When I Pay an Editor, What Am I Paying For?


When I Pay an Editor, What Am I Paying For?

Paying a professional to edit a manuscript is often pricier than writers might imagine, and the cost can be all the more difficult because authors often have to work the expense into a budget (or a family budget) with no guarantee of a monetary return on their investment.

If you’re here, then you are probably already convinced that editing is an important, even essential, part of producing a manuscript for your audience. But before deciding to make that investment, it’s also important to understand (and be able to explain to loved ones) just what you’re paying for.

The Time It Takes to Edit

For authors, the real eye-opener about editing might be the sheer number of hours that the editor will spend working on their manuscript.

Many authors might even think that all editing is, in essence, proofreading. But from developmental editing down to proofreading, the time requirements and the amount of work required per page varies for all the different levels of editing.

At the proofreading stage, for example, the manuscript has (presumably) already been through the copyediting stage, and the proofreader is only looking for typos, wayward design elements, and anything missed (or introduced) during previous stages. So a proofreader would be able to look at more pages per hour than, say, the copyeditor.

For copyediting, during which an editor checks for spelling, grammar, punctuation, style, continuity, and consistency, an editor generally edits at a rate of six to ten pages per hour.

So if you have a 400-page manuscript, that’s at least forty hours of work, and that only accounts for one pass through the document, albeit the pass that accounts for most of the expense.

I like to do an initial read-only pass to familiarize myself with the work, then the copyediting pass, and then a final pass to catch anything I might have missed or any errors I might have introduced while inputting edits.

More Than Spell-Check

Writers also might not realize just how much an editor delivers. It’s easy to imagine that the editor will do a simple read-through, mark a few spelling issues or misplaced commas, and then be on his or her way. But the benefits to the manuscript go far beyond.

In addition to checks for grammar, spelling, usage, and consistency, a copyeditor provides (or should provide) a style sheet noting character names and all word uses that vary from Merriam-Webster or the Chicago Manual of Style or whatever other dictionary and style guide the editor is following.

With my style guide, I also include a timeline and breakdown of character and location details on the style sheet (so you don’t have a character with blue eyes on page ten and green eyes two hundred pages later). You can also learn more about style sheets here.

Authors are generally surprised by all the help provided during a copyedit—and they are generally very appreciative as well. The author’s job is to tell a great story, and if an editor can help put that story before an audience in its best possible light, then all the better for the author, the reader, and the work itself.

The Five E’s

With a good editor, you get an invisible partner dedicated to your success and to the success of your work. You get someone to pore over your beloved manuscript word by word and help push it to its best possible form.

An editor lets readers dissolve into your story without any technical details breaking the spell. You never want to give your reader an excuse to stop reading, and an editor helps ensure that doesn’t happen.

The following are five e’s that an editor provides:

  • Expertise
  • Experience
  • Equipment & Resources
  • Effort
  • Élan



Quite simply, editors should know things that authors don’t about word usage and about formatting a manuscript and about the editing process. That’s part of why you’re paying them! Editors should also display expertise with the tools at their disposal. The author’s job is to tell a great story, and the editor can help by having expert knowledge of Word and macros and wild-card searches and editing software.

Editors should also have expert knowledge of the various style and usage guides, and editors should keep abreast of language trends and shifting styles. Editors should also display a level of expertise that empowers them to know when and when not to break style (it doesn’t help your manuscript to have an editor who inflexibly applies a “rule” no matter the context).


I’ve been editing for more than twenty years and have learned a lot over that time—including that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did twenty years ago!

When you pay for an editor, one of the things you’re paying for is the benefit of that editor’s experience, whether it’s two years or twenty years or forty years. Part of the magic of editing is that editors are always learning, and editors take great joy in passing these lessons on to their clients.

Equipment & Resources

Editors have to maintain equipment and software. I like to use a multi-monitor setup, which I find increases productivity and allows me to have the page I’m editing displayed at a good size in portrait view on a revolving monitor, while my style sheet is open on a second monitor (I also have my Chromebook open for additional resources).

I edit primarily in Word and use the software packages and macros from PerfectIt and the Editorium to increase productivity and help with formatting and consistency issues. These tools save time and allow me to focus more on the sentence structure and word usage and the real mind work of editing.

The less time I spend on tasks that can be automated with a macro or piece of software, the more efficient I am and the more bang you get for your buck.

Writers should also expect editors to have a library of resources and to be familiar with them. Editors should have an expert working knowledge of and access to style manuals such as the Chicago Manual of Style and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, the major dictionaries, and such language resources as Garner’s Modern English Usage and Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.


Editing requires long periods of concentration as editors pore over a work page by page, paragraph by paragraph, word by word, and letter by letter. This is the real work of editing, and it can’t be rushed. It’s not that someone can’t deliver a well-edited manuscript for a dollar a page, but when you look at the time it takes to edit something properly and the hourly rate that this equates to, you have to wonder if an editor editing at an extremely low pay rate isn’t rushing through the work.

There is nothing that editors value more than good clients they want to work with again and again. My goal is to deliver the best possible job to my clients so that they want to use me again and refer me to their associates. There are no shortcuts for making this happen. It’s all about hard work.  


This is a bit harder to quantify, and I suppose an editor could have a poor attitude toward his work and still do a good job, but it seems far-fetched. Passion and enthusiasm for editing is what keeps an editor from rushing through the work, and this passion adds unlimited value in any number of different ways.

Editors get paid for their work, but the rewards of editing also lie in helping authors produce manuscripts that are sent out into the world and are enjoyed by readers, whether that entails the countless readers for a bestseller or a handful of readers for a passion project with a more limited release.


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For more information about how Castle Walls Editing can help you with your manuscript, contact us here.

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