Preparing to launch a book into the world (whether you plan to do that with a publisher or independently) is a huge endeavor that involves a lot of decisions along the way. We hope you find this FAQ helpful as you navigate that process.
One of the most important aspects of finding good partners on this journey to publication is preparation: The first steps are learning how to describe what you’re looking for and understanding what to expect. Whether or not you end up working with the Writer’s Ally, we want to help you get as informed as you can possibly be—we always say that a successful writer is an educated writer. So here are some of the most frequent questions we hear from writers like you, and some answers you can trust.
What does it cost to hire an editor and publish a book?
Well, that varies. Your investment for any project depends on a lot of things, from the total word count of your manuscript to the specific services you need. A small project may require an investment of as little as a few hundred dollars, and a big one could be several thousand dollars.
Speaking very generally, if you can work with a mix of “done for you” and “do it yourself” services, an average-length manuscript could get away with a budget of at least $5,000 for all editorial and design. If your book needs more development at the front end or you want more “done for you” help with publishing vs. DIY, you’ll need a larger budget, likely in the $8,000 – $10,000 range. You can bring these budgets down by taking on more pieces yourself or cobbling together lower-cost services with more experienced vendors, but as with anything, be wary of what you’re trading off to get that lower price tag.
The best way to learn what your project might require, and what your specific investment with our skilled team might be, is to sign up for a Book Strategy Call. This is a half-hour phone call during which we can work through all the variables and find out exactly what will be best for your project and how we can help you achieve your goals. Our packages are all customized to fit the author’s needs, so chances are good we can make something work for you as long as you are prepared to invest seriously in achieving your goals. If you’re on a shoestring budget, we’re just not going to be a good fit.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, an important factor in all this is what kind of editor or editing you need.
Wait. There are different kinds of editors?
You bet. Like professionals in any field, different editors have different areas of expertise—and we’re not just talking about fiction versus nonfiction. During the editing process, there are basically two different kinds of editors of which you need to be aware.
First, there are developmental editors. This is our sweet spot. Developmental editors focus on substantive, big-picture issues. For most nonfiction, that means structure and organization, use of anecdotes and exercises, audience and category suitability, tone, writing style, and any and all other problems that may exist. For fiction and memoir, that means story, characterization, conflict and tension, logic, dialogue, setting, style, and everything in-between.
Then, there are copyeditors. Copyeditors correct your mistakes and examine your sentences for clarity. They handle spelling, grammar, punctuation, and all technical issues with your manuscript. A copyeditor can also typically handle line editing—a more intensive edit that will clean up, and in some cases partly rewrite, your paragraphs and sentences—and proofreading, that last run through a laid-out manuscript prior to publication. (There are specialized line editors out there as well, FYI, especially common for creative narratives like fiction and memoir.)
A developmental editor’s job is to help you craft the very best version of your manuscript before it goes out into the world; a copyeditor’s job is to help you fix your mistakes so that best version absolutely shines. You can learn more about the editors on our team here.
Why doesn’t one editor take care of all these things at the same time? Wouldn’t that be way more efficient?
Quite the opposite, in fact. Suppose Chapter 6 of your novel is in need of a complete rewrite. In that scenario, what was the point of paying your editor to correct the spelling or punctuation in Chapter 6? You’ll still need to go through another copyedit once you finish your revisions.
Traditionally, an author works with a developmental editor first, then a line editor if you’re going that route, then a copyeditor on the final draft toward the end of the process before moving on to layout and design. That way, the deeper issues are resolved before the surface is addressed, and you only need to pay for that copyedit once. Proofreading (which many new authors confuse with copyediting) is done at the end of the design and layout process on “proofs,” which these days are usually PDFs of your designed pages or ebook files if you’re going digital-only.
Okay, but why do I even need a developmental editor? Isn’t that what beta readers are for?
Beta readers are great! It’s important to get as much feedback on your work as possible.
But in much the same way that a well-meaning parent can only tell you so much about your headache, and your partner can only provide so much legal advice acquired from reruns of Law & Order, a beta reader can only tell you so much about your manuscript. Ultimately, for the best advice, you’ll need a doctor, or an attorney, or a developmental editor.
A beta reader—someone who represents your target audience or ideal reader—can tell you if something confuses them, bores them, or otherwise isn’t resonating. They’re giving you feedback from a reader’s perspective. But it’s a developmental editor who can tell you why readers are having these problems—and not only why, but how specifically you can resolve them and make your draft better. A good developmental editor has particular insight and understanding about storytelling, other narrative forms, and prescriptive structure that most beta readers do not. We do this for a living!
If you’re serious about writing and publishing success, and especially if you’re still learning your craft, your manuscript needs at least one pass from a developmental editor.
But I’m pursuing traditional publishing instead of self-publishing. Won’t my publisher handle the editing?
If you’re picked up by a publisher, they will bring in their own editors. But first, you need to be accepted. Agents and publishers alike receive millions of submissions every year—and that’s not an exaggeration. And though some are willing to work with an unpolished but promising manuscript, most are looking for works already in great shape—those that stand out from the rest. Some of the most optimistic estimates are that only one in a hundred submissions ever makes it to the proverbial shelves! So to improve your chances, it pays to get some professional developmental feedback before launching into the submissions process.
One caveat here is for copyediting: If you have a strong sense of proper grammar and punctuation and you feel reasonably confident that your manuscript is “clean,” there’s no need to pay for a copyeditor before shopping your manuscript around. As we explained above, copyediting is most effective when performed toward the end of the editorial process, and your publisher most certainly should provide that service.
Even if I know what kind of editor I’m looking for, how do I determine which one is right for me? Should I ask for a sample edit?
You can ask, but honestly, you can’t tell all that much from five pages of free edits—especially when you’re new to the process and unsure of what to look for. The most experienced professional editors simply don’t have the time to provide free sample edits to every potential client.
Far more important than a sample edit is a resumé. What kind of books has your editor worked on? How long have they been editing? What do their past clients have to say? Do they have any experience working for established publishers, or done any kind of training or professional education? These are some questions you should consider asking before hiring an editor.
As for The Writer’s Ally, our editors have collectively edited hundreds of published books over decades working in the industry with authors just like you, and we only hire professionals with extensive industry experience. Same goes for our design and publishing partners. Here on the website, you can find testimonials from many of these clients, a link to our Goodreads shelf featuring many of those published works, and even some highlighted projects on our blog. That kind of experience tells you more than any sample edit ever could.
(That said, if you want to see a sample from previous projects, we’re happy to oblige!)
The other thing you can do is speak with your prospective editor to get a feel for his or her personality, approach, and experience. In our case, you can sign up for a Book Strategy Call, during which you’ll have the opportunity to speak with the Chief Ally herself—Ally Machate, our founder and CEO, has more than 20 years of experience in book publishing, and she’s happy to answer your questions while she helps figure out what you and your project will need in order to achieve your goals.
How long does editing take?
Like the investment, the timeframe varies based on the size of the project and what level of service you require. A developmental edit of a manuscript of average length may take about four weeks. A more evaluative service could take half that time. The longer the manuscript and more intensive the service, the greater the project duration, naturally, and the smaller the project the more quickly it goes.
Given our experience, we’re often booked several weeks to months in advance, but whenever work is set to begin on your project, it becomes our absolute top priority. (Which is another reason we don’t do sample edits. That’s valuable time we’d rather devote to our clients!)
We provide an experience similar to working with a traditional publisher in that we create production schedules for all of our projects. This ensures that you keep moving forward in a timely manner and your project gets done (i.e. no more embarrassment when your friends ask, “So how’s the book coming along?”). We’ll manage all the moving pieces, you just need to focus on writing/revising and meeting your deadlines like the pro that you are!
What kind of projects do you take on?
We handle many types of fiction, poetry, memoir, narrative and prescriptive nonfiction for readers ranging from children to adult. The whole purpose of forming The Writer’s Ally was to provide serious authors with editorial, publishing, and marketing assistance no matter their book type, so chances are great that someone on our intimate but deeply experienced team has worked on a project much like yours.
What about shorter manuscripts? Or different kinds of manuscripts?
While we typically work with full-length manuscripts, we’ve been known to edit novellas and short “lead magnet” ebooks too. We only do short stories, poems, and essays if they come to us as a full-length collection (a short one is okay). Harrison is an optioned and award-winning screenwriter, which, combined with his editorial experience, makes him uniquely adept at editing screenplays.
Will you edit my query letter?
Yes! Our editorial packages typically include help with writing or revising your query letter, as this is an essential piece of your submission package, and our goal is to do more than just improve your manuscript—we want to help you get published. We also work with book proposals, synopses, and cover copy (which doubles as an online book description). However, query letter, cover copy, and synopses services are available only as part of an editing package because we feel it’s best that someone actually read your book before they try to help you pitch it to agents and publishers.
Will you write my manuscript for me?
No. This is the one stage of the journey to publication that we, unfortunately, do not do. However, we have a network of ghostwriters and book coaches who can help you write your book, and we’re happy to offer referrals. Just shoot us an email with more information about your book and what you’re looking for, and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction of someone you can trust.
Is there anything you don’t do?
Ventriloquism. We’re awful at ventriloquism.
We also can’t do translations or work in foreign languages. If your project requires someone with special knowledge of any science or technical field, we’re probably not the right team for you. We’d love to be—we just don’t have the expertise.
And that’s important. We’re not going to tell you we can do something we can’t just because we want the job. We’re going to be honest with you so that you have all the information you need to make the right decision for you. We’ll refer you to trusted colleagues if we think they’ll be a better fit for your project.
What if I’m not finished writing my manuscript? Can you help me get there?
One way we do this is through a service that looks at your outline or synopsis and identifies serious pitfalls, helping you figure out the best way to get your readers from start to finish (it’s called Get Off Your Draft!). We’re always working on new programs through which we can help writers at all points in the process. Registration is often limited and offered first to writers on our mailing list. Feel free to sign up (you’ll get a free gift!) so you can be the first to receive notices of new programs and special offers! Or email us to see if a new program is about to begin.
AutoCrit is also a favorite tool of ours for help with really rough drafts that aren’t yet ready for an editing service, or for a final spit-shine following significant revisions.
What if we don’t live in the same region? Can we still work together?
My friend, this is the digital age. We don’t need to live anywhere near each other to work together. Some of our favorite clients live as far away from our east coast U.S. headquarters as Australia, South Africa, Finland, and Korea. We’ve never had a problem with any of them. (Except for scheduling phone calls. But we can work around that with email, or if we need to work after-hours to talk with you, then that’s what we’ll do.)
How do you handle payments? Do you require payment in full before beginning?
We’ve learned that the best way to handle investments is with a deposit on signing, an installment about halfway through, and the balance due just before or on delivery. Some small projects may have a payment due in full upfront. For larger projects, we’re willing to work with you on a more flexible payment plan if necessary. Once we come to an agreement about your investment, you’ll receive a contract to sign digitally and return with your deposit. That reserves your spot on our schedule.
We use a digital merchant account that accommodates payment via credit card for the fastest and most convenient payments.
I need an agent! Will you represent me?
We love to help you however we can, but we can’t be something we’re not. We’re not agents. And there are tons of great agents out there. Try browsing a copy of the most recent Literary Market Place at your local library or visit any number of websites, such as the Association of Authors’ Representatives. The Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents is also a good resource.
Can you publish my book?
Same deal. We’re not publishers, though we provide everything you need to help you to self-publish your own book.
And since we know exactly what the process entails—whether it’s self-publishing or traditional publishing—we’re always happy to provide advice. It’s all part of making sure that, no matter what we work on together, we leave you in the best possible position to move forward toward your publishing goals and dreams. If you aren’t clear on which path to publication is right for you, a Book Strategy Call with our Chief Ally is a great way to begin.
Okay, but what about other aspects of book production, like layout, cover art, and ebook design?
Yes! We work with trusted partners to provide complete design and publishing services for indie authors. Whether you just need a cover design and someone to create your book files, or if you need more back-end help such as with ISBN numbers, filing copyright, getting wholesale distribution accounts set up, and more, we have a package that’s right for you. But ultimately, you will retain complete control and ownership of your book as the true publisher. We’re just here to help provide the services you need to get there and do it right.
I keep hearing about the importance of building an audience and a platform. Can you help with that?
We occasionally run special offers for private consulting and online group programs to help authors create strategies for everything from building an audience and platform to creating a launch and ongoing marketing plan. However, we aren’t a PR or publicity firm, so we can’t do the legwork for you (though we’ll offer advice on how to get the help you need to bring your plans to life, or refer you to some of our valued colleagues who do offer these services). We do have limited book marketing services available, but they aren’t geared toward building your platform per se.
You said something up there about a mailing list . . .
That’s right! The mailing list is a great way to stay up to speed on all our special offers. You’ll also receive some terrific articles on writing and publishing. It’s totally free, so go ahead and sign up now! And of course, if you decide at any point you no longer want to be part of the mailing list, you can cancel your subscription. There’s a handy “unsubscribe” link in every communication we send out.
Any more questions?
Who’s your favorite superhero?
Spider-Man. Hands down.
How do I know you’re all really publishing professionals instead of, say, aliens preparing for a brutal invasion of the planet Earth?
We can neither confirm nor deny reports of extraterrestrial parentage, but either way, we’ve helped a lot of happy authors, agents, and publishers to write, edit, publish, and sell hundreds of books, so we’re still the finest resource out there as far as creating the best version of your book before the inevitable overthrow of Earth.
Thanks for reading! We’re looking forward to working with you. If you think you might be ready to talk with us, all you have to do is get in touch for that Book Strategy Call.
And if you have any more questions, just let us know!