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.

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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.

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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.

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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.