise.
Let’s go back to your plumbing example. If you hire a guy to fix your leaky faucets, you have the right to expect that when he’s done, your faucets won’t leak. You don’t have the right to blame him if your house doesn’t make it onto the cover of _Better Homes and Gardens_.
(As an aside, are you British? If not, the period for that last sentence goes inside the quotes.)
If you’ve published, I’d be curious to see some of your work.
I write between one and two books most months, with a few weeks off (40- 60k words). I write in series and expect each book to earn between 3-5k in the first two months and then continue to earn lower amounts in the long run. Every book earns something every day.
Income goes up with each book I release and I publish box sets every three or four books which further increases income.
I’ve never hired an editor or proof reader and do minimal advertising. My books garner reviews in the 4.3 – 4.6 average area, and only one reviewer has suggested hiring an editor (they still gave a four star).
I’m not disputing the fact that an editor would make my books better, but I’m writing pulp fiction not literary masterpieces.
I understand that I’m not a best seller, but you don’t need to be to make money, and that’s all this gig is about for me.
I am on book 5 comprising of a trilogy and two stand alone, with two more in the pipeline. BEST advice i ever received-get a professional editor (They cost money well spent) and a professional cover (They cost money well spent). I followed that advice and have NO regrets.
How much did you pay for your professional editor? Because no one here is saying not to hire an editor. The reason why some of these editors are complaining is that they don’t view a $200-$500 editors as professional enough. I guess there is a dollar threshold of well over $1,000(if not $2,000-$4,000) that magically makes an edit a good one.
In fiction, acquiring editors are de facto developmental editors. They send revision letters, approve or battle over the author’s revisions, and eventually decline or purchase the ms. and send it to a line editor. If they buy the ms. first, then the line editor does some or all of the battling. The author is not charged for this. Developmental editors in nonfiction are subject matter experts as well as publishing pros. In traditional publishing, such editors are paid by the publisher, not the author.
While it can be extremely useful for a beginning writer to have the benefit of a full developmental edit at least once, it is not always necessary, and there are inexpensive substitutes, such as judges’ comments from contests, critique group comments, free and paid beta reads, and short paid developmental edit samples.
So where do we get these low prices? From authors who only ask for a very limited level of editing or who have a sweetheart deal going. The majority of indie authors do not have a budget for developmental editing, and in my opinion shouldn’t. DIY authorship requires mastering key writing skills, not depending on an editor to fix story, fix characterization, fix theme, etc. A genre-knowledgeable beta reader can point out the weaknesses in a story very quickly and easily because the beta reads as a reader, not an editor. Then it’s up to the author to make changes or not. Even a non-editor friend can help with that kind of reaction.
The reason to obtain editing of any sort is that most authors are not editors. They need help. There aren’t many published authors who sell significant numbers of books who do not make sure they obtain some kind of editorial oversight. The level they choose should match their own skill level. Beyond that, there are no absolutes.
I had no idea there were so many successful, I mean really successful six figure indie authors out there. Or maybe it’s just that the successful ones read this blog?
A cursory Google search, however, leaves me to believe there is some disconnect, that would be between what people are saying in the comments here and reality.
The website Pay Scale has the average Canadian author making $40,866 annually. For full time work that breaks down to about $25.00 per hour.
The Writers’ Union of Canada says “the average writer’s income ($12,879) is a full $36,000 below the national average and represents a cultural emergency. This despite the fact that writers have invested in post-graduate education in large numbers.”
Here’s some other quotes lifted from various sites regarding the income of writers.
“Average earnings in the UK were around £26,500 in 2012.”
“Australian authors earn only $12,900 from their writing, a new report says .
“The Guardian” newspaper in London conducted a survey that found the average amount earned by self-published authors in 2011 was $10,000. And while there are some superstars like Amanda Hocking with sales of $2.5 million, the survey found that half of self-published authors made $500 or less.”
“It is sometimes very difficult to make money as a novel writer, let alone get published. Talented and successful novelists, however, are able to make a decent income from royalties. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(USA), salaried authors and writers made an average income of around $65,960 in 2010.”
I know some of these statistics are dated but with the glut of self-published authors in recent years is it likely our incomes increased? Could the fiction some of us write be seeping into the comments we post?
Most authors are honest about how much or how little they’re earning. Some are open about the dollar amounts, which is very helpful to newbies who don’t have any idea what is fair under various circumstances.
Compare this to other small home businesses; millions of them have sprung up because of the internet. How many really clean up and make a fortune? Very few. In many cases, people do not share how little their businesses earn them. (Especially people caught in the network marketing web.) Authors tend to be more forthcoming, and DIY authors are far more forthcoming than authors who accept advances or no advances from traditional publishing companies. Of course nobody wants to admit their books are not selling well, but it’s even harder to admit they got euchred when they signed a contract with a traditional publisher.
Note: Salaried writers usually get more money up front than the majority of authors, either indie or traditionally published, but in most cases that’s work for hire without a royalty ingredient. Their incomes are not comparable to most authors, regardless of how those authors are published.
There is a huge difference between the mean and the median income among self-published authors. The mean is much higher, because the slope is extremely steep at the top. By that I mean: a relatively small number of authors make the bulk of the money, skewing the mean.
You can look up author ranks or use tools to estimate what an author is earning. Amazon’s ranks are right there to see, and so is the price of the book and whether it’s self-published (earning 70% at $2.99 and up). A little research can show you how to do that, if you don’t believe any particular author. Or just go look up somebody on Amazon with no tools, and see how their books are doing. That would probably give you some idea.
Thanks for doing this. I know how much work it took. Always good to see what’s working for other Indies.
Well, all I can say is Wow. All these editors crying foul, and no one is noticing how little cover designers are paid? Even by the 100K’s? As an indie author and artist and member of many writer’s groups, I hear a lot of discussion about how much indie authors are willing to pay for covers and illustrations; and all I can say is, if you editors think you have it bad, try being an artist. Seriously, for $100? The only artists able to make a living on that kind of money are living in third world countries, which is why so many authors are complaining about their difficulty with their projects and contracts with these artists. I can’t begin to tell you how I cringe when I see indie authors posting their DIY book covers using stock photos and funky text. It’s been said time and again that the cover accounts for half of a books sales. If you will pay an editor thousands of dollars why would you then slap a $100 cover on it???
And as a side note on picture books – illustrators are typically paid the same amount as the author. Think about how many words are in your typical picture book. Then compare that to 16-32 fully rendered illustrations. There is no comparison. Illustrators don’t have the luxury of grammar check and find and replace. It’s start all over from scratch for each revision from the art director. A. whole. new. painting. Literally back to the drawing board.
Yes, Joy, but an illustrator does not work on 10 books before being paid for only one of them. An illustrator is chosen for their reputation to create what no one else will imagine from the words, their wondrous emotion charged art with consistent characters and to deliver on time. In the same way that they’ve studied, practiced, honed skills and got known, an author has also studied with expensive courses, talks, workshops, mentorships and reading over a period of years in ‘apprenticeship’. It’s far harder to have a picture book traditionally published than an adult novel. Months and months if not years are spent on new versions, writing query letters and submitting to agents or publishers, and a fortune spent on going conferences (eg SCBWI – the international Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) where manuscripts can be discussed with Top 5 editors and other industry professionals, and further expertise developed. A high proportion of texts never make the grade and are forever ‘unpaid’ – hence equal payment. I have had one picture book traditionally published, but more than a dozen are still to find a home. One that has recently been taken to acquisition twice but receiving a ‘No’ from just one person in each team, was started in 2002 …and I’m sure an editor will require even more changes if it’s ever accepted. Forever onward …and love your art.
You make some very valid points, Peter. I’m also an author who plans to indie publish my books for the very reasons you mention. I am currently working on a series of YA novels as well as picture books and the journals that are published and more to come. The training, conferences etc do apply to artists just as much as to writers. You can’t get your foot in the door of a publisher without the right contacts and the competition is fierce for both.
But it’s that thing where traditional publishers sign the author on, then two years of edits and preparation and then if the book doesn’t meet sales expectations within the first three months of publication it’s pulled from the shelves. That’s what makes me an indie author. Not to mention the additional two years most publishers hold a book before they release rights. I’m sixty-five. Add five years to my yet unfinished books and you can see why I’m going this route.
Plus my first journal out is successful enough to know this was the best choice for me.
I would encourage you to at least test the waters by indie publishing at least one of your ms. The experience will help you gain an appreciation for the publishing experience, and if your book does well may help you prove a track record of sales to get you in the door with traditional publication. I do understand their are several good reasons for traditional publication. Especially if you want to get into libraries and schools.
Thanks, Joy. I have several niche projects that I will self-publish, but I know I will never be able to afford months of work by a top-quality imaginative illustrator for most of my picture books.
Yes indeed. As a designer I’m disappointed to see such low value being placed on cover design. And that’s the key concept in my mind – value. If an author truly values their work and the time and effort they have put into it why would they see to devalue it by going cheap on editing and design. Everybody has financial limitations that they need to deal with but focussing entirely on price always seems to be very short-sighted to me. Seeking out experienced professionals to edit and design your book is an investment and not a cost. But sadly we live in an age where everything can be done on the cheap and buyers simply can’t see how those poor results affect their success. Thankfully though there are some authors that “get it”.
I’ve made a lot of comments, but I have a general comment to add. It seems to me that this is all just another version of the “gatekeeper game”. This is the same BS indies have dealt with from day one with regards to legitimacy and stigma and what have you. At first it was “No real author would self-publish” (to try to funnel us all through the gatekeepers and control us and our art) NOW that that hasn’t worked, the new game is: “Oh but it’s SO expensive to be an indie.” (trying to artificially set up barriers.)
This is reinforced by quoting insane prices for editing, marketing, and cover art, things the smart indies can see through and simply ignore and do their own thing in order to produce a quality book and a decent profit. But just like “no REAL author self publishes” stopped a few people, this sort of price inflation nonsense will stop some as well.
If you make it seem like anybody who goes indie is going to have to spend over $5,000 to get their book out there (and obviously if you’re allotting $2,500 for the editing alone, $5k is probably “frugal”), then it scares people off. They doubt themselves and think they aren’t good enough and can never be good enough. And they can’t afford all that money so they should just sit back and let their dream die. Meanwhile there are readers out there who would have loved that book if you’d just had the courage to publish it with whatever skills and resources you had available.
Indies, don’t listen to this crap. You do things your own way. Experiment. Figure out what works. Do things on a shoestring if you have to. Trade services with others if you have to. Do what you have to, to bring your art into the world, and don’t listen to all this other crazy crap. Because at the end of the day readers decide, not someone who has overvalued their own services in the indie marketplace.
Editors who think they should be paid $2,500. If that’s your rate, that’s your right. But you would be better served trying to work with larger publishers than indies. And stop complaining that indies work differently and aren’t seeking what you are offering.
Whether you are an opera singer, builder, cook, author… people make a judgement of your skills dependent on their perception of the final product. Some people are more qualified to judge than others. You can fool some people …but each trade has its experts. I prefer my books (my business cards) gain acclaim from experts as well as most readers – I may not succeed, but I do all that I can to create the very best book possible. Other writers are happy just to please a significant number of readers or family and friends.
This week I went to a talk by 3 Judges of a book award that attracted 600 entries. Books by famous million-selling authors were rejected for inferior editing. Some mainstream publishers cut corners and editing time as well as self-publishers. The judges believed that no author, no matter how experienced, can step back far enough from their own work to structurally and line edit it to perfection. Beta readers and readers in general provide only a perception.
If you write and market enjoyable books you will make money, possibly $100k, without a professional editor. And you will never please every expert or reader.
Authors are happy with different outcomes. Some do it for the money only. Some may pay for an ‘average’ edit and are content with the book’s reputation and sales, whatever results. Other authors pay for professional edits to ensure the work truly is the best it can be, no expense spared. They may receive lower direct income from the book itself, but gain acclaim as a writer, industry recognition and extra cash from regular speaking engagements. There are plenty of Indie published books edited by former editors from Big 5 publishers as well as by other highly trained freelance professional editors, with the resulting works enhancing the author’s reputation and possibly the sales of their next book.
It’s a free world. People will make their own editing choice depending on what outcome provides inner satisfaction.
I’m a seven-figure author, and I self-edit. Why? Because my readers LOVE my work exactly as it is to the point that they re-read my books multiple times. They also comment on how clean and professional my books are , and how well-edited and typo-free. I can’t take credit for the last bit, as my book goes through 7-10 betas (fans who do it for free) who catch typos before publication, but the editing is all me. I painstakingly craft every sentence, every scene, and every paragraph, and I re-read the book dozens of times, perfecting the flow until I love every single word. For me to then hand it to some random editor to remake in his/her own style doesn’t make any sense.
Having said that, I have edited books for a writing partner, and I know heavy line/content edits are hard, time-consuming work that deserves to be rewarded appropriately. You just can’t claim that every professional author needs those heavy edits, because many of us don’t. My betas each find a typo or two per book, for maybe 7-10 total that I miss when I edit myself. So how much should each typo cost me?
Interesting about the use of author assistants. I wonder if anyone has seen a directory or list of author assistants. I don’t know an author who uses one that could give me an recommendation. Researching them on the internet is so time consuming. Thanks!
Very informative, thanks for posting. I agree that accountants also work when they’re uninspired. I am an accountant and was inspired to write the book Love Ledgers: Confessions of a Plain Jane Accountant.
I have a newspaper background and a journalism degree. So does my husband, who is my editor. Luckily, he doesn’t charge me anything. Editing can have several different meanings. If a book is really flawed, i.e. it has basic structural and grammatical problems, editing could be expensive. But for someone who produces a good story and good, clean copy, it shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars. If I were looking for an editor, I’d try to find a retired newspaper editor or English professor.
Very informative and quite humorous at times. Evidently many of the editors and authors did not feel the need to, “proofread,” their posts!
The article implies that people are ‘100kers’ because they spend more money on services, but they could just as easily be spending more money on services because they have higher budgets. The article assumes some kind of cause and effect, and that’s not necessarily the case.
Maybe they sell more because people like what they write.
Good article, thanks.
One thing stuck, though. $250-$500 for editing sounds extremely low. I never got an editing estimate for anywhere close to that. It sounds more like proofreading costs to me. Unless the 100Ker’s write extremely short books. Still, I question that price range for professional editing. And if they are out there, I want to know their names and how I can reach them. 😉
Good data. Thanks, again.
I’m amazed and appalled at how many people shrug off the idea of new authors shelling out $2,500 for editing. I understand that it’s extremely important, but most regular people don’t HAVE $2,500 dollars. That’s two months’ income for me, and I live paycheck to paycheck. My tax return MIGHT pay for half that, and that’s not claiming allowances.
Money’s not going to deter me from putting out my best work. Now, proofread myself, hand it off to a few capable friends, THEN shell out $500 for a cheaper edit? That I can do. You play with the hand you’re dealt, and there ain’t no $2,500 ace in mine.
First I’d like to say that the reading was quite informative but overall mostly review. However for myself I’m in the far turn of about to publish my first actual book. I too work 2 jobs, am a sinle dad, and full time writer and that’s including virtually No sleep to make it all happen as I often realistically have to say to people; “I don’t even have time for time”,.. If that makes any sense at all to anyone reading this. I have almost little money to do this in it’s entirety and have been pretty much putti g myself through the crash course equivalent to learning as I go. Honestly I don’t have time for at all to perhaps short of a biblical miracle to ever see the end result of this journey after the book is released much less the journey itself there directly after. That said…
I cannot elaborate on that to anyone! Sorry..😥
My book will have no characters to go on to other books or series of or volumes to be as movie sequels either. It’s over 20 years in the making as a Anthology of poetry & in short also the process at which my entire life’s view and coming full circle in soul & mind as to my life and why that caused me to follow through with it at all. All proceeds will benefit my only daughter and I can only pray that anyone in the slightest can take even the smallest pieces of my story to their own lives for the better as I’ve lived much more than my age in years..Trust you Me.
This was a helpful article for someone writing their first book. Thank you.
Hi, I guess I would be considered an EA? I have a book written along with enough content for a second. I have several titles and outlines of works to be finished once I complete the first two. I’ve had a blog for close to 10 years that’s been enjoyed by people in several different (14, I think) countries and all across the U.S.
I have many many, positive and encouraging responses and requests for my book, once it is complete. I’m also followed by numerous other writers of like passion, however, due to a lack of nerves and time, I have been dragging my feet on getting it edited for publication.
With that said, this article gives some much needed insight as to what to expect in that process.
“Authors are, on the whole, an honest group”. Lol, by definition Authors are a bunch of liers. They lie for a living. I speak as a 100K Author myself, (only on launch day as a pro rata rate.)
Wow, this is such a great article. It wasn’t all hype and fluff without any real information that us little guys can use. Very encouraging too. My first goal is to get to 10k in a year, lol, but it’s nice to feel like the bigger ones are actually obtainable, rather than get the usual, “don’t even dream big…just write because you love it.” — thanks for the inspiration!
I’m a fiction book editor, and what the other editors in this comment section have written is correct. Professional editing, by a qualified content editor, costs way more than your survey indicates. Copy editing is less expensive, but that comes after the content issues have been resolved. So many novels by aspiring authors have flaws from the story-level perspective — issues way deeper than grammar and punctuation. For tips on the most common fiction writing errors and how to solve them, authors might like to visit the 70-plus “how to” articles on my website. But those don’t take the place of having a qualified content editor (developmental editor) critique your novel before you send it out into the world. Why? Because authors have blind spots to the flaws in their own material. Once they’re shown the mistakes they are making, the blind spots are gone, and they’re on their way.
I just published my first novel, so I appreciate the lively debate and multiple perspectives.
For my novel, I hired my friend, a former paralegal, as a beta reader ($30/hr) and asked her to review the novel twice. I probably spent $600 or so. Even a) having a Bachelor’s in English and b) having worked as a copywriter and editor professionally myself, I knew it was important to have a second set of eyes on the document.
I plan to work with a professional editor for content/copy editing before I republish the novel later this year. That said, I’m aiming for 1-3 longer books per year… not 6-12.