To be able to answer the question 'how much does developmental editing cost?' you must first understand the factors that impact pricing such as word count, the complexity of the book, and standard of English.
 

What is Developmental Editing? 

Developmental editing is the process in which a manuscript is assessed for wider structural issues and plot holes. The developmental editor will read the manuscript and look to make suggestions to lift the story to the next level.
 
The editor will be looking for several potential problems. The most common of these include:
 
  • Issues with the plot.
  • Character development.
  • Structural issues.
  • Issues with the narrative and viewpoint.
  • Genre expectations.
 
These are just a few of the key issues that a developmental editor will assess. Each manuscript is different, and each manuscript will require an intelligent and comprehensive assessment from an editor.
 
The result of developmental editing is a manuscript that contains both tracked changes and embedded comments. There will also be a separate editor's report that will outline the key problems and the suggestions that can be made to resolve these problems.
 
Developmental editing is a time-consuming process, and the turnaround time is normally measured in weeks and months, not days. However, the final product can transform a good novel into a great novel.
 
You can read a more detailed description of what is included in developmental editing here.
 

Types of Pricing

There are three types of pricing for developmental editing:
 
  1. Price per page.
  2. Price per hour.
  3. Price per 1000-words.
 
Price per page 
Originally, developmental editing was priced per page. This is a throwback to the traditional publishing process, where publishers would pay freelance editors by the page. However, publishers would have a clear indication of the book’s page count prior to editing process. 
 
This system of payment works well when the exact page count of a book is known.
 
In recent times, the page count of books is flexible, if known at all. Digital formats, such as mobi and epub, have what is known as flowable text. This format means that the book never has a set number of pages since the text will flow to match the screen that is being used to read the book.
 
Some editors will insist on providing a cost based on page count, and the emphasis is on the writer to determine the overall page count for their book.
 
As a rough rule of thumb, a novel will typically have approximately 300 words per page. This can be used to determine a rough estimate, but the actual number of words per page will vary greatly from book-to-book.
 
Price per hour
it is not unusual to see editors quoting their price per hour. This presents obvious problems. It is impossible for a writer to know how long it will take an editor to edit their book.
 
The number of words an editor can edit per hour will depend on several factors, including the book's complexity, the quality of the writing, and the editor's experience.
 
This means that determining a like-for-like price for an edit based on the cost per hour is impossible. The only way a writer can find an accurate price is to give their book to the editor and get a quote for the work. Even then, it is not unknown for editors to alter their price once the edit begins, or even not produce a final price until after the edit has been completed. 
 
This means that a writer can waste a huge amount of time as they send their manuscript to editors to assess before a quote can be given.
 
This type of pricing is mostly used to protect editors, who do not wish to be caught out by books and novels that require a huge amount of work due to poor English.
 
Price per 1000-words
In 2008, BubbleCow was the first developmental editing service to offer a price per 1000-words. They developed a flat fee that was based solely on the length of the book. This allows writers to determine an accurate price for a developmental edit before any engagement with the editor.
 
This transparent and easy to use pricing system is by far the most preferable for a writer.
 
Since BubbleCow’s ground-breaking pricing strategy, several other editors have followed suit and provide costing as a price per 1000-words.
 
Pricing per 1000-words is, by far, the most transparent and useful method of pricing a developmental edit. It allows writers to clearly determine the cost of an edit before communicating with a potential editor. This saves a huge amount of time and effort for both the writer and editor.
 

Factors That Affect Pricing

No matter whether you are looking at a price per page, a price per hour, or a price per 1000-words, the overall cost will be determined by several factors.
 
The first of these is word length.
 
Naturally, the longer a book, the more costly the edit will be for the writer. You will also find that some editorial services have a minimum word count. This is the minimum amount of words that they are prepared to edit. This will typically be around the 15,000 words mark.
 
The second factor to consider is the complexity of your book.
 
An editor will often charge more for more complex books. You will find that a simple, well-written novel will often be less expensive to edit than a complex non-fiction manual that requires specialist knowledge and attention.
 
The third factor, when considering pricing, is the level of English.
 
For writers that English is not their first language, they will often find that the price for developmental editing is greater than they would have expected. The reason for this is that to correct the flow of the sentences and bring the book to a publishable standard requires significantly more work than a novel or book written to a higher standard. Most experienced developmental editors will be reluctant to work on a book that has been written in this manner.
 
The final factor to consider is the genre of the book.
 
Certain genres (often non-fiction) will require specialist editors and these editors tend to be more expensive since they require specialist knowledge. For example, a highly technical non-fiction book will require an editor that is both experienced in editing and in the book's topic. Naturally, these specialist editors come at a premium.
 

The Typical Cost for Developmental Editing

Determining the typical cost for developmental editing is problematic.
 
As we have seen, several factors will influence the final price for the edit. These include word count, but also the complexity of your book and the standard of your English. Also, how the editor is seeking to determine the cost, be that price per page, price per hour or price per 1000-words, will all have an impact.
 
In addition to all of this, some developmental editing services will offer items that others will omit. For example, BubbleCow's developmental editing service includes line editing as part of the price. This is not the case for most other editing services.
 
Therefore, in order to determine a typical cost with developmental editing, it is best to use the transparent cost per 1000-word model. This allows you to clearly assess the price of editing your book without a direct conversation with an editor.
 
BubbleCow, who pioneered the cost per 1000-word model, charge $20 per 1000 words. This is a flat rate, and no additional pricing is added post-edit. We can use this to determine a typical price for editing.
 
  • 15,000 words novel would cost $300 for a full developmental edit.
  • 25,000 words novel would cost $500 for a full developmental edit.
  • 50,000 words novel would cost $1000 for a full developmental edit.
  • 75,000 words novel would cost $1500 for a full developmental edit.
  • 100,000 words novel would cost $2000 for a full developmental edit.
  • 150,000 words novel would cost $3000 for a full developmental edit.
 
BubbleCow have a handy price calculator that you can use to determine the cost for a developmental edit.



 

What to Look Out For When Deciding on an Editor

When deciding which editor is most suitable for your book, price should not be the only factor you consider. There are several other factors that should play a part in your final choice of editor.
 
  • Upfront price or quote? Some editors will want to see a manuscript before they provide a quote, all this (normally those charging per 1000-words), will be happy to give a quote without seeing the manuscript.
  • Are you working directly with an editor or a third party that will give your book to a freelancer? Editorial companies will act as third party middlemen and will pass your book to a freelance editor of their choice. You need to decide if you are happy for this to happen or prefer to work directly with an editor. You will also find that companies using third party freelancers are often more expensive since you are paying for the middleman.
  • What is the turnaround time? The amount of time it will take to edit a manuscript varies greatly. It is important that you get a firm return date from your editor, prior to payment. This will give you a clear indication of when your manuscript will be returned and allow you to plan the next stages of the publishing process. If an editor is unable to give a firm date for return, then alarm bells should be ringing. As a rule of thumb, about one calendar month is a reasonable return time.
  • How experienced is the editor? It is possible to find less expensive editors who are less experienced. Consider using these cheaper editors with caution. It may be that you have found a bargain, but it may also be that the editor is trying to learn their trade with your manuscript.
  • Will they provide a sample edit? All reputable developmental editors will provide a sample edit of the first few thousand words of your book. This should be free of charge. If an editor is unable to provide a free sample edit, or is asking you to pay for this edit, then alarm bells should be ringing.
  • Post-edit service. The service you receive after the edit may or may not be important to you and your book. Before you engage an editor, consider what you expect to receive once the edit has been completed. Will the editor be able to talk to you directly? Will you be able to ask the editor questions? Will the editor look at additional revisions of your manuscript?


Final Thoughts

Developmental editing is a costly and time-consuming process. However, it is an essential step in the publishing pathway. It is essential that you consider all elements of the editorial process before engaging an editor.
 
Budget will always be an important factor, but it should not be the most important factor.
 
Before deciding on the editor that is right for your book, speak to that editor and determine that they understand what you are trying to do with your book. It is also important that you get multiple quotes and sample edits before making a final choice.
 
The editorial process should be enjoyable and transformative, and you should be in control at all stages of the process; picking the correct editor is the difference between a good and great book.