Generous estimates suggest as many as 30 million book submissions are rejected each year. And though self-publishing has taken firm root as a viable route to publication, only a small percentage of independent authors are successful. Given these extremely difficult odds, are professional book editing services really worth the money? Or, as one potential client asked on behalf of his banker wife, what’s the return on your investment?
“All or Nothing” is a Poor Investment Strategy
Like any good professional with substantial experience and a unique set of skills, freelance book editors often charge a premium to work with them on your book. If your manuscript runs longer than usual, costs can increase even further, because of course the longer a draft is the longer it takes to read it, think about it, and make comments on it.
To add to this problem, many writers are wildly unrealistic about how much work their draft needs, and ignorant about how much editorial services cost. So they often begin the process seeking an editor because they’ve learned somewhere along the way that they need one, or because they intuitively know they aren’t reaching their fullest potential as an author, and then once they start gathering cost estimates everything comes to a grinding halt.
Shock. Distress. Outrage! How dare this person charge me $4,000 to edit my 150,000-word novel? It can’t possibly take them a whole month to do the work, can it?
Or, sadly just as common, genuine disappointment and a feeling that one simply isn’t prepared to make that kind of investment in their work.
I don’t have stats on this but lately, I’m seeing a distressing trend. On the upside, more authors seem to understand that hiring inexperienced, cheap editors won’t get them the results they want. That’s great news. But what’s happening is if they can’t/don’t want to invest in a more experienced, more expensive book editor, or if they don’t want to wait for a slot on the book editor’s schedule (or simply don’t want to wait, period) they end up choosing to spend nothing at all, skipping professional book editing and feedback altogether.
To put it bluntly, this is just foolish.
Ask any financial professional and they will tell you it’s better to save a small amount than nothing at all. In other words, it’s always better to invest something. If you’ve found someone you want to work with but don’t have the cash, explore financing options. Borrow money from a friend or loved one. Consider a smaller service: If you can’t go for the full edit, get a manuscript assessment. Or invest time instead of money: Keep looking for a professional book editing service or editor with the skills you need but who’s in your price range. Get just a portion of your work edited and try to apply those lessons to the complete draft. Work with a good critique partner or group for a while, take a few classes, read a few books, and revise, revise, revise.
If you feel one quoted figure isn’t “worth it” to you, find another option that is. Because investing nothing is sure to get you nothing in return.
There Are No Guarantees in Book Publishing
One of the hardest things for would-be authors and their loved ones to understand is that there are simply no guarantees in book publishing. Launching a book into the world is very much an entrepreneurial venture—you want to do your “due diligence” with research, create the very best product you can, market it effectively, and then stick with it, analyzing your efforts for flaws and room for improvement if you don’t at first reach your goals.
At the end of the day, however, even the most awesome product or new business—and even the most well-written, interesting book—may still not get its toe-hold for a variety of reasons. Trends. Timing. You cannot control the outcome of anything in this world, really. You can only control the effort you make, in other words, what you put into something. Investment.
There are many routes to publication, and for many writers, that route includes professional book editing. The thing is, you cannot evaluate whether the cost of working with an independent book editor is “worth it” or not based on whether doing so will guarantee you a book deal or a bestselling indie book. You can only determine that:
a) professional book editing will significantly improve your chances of success
b) it’s an investment in your long-term career (it’ll make you a better writer)
c) studies show indie authors who hire professionals enjoy greater income
Absent of guarantees, whether or not an investment is “worth it” often has an extremely subjective answer. Do any of the above-listed facts have value for you? If so, you might feel working with a pro is worth every penny. If you read that list and think, “Meh,” then you probably won’t feel such an investment has value.
Are You Worth It?
No one has yet to demonstrate a “hard” return on investment for using professional book editing services—or other book services such as cover design, for that matter. I can’t honestly say that if you invest X dollars now you’ll sell X more books or find an agent X times faster. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be found, or that there isn’t a clear difference between the average author who goes it entirely alone vs. the author who seeks professional feedback and guidance along the way.
Here’s the only way to think about it that I believe makes any sense: The value has to be based on how badly you want to successfully publish a book and what you’re willing to do to make that happen. That’s it. The stronger your will to succeed, the more deeply you want to get published, the higher the perceived value of a professional service that will help you achieve your goals.
If you want it bad, and you know (deep down, I believe we always know the truth) your work isn’t the very best it can be, then it’s a mistake not to honor those truths. It’s self-sabotage not to invest in a book editing service that will absolutely give you a better shot at achieving your dreams.
Hell, if nothing else, it will improve your writing skills for future books. It will be a uniquely tailored educational experience, something you don’t get in a classroom or large workshop or even an intimate critique group.
And is that not itself a valuable return on your investment? Aren’t you “worth it?”
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.