A Professional Editor and the Indie Author

I am contemplating self-publishing, and one of the things I have considered is hiring a professional editor.

But I can’t afford it.

Yeah, about what it feels like

Yes, yes, I hear many of you now saying, “of course you must hire an editor. It’s how you get your best work.”

I’ve heard this refrain a lot, and I mostly agree. But I still can’t afford one.

Let’s do the math together.

Most content editors charge anywhere from $0.01 to $0.03 per word. If you calculate that out for a 75k romance novel, that’s anywhere from $750 to $2,250. The higher end of this is more than I gave for my first car. I get that they’re spending a lot of hours on the process, so the price is the price. Line editors are around the same cost-per-word from what I’ve gathered as well.

I understand these people are putting forth hours of effort and are probably (depending on the editor) worth it. But, I maintain the indie model can’t really support it.

Most indie published books sell around 250 copies over the life of the book.

No, I’m not missing a zero there.

If you price your book at $2.99 and sell 250 copies, the total gross made by the book is $747.50. Yeah, not enough to pay for a single edit by the least expensive editor. And let’s remember, the author doesn’t get the full $747.50. Depending on where they sell it, they can expect about 80% of the total. The percent they get drops if they ever discount the book to $0.99.

So, assuming the author keeps it at the $2.99, and sells all 250 books at this price, they are looking at $598 in lifelong earnings. I’m not even going to bother discounting this for the time value of money. Because really, it’s not worth it.

Okay, forget I mentioned the time value of money.

But, but, but, you say. My book is going to do so much better! I had an editor.

Okay, I hear ya. Maybe it will help. And giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will say you do two standard deviations better. You sell 500 books at $2.99 each. You’re still looking at total author earnings of $1,196. Barely enough to pay for the base editor.

And the chance of selling that additional 250 books? Depends on the standard deviation to the mean, which I don’t have the underlying data to calculate, but given the standard bell curve, we can assume it grows increasingly less likely.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Still, there are other expenses like marketing, book cover, etc. that also need to be considered beyond just editing. And, that’s assuming you’re looking to just break even and not make anything for the time the author devoted to writing the piece.

This doesn’t mean don’t hire an editor. If you can afford one, do it!

But what this usually means for me is when I can’t afford to have a professional do a job, I learn to do it myself. Like back when we first bought our house and I learned to paint a room and lay Pergo flooring.

I’m working on perfecting this process, but it does make a sound argument for trying to publish via a traditional route, if for nothing more than the professional editing.

But if it doesn’t work out, and I do go indie, I’ll look forward to the day I can afford an editor.

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5 thoughts on “A Professional Editor and the Indie Author

  1. I’m sure some of my fellow professional editors would hate me for saying this, but I agree with you. It doesn’t matter WHO edits your writing to make sure it’s the best possible version of itself; all that matters is that it IS edited. Just as very few readers care who the publisher is, very few readers care if the author hired a professional editor or simply had a friend with a good understanding of the mechanics of writing serve as a second pair of eyes to check for glitches. The end product — a well-written book that readers enjoy– is all that matters.

    Alpha readers (people who give feedback on a manuscript that’s still a work-in-progress) are a great resource for indie authors. It’s like getting a lot (if not all) of the developmental editing for free. Once you’ve got the “big-picture stuff” settled, all you need is the copyediting/proofreading, and any writer can do that themself IF they are willing to learn the mechanics of writing: the “trivia” (yes, those are sarcasm marks) such as grammar, punctuation, and which homophone to use.

    (I’ve seen some good fiction that the author edited themself and some bad fiction that was supposedly edited by a professional… or five! It’s far better to do it yourself and do it well than to pay a “professional” who has no frakkin’ clue what they’re doing.)

    1. I’m still working through the Chicago Manual of style, and one of my beta readers is ruthless in the best possible way. I shower her with soy-free chocolate, tea, and gratitude. And, of course, you site really drilled commas into my head. 😉

  2. I understand completely, fellow Elizabeth! I am in the same position financially. I agree with Thomas. Use beta readers and copyedit and proofread to the best of your ability, then get it out there. Chances are high that it will be as good as a traditionally published novel.

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