There’s no doubt about it. As a debut author, finding upwards of $2000 to pay for professional freelance editors is daunting. But before rending one’s clothing and hurling expletives at the sky, let me assure you there are ways to lower that bill.


The Revisionist’s Discount

In general, editors charge by the page or by the hour. Therefore, ergo, the fewer pages there are, the less expensive the edit. Most fantasy/science-fiction novels range from 80,000 – 120,000 words. Of course, a story takes as long as it takes, but if we’re all honest, there’s always some bloat that could be trimmed off. For myself, I can think of a couple of sweet scenes in my draft that I really enjoyed writing…but do they propel the story forward? Do they really add to the reader’s experience with the novel?…Er, probably not.

Even established authors run into this issue. One suggestion I came across was to keep those awesome, unnecessary scenes that didn’t make the cut in separate file. You never know what future story they may find a new and better home in. For me, it was much easier to chop out these scenes knowing they weren’t really gone forever. I have a folder aptly named “Creative Crap” where I put my precious extras, like paperclips in a junk drawer.

The Unknown Beta:

The more betas you can get, the more you can whip your WIP into shape before it reaches the editor’s desk. This will shorten the amount of time (and most likely pages) the editor will spend on your work, thereby reducing the bill.

The long and the short of it is this: You need a dispassionate eye to read your manuscript and provide the essential critical feedback that friends/family/colleagues simply can’t provide. There’s no harm in having them read your manuscript, but remember that they know you. They know your background, your thought process, and if you’ve exchanged ideas on your project, they may already know some of the story.

The potential reader will not have access to all of that data. They’ll have only what you’ve written on the page, hence the need for a critique from the outside to unearth anything you might’ve missed.

Where can you find them?

Book Clubs: Local groups review books together. Contact some in your area and offer them an advance copy with a list of beta questions.

Places to look: Contact your local library to inquire about book club listings

Critique Groups: Groups of writers that come together (virtually or in-person) to go over each other’s work.

Places to look: Goodreads forums, Local writer workshops, and I located one online at http://www.critiquecircle.com/.

Online Resources: Websites for authors to submit their work specifically for a beta critique.

Places to look: In the U.S. the following is one of them: www.beta.us.

Obtain as many beta reader critiques as possible (aim for at least 5 or 6). I recommend using the same list of questions so you can compare the answers evenly (For a list of good beta questions, click here). Look for trends. My tactic is to really examine the sections that more than one person pointed out as a problem. That helps to weed out the advice that’s more personal preference than unbiased critique.

Have them provide a rating as well. I use the following scale:

  1. Loved it!
  2. Really like it!
  3. Liked it.
  4. Only okay.
  5. Dreadful.
  6. Don’t ever ask me to read anything of yours again.
  7. I am getting a restraining order against you.

You want the scores to be either the highest or the second highest rating. Although “Liked it” isn’t a bad score per se, it isn’t much of a mandate. A fan base is grown from readers that come back for more of your work because they had a great experience, not a so-so experience. If your scores are mid-range, it’s a strong advisement to go back and rework the manuscript till it shines.


Some may feel comfortable publishing the book if the scores are consistently coming back high from outside beta readers. A copy editor should still be considered. Often a beta reader will forgive typos and grammar errors (or may not even see them), but readers that purchase a book won’t.

Okay, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, this fine and all, but how do I actually find the moula to contract an editor?”

After paying for the mortgage, health/car/house insurance, daycare and groceries, there may not be much leftover to add to the pickle jar to save towards this expense. Before one resorts to reducing the grocery bill to what can be found between the couch pillows, please tune in to the next installment in this series:

Coming soon: Ways & Means: Crowdfunding