A comment from an Indy writer on Twitter caught my attention. She had just got a quote for editing her book. $6500. Was this reasonable? I asked the question: did she have any real idea how much she was likely to earn from her book? (I was not being nasty and all of this was in polite conversation). Her response: she did not expect to realize anything like that. She had her own reasons for writing and financial reward wasn’t one of them. Fair enough. In that case, the reasonable cost of editing is what you’re prepared to pay — or need to pay, to make your book readable.
I operate under somewhat different constraints. I want my books read, and I want my books readable. I simply can’t afford to effectively pay to have my books read, and besides I am a firm believer in quality being measured by willing buyers ready to hand out their cash for it. While I am prepared to invest in paying for services that others do better than I can (and have done so), in the end, money must flow towards the writer. Sometimes… it’s a long-term investment, or a gamble. But I always plan on the book making me more than the cash outlay, or my labor is free, and worth what was paid for it.
That said: Trad publishers have been letting writers subsidize them for a long time – sometimes directly, always indirectly. If you’re getting paid so little for your book that survival means a second job/wealthy parents or a partner supporting you… well, that book is still making some of the editor’s salary. Other books may (or may not – the midlist actual often carried the darlings, and the midlister got peanuts -and certainly wouldn’t be there if there was realistically $6500 worth of the editor’s time needed to make their book saleable). Direct subsidy is where you invest in publicity – and you get a return on that, but your share is say 8% and publisher share is 48%, and bookseller’s the rest (all of these are gross, before expenses. You think publishers and booksellers have expenses… and authors don’t?)
Indy is at least to some extent — if you’re doing most of the publicity yourself, getting minimal editing and proofs and cover-expense anyway — disintermediation. But that brings you back to the calculation: how much is my book likely to earn, what is the best way of getting that figure up — and what is worth spending to do so, so cash STILL flows to the writer in the end. Now, as I said, some of this is a gamble, some of it is long term (I’m not doing ONE book, I want return customers, so to me while covers are important content is what gets return customers.)
No matter how brilliant you may think you are (or even actually are) a second (or third or fourth) set of eyes over your work will pick up problems you, as someone deeply involved in it, just don’t see. If you want hand raw crap over to someone else to make into a good — or at least readable — book, be prepared to pay for the service. And unless your publicity is excellent, or luck wonderful, money will NOT flow towards you. Seriously, the BETTER and LESS IN NEED OF EDITING… the less it can cost you. That means… extra work on your part. If you’re selling well enough and write fast enough that your time is worth more than editing will cost, go straight to someone who will do it. If you’re like me… 1)Put it aside as long as you can. 2)Read it aloud. 3)get your computer to read it aloud. 4) read from the end sentence by sentence. 5)look at your structure – does it orchestrate, do multiple points of view come up often enough to keep them clear and memory, as well as distinct? 6)look at each of your story threads. Are they complete and tied off? 7)Ask a trusted reader to read through it. When they’ve done, go to either an editor or if that is too rich for your blood, first readers. Editors, given a very clean, easy-to-read sample of the product… tend to modify their prices, because it takes them less time and is less like drawing teeth. A good one knows that they don’t have to show that they’re editing by doing a lot. Finally, unless you’re broker than broke, get someone to proof it. Put their name as the proof-reader along with the copyright and cover credits.
But if those putting a few hours or even days into your book are making more than you are for months of work… maybe you need to think about why you’re doing this, or how you can change that.