Why does editing take so long?
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
So you’ve found an editor for your novel. The problem is the timeline. The editor has said it’ll take three weeks, or four (or even five????), and that seems a bit long to you for a copyedit or proofread. Why does editing take so long, exactly?
There are several factors that go into how long it’ll take for your editor to finish editing your book. Read on to find out more!
The Editing Itself
Personally, my editing speed is about an eighth of my regular reading speed. In other words, a book that would take me 6 hours to read for fun would generally take about 48 hours to edit. (Want to know exactly what’s happening when I’m editing? I have a blog post that includes all the details!) All of my recent editing projects have taken more than thirty hours. Some have gone up past forty, or even fifty!
If you’re thinking of a typical full-time job, then 48 hours seems totally accomplishable in just a little more than a week. However, that assumes that the editor spends long hours editing. For me and most editors I’ve spoken with, more than four or five hours of editing per day is just not possible for an extended period of time. Maybe we can put in a seven- or eight-hour day here and there, but it’s exhausting, the editing quality goes down, and it takes some time to recover afterward.
I max out at about five hours during a typical editing day. Some days I can only manage three or four hours, depending on my concentration levels and general energy levels, which change day to day. So when I’m calculating how long an edit will take, I divide the total estimate by four to get the number of working days. In the case of a 48-hour edit, that works out to just over two weeks.
But there’s more!
The editing itself is not the only thing to factor in. There are other tasks related to the editing that have to be done as well:
Author correspondence—writing and replying to emails from you during the course of your edit, either to ask and answer questions or to give progress reports.
Style sheet creation—adding to the style sheet is part of the editing process, but I count the initial creation of the style sheet as a separate process.
Edit letter composition—I accompany each edit with an edit letter explaining the main gist of what I’ve done.
All of these take more time, and so I add a couple hours for each into my estimate, taking my 48-hour editing time up to 54 hours for the entire project. That adds another two days to my estimate, bringing me up to fourteen.
Even for manuscripts I receive from publishers, I plan my work out so that I will finish at least one day ahead of the deadline. (Except for rush orders. Then all bets are off!)
Buffer time is essential because life is unpredictable. I may need to take an entire day off editing to rush my dog to the vet or myself to the doctor. I may have something come up in my personal life that makes concentration impossible for half a day or more. Or there may be a power outage or some other technical failure that takes an entire day or two to fix. Adding buffer time allows me to deal with these unexpected hiccups without having to ask for an extension.
In general, I add an extra buffer day for every ten hours of work, rounded up. So, if I expect a project to take 48 hours, then I’ll add 5 extra days for buffer. That takes my earlier estimate of fourteen days up to nineteen, or nearly four full working weeks.
This buffer time means I can often turn the edits in early, or I can use the extra couple of days to go over them just once more. Or, in unusual circumstances, I use them for their actual purpose and am really glad I have them.
Do keep in mind that every editor is different, as always. So another editor may give you a two-week estimate for the 48-hour project I’ve outlined here. Or yet another editor might only do freelance on the side and may need six to eight weeks to finish the same project.
Also, different types of editing require different timelines. Developmental edits often take longer because the editor reads the book multiple times, takes extensive notes, and then writes an extremely detailed multi-page letter. Proofreading tends to take less time because the manuscript is already in pretty good shape when it arrives on the editor’s desk.
This is why it’s so, so important to contact editors several months before your ideal publishing date. Not only do many editors book out several months in advance, but you may end up paying out the nose for a rush edit if it would normally take a month to edit the book you want to publish by next week.
It’s also important to be upfront with your deadline or to ask about timelines early in your correspondence with your editor. This way there won’t be any surprises later on when you’ve already got your heart set on a certain person.
Do you have any questions about editing timelines? Want to know how long it would take me to edit your book? As always, feel free to get in touch by email! I’d be happy to answer any questions you have.