Ask An Editor: How Do Editors Get Paid?

When I started my blog in college, my goal was to help people. Back then, I shared lists of the best school supplies you could find on Amazon and explained—in detail—how I kept up my 4.0 GPA. Now, writing as an editor, my goal remains the same.

But at first, I struggled to come up with ideas: What content would be the most helpful for writers? What could I write about that would fill a hole in an already overly saturated market?

Then it hit me.

If I’m looking to know what questions writers want answered, why not just ask them? The idea has inspired my newest series, Ask An Editor, where (as you might guess) real editors like myself will respond directly to questions from writers about everything from grammar and usage to writer–editor relationships and the editing profession at large. First up, as suggested by Google’s Autocomplete and asked to me by a myriad of nosey neighbors over the years:

How do editors get paid?

I should preface my answer by noting that editing as a profession varies widely. Some editors work for major publishing houses in New York, while others copyedit for your local newspaper. Still others, like myself, piece together editing gigs from remote-friendly businesses, universities, and even independent authors.

You can see why this question might be a little difficult to answer.

But I think this question could be taken a couple of ways, and I’m going to try to touch on as many as I can. Firstly, in the literal sense, editors who work in-house—whether at a publisher, a magazine, a newspaper, or somewhere else entirely—get paid by their bosses via paycheck just like anyone else. Editors don’t typically make royalties on books or other publications that they work on, and are instead paid a salary, which, according to data from Payscale, averages around $50,000 per year in the U.S.

But perhaps we’re talking about an editor who’s working with an author a little earlier in the process. Maybe this is an aspiring novelist who has just written her first book, and she wants it to be the best it can before she starts querying literary agents. Or perhaps it’s a retired English teacher who is looking to self-publish a collection of short stories he wrote decades ago.

Either way, these writers may want to hire a freelance editor to work directly with them to tone up their manuscripts and prepare them for publication. That editor would likely get paid by the author directly, usually in a lump sum or on a payment plan. (Many editors will even hold onto your edited manuscript until they receive payment!) Editors who work with clients in this manner are generally self-employed and manage their finances in a way similar to any other small business.

Still, other editors might piece together work from corporate clients, academics, scholarly journals, independent news outlets, and other businesses, small and large. These editors, who may also take on “indie” authors, often invoice their clients at the end of a regular billing cycle.

Whether an editor is working as a contractor or an employee, they don’t generally get paid piece-by-piece; most editors prefer to be paid hourly or for an entire project, rather than for each chapter or section. But if you’re an author working with a freelance editor one-on-one, they may have their own policies and preferences; these would be great questions to ask them in your initial correspondence.

As far as how well editors get paid, the answer to that one also varies dramatically. An editor just starting out might be ecstatic to make a few hundred dollars one month, while successful freelancers can make six figures or more each year. Suffice to say that if you’re considering editing as a profession, you have a lot to look forward to—if you’re willing to work for it.

With that, I feel the great mystery behind how editors get paid has been solved. If you have more questions about what life is like as an editor, be sure to leave me a comment below and I may respond in a future blog post. Happy writing!

Have a question I should answer in an upcoming blog post? Leave it in the comments below with the hashtag #AskAnEditor!

Hey there, writer! Looking for a copyeditor to help you take your project to the next level? I’ve spent the last five years helping authors and businesses optimize their content and connect with readers. Click here to learn more and get in touch.

4 thoughts on “Ask An Editor: How Do Editors Get Paid?

  1. this is such an informative post and was so interesting to read! something i had never thought about before but the idea of what you do changing by client sounds challenging and fun!

    Liked by 1 person

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