In the guardian books blog (see link in the righthand column) author and blogger Harriet Evans (pictured)posts a fascinating column outlining the virtues of editors, and the future of editing in the eBook age.
"Even if, like me, you don't particularly love the experience of reading an ebook, and think that a novel that doesn't break if dropped in the bath is still the best way to read, there's no doubt the age of the ebook is here," she begins, and goes on to chat about her own good experiences with editors.
Predictably, I suppose (sigh), the comments to her post focus on this dropping-in-the-bath business. Ordinary books (apparently now called pBooks!) don't emerge from bathwater in very good condition, either, they point out. Well, this is true enough. It reminds me of an episode in the comedy "Cheers," where Sam looks after a first edition of some classic (Moby-Dick?) for Holly, gets absorbed in the story, and drops it in the bath. He tries to return it to its old shape by tearing out every second page ...
Well, you get the picture. What is riveting about Ms. Evans's post is her persuasive argument that every book deserves a good developmental editor, even if it is going to be issued very cheaply (or free) as an eBook -- and a copyeditor is handy, too. Otherwise the book is not going to be as good as the purchaser deserves -- and the author is eventually not going to be very happy and proud, either.
So, should the aspiring self-published writer budget for a freelance editor?
It seems a good idea. Nothing, in my experience (and Harriet Evans's, too) replaces a developmental editor you know well, and trust completely, and a freelance editor would be better than no editor at all.
Coincidentally, Jason Boog, on today's GalleyCat @ http://www.mediabistro.com/ discusses the costs. His link leads to a page created by the Editorial Freelancers Association, which gives a list of ballpark figures (embedded in the subtitle at the top of this post, if you are interested).
As the EFA points out, the list should be used only as a rough guideline, as rates vary considerably, depending on the nature of the work, the urgency of the assignment, and so forth and so on. However, it does give a very broad hint of what should be budgeted.
A developmental editor works closely with the author to tighten up the book in the right places, expand it elsewhere, adjust the plot, rename the characters (believe it or not, the famous Scarlett O'Hara of Gone With the Wind was going to be PANSY O'Hara before a wise developmental editor made a good suggestion). Therefore, a developmental editor is going to cost a lot.
The rates chart suggests that developmental editing covers 1-5 manuscript pages (a page being 250 words) per hour, and the charge is likely to be between $60 and $80 per hour. This means that a 300-page manuscript is going to cost in the region of $6,000, if I read my calculator correctly.
Worth it? Definitely -- unless the book ends up being dropped in the bath.