Content editing and copy edits usually have different rates. In the traditional sphere I often hear about how content edits take longer than copy, but in the indie sphere it’s often the opposite with copy edits costing more. I found myself thinking about this when I saw an agent mention how content edits take longer and cost more, even though most freelance editors I’ve seen have higher copy rates, myself included. So let’s discuss why that is! This is all based on my observations, so keep in mind other editors may have different opinions and views on the topic. There is some harsh truth in this post but fear not because there is advice at the end!
As a reminder for those who might not know, content edits deal with things like plot, pacing, and character development while copy edits deal more with line edits and grammar. Some editors have a knack for grammar while others find grammar frustrating but are great at spotting weak character development and plot holes. It’s not uncommon for editors to focus on one or the other and they often do so in the houses while freelance editors might offer multiple services to bring in more projects. I got my start as a proofreader and copy editor on the traditional side but these days I find I enjoy content editing more.
My work can vary by quite a bit depending on whether I’m editing in the traditional or indie sphere, both of which I do. The main difference I find as a copy editor on the traditional side versus the indie side comes down to quality. Copy edits usually go faster for me on a project through a house versus the indie side for a number of reasons. The big reason is by the time traditional manuscripts land on my desk they have already been through a content editor at minimum, meaning they are ready for copy edits.
On the flip side of that, I see too many indie authors skipping content edits to go right to copy edits. That leaves more work for me as a copy editor and it can be hard when there are so many content edits to be made that may include inconsistencies that make copy edits harder to pin down. Plus those copy edits may finally bring the needed content edits to light for the author, causing large content revisions between editing rounds, meaning sections that should be on their second copy pass are now only on their first pass and extra rounds of edits may be needed, causing the project to take longer than expected. At the very worst, the author might need too much work and not have the revision skills to get to a publishable quality. This is why some agents ask for revisions before signing authors to see if they can revise well enough. Revision takes practice just like writing and if you are brand new too both, it can be worth practicing a bit more before hiring an editor to get your money’s worth.
The harsh truth is traditional publishing is very competitive, so you have to be of a certain level of quality to get in, but not with indie publishing. I’ve noticed more and more traditional authors using critique partners due to the high quality needed to get their foot in the door. Add in the fact that agents edit their authors now plus content editors before authors even get to the copy editors, versus indie authors who many not have had any of that and the quality of projects can be vastly different by the time they reach my desk. Some authors turn to working with editors because their writing isn’t quite there yet at the sentence level, so they need more mentoring versus my traditional authors who have already been edited by critique partners, agents, and content editors and just need some smoothing out at the grammar and sentence level. For this reason some editors might prefer working with indie authors because they feel they can offer them more mentoring and guidance and be more involved.
Are you worried you need to improve the quality of your writing before paying for copy edits? Get yourself some critique partners who will be honest with you. No close friends or family. Get other writers with experience reading your genre. You can learn a lot about what you need to work on before you hire an editor. Plus critiquing others can make it easier to spot issues you didn’t notice before in your own work. Make sure you take care of content editing before moving on to working with a copy editor and practice taking feedback and revising before hiring an editor. If you are going to have strong knee-jerk reactions to edits that prevent you from revising, you aren’t ready yet.