The cost of editing (Time | Quality | Price)

Three considerations that determine how much an editor charges. It’s a fair job.       

Prompt delivery (time), excellent standard (quality) and affordability (price). Editors commit to this and clients bank on it. It is said that most skilled editors can offer all three but, more frequently, only deliver on two. And that’s perfectly fair in an editing context: clients need work produced quickly but affordably and, preferably, to the highest possible standard. So then, how do editors, who offer quality and meet deadlines, decide on their rates, and what should you know when choosing an editor?


A skilled editor can assess the time needed to deliver work. Light editing, used in documents in which the content is structured well and makes sense, requires fewer changes and less time. Heavy editing means extensive changes to a document, with back-and-forth communication between authors and editors to approve changes in content, structure, organisation and flow. This requires more time. It goes without saying that the amount of editing needed will have an impact on the time required to complete the job. Clients must be realistic about what they need edited and by when. Editors must be able to accurately estimate what can be achieved within specified time frames. Too little time to complete a task could compromise quality, while meeting a tight deadline means a higher price may be charged for time-sensitive work.


I believe the standard of an editor’s work relies on three things: inherent skill or aptitude, formal training and a commitment to the profession. Editing practice in South Africa has yet to be regulated and many of us have found our way into this field indirectly, for example, through jobs that required quick glances at written material or work as educators that led to assisting students. Many editors undertake formal training to support a natural flair for playing with words; especially words others have written. In addition, editors’ membership with a professional organisation makes sure they know how language conventions change and that they employ best practice in their field. High standards in editing are best supported through ongoing education and development of professional skill and knowledge. However, if the work is to meet the best standard of excellence, it needs sufficient time for skill and knowledge to be properly exploited (in a good way). The final result: a top quality edit.


Clients want the best service at the lowest price; editors want to earn what is fair. Fortunately, professional organisations have established trends in pricing that allow editors to offer a reasonable rate and inform clients about market-related costs. Such trends will guide you on what you get for what you pay (see Professional organisations also keep directories of members and their skill sets (see ). A professional editor can be selected from a list of members who have met specific criteria and are committed to their professions. Reasonable editors charge reasonable rates (and the converse is true, too, either side of the pricing scale – you have been warned). Price remains relative to skill, knowledge and confidence in the field (that’s your quality assurance) along with fair time estimates for completion.

The cost conundrum

If you want all three, or an editor promises all three, time, quality and price have to work in unison. This may not be so easy and the reason for this is simple:

  • If you want quick turnaround at a good price, you may get less than you bargained for.
  • If you want quality work on time, you need to pay more.
  • If you want an affordable rate and quality work, you must allow sufficient time to complete the job.


All in all, it is possible to deliver all three, but only by being fair to each measure and to the (reasonable) editor you employ.

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