That's what someone asked me the other day. Of course, the answer was obvious. Here's what I said:
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First of all, your question is a bit nebulous. How much is "so much"? Three dollars? Thirty? Three hundred? Three thousand?
Second, what kind of quality do you want from an editor? Slop? Garbage? Fair-to-meddlin'? Decent? Good? Top-of-the-line? It makes a difference. Here's my estimation.
If you're like most writers who are just getting started (I make that leap of faith because experienced writers don't have to ask that question), your material is … uhh, how do I put this? Oh, yeah. Not great. Not good. In fact, it's downright sloppy, bordering on horrible. Your manuscript is loaded with typos, grammatical errors, syntax problems, punctuation mistakes, and lots and lots of developmental issues, like poor character development, wandering narrative, weakness in storyline, unrealistic dialogue, plot incongruities, and so forth. You don't know that, of course, because you don't have the training, skills, and discipline to be able to tell. That's why you need a professional editor.
I know this for a fact because I'm a published author with ninety conventionally published books and thousands of short pieces to my credit. I've been writing for half a century and teaching for nearly that long. And the first five or six books I wrote fit right into that description.
Now, you can be that one-in-a-million exception for whom everything is golden. You can be the one who falls victim to none of the maladies above. In that case, I'm going to estimate that, for an average book-length manuscript of 70 – 80 thousand words, you're going to have to pay $2 - $3 thousand. If your book is anything less than damned good, start adding on from there.
Sound ungainly expensive? Not when you think about the time an editor will have to spend cleaning up your "baby" and getting her ready to introduce to the world.
Oh, and should you need more than an editor (like a book doctor, God forbid, or even a ghostwriter to add material that you should have written but didn't), you're looking at low-to-medium five digits. Do the math.
Again, it all boils down to what your book looks like today and what you want it to look like tomorrow. On those rare occasions when I take on outside writers, I give them a perfect product, an introduction to a literary agency (worth its weight in gold), and a guarantee to stick with the project and make any modifications necessary to get the book published by a conventional house. The tab for all this expertise and proficiency is not nothing. And it sure ain't cheap! Why would I give away my time for someone else's work when I could use it to prepare my latest book for publication?
On the other hand, I have also edited books that were squeaky clean, for which I charged the price of a cup of coffee. I mean, if it ain't broken …
Hope this helps, and good luck.
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.