Thursday, July 02, 2015

How to Save a Bundle on Editing Costs – Without Sacrificing Quality

By Jodie Renner, @JodieRennerEd

Part of the Indie Author Series

We indie authors need all the help we can get to produce a polished product worthy of competing well in the market place. Once you’ve revised your novel or short story a few times and have incorporated any input from trusted beta readers, it’s a good idea (essential, really) to get your manuscript edited by a respected freelance fiction editor, preferably one who reads and edits your genre.

Below you’ll find lots of advice for significantly reducing your editing costs, with additional links at the end to concrete tips for approaching the revision process and for reducing your word count without losing any of the good stuff.

Editing fees vary hugely, depending on the length and quality of the manuscript, and how much work is needed to take it from “so-so” or “pretty good” to a high-quality page-turner that sells well and garners great reviews. Before approaching an editor, hone your skills by reading craft books and articles, then make sure your story is as tight and compelling as you can make it – and that it’s under 100,000 words long. 70-90K is generally preferred for most genres today.

Don’t be in a hurry to publish your book before it’s ready.

If you rush to publish an early draft, you could do your reputation as a writer a lot of damage. Once the book is out there and getting negative reviews, the bad publicity could sink your career before it has had a chance to take off. It’s important to open your mind to the very real possibility probability that your story could use clarification, revising, and amping up on several levels, areas that haven’t occurred to you because you’re too close to the story or are simply unaware of key techniques that bring fiction to life.

First, write freely, with no second-guessing.

First, get your ideas down as quickly as you can, with no editing – let your muse flow freely and write with wild abandon.

Then step back, hone your skills, and evaluate.

But once you’ve gotten your story down, or as far as your initial surge of creativity will take you for now, it’s a good time to put it aside for a week or three and bone up on some current, well-respected craft advice, with your story in the back of your mind. Aspiring and published authors love the concrete tips with examples in my Fire up Your Fiction and Captivate Your Readers. Maybe join a critique group (in-person or online), a local writers’ group, and/or attend some writing workshops.

Then you can re-attack your novel with knowledge and inspiration, and address any possible issues you weren’t aware of that could be considered amateurish, confusing, heavy-handed, or boring to today’s sophisticated, savvy readers.

Then revise and revise again.

Then, notes in hand, roll up your sleeves and start revising, based on what you’ve learned. If you then send your improved story, rather than your first or second draft, to a freelance editor, they will be able to concentrate on more advanced fine-tuning instead of just flagging basic weaknesses and issues, and will take your manuscript up several more levels. Not only that, you’ll “get” the editor’s suggestions, so the whole process will go a lot smoother and be more enjoyable and beneficial.

Enlist help to ferret out inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

You don’t want to lose reader trust and invite bad reviews by being careless about facts, timing, or logistics, either. Find an astute friend or two with an inquiring mind and an eye for detail and ask them to read your story purely for credibility and consistency. Do all the details make sense? How about the time sequences? Character motivations?Accuracy of information? For technical info, maybe try to find an expert or two in the field, and rather than asking them to plow through your whole novel, just send them the sections that are relevant to their area of expertise.

It’s even possible that you’ve based your whole story premise on something that doesn’t actually make sense or is just too far-fetched, and the sooner you find that out the better!

Read it aloud.

Read your whole story out loud to check for natural-sounding dialogue that zings and a smooth, easy flow of ideas, in the characters’ vernacular and voice, that suit the genre, tone, mood, and situation. This should also help you cut down on wordiness, which is your enemy, as it could put your readers to sleep.

Be open to suggestions.

When it comes time to find a freelance editor, don’t shop for the cheapest one and insist that your manuscript only needs a quick final proofread or light edit. That approach will result in a cursory, superficial, even substandard job, like painting a house that’s falling over and needs rebuilding, and will actually end up costing you more money in the long run.

You could well be unaware of how many structural, content, and stylistic weaknesses your story may contain, which should be addressed and fixed before the final copyedit stage. Paying for a basic copyedit and proofread on a long, weak manuscript, only to find out later it needs a major overhaul, which will then require rewriting and another copyedit, is short-sighted – and money down the drain.

Be realistic.

Say, for example, your novel is a rambling 130,000 words long. It’s very likely you need to focus your story, cut down on descriptions and explanations, eliminate or combine some characters, maybe delete a sub-plot or two, plug some plot holes, fix point-of-view issues, and pick up the pace by turning those long, meandering sentences and paragraphs into lean, mean, to-the-point writing. Not only will this make your story much stronger and more captivating, but it will save you a bundle on editing costs, since freelance editors charge by the word, the page, or the hour, and editing your 80,000- or 9,000-word, tighter, self-edited and revised book will cost you a whole lot less than asking them to slug through 130,000 words written in rambling, convoluted sentences.

Your story may even need a structural or developmental edit.

If you’re at the stage where you know it’s not great but you’re too close to your story to pinpoint the weaknesses, perhaps you should hire a developmental editor to stand back and take a look at the big picture for you and give you a professional assessment of your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. Or if you can’t afford a developmental editor, try a critique group or beta readers – smart acquaintances who read a lot in your genre (they don’t need to be writers) – to give you some advice on your characters, plot, and style, and flag any spots where the story lags or is confusing or illogical.

Choose your editor with care!

Be sure to find an editor who specializes in fiction, preferably one who read and edits your genre, and get them to send you a sample edit of at least four pages. (See my article, “Looking for an editor? Check them out very carefully!”)

And don’t seek out the cheapest editor you can find, as they may be just starting out and unaware of important fiction-writing issues that should be addressed, like point of view and showing instead of telling, etc. And whatever you do, don’t tie the editor's hands by insisting your manuscript only needs a light edit, because that’s cheaper. You could well end up paying for that “cheap” light edit on an overlong, weak manuscript, then discovering that the story has big issues that need to be addressed and requires major revisions, including slashing and rewriting. Then you'll have to pay for another complete edit of the new version! $ multiplied!

The more you’re aware and the more advance work you do, the less you’ll pay for editing.

So, to save money and increase your sales and royalties, after writing your first draft, it’s critical to hone your skills and revise your manuscript before sending it out.

Check out these other articles by Jodie for lots of concrete tips on revising and tightening your novel (Click on the titles below):

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Fire up Your Fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller, and Captivate Your Readers. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at,, at The Kill Zone blog alternate Mondays.

Website | Facebook | Google+ | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound


  1. Doing those things BEFORE seeing and editor can save you money, too. Less stuff they have to fix.

  2. Great article, Jodie. I keep those three books you mentioned, especially CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, close beside me when I'm editing.

    1. So glad to hear you find my three editor's guides to writing compelling fiction helpful, Steve! Good luck with all your writing projects! :-)