Getting paid by word vs. by book

No, I’m not smoking any funny stuff. I don’t smoke anymore. Anything. I used to smoke pipe (tobacco) and cigars, but not anymore for health reasons. My wife would kill me if I did, so staying alive and in good health depends on not smoking.

Anyway, here I’m talking about the difference between making money as an indie author versus making money as an editor, proofreader, etc.

We, as authors, create works from the ground up. Whether we are pantsers, plotters, or any combination thereof, we need to finish and publish the book to be paid in the form of royalties.

We, as authors, have to come up with the idea, the concept, develop it, put it down in writing (from Chapter One all the way to The End), then process the work to make it the best possible through editing, choosing a good cover, coming up with a blurb that hooks and brings in readers, picking the right narrator for the audiobook, and so much more (you can see many of my other posts on the subject).

We have to put in a lot of work in any of our books. Many sleepless nights (or is that just me?), many hours of research, and so on.

Editors, any and all of them, have to be very good at their job. They need to know the latest trends, and also the classics. They need to have a grasp of the right structure, what tropes are in fashion and which are not. Also, they have to pay a lot of attention to your story, to identify the plot holes and other areas of improvement.

Authors get paid by the book (or the page, if you publish in Kindel Unlimited, but that’s a different story), editors get paid by the word.

How is this fair?

It’s fair because editors get paid once per pass. They go over the novel, sometimes more than once. There are several types of editing, and then there is proofreading, so an editor, or an editorial staff, will go over a novel perhaps up to four times. The editor, or the editorial staff, will charge the author per word because they are literally paying attention to each word and each sentence. They have to make sure you are using the right word to convey the right idea, that your spelling is on point and that your grammar is perfect.

As an author, you will be paid for your book for as long as the book is being sold. Some books have a short life span and only sell for a few months or a couple of years. They are, usually, but not always, written to market and for a special and narrow audience. Other books are timeless. They will be read and enjoyed for many years, some for centuries. The author, and the author’s state if things are done right, will be collecting on that book for many years to come.

In recent U.S. history, up to 1998 to be exact, all works published before January 1, 1978, were entitled to copyright protection for 75 years and, more to our concerns, all author’s works published on or after that date were under copyright for the lifetime of the creator, plus 50 years. In 1998, however, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, adding 20 years to the copyright term. Also, it was stipulated that no copyrighted work would enter the public domain again until 2019.

So, the author can be collecting royalties for many years and their estate may include the rights to those royalties, so, as I stated, it might very well be a moneymaker for over a century.

There is no denying the importance of editing properly. Developmental, line and copy edit are all vital. Proofreading is fundamental for the success of a book. That’s why the editor collects per word, the longer the book, the more they will charge.

So, if we write a 250K book, can we ask for a volume discount? I can see the logic of the idea, but the answer is no. The longer the book, the more attention it demands of the editor to make sure there are no mistakes in the plot, the arcs close, etc.

PPW, Punch Per Word, is something you want in your manuscript. You want to convey emotion and conflict in as few words as possible, so your reader will enjoy your book. It has nothing to do with the cost of editing, but the editor will try to have you go down in your word count when it helps the narrative. They will also ask you to expand where you “told and didn’t show”. It’s a delicate balance.

At any rate, that is the basic idea of why we, as authors, get paid by the book and editors get paid by the word.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.

Thank you for reading and have a great day.

Published by tjmanrique

I'm a SciFi, horror and fantasy writer. I will publish sometime in 2021. Mean time, My web page has my book cover concepts and a few short stories and stories about my writing journey.

2 thoughts on “Getting paid by word vs. by book

  1. In fact, most of us do. That is to say, we place a higher price on our longer books.

    None the less, charging strictly by the word is not the standard in the industry.

    Thank you for the comment, I appreciate it.


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