An American Editor

January 22, 2018

The Business of Editing: Explaining the Price of Editing

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The hardest thing to do is to explain to a client why she should be willing to pay the price you are asking for the work she wants done. It is even harder to explain to a publisher/packager client why their offer is too low and why they should pay you more.

Ultimately, the reason for the difficulty is that we have no concrete way to demonstrate the value of quality editing. Based on conversations I’ve had with colleagues, I’m not convinced that most colleagues truly understand the value of their work.

Sure we all know that editing can improve a manuscript, and some clients not only know that but believe it. Too many colleagues and far too many clients (which includes potential clients), however, are of the mindset that only price matters because anybody who can spot the typo is a “great” editor.

There is at least a partial solution to the explanation problem, and it is something that every author and editor, regardless of where in the world they are from, is likely familiar with — Star Wars: A New Hope, the original Star Wars movie. The video that follows tells how this iconic story was headed for disaster but was saved by great editing, which resulted in a multibillion dollar empire:

(A special thanks to Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader for bringing this video to my attention.)

The video should be watched from beginning to end by editors and authors alike because it shows the value of high-quality editing. More importantly, it illustrates why making price more important than editing quality is putting the cart before the horse.

Carefully consider what the editor did to bring logical flow and interest to a story that was understood by the author but was garbled in the transformation from author’s imagination to movie. Exactly what occurred in the editing of Star Wars: A New Hope is what occurs when a well-qualified editor applies his skills to a manuscript.

Imagine if George Lucas had limited his editor search criteria to least-expensive editor, rather than setting his criteria to find the editor best-suited for the task and price demoted to a secondary consideration. The Star Wars franchise likely would never have been and Star Wars would have remained a fantasy in his imagination rather than a fantasy shared by millions across the globe.

Complicating the problem for editors is that every person who has identified a typo on a printed page thinks she is a skilled editor, thereby creating an endless supply of “editors” from which a client can choose. Compounding the oversupply problem is that few editors have any understanding of how to value their work and set a price. Too many editors charge too low a price for high-quality editing, largely because they either have no clue as to what they truly need to charge or what they should charge so that clients view editing as a desirable, needed, skilled service. The consequence is that the editing profession as a whole suffers from oversupply and underpayment.

Editors need to rethink how they approach their profession. They need to show clients that there is a measurable difference between an editor of low skills and and an editor of high skills and that high-skilled editors both deserve and require fees commensurate with their skill level. In addition, highly skilled editors need to refuse work from clients who refuse to recognize that they are highly skilled and thus worthy of higher pay. It strikes me as wholly unacceptable for a client to insist on paying an editor with decades of experience editing hundreds of manuscripts in the subject area the client seeks the same amount as the editor with a year or two of experience with little to no subject matter expertise or experience. It also strikes me as wrong for the experienced editor to grumble about the low pay yet accept the job.

I recognize that few editors are willing to turn away low-paying work, preferring some work to no work. In that case, however, the editor needs to adjust the level of editing quality to match the level of pay. An editor being paid a Yugo fee should not give Rolls Royce quality editing in return.

I encourage colleagues to prepare a “pitch” for the value of high-quality editing, including an explanation as to why smart clients will pay for that level of editing. The “pitch” could (perhaps should) include a video, similar to the Star Wars one above, that illustrates how high-quality editing can be the difference between disaster and hit, and include an explanation of not only how you can provide that high-quality editing but why you are worth the higher price you are asking. Creating a marketing pitch can be a key step on the path to better pay, better job offers, and better clients.

Do you have a pitch to share? Or a video that you use to explain the value of editing?



  1. I don’t have a standard pitch, but now I’ll think of creating one. It would be good to have that handy.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Ruth Thaler-Carter — January 22, 2018 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  2. I do have a somewhat-standard response to people who don’t want to pay what I think I’m worth: something along the lines of “Because I have substantial experience and excellent skills, I charge more than you’re offering. I’d be glad to consider working together if you can meet my fee. If you choose someone else, I might be available should that person not work out.”


    Comment by Ruth Thaler-Carter — January 22, 2018 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

    • The problem with that response, Ruth, which is similar to the response I gave for years, is that when you look at it from the client’s perspective, it reeks of arrogance. Not saying you aren’t entitle to be arrogant about your skill level, just saying that it doesn’t explain why the client should hire you rather than me. Instead, it says the client is a fool, which is why I ultimately stopped giving such a response. BTW, the problem lies with the last sentence, “If you choose someone else, I might be available should that person not work out.” Cut that and you cut out the arrogance.

      A good pitch sells a client on putting quality above all else; it changes the conversation focus from what you don’t want (a discussion of dollars) to the discussion you do want (why you are worth so much more than your colleagues — QUALITY!). It’s not easy to make that pitch, but I think that is largely because few clients truly understand the value of high-quality editing. And most editors do not know how to describe that value in words.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by americaneditor — January 23, 2018 @ 3:29 am | Reply

      • I might massage the response a bit, but my focus in a pitch would be on my experience and skill level – the quality of service – as the reason for charging what I charge. I’m not sure why that would be considered arrogant.


        Comment by Ruth Thaler-Carter — February 5, 2018 @ 2:01 pm | Reply

        • Ruth, what makes your response come across as arrogant is this: “If you choose someone else, I might be available should that person not work out.” There is nothing wrong with making your pitch on experience, quality level, and the like nor in using those reasons to support your price — but stop there. When you add “If you choose someone else, I might be available should that person not work out,” it comes across to me and to others to whom I have shown your response (without identifying the source) as arrogant and whiney. Remember that the receiver is reading this, not conversing with you, so the cues that might soften the impact were you to use these words in a conversation are not present.


          Comment by americaneditor — February 6, 2018 @ 2:26 am | Reply

  3. I have been thinking about this for two days. Thank you for prompting me to do so. Curiously, the same day I was told by a prospect that they were “inundated” with offers from editors who would do the work for “much less” than my fee. And I didn’t know how to counter that!

    I realized I did not know what RESULTS I provide my clients that make them willing to pay me more. So I asked them! I specifically asked for the results they received from our work together and how that benefited their book. Within an hour, I received valuable feedback from three of them. I will share it with all my prospects.


    Comment by Donna L. Mosher — January 24, 2018 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful perspective, Rich. The elevator pitch is definitely important to have handy. I also find (though I know some disagree) that publishing my rates on my website is helpful. Mainly it serves to weed out potential clients who have a rate threshold lower than mine, saving both of us time. Though I may occasionally offer a discount based on a few critical variables*, I generally stick to my guns.
    *Family and friends get a steep discount, and I’ve also given breaks to a few “starving artists” who have arrived on my editorial doorstep and whose writing has captivated me.


    Comment by Amy Heininger Spungen — January 24, 2018 @ 3:30 pm | Reply

    • Amy, I am one of those who think posting rates on your website is not a good idea. Your reason is to weed out those who don’t want to pay your price; my reason is that people who don’t want to pay my price (assuming it is posted) don’t understand what I do for that fee or how good I am compared to every other editor — and by posting my price, I stop them from ever finding out about me and learning that it is worth paying my fee.

      We need to remember that there is a difference between what we sell and what, say, Amazon sells. Amazon sells Samsung TVs — it doesn’t create them and it doesn’t customize them. Samsung has made hundreds of thousands of identical TVs and so we can buy the exact same TV from a thousand different retailers with the only difference being price and after-purchase service. When I buy blue jeans, I go to LL Bean. I do not care if I can save $5 or $10 by buying somewhere else. I buy at Bean because I know how great their after-purchase service is; Amazon’s is good, but Bean’s is far better in my view. And so I am willing to pay the Bean premium. (I don’t really know if there is a price premium because I don’t comparison shop; if Bean sells what I want, I buy from Bean.)

      Editing is not a Samsung TV. The way you edit, your skill level, the service you provide, and, ultimately, the quality of the edit is not the same as mine. It may be very close or it may be miles apart, but identical it is not and it cannot ever be identical. So if you charge $25 and I charge $35 and we both post our price on our website, the client who is price shopping will choose you over me without ever learning that I have 25 years more experience or that my specialty is the subject area of the manuscript whereas you have never edited in the area, or that I am the world’s greatest editor, or anything about me, about my skills, about my services, or why I might be the best choice for this particular client and manuscript.

      Posting prices means I have stopped the conversation before it began. To my thinking, that is precisely what we should not do because what we offer is not a true commodity, it is not the Samsung TV. Editing is unique to the editor, which is why some editors are not worth more than minimum wage (and maybe not even that) and some are worth $100 an hour (or more), even though both are “editing.”

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by americaneditor — January 25, 2018 @ 2:44 am | Reply

  5. Thanks, Rich. You’ve given us a lot to think about. I edit mostly for academic presses where I have little direct contact with authors, and they have little control over hiring me. I’d like to take my clientele to the next level and work for those authors or publishers who hire me for the quality of my work. Any suggestions?


    Comment by Ronda Roaring — January 29, 2018 @ 2:43 pm | Reply

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