With the holidays mostly over, I figured it was time to get back to business. Namely, continuing this little series about indie author cost and recoup. If you want to start at the beginning, I’d recommend going here first.
Editing is probably the one thing an indie author absolutely cannot and should not do themselves. Even those who can’t afford to hire an actual editor should enlist the help of as many critical beta readers as they can. I’d also recommend a subscription to Grammarly to feed your manuscript through, no matter what stage of your career you’re at.
First of all, let’s take a look at the data from the survey responses I collected…
- 33 people paid $0 for editing
- 7 people paid $10-$99 for editing
- 39 people paid $100-$399 for editing
- 29 people paid $400-$799 for editing
- 13 people paid $800-$1,600 for editing
The data here was really scattered, and I can’t see many correlations between spending on this cost and money made. No one that spent less than $200 made more than $5,000 in three months, and +90% of them didn’t clear $1,000. I’m attributing those higher-earners to established names, though the survey was anonymous so that’s speculation on my part. I don’t think there’s any way that a brand new author could see much return on a book with no editing, maybe if they sunk a lot into a really stunning cover, but with that you’re running the risk of losing repeat readers. They might purchase your book based on cover alone, but if the interior doesn’t live up to their expectations, they’re highly unlikely to give you a second chance. Grabbing a reader’s initial interest is one thing, keeping them as loyal fans is another matter entirely.
In the publishing sector, I think you could safely consider the cover to be the immediate seller, but the story inside the tool for garnering future sales. That’s why you see the bulk of people responding on my survey in the $100-$799 area for editing costs. Those are the authors in it for the long haul, who have recognized the importance of good editing. My editor for Shadows on Snow (and also The Stillness of the Sky, which isn’t out yet), offers substantive editing (that’s story stuff like continuity and characterization and plot holes) for $325 for a 75k novel (this is a per 1,000 word price, so it can go up or down depending on the length of the work). That’s a single pass to get your story straight. But that’s not the only kind of editing an author needs. For the same novel, a copy edit (grammar and punctuation and such) would run $375. A final proofread: $225. If an author pays for all three passes on a 75k-word novel, that’s $925. Jenny is definitely worth that to me, but when you look at 3-month returns for a book, 5 of the 11 authors that paid in that range wouldn’t make back their money. A final proofread might not be totally necessary if you have Grammarly and a friend or two with sharp eyes for typos, but you’re still talking about a $700 investment.
This is why so many indies have giveaway fatigue, or get really upset when folks complain about their pricing. Self-publishing a quality book isn’t cheap. It requires a lot of investment on an author’s part, for which they may not see the recoup, let alone a profit. If you go in knowing this reality, you’re prepared for the harsh truth and will either make that investment or find ways to lessen your costs. This can be done by working in trade with an editor if you have valuable skills/goods to offer, working with friends or family members that can set aside your personal relationship for the good of the manuscript, or joining a critique circle which would require you to devote time to other people’s manuscripts in turn. No matter which route you go, it will cost you either 1) money, 2) goods/services you’d otherwise make money on, 3) potentially damaging personal relationships if the working relationship goes sour, or 4) time you could spend writing more books or marketing. If you’re new going into this, be aware of these things. Writing as a career is a risky choice. There are no guarantees. I’ve read several blog posts lately from folks who have given up writing as a career and moved it back into the hobby category because the business side of it simply wasn’t for them.
But that’s okay. I love to write and I’ve found I don’t so much mind the stuff that comes with the career side. I’ve found looking at the numbers kind of interesting the past few years, and the scientist in me loves the ability to experiment with different strategies on a trial-and-error basis. I’m hungry for learning new things to improve my craft, and I adore a bleeding manuscript that I can fix. That’s not everybody, and that’s totally fine. Writing doesn’t have to be a career if it’s something that just makes you happy, but if you want to make it your business, make sure you know what you’re getting into. It’s exhausting and frustrating at times, but, for me, it’s totally worth it in the end.
As always, feel free to discuss in the comments or add your own tips. Next time, we’re talking about advertising costs!
Editing is my number one investment. It took a year to make it back on the first short story, and I’ve yet to clear costs on the other two I put out this year. But as you say I consider it an investment in keeping those readers who bought them and a long term commitment that I wouldn’t forego.
Starla Huchton says
Agreed. For a first work, that cost is daunting, but it’s a long-tail business. Each release gets more readers, and, in theory, you reach a tipping point where you’re making back what you’ve put in if your product is consistently good quality. So much of it is a matter of respecting readers, as well. *I* wouldn’t want to read a book riddled with errors, so why would I expect someone else to pay for that?
Maybe I should just go into editing.
Piper J. Drake says
Editing is incredibly valuable. I’d like to add it can take a few tries to find an editor who is a good fit for your writing style, who doesn’t edit out your voice, and who understands your genre(s). It really makes a huge difference in polishing the manuscript and making it the best it can be.
A skilled editor is a gem and worth every bit of the money they charge to work on your manuscript.
Depending on how many genres you write in, you may also end up with a different editor for each genre.