This is a question that I am often asked by independent authors, and one of the reasons why I, sadly, turn prospective clients away. Some have unrealistic timescales, but this is usually because they don’t understand the editing process. They haven’t carried out any research (or bothered to read the information on my website!). Understandably, they are keen to submit their typescript to a literary agency or get on with the task of self-publishing, so want editing to be completed as soon as possible. Some also think that the more time editing takes, the higher the fee, but this is not necessarily the case.
To provide a realistic answer to the question, one needs to be aware of the traditional publisher’s schedule. It can take nine months for a book to reach actual publication, with copy-editing taking 6 weeks, first page proofs taking 3 weeks, and revised proofs taking a week.* That’s almost 3 months taken up with editing alone.
The work that an experienced, and qualified, freelance editor or proofreader carries out should be no different to that carried out by in-house staff, except perhaps the hours they work. Although, due to increasing workloads and financial restraints, publishers now often outsource editorial staff.
Until a freelance editor has built up a reasonable amount of experience, it may be difficult to determine how long it will take to edit a novel. Word count is a factor, as is the level of editing involved, and the number of hours that an editor can commit to in any one week.
So, to answer the initial question, I would suggest that an independent author be prepared to wait at least 6 weeks for their typescript to be copy-edited. If it’s sooner, then that’s a bonus. If they are serious about having their work professionally prepared for publishing, the wait will be worth it.
It’s also worth mentioning that traditional publishing companies usually set their publishing date at the outset and work towards it. For independent authors who wish to self-publish, this may be a useful working practice to acquire, as timing is important from a marketing point of view. 🙂
*Giles Clark and Angus Phillips, Inside Book Publishing (fifth edition), Routledge, 2014.