Editing: Good, Fast, Cheap—Choose Any Two
There’s a reason for the saying “Good, fast, or cheap. Choose any two.” It’s simple truth combined with grade school math and maybe a teeny bit of physics.
I get it. Most of us are not independently wealthy.
Everyone’s busy and in a hurry. Nobody wants garbage quality.
But you may be surprised to know how many people somehow expect high quality at a bargain basement price, all within a week’s time. Consider this post on a UK-based site called PeoplePerHour recently (the portion in quotes is the actual post):
Go ahead and try . . .
You simply can’t have it all.
What’s Your Hurry?
I’ve often wondered what compels someone to rush the publishing process. Oh, I understand excitement as well as anyone. After all, I can barely wait until Christmas Day to give someone their gifts, especially if I’ve already wrapped them. But if you’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months, often YEARS writing and rewriting your book, why would you hurry through the final steps that make it shine?
Better yet, why would you want someone else to race through that final bit of TLC on your manuscript baby? There’s a reason for the old saying “haste makes waste.” Rushing any project—whether it’s writing a book, painting your house, or baking a fancy dessert—rarely yields the best results.
But What About the People Who Tell Me I Can Have It All?
A little plain talk here: they’re lying. No kidding. I don’t say this to discourage you, and I don’t say it so you’ll hire me and not the ever-present “them.”
I say this because it’s a truth that has been proven time and time again. The internet is full of people who promise everything for nothing in no time flat. “I can edit your book for $50!” “Super-quick edits for a super-low price!” The list goes on.
How Fast Can I Get It Done?
Editing a manuscript is nothing like sitting in your favorite chair to read for pleasure. Book revisions take time. Copyediting takes time. Proofreading takes time.
An average-quality fiction manuscript (in pretty decent shape, good grammar for the most part, easy-to-follow plot) allows me to read about 5000 words per hour. If it’s extremely clean with minimum intrusion on my part, I can often manage 8000–10,000 words per hour. Nonfiction manuscripts typically move slower (about 2/3 the speed of fiction), because there are often footnotes or endnotes to check and standardize, references to verify, fact-checking and more, but you get the idea.
Conversely, a manuscript that’s a little rougher around the edges can slow me down to about 2000–3000 words per hour. I’ve copyedited novels that needed so much line editing that I slowed to a crawl of barely 1000 words per hour.
Using our middle school math skills, if a train carrying an average manuscript of an average length is traveling due east at an average speed, and the editor is traveling due west . . . oh, wait. There are no trains. Just my desk and computer. All right, then. Mathematics will still tell me that an average-length manuscript will take about 50–80 hours of work on my part, with two rounds of editing.
What’s It Going to Cost Me?
I cringe when I see the “Any Length Manuscript Edited for $100” advertisements listed on places like Fiverr, Goodreads, Elance, and other race-to-the-bottom job-bidding sites. I liken that to a car mechanic—without ever seeing the car or finding out what may be wrong—telling someone that their repair will cost $100.
The fact is that there are too many variables (quality of writing, manuscript length, genre) that determine the estimated cost. One of those variables ends up being the time involved. As I mentioned above, it takes quite a few hours to go through a manuscript for copyediting, and most editors provide two passes of edits. Work time is valuable, and editors of all types provide a skill set that has value.
Let’s say you find a job you enjoy. Your boss tells you that you’ll be paid $100 for two weeks’ worth of work. Hmm. Maybe you’ve fallen on hard times and really need the money, so you agree. One hundred dollars sounds like a lot, right? Except that when 80 hours of work has been put into the job, you realize you’re only earning $1.25 an hour, and it will take you roughly 70 hours of work at that rate to pay your electric bill for the month, and only if there’s a fluke in payroll and they don’t withhold any taxes. Heck, it will take you at least 20 of those hours to afford a small handful of fruits and vegetables so you can keep up your strength.
Everyone wants a living wage, even copyeditors. The total cost for your book edit will reflect fair compensation for the hours spent.
I’ll Need This Completed in Two Days, Thank You
There are times, as the old FedEx ad used to say, when it “absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Maybe someone dropped the ball along the way and now you’re behind schedule. Maybe you’re a poor planner.
Maybe your dog got sick and your beta readers were late and your typesetter is already booked for next week and you regret that crazy moment when you thought you would have had the book finalized already and told everyone to preorder because it would be available BY THIS DATE and now you have very little time for the actual editing process.
The problem with making your schedule someone else’s problem (because let’s be frank: that’s exactly what is happening) is that you’re taking time that they may have had planned for something else. Do they need to set aside someone else’s project for a day or two so yours can be the priority? Do they have to work over the weekend, or late into the evening when they typically keep weekday/daytime office hours? Do they have to hire a babysitter because they’ll need to lock themselves in their home office with earplugs and a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign?
Well, you can probably find someone to do the job quickly for you in a pinch, but it’ll cost you. It’s called a “rush fee” for a reason. And the thing about having someone hurry for you is that you need to hire someone who’s exceptional at what they do, so you know the quick action doesn’t leave you with a lack of quality.
Sometimes the speed can be accomplished only by compromising on what gets done. Maybe there’s only time for a single pass. Errors may be missed, but it’s better than nothing. Or perhaps the editor can go through it for typos and punctuation but not sentence structure. Either way, something has to give.
The Bottom Line
What it all boils down to is this: plan ahead for an experienced and recommended editor, save your money for quality work, and allow for enough time to get the job done well. Miracles happen, but never on demand.