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The Cost of Developmental Editing (And Budget-Friendly Options)

Bijgewerkt op: 7 sep. 2023

When you’re writing a book, and you want to publish it, there are a lot of costs involved. The cost of developmental editing and other editing services is a portion of this. There are also costs for the book cover, publishing costs, promotions, and marketing.


Of course, not everyone has the budget to pay for all these things—you’re going to have to pick and choose. It should be possible for everyone to publish a book of great quality, regardless of wealth.


However, developmental editing is one of the more expensive types of editing. There are good reasons for that, but if you don’t have the budget, those reasons mean squat. So, below I’ve outlined some reasons for developmental editing, what you can expect in terms of cost, and what you can do if you can’t afford a developmental edit.


The cost of developmental editing and budget-friendly options


Why is developmental editing important?

Developmental editing looks at the big picture of your story. If your story has a weak or faulty plot, unclear character arcs, poor pacing, or underwhelming worldbuilding, it’ll decrease the quality of your story.


And that’s not what you want.


So, developmental editing is necessary to make your story as strong as it can be. And, at the end of the day, the better the story, the better it’s received, the better the reviews, the better it sells. It’s never a guarantee, but it goes a long way.

 
 

What is involved in developmental editing?

As I said, developmental editing is an expensive type of editing. One of the main reasons for this is time. Reading through a manuscript costs time. Often, more than one readthrough of several parts is needed.


On top of that, developmental editing requires thinking time. This is needed for the editor to figure out how to best fix the plot or any other issues they encounter. And then they also need to consider how to best communicate this to the writer, so it’s clear and constructive.


To give you an idea, the Editorial Freelance Association’s website gives you a rough indicator of editing speeds (where one page is considered to have 250 words). Developmental editing for nonfiction and fiction generally takes 4–6 pages an hour (so 1000–1500 words an hour). In other words, a full-length novel containing 80k words can take a developmental editor approximately 64 hours.


Personally, I always aim for half that time, so it’s a good balance between the costs for the client and the amount of value delivered.


How expensive is developmental editing?

Types of pricing

There are different ways to price a developmental editing service:

  • Per hour;

  • Per word.

A price per hour is quite common, but it does leave some uncertainty for the writer as to how much the service will cost. However, it is a fair way to price the service, as the amount of time the editor will need is dependent on things like the complexity, quality of the writing, and more.


If this is the case, make sure you make clear agreements. Get a price estimation that includes the amount of time, and make sure the editor notifies you if it takes longer. Or, you can agree that the editor won’t go over the time frame, so you won’t spend more money than agreed on the quote. According to the EFA, prices for a developmental edit lie between $46–$50 for fiction and $51–$60 for nonfiction.


The price per word is certainly clearer for the author. It helps them gauge what price they’ll pay for a developmental edit with a certain editor. The downside is that you may be paying more than necessary. If you’ve made certain your book is up to standard, the editor might need less time for the developmental edit compared to a writer who has a lot more issues within their book. According to the EFA, prices for a developmental edit lie between $.03–$.039 per word ($30–$39 per 1000 words) for fiction and $.04–$0.49 per word ($40–$49 per 1000 words) for nonfiction.

 
 

Factors that affect pricing

There are, of course, factors that can affect the pricing. This is less the case for prices per word, as this is already predetermined (unless the editor charges a different rate per word based on the quality of the manuscript).


Of course, the quality of your manuscript is the main factor that influences the pricing. If the book contains a lot of mistakes, if it’s not well-written, or if the plot is very complex, this can lead to a higher price.


It’s also possible that the editor will tell you your book isn’t ready for editing yet. Sometimes, especially when you’re at the beginning stages of writing, your manuscript won’t be ready yet. A good editor will see this and will let you know. This is nothing to feel bad about; it just means you need a bit more time to improve your craft. Be grateful they didn’t let you waste your money on a full developmental edit when what you really need is feedback on scene writing or line writing. Eventually, your manuscript will be ready for editing, and then you’re certain it’s up to the right standard.


The price also differs whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Generally, nonfiction books are specialized, and they’ll need an editor that specializes in that subject matter. Naturally, more specialization comes at a higher price.


General numbers

As mentioned above, it’s hard to gauge exactly how much a developmental will cost. It depends on the manuscript and the plot. However, I don’t want to leave you with no idea at all about what to expect. So below, you can see an overview of the price range for fiction and nonfiction based on the hourly rate and rate per word.


Note that these calculations are based on the EFA guidelines. Some editors may charge different hourly rates or rates per word. Or they may do a less extensive developmental edit, leading to fewer hours and lower rates. If you know your budget, simply let the editor know and ask for your options.


Developmental editing Fiction

Words

Hour Min.

Hour Max.

Word Min.

Word Max.

40,000

$1227

$2000

$1200

$1560

60,000

$1840

$3000

$1800

$2340

80,000

$2453

$4000

$2400

$3120

Developmental editing Nonfiction

Words

Hour Min.

Hour Max.

Word Min.

Word Max.

40,000

$1360

$2400

$1600

$1960

60,000

$2040

$3600

$2400

$2940

80,000

$2720

$4800

$3200

$3920

 

Would you like some help with your developmental editing? Then this developmental editing planner is the one for you! It contains a checklist followed by detailed information and worksheets to perfect your developmental editing process.


Click the button below to buy on Etsy.




 

What to do if you can’t afford a developmental edit?

Writing groups and beta readers

Fellow writers can provide valuable feedback. Just be sure that these are writers who are slightly more advanced in their writing careers than you are. You want to learn from them, after all. Beta readers can also give you some good feedback as they read the book as a reader would. Do make sure you hire beta readers who are well-versed in your genre, though.


Keep in mind that these aren’t professionals (unless they’ve also had some area of professional training), so their feedback won’t be of the same standard as that of a professional editor. However, it can certainly offer some good insights when on a budget and help you understand the weak points of your story. There are many online writing communities (the write practice is a personal favorite), so pick one that you like. As for beta readers, you can find them both free or paid.


Manuscript critique

If you can’t afford a developmental edit, a manuscript critique could be a good option. This service is cheaper than a developmental edit while still giving you a complete insight into the strengths and weaknesses of your novel. It doesn’t go as in-depth as a developmental edit, though.

 
 

First chapter critique

A first chapter critique only looks at the first 5,000 words. However, this can be enough to learn how to improve your scenes for more impact in your story. In addition, it’ll help you craft a killer beginning to reel the reader into the story.


Plot critique

It may not seem like a plot critique could give you much insight, but it can actually help you discover weaknesses in your plot. By providing an outline of your scenes and a synopsis of your story, you can make sure that your main plot is strong. If there are any issues with the main plot or character arc, a plot critique can uncover those for you, so you’ll know what to fix and how.

 
 

Pay for what you can

Of course, it’s also possible to ask for a developmental edit for part of your book. Just send the editor a message and ask what they can do for a certain budget (be sure to include a sample so they can estimate better). For instance, if you can pay for your first 10,000 words, you can use the feedback they give you to self-edit the rest of your novel.


Self-study and self-edit

This one is probably the most time-consuming, but it also gives you the most rewards. Find a course on editing, especially developmental editing and copy editing (if you have copy editing skills, proofreading shouldn’t be much of an issue). This will be a bit of an investment, as these courses likely cost a few hundred dollars, but you do save a lot with each book you write.


I do want to note that editing another book is different from editing your own. It’s more likely you miss things or aren’t as inclined to change things because you’re more emotionally attached to your book.


You can find editing courses at The Editing Republic or Liminal Pages.


Developmental editing on a budget

I hope the tips above give you some ideas on both what you might need to save if you want a developmental edit and what you can do if you simply don’t have the budget for a developmental edit. Know that anything you can spend on editing always results in a higher quality manuscript. But definitely don’t pay more than you can spend—that’s never a good idea. The methods above should give you the best book possible on a tight budget.


Continue to learn more about the costs of editing with the next article: the cost of line editing.

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