How much do book editors make?

I know aspiring book editors are curious about how much money a book editor makes but almost no one directly asks me this question. The answer, of course, is it depends.

Developmental editing (DE or dev), which is often called story editing when referring to fiction, is a type of editing that focuses on the big picture: Do the characters take actions for clear reasons? Does the plot make sense? Do the story events take place in a clearly evoked setting? These editors typically earn the most of all types of editors. It is not uncommon for a freelance developmental editor to earn $50 or more an hour (but not every hour a freelancer works can be assigned to a client—marketing and business maintenance have to be attended to as well).

Copyediting (CE) and Line Editing (LE) are about making sure the sentence-level architecture of a story is sound. CEs and LEs worry more about the prose and less about the story itself. These editors typically earn more than proofreaders but less than developmental editors. It is not uncommon for freelance copy editors to earn $30-$40 an hour (with the same caveats as above).

Proofreaders do the final check of a manuscript before it’s published, looking for egregious errors like typos and formatting glitches. They don’t care if the plot makes no sense. They are on the hunt for clear errors that have managed to slip through the rest of the editing process. Freelance proofreaders typically make $20-$30 an hour (with the same caveats as above).

If you’re looking for retirement income or a flexible job, freelance editing is a possibility to explore (and Club Ed has beginning and intermediate developmental editing of fiction classes coming up this fall). At the lower end of the scale (proofreading) the pay doesn’t get much above minimum wage (currently $15 an hour in California) but you can work from home, you don’t get fry grease in your hair, and you can build to something better.

More than forty percent of the US workforce freelanced in 2020, up from thirteen percent in 2013. More than twenty-five percent of Americans now freelance full-time, up from seventeen percent in 2014.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, more than 120,000 people currently work as editors in the US, and more than 11,000 full-time openings are expected each year of the coming decade, including both self-employed and staff positions. Median pay was $63,400 in May 2020. Freelancers are more likely to earn more as competition for staff jobs keeps wages lower.

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