What is Copy Editing?

Copy editing catches grammar and spelling errors, standardizes style, and improves clarity and flow. Good copy editing enhances a writer’s work, helping them to say what they want to say as clearly and effectively as possible. This is a hands-on job that no machine can perform – the spelling and grammar check functions in Microsoft Word will only catch obvious things (and sometimes not even those); it cannot make the kinds of improvements a thoughtful editor can.

But many writers have misconceptions about how what copy editors do, what their services cost, and how much time and effort goes into a good copy edit. First, few copy editors, whether academic or not, are going to charge less than $35 an hour. Experienced ones will charge $40 to $50, even more, if they are doing developmental editing on a manuscript, which involves either creating a work from scratch or extensively revising or rewriting an existing work.

In a thorough copy edit, editors complete three to five pages per hour, with a page defined as 250 words. A manuscript that needs a lot of work may mean a copy editor can complete only one or two pages per hour. On the other hand, editing a well-prepared manuscript without major problems could allow an editor to complete up to eight pages per hour. Therefore, a thirty-page article could cost a writer as much as $2,000 for copy editing. A 400-page book manuscript could cost from about $4,800 to $17,000 in copy-editing fees, depending on the state of the manuscript and how much work it needs to be made publishable. Most books, though, will cost $4,000 to $5,000 to copy edit.

Many authors are surprised by how much good copy editing costs. But experienced copy editors are educated professionals with advanced degrees, wide subject matter knowledge, and technical skills. Some of us also are experienced in working with authors whose first language is not English. We deserve to be adequately compensated for our work.

Think of copy editing as an investment, since a well-edited book manuscript or article is more likely to be published. If you are an academic, having your work accepted by a respected, high-quality publisher, academic or trade, can lead to being hired or getting tenure. In other words, the investment you make in copy editing can advance your career and make you more money.  

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