Jason Boog at GalleyCat proposes an interesting strategy for new writers: advertise in Craigslist for unemployed English Lit majors to critique your MS for $10-20. Matthew Mather, author of the self-published The Complete Atopia Chronicles, says that besides saving money, these grateful people “will probably become your biggest promoters and will be happy to write reviews and Facebook and tweet about your book.”
As an underemployed journalist who does freelance editing and critique, I’m offended that anyone would expect a professional service like this for ten bucks. I realize that he’s only talking about high-level critique, as opposed to line editing, but both kinds require a lot of skill and training. Knowing the craft of writing, and how to apply it to someone’s manuscript, isn’t something just anybody can do (or do well).
No doubt, you can get a bargain rate by looking for local English and journalism grads. That’s what I did; I ended up paying less than a third of what the big-time New York editors charge, and I got excellent feedback and plenty of personal time and attention. But to expect this for ten or twenty bucks? That’s exploitation, plain and simple.
If you’re an unemployed (or underemployed) English, journalism or communications major, would you spend four to eight hours reading and critiquing a manuscript for twenty bucks? That’s maybe enough money to take someone out for a movie or dinner – but not both. Maybe a quarter of a tank of gas. Believe me, I understand the two biggest factors that lead to taking on projects for too little pay: desperation and not knowing what to charge. The Editorial Freelancers Association has a nice chart for determining rates. Under “Manuscript Evaluation,” they recommend $45-55 an hour. The Writer’s Market suggests a range of $36-100 an hour or $150-2,000 per project.
If you’re a writer who’s looking for a $20 critique, I can only say this: you get what you pay for.