How to minimise the cost of editing

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Professional editing services do not come cheap. At $30–$60 (freelance editing rates according to EFA) or at least £28 (according to SfEP), an hour of editing costs as much as a ticket from London to Glasgow with a low-cost airline. If you have a nonfiction book manuscript, technical course materials, or a few hefty business reports, hiring an experienced editor may end up costing you as much as a round-trip ticket from London to Perth.

Whether your budget for editing is tight or limitless, saving on editing costs means you’ll have more money for designing and distributing your publication. Here are four things you can do to minimise editing costs—without sacrificing quality—regardless of which editor you choose to work with.

Avoid rework

Problem: Several editing passes cost too much.

This usually happens when one of the authors decides to make last-minute changes to the “final” draft that’s already been edited. The paper then needs a new round of editing, which adds to the cost of this service.

Solution: Send the editor a document that’s been thoroughly revised and approved by all the authors.

In some cases, though, you won’t be able to avoid several editing rounds. A good example is a paper intended for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. You’ll most likely have at least two versions of a manuscript—one before peer review and one after you complete the revisions requested by the journal editor—and both may need editing, or at least proofreading. In cases like this, sending both drafts to the same editor will help you minimise costs. As the freelancer will be familiar with your text, the second draft will take less time and effort to edit than the first, so it should cost less.

Use editable documents

Problem: The editor charges an extra fee for editing scanned documents.

Some authors prefer to send their editor non-editable files to ensure the editor doesn’t make changes silently (without tracking changes). However, editing a PDF, JPG, or scanned document is more laborious—and expensive—than editing a Word document; that’s because the editor will need to add comments on the side of the document for each proposed change, regardless how minor it is, rather than just make the change.

Solution: Send the freelancer an editable file (such as Microsoft Word or Open Office Writer). You’ll not only pay less for editing but you’ll also save time, as you won’t have to make each change manually. Instead, if you use a word processor, you’ll be able to accept or reject any change with a click. And if you need to compare the edited version with the original, use the Compare Documents tool to highlight all the changes made.

As an alternative to using Microsoft Word, Open Office Writer, or another word processor installed on your computer, you can upload the file to Google Drive and share it with your editor. They will edit the document online, and you’ll be able to easily track changes and view comments, as well as collaborate with the editor in real time.

Use reference management software

Problem: Editing and formatting references costs too much.

If your book, article, or PhD thesis has many references, and you’ve overlooked reference management, manually formatting the references (per APA Style, for example) and cross-checking them against the in-text citations may end up costing you more than a quarter of your total budget for editing.

Solution: To avoid unnecessary costs, use a reference manager to automate manual tasks. Or, if you don’t have access to reference management software, try to fix the references manually before sending your manuscript to a freelance editor. One free tool that is very useful is Google Scholar, as it can format a citation per APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard styles. While Google Scholar formatted citations are not foolproof, a partially formatted reference list should be cheaper to fix than one which looks like a ransom note.

Pay editing fees for editing services

Problem: The editor who finalises my work for publication charges me too much.

If you work with an experienced editor who charges an affordable hourly rate for their services, their fee for a job might seem excessive because they do more than just text editing. To prepare a document for publication, your editor might also need to correct formatting (fixing errors such as multiple spaces between sentences, tabs used for indentation, or extra spaces between paragraphs), add figure captions, create a table of contents, and more—as well as editing the text.

Solution: To make the most of your editor’s time, ask them to edit the text and ignore formatting or other document layout issues. You can send them a plain text document so that they’re not distracted by layout inconsistencies. This solution only makes sense, however, if you’re willing to design the publication yourself or have a document designer (or virtual assistant) on your team.

If you’re a PhD student, you’ll probably need to format your own PhD thesis. If you have a dissertation with many equations, images, tables, and footnotes, try LyX, an open-source text processing program, to avoid document formatting nightmares. Many of my clients who work in academia use LyX to write their papers, and I found that editing in LyX is much more efficient than editing in Word.

How to afford an editor

English language services don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Regardless of your publication budget, you can continue to afford a freelance editor if you avoid unnecessary expenses. You can do so by sending the editor the final version of your document as an editable file, using reference management software, and asking for language editing only. If you need other services, such as document formatting, consider enlisting the help of a virtual assistant. Learning to delegate the right task to the right person saves you time and money—and is a valuable leadership skill.


Cristina N.

I have a background in geology engineering and a keen interest in science, nature, and traveling. Before becoming a professional editor and writer in 2012, I worked as an academic researcher for seven years and earned a PhD in earth sciences from Cardiff University, UK. I like...

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