How long is a piece of string?
It is difficult to say exactly how long it would take to edit a book, as it depends on various factors, but suffice to say, it is not as fast as some writers think. Most editors have had a client or two who thought their manuscript would be back within a week, and then balked when they found out how long it would take.
The most obvious factor in how long it takes to edit a book is how long the book is. A 95,000-word book will take a lot longer than a 40,000-word book. I usually allow about six weeks for a 95,000-word book, but it can vary.
“Six weeks?” you might say. “I read books much faster than that.”
Yes, but editing is not the same as skimming or reading a novel for enjoyment.
Why does it take so long?
Editing is a thorough process – that is what you pay for and expect. An editor will go through the entire book at least twice, sometimes three or four times, looking at different things each time. During each pass, the editor is reading for detail and will be stopping to check facts, check grammar or spelling rules, or add items to a style sheet. And they may also format the manuscript in a subsequent pass.
And for each pass, the editor will be going very slowly. As soon as you speed things up, things can be missed – did you have to read the picture below twice?
Another factor in the speed of editing are the different levels of editing, which all take different lengths of time. There are general guidelines set out by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) which suggest that for developmental editing an editor can do 1–5 standard pages an hour (where a standard page is always 250 words), heavy copy-editing can be done in 2–5 standard pages per hour, basic copy-editing in 5–10 standard pages per hour and proofreading in 9–13 pages per hour. That’s quite a range! A lot can depend on the actual manuscript and the editor carrying out the service. And these are only guidelines, which means that it may take longer still.
A manuscript may not fall neatly into a category if it is overly technical, has more errors than average, or is written by a non-native speaker of English whose English is not at a native level. In these cases, it may take longer.
And the editor may work part-time or have more than one project on the go, meaning they have fewer hours in a week to work on a manuscript, resulting in more weeks required to complete the editing. However, even full-time editors usually do not work for more than 5 hours a day, as, due to the nature of the work and the concentration required, any longer can be harmful to health, or, at the least, it becomes more difficult to concentrate at the level required for more than 5 hours a day.
So, how long should I allow for editing?
Your editor will give you a good estimate of the period they require to complete your manuscript. You should agree with them a firm deadline before commencing, so you both know when the manuscript will be completed. Many editors have a waiting list, so it pays to approach an editor in good time, regardless.
If you have written a book and don't know what the next step is or this all sounds too overwhelming, I can help.
I am a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. My business, Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, caters to all writers of fiction and non-fiction books. I can discuss with you where your book is at and what you need to do next.
For more information on how I can help you make your book shine, please contact me on: www.clearlingo.co.nz/contact.
I would love to hear from you.
Marja Stack is a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. She is the owner of Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, which caters to all writers of non-fiction books, business publications and cookbooks. For more information or enquiries for how she can help you make your book shine, please see her website:
New Zealand English Series
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