According to the Editorial Freelancers Association, basic copyediting (5-10 pages per hour) and proofreading should start at $30 an hour. Heavy copyediting (2-5 pages per hour) should start at $40 per hour. That would make the minimum price for a 300-page novel fall between $900 and $1350 for basic copyediting. According to the Writer’s Market, the average price for copyediting a trade paperback is $49 per hour.
I’ve seen self-proclaimed editors charge $1 per page. I know of at least a couple of small presses that pay their copyeditors a flat fee of $200 per book. For those willing to pay no more than this, all I can say is you get what you pay for. To put more simply, if an editor is only making $200-$300 per book, how many books must that person edit per month in order to make a living? Eight? Ten? How closely can a person scrutinize a book at such a fast pace? How many thorough passes can that editor possibly make if he or she only has a few days to complete the work? Moreover, if a person is charging a fraction of industry-standard rates, is that person actually a professional?
If you hire someone worth paying, your editor will know:
- the difference between an adverbial, participle, and gerund phrase (for example) and where it’s appropriate to use a comma between a phrase and main clause;
- the difference between indicative, conditional, and subjunctive moods and how that difference affects language;
- when it’s appropriate to keep passive voice;
- when to add a note to the author and when to make a change;
- how to make a change without disrupting the writer’s voice and style;
- the difference between editing formats and the rules that govern them;
- how to correct verb tense agreement issues and parallelisms;
- how to spot and correct dangling modifiers;
- how to spot and correct language ambiguities;
- how to spot and correct redundancies and repetitive word use;
- how to use colons, semicolons, and em-dashes; and
- when to leave grammatical errors the author has included for stylistic purposes.
A professional editor will make at least two or three passes over a given work, will send edits to the author for revision after one or two passes, and will do a final “clean-up” pass once the manuscript appears finished. A professional editor will take the time to ensure your manuscript is as clean as possible, will take pride in his or her work, and will charge accordingly.
Your novel is an extension of you. It deserves the care and attention only a skilled editor can provide. If money is an issue, find an editor who will divide his or her fee into installments. After all, what’s a cheaper fee really worth if, in the end, your story doesn't come out shining?