The Cost of Copy Editing (And Budget-Friendly Options)
Bijgewerkt op: 13 mrt.
When you’re self-publishing your book, copy editing is one of the editing stages you’ll have to go through. Preferably, you can hire a copy editor to get out all the pesky grammatical and syntax errors for you.
I’ve discussed the cost of developmental editing and line editing previously. I hope these articles help you understand how much you should budget and which services you should budget for.
Below, you’ll learn why copy editing is important, what’s involved in a copy edit, how expensive copy editing is, and some budget-friendly options if you can’t afford a copy edit.
Why is copy editing important?
Have you ever read a book or an article that was riddled with mistakes? It’s not a pleasant reading experience, is it?
Of course, you don’t want your readers to trip over grammatical mistakes when they’re reading your book. It will take them out of the story, and it will lead to those pesky 1- or 2-star reviews that say, “This book needed an editor.”
No one wants that to happen.
What is involved in copy editing?
Copy editing focuses on the sentence level. The editor goes through each sentence to weed out any grammar and syntax errors. Think about things like subject-verb agreement, sentence parallelism, and consistent/proper use of tense.
Of course, the editor also focuses on minor things, such as misspellings, typos, and proper capitalization.
Moreover, they keep track of your consistency in how you describe your characters or a certain setting. For instance, if your character’s eyes were green on one page and blue on another, your copy editor will probably notice this and tell you.
Compared to developmental and line editing, copy editing is a cheaper service. While it costs time, it’s usually done faster than the formerly mentioned editing services.
To give you an idea of the time it takes, the Editorial Freelance Association’s website gives you a rough indicator. Copy editing for fiction takes 7–10 pages an hour (1750–2500 words an hour), whereas nonfiction is slower with 4–6 pages an hour (1000–1500 words an hour).
In other words, a full-length fiction novel of 80k words can take a copy editor approximately 38 hours, while a nonfiction novel of 80k words can take approximately 64 hours.
I find this to be relatively accurate in my work. For both fiction and nonfiction, I manage 2000 words an hour, sometimes more, sometimes less.
Related: The Cost of Line Editing
Related: The Cost of Proofreading
How expensive is copy editing?
So: how much should you budget for copy editing? Of course, there are different ways to price a copy editing service:
Both are possible and both have their pros and cons. With a price per word count, you know beforehand how much the service will cost you. However, if you have a manuscript of high quality, it might take the copy editor less time to complete the task. In that case, the pricing per hour would have been cheaper.
If you choose a price per hour, you can end up with a cheaper price when your manuscript is of good quality. However, you’re less certain about the total costs of the service beforehand. I would recommend making clear agreements. Get a price estimation up front that includes the maximum time. Ensure that the editor won’t go over this time or will notify you when they expect things to take longer.
According to the EFA, prices for a copy edit lie between $36-40 an hour and $.02-.029 per word for fiction. For nonfiction, prices are $41-45 per hour and $.03-.039 per word. As you can see, this is less than developmental editing and line editing.
Factors that affect pricing
When you choose a fixed price per word, the pricing won’t be affected. However, if you pick a price per hour, you can expect a different price based on the quality of your manuscript.
If your manuscript is riddled with mistakes, the copy editor has a lot more work. This means it will take longer. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to do a copy edit of your manuscript yourself before you send it to an editor.
It’s difficult to gauge how much a copy edit will cost, as it depends on the quality of the writing. But to give you some idea, I offer my average rates for copy editing (note that I have the same price for fiction and nonfiction).
20,000-word novel around $360.-
40,000-word novel around $720.-
60,000-word novel around $1080.-
80,000-word novel around $1440.-
What if you can’t afford a copy edit?
Often, you can combine services. This will save you money if you want to complete both services. In most cases, you can combine line and copy editing. If you know you want both services for your novel, combine them.
Say you have a 60k-word novel of decent quality. For a line edit, you’d pay around $1220.- and for a copy edit $1080.-, so $2300.- total. However, if you combine them, you get a different rate per hour. And because the editor is already working on the sentences, it costs less time. You might only need to pay $2100.- in total. That saves you $200.-.
Exchange with another writer
Make use of your network of writers. If you know another writer looking for someone to check their work, make a deal to exchange manuscripts and do each other’s copy editing.
It could help you both to improve your manuscript if you both have a good grasp of grammar. Make sure that the writer you’re working with knows what they’re doing beforehand (and make sure that you know what you’re doing as well).
This could be a nice free option that would only cost you your time.
Related: Top 5 Writing & Editing Tools
Use grammar tools
There are a lot of grammar tools that can help you with your manuscript. The most popular ones are Grammarly and ProWritingAid.
I’ve only ever used Grammarly for an extensive period, so I’ll only comment on that one. It picks out a lot of mistakes. However, you still have to be vigilant when you’re using a tool like this one. While it picks out most mistakes, it doesn’t pick up all mistakes. So read carefully.
In addition, sometimes it marks something as an error that isn’t an error. It’s important that you think about what it marks and if it needs to be edited or not.
I’ve only recently started to use ProWritingAid to try it out. I haven’t used it enough to make a clear comparison with Grammarly yet. But the same warnings apply: always read through everything, not just the things it marks, and consider if what it marks is a mistake.
Self-study and self-edit
The final option is a bit of an investment, but it can pay off. Find a course on copy editing and learn how to do it.
Just remember: it’s different to edit your own book compared to someone else’s book. By this stage, you’ve read your book many times. It’s likely your brain has become blind to the mistakes you’ve made. It helps to switch the font of your manuscript and start reading from the last page to the first page. That way, you don't have to follow the narrative.
You can find editing courses at The Editing Republic, Liminal Pages, or the EFA.
I also have a free self-editing course for you, where you also learn the basics of copy editing. And knowing these basics can go a long way!
Copy editing on a budget
I hope you now have some idea of what to expect when you want to hire a copy editor. And what you can do if you have a tight or nonexistent budget.
Would you like to work with me as your copy editor? Fill out the form to request a quote and I’ll get back to you!