Essential Edits
Clarity     Precision     Accuracy     Brevity

Cost Estimates

Rates vary significantly depending on the task and the expertise required. Ghost writing a book can cost thousands, but basic editing can be as inexpensive as $50/hr, where ten hours of editing can often significantly improve a manuscript or save an author hundreds of hours of frustrating effort. A few hours of coaching can often overcome writer's block, revitalize a stalled thesis or dissertation, or identify bad habits that may be holding an author back.

Clients may choose to pay by the hour or by the project. Many clients prefer the third option, which is to pre-determined their budget, deposit that amount as a retainer, and then draw upon that for whatever services they need: editing a specific manuscript, coaching on a project, or general tutoring.


Estimates are determined by the type and extent of the editing required. We therefore need to do an appraisal before we can accurately estimate costs.

Manuscript Appraisal / Sample Edit

A manuscript appraisal service can charge over $1000 to provide a five-page report—without actually editing the manuscript. Essential Edits takes a very different approach, which allows us to offer appraisal edits for as little as $175.

Instead of charging potential clients for reading the entire manuscript, Essential Edits starts with a sample. Clients submit the first 4000 words (about 15 pages in double-spaced format) of their manuscript, plus a one to three-page synopsis of the novel (roughly what one would initially submit when querying an agent or traditional publisher.) The synopsis allows Essential Edits to analyze whether the story holds together; the sample tells us about the quality of the client's writing. Just as acquisition editors often say they can tell whether they are interested in buying a novel in the first five pages, Essential Edits can identify fundamental problems (if any) by looking at the 15-page sample and 1 to 3-page synopsis.

Essential Edits' appraisal identifies (a) whether the manuscript is ready for professional editing, or the author should first avail themselves of free workshops, critique circles, and beta readers; (b) whether the "submission package" is ready to submit to agents and publishers (if a publisher accepts your manuscript, then they provide whatever editing is necessary at no cost to the author); and (c) the commercial potential of the novel if one is self-publishing (i.e., whether the book is likely to sell well enough to pay for the investment in professional editing.)

Then Essential Edits goes beyond a simple appraisal to actually perform a full edit on these 15 sample pages. Many clients find that the sample edit identifies fundamental bad habits in their writing (e.g., overuse of italics or exclamation points; expository lumps; unnecessary backstory; etc.) and that once identified for them, the client can fix these fatal flaws in the rest of the manuscript for themselves. This obviously represents a significant cost saving for the client.

The sample edit also represents your opportunity to access the benefits of structural/stylistic/copy editing from Essential Edits on a trial basis without making a significant investment. The sample edit allows the client to determine if the edit is

  • at the desired level
  • of the desired quality
  • and provides the desired type of feedback
before committing to the expense of a full edit.

Of particular significance here is that this approach protects the client from paying for the wrong service. The term "editing" can refer to many different tasks, from proofreading to ghostwriting, so it is important the client is clear on which service is being sought.

Editors Association of Canada's Categorization of Editing Tasks

The Editors Canada site provides an explanation of twelve different types of editing:

Copy editors assume, for example, that any manuscript handed them is the final draft, and their job is just to check for grammar, spelling and the like. That can be an expensive mistake if the author thought they were getting the sort of "editing" that points out problems with plot, character, the book's internal logic, and so on. There is no point in having a perfectly spelled manuscript if the "surprise ending" is that the butler did it. On the other hand, an author may not appreciate an editor charging for extensive commentary on the storyline when all that was wanted was someone to check for typos.

The Essential Edits appraisal recommends the appropriate level of editing for the manuscript, and the sample edit on the first 15 pages demonstrates what that would look like. This "no surprises" approach avoids costly misunderstandings and ensures customer satisfaction.

Of course, the sample edit also allows Essential Edits to more accurately estimate costs by seeing how much work needs to be done on this particular manuscript. We can then draw up a contract clearly specifying both the editing/coaching tasks to be performed and the associated costs.

Our appraisal fee is heavily discounted because we're analyzing a sample rather than the whole manuscript. A basic appraisal edit from Essential Edits is $175 for 4000 words, plus a 1 to 3-page synopsis. (Larger samples are charged a correspondingly higher fee.) The fee is payable in advance and non-refundable.

Keeping Cost Manageable

One strategy some clients have found helpful to reduce costs is to sign up for partial or instalment edits rather than commit to a complete edit immediately. It doesn't make sense for the editor to keep making the same comments all the way through the manuscript; having once identified some issue in the first 20,000 words (say 'overuse of exclamation points'), the client can then go fix that in the rest of the manuscript themselves. By parcelling the edit into chunks, the client is given an opportunity to reduce costs by applying what they've learned from the initial chapters to subsequent chapters, so they're not paying again on page 140 for the same advice they already received and absorbed on page 24. (And, as with the sample edit, instalments also provide the client with an opportunity to fine-tune the feedback they are receiving during the editing process, rather than waiting until the very end to find out if they got what they wanted.) As the editing goes forward, the editor is left to concentrate effectively on problems specific to each scene, rather than the author's generic issues.

Nor is there an obligation to edit the whole manuscript. For example, after the initial sample edit, the author of A Thousand Roads only had us edit the first few chapters of drafts four, five, and six. Progress was rapid, dramatic, and continuous, as the author took our input and ran with it. Targeting one's budget to specific problem areas—an ending that isn't jelling, a middle that drags—makes perfectly good sense, and may provide maximum value for your dollars.

Essential Edits believes even limited editing is better than no editing, and is happy to work with you to meet your needs and budget. (Fair warning, though: once clients see what editing can do for their manuscript, it can become a bit addictive!)

Memoir and Autobiography

Editing memoir shares many of the same characteristics as editing fiction (see above), but in addition to substantive, stylistic, and copy editing, may include additional services such as developmental editing, interviewing, or ghost writing. Given that the starting point for memoir can vary so greatly (from a vague intention to get started, to a few scattered notes or a series of blog posts, all the way through to a completed manuscript) the best way for the author to explore options is to contact Essential Edits directly. There is no charge for this initial contact to determine if available staff are a good match for the client's needs.

Again, once the general shape of the author's needs are clear, Essential Edits will request a work sample of 10-15 pages (if available) for a preliminary appraisal/sample edit. As described under "fiction" above, the sample edit affords the client the opportunity to see if the input from Essential Edits is the type and quality desired. The charge for this initial appraisal and sample edit will vary based on the materials available, but will likely be in the range of $175-$300.

Alternatively, where a work sample is not yet available, or the client is looking for ghost writing, a more extensive consultation may be required. A retainer of $200 may be requested to pay for the necessary meetings at the hourly rate of $50 (our lowest rate). Again, the purpose of this initial retainer is to determine the nature and extent of the work required to provide an accurate estimate of costs for the completed manuscript, and for the client to be sure that Essential Edits is right for them.

As discussed in the section on memoir, editing may not be required for memoir intended for family use; or there may be less expensive alternatives than hiring a professional editor; or the manuscript may only require proofreading or copyediting. Completed manuscripts intended for commercial publication may anticipate charges ranging from $1500 to >$5000, depending on the type and extent of editing/writing required.

Theses and Dissertations

Routine Estimates
Note that subscribes to the Editors Canada Ethical Guidelines for working on theses and dissertations. Theses & Dissertations
Graduate students in thesis-route programs often encounter difficulties completing their thesis or dissertation; research suggests that the difficulty is most often with the writing process itself, rather than with the content of their research. A sustained (i.e., book-length) piece of writing requires different skills and approaches than other forms of writing (i.e., a term paper) so even excellent writers can find themselves stalled, frustrated, and in danger of not finishing. Roughly 50% of students in a Masters or PhD program fail to complete within nine years; 85% of these drop out after having already successfully completed all their coursework, data gathering, analysis and years of costly extensions. The financial (tuition, foregone earnings, etc) and emotional costs of not completing the degree in a timely fashion—or at all—are often devastating.

Ethically appropriate coaching on writing strategies to ensure success may be available to students, provided they obtain written permission from their supervisor and advisory committee, (see the section on theses and dissertations) but obviously require greater expertise and time commitments from the editor/writing coach then mere copyediting or proofreading, and may, therefore, be correspondingly more expensive than rates posted by others offering thesis “editing". On the other hand, staff are frequently able to help students overcome writer's block, thesis angst, and a stalled or failing dissertation in as little as 10 hours of coaching. In the long run, this is considerably cheaper than failing or paying for yet another extension.

Additional Considerations
Each thesis or dissertation and each client is unique. Some factors that may affect pricing are:

  • length: the longer the manuscript, the more time consuming
  • timeframe: rush jobs cost two to three times more than work scheduled well in advance—if they can be accommodated at all.
  • subject matter: some topics are more demanding and time consuming than others. Math and science theses require careful proofing of formulas, for example, whereas ethnography requires careful attention to unintended connotations of descriptive words.
  • strengths and weaknesses of the student's written communication determines how much editing is required and how difficult and time-consuming editing is likely to be
  • the level of intervention required (and approved by the supervisor): some clients need help with time management, others with writing skills related to thesis-level argumentation, others with the emotional toil of thesis-writing. Some need extensive help; others, just a quick pep talk at regular intervals to help them meet deadlines, interpret supervisor feedback, or deal with writer’s block. charges by the hour, so the client requests and receives only the exact amount of help they need. If one’s budget only stretches to 10 hours, even 10 hours can be helpful.
  • Specialty services: Whether indexing; markup/coding; chart/graph/table placement, etc. are included. (EssentialEdits staff may not always be available for indexing, coding, etc.)
The Essential Edits contract will specify both the charge and the work to be performed before any payment is collected or any work performed, so that there is no misunderstanding. If additional services are required or requested, additional charges will apply.

Generally speaking, it is most cost effective for editing to take place after the thesis or dissertation has been approved by the committee; either before being sent to the external reader, or after final approval. Editing prior to committee approval may be premature, as it is likely committee member feedback in the early stages may give rise to extensive revisions by the student, which will then require further editing. In some cases, however, the supervisor may feel editing chapter by chapter, or prior to the manuscript going to the committee members, may be necessary to achieve approval. In either event, clients are encouraged to make initial contact with Essential Edits well in advance of when they expect they will require editing, so that their project may be scheduled appropriately.

When scheduling editing, please note that the deadlines listed in University and Faculty calendars are not to be confused with your actual due dates. Students who show up on the Monday of the week their work is due on the Friday, believing their supervisor has nothing to do that week but read and approve their thesis, are going to miss their deadline. Professors are busy, so one has to allow weeks for supervisors and committee members to read, let alone comment on, one's thesis or dissertation. Further, do not start from the assumption that their comments will be "this is fine as is". One needs to schedule weeks (usually months!) to undertake the revisions the supervisor and/or committee members will likely demand, and then more weeks (months) for the resubmission. If one wishes to have the document edited at any point in the process, one must similarly schedule the work well in advance, or risk being disappointed.

Note that 'rush jobs' to meet some deadline of the client's are charged at double or triple the usual hourly rate, if they can be accommodated at all.

Payment must be made before any work can begin; arrangements can be made, however, to pay by the chapter or sections so that instalments could be stretched out over the course of writing the thesis. No work can proceed on the next section/chapters until the payment for that instalment is received.

Re-edits of subsequently revised chapters of the same document are charged separately and are not included in the price of the initial edit, unless specifically stated in the contract.

Clients must provide a deposit against which work can be charged as it comes up; unused balances are of course returned. Phone calls and coaching emails are charged (to the nearest quarter hour) at the same hourly rate as direct manuscript editing. Essential Edits provides accounting of time used and alerts the client when the balance is getting low.

Non-Fiction Books

First, contact Essential Edits to ensure that there is a staff member with sufficient expertise in the area to take on the project. Essential Edits believes in carefully matching editors to clients to ensure quality results.

Costs are determined by the nature and extent of the editing required. Prior to signing a major contract, the client will be asked to submit a work sample related to the anticipated project for an appraisal and sample edit. The appraisal and sample edit costs $175, payable in advance and non-refundable. As with fiction and memoir (above), this step is necessary to ensure that the client is given an accurate estimate, and that the client is satisfied with the type and quality of editing on offer.

Ghostwriting—creating original text based on author notes or rough drafts—may also be available from Essential Edits if the topic is within the area of the staff's interest and expertise. (This service is not available to students writing course assignments, theses, or dissertations.)

Essential Edits provides accounting of time used and alerts the client when the balance is getting low.



Last updated: May 28, 2022