It has been a little while since I started a survey about editor earnings. There are a couple of reasons. One is to reveal my own personal experience with editor earnings, and the differences between private editing and editing for a publisher. I can tell you that while money is not everything, there is a correlation between long-term satisfaction and pay.

The second is my experience with hiring editors for my own work, other writers who hire editors, and the quality of edits when you opt to pay more.

Here is the simple breakdown or survey answers at least to start with:

40% of editors got a one time fee when editing for a small press, the other 60% of respondents got a combination of royalties and a flat payment.

Type of Payment

The amount of royalty payment was split evenly: 33% received 3-7% of net, 33% received 7-10% and the remainder of those who received a royalty got less.

Those who got flat fees varied as well: 40% were in the 0-$500 range, 20% were in the $1500-$2000 range, and 20% were in the $2000+ range. The final 20% varied, depending on word count, project length, and depth of edit. No one was in the $500-$1500, showing an odd gap in the middle range of the pay scale.  

One Time Fee Amount

Only 40% felt they were adequately compensated for the amount of work they did, even over the long term and including royalties.

What does this tell us about the state of editing? If 60% are not satisfied with what they are being paid, what kind of work are they doing?

The answer in a perfect world would be that quality should not be dependent on pay but on a personal commitment to excellence. However, we all know it often does not work that way. Job dissatisfaction often leads to poor performance.

The other issue is that professional editors will often not work for lower fees. So the quality of editor in the first place is likely inferior. Small presses can’t afford to hire more professional staff, and so quality suffers overall, and as a result so does reputation and sales.

This is not just an issue for small presses though. Larger publishing houses often can recruit better-qualified editors, but those editors are assigned to authors who are already selling well, and to acquisitions: combing through the slush pile for new talent.

Who edits the new author’s work? Often this type of work is done by interns with little supervision from senior editors. Thus the proliferation of errors even in traditionally published books.

Which is another discussion for the next part of editor earnings. The take away so far is simply this:

If it’s hard to make a living writing, it is just as hard to make a living as an editor, at least in the traditional small press type role. Freelance seems to be the answer just as self-publishing is the answer for many authors (although small presses offer some good contracts for authors. More on that in another study).

So how do you make a living as a writer and editor? Stay tuned for more data, examples, and interviews.