ASK THE EDITOR By Susan Malone

EDITORIAL RATES: The Difference in Fee Structures

March, 1999

So, you’ve polished your manuscript, and plunged into the marketing madness of today’s publishing world. But the rejection letters mount. Many are forms, some allude to vague problems such as, “The pacing is off,” “The characters aren’t fully developed,” “The plot doesn’t hold up.”

Something is wrong. But what? You decide to explore editorial help.

But boy, can this be confusing. Editorial services/book doctors abound. And the disparity in pricing boggles the mind. What gives here? Why does one charge $1 per page, and another $8 (I’ve even heard rumors of up to $15)? And what about all of those in between?

Basically, the services provided divide into separate though often overlapping categories. So, let’s just briefly discuss them.

The lower ranges will generally net you a copy edit–punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc.–and an overall assessment (4-5 pages) of your work as a whole. A “surface” read, this proves most helpful to accomplished writers, ones who already understand the blueprints for fashioning salable fiction and non-fiction by having taken classes, attended on-going writers’ workshops, and participated in conferences and seminars. I.e., those who have put in the time and effort to hone their craft. Even then, a more hands-on approach is sometimes called for, especially when, after doing all of the above, you’re still getting form rejections.

Also included in this lesser-fee range are agent reading fees. But beware here. The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) doesn’t allow the agents under its membership to charge for this service. And besides, you want your agent out there selling, not spending time fine-tuning manuscripts. These days, those are two very different jobs.

The middle to upper ranges deal with an entirely different beast altogether. Here we get into the true nuts and bolts of writing, and you can expect a great deal more from the dollars spent.

Rather than the comment, “The character is flat,” an in-depth edit should address why the character comes off as such, explain exactly how to flesh him or her out, and show specifically where to do so. Instead of, “The pacing is off,” this edit targets where the story-line, plot, characters, dialogue, etc. bog down, and then delineates exactly where and specifically how to fix it.

Most importantly, an in-depth edit explains the whys–those elusive, subtle tools of writing that prove difficult to teach in the group classroom, and can take years of study to learn. Experienced authors and editors know these tools, and the good ones can teach them to you.

The very upper end of the scale is occupied by ghostwriters–those who actually take your work and rewrite it, sometimes requiring co-author credits, sometimes not, but always with a hefty price tag (up to $30,000).

Once you decide to pursue the editorial route, by all means research the firms available, find out which services they provide, and at what cost. Ask pertinent questions (refer to “Choosing an Editorial Service”, posted on this site), gather data, and then make your decisions accordingly. Of course, the old adage comes into play here as well: “You get what you pay for.”

But by all means, demand that your editor allow for discussion and follow up once his or her work is complete. This should not only be an edit, but a true learning experience as well. And learning is a two-way street, a dialogue, not a sterile endeavor undertaken in a vacuum.

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to, Associate Editor for THE LITERARY MAGAZINE, multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial and manuscript assessment service. You may email questions to her at: