How I started a six-figure editing company in 48 hours for $350.

How I started a six-figure editing company in 48 hours for $350.

The first website I made was for my art. It was awful. But I learned. When I was doing my MA in literature, I started an editing company. I saw those websites that fixed student papers and tried to copy the style, then build traffic.

I was so excited when I got my first $300 from a total stranger. But I made some mistakes, the main ones being these:

1. Papers are too short, and often hard to edit, and don’t earn that much.

Sure I could earn about $100 a day from the work that was coming in, but I was always busy checking email and dealing with new clients.

2. It was too general: I offered to fix EVERYTHING. That doesn’t give confidence to a client with something special. That original website is It looks OK but I’ve shut it down, because I don’t do editing any more (if anybody wants to buy it, let me know – it still brings in traffic).

Starting over

Since I started Paper Perfect, I’d learned a lot about design and branding. I also knew that the best editing work was in books: because they were long and authors would pay more. But you need to convince authors you’re the best editors in the world, with lots of experience editing books. Luckily, since I’d been working in publishing, I had a bunch of colleagues who were amazing professional editors – they had the right skills but had trouble generating their own traffic and getting the clients.

So I decided to start a new company: one that just did book editing. An average book costs roughly $2500 to edit, so I planned to get 10 projects a month. Editors would make 75% and the rest would go to overhead and advertising. We charged more so we could attract and keep the very best editors. Clients could submit a free trial to the website and get replies from several editors, and choose the best one.

To make it exciting, however, I called it the Book Butchers, with the tagline, We Slaughter Your Writing, So It Can Rise Again From The Ashes. 


I picked out a nice dark WordPress theme and had fun making a custom header that would attract writers. It isn’t a super theme. I had to hire two different designers to tweak it and add a blog (grand total to set up site=$350). It still doesn’t look perfect. But basically, it sells the service and gets authors to send in a trial. We follow up and make sure they find an editor they like – we have about 10 editors, but we always try to replace anybody who isn’t getting the work with somebody better.

That’s only of the reasons we’re awesome: most other editing companies are one person operations, so they may be really good but they probably aren’t the best. As owners, my partner and I don’t really care which editors the clients chose, as long as they are happy – that means we’re free to always improve our editors by actively recruiting editors away from other companies, or finding freelancers who want to get more clients.

We started out by offering a prize of free editing, in exchange for writers sending in articles for a writing contest. That probably wasn’t the best move, but we did it to build up a bunch of content quickly and also get backlinks (we encouraged the writers to share their article and try to get more likes and shares from their friends).

More recently, I’ve added a free book on self-editing that people can get by sharing; which keeps people sharing and sending more traffic our way. I’ll admit though, I haven’t done much to grow the company – I’ve been busy with my own businesses and writing. I make roughly 10% of total revenue, which right now is about $1000 a month, which means we’re close to if not already over $100K a year. Most of that money goes straight to editors, who are working freelance and not really employees (we’re more like a simple agency, that pairs writers with the best possible editor for their book, and then we earn a “finder’s fee”).

What’s next

Feedback has been great and we have very happy clients, which means it’s time to get bigger. I always hear from writers and authors who are seeking trustworthy, reliable, talented editors: it’s hard to make a decision and they don’t know where to start. Since I have a team of brilliant editors, it’s my responsibility to make us easier to find.

Luckily, with our theme, we can do some cool things with branding.

I put these out recently on Instagram and Twitter.

COXJ__FUsAIyNsn editorial services for fiction


Soon I’m going to make an awesome teaser video, with people actively destroying books – it should be shocking and fun, and cool enough to generate some interest.

10 clients a month should be pretty easy, if I can double traffic. We’re already doing well with a tiny bit of traffic, less than 100 visitors a day. 10 clients should be around 25K a month, or $300,000 a year, and I’d earn $30K of that.

But there’s no reason we can’t get bigger. There are tons of authors looking for high quality book editors. Why go half-assed? The majority of book editors are great at editing but bad at business. Most have ugly websites.

Getting more visibility and traffic means we can attract more of the world’s best editors, and help readers find the one that’s perfect for their book. With a little bit of content marketing, by 2016 I think I can get 200 visitors a day in natural search traffic, or about 6,000 a month. If we get 1% conversion, that’s 60 clients a month, or around $150,000.

That’s a 7 figure business.

It’ll cost more and be harder to stay organized, but I can hire staff to keep things organized. I’ll probably need to redo the website and make it convert better. (It’s hard to test conversions though until I have more traffic).

Takeaway points

1. The secret to business success is providing something people want, but doing it better than anybody else is doing it.

2. You need a brand and website that stands out but attracts your target clients.

3. Don’t make things complicated: most editors make it too hard to contact them or don’t post their prices clearly. We made everything simple, so authors can just send a sample right away and we can follow up.

4. Business isn’t always about being the best; it’s about being found. If people can’t find you, they can’t hire you. It’s your job to make sure your site shows up.

5. Do the work. Any business will fail if you can’t satisfy clients. Editing books is hard, and a very unique skill. It takes a ridiculous amount of focused concentration and brain power – usually for weeks. Hire the best and make sure you can provide what you promise.

6. It’s much easier to survive in businesses where the average project earns several thousand dollars, instead of a few hundred. Don’t try to offer a service for everybody. Find a high-end service that a handful of people will pay good money for.





  • Adrijus Guscia Posted

    Why you only make 10%? You bring lots more value than that to this venture! 🙂

    • ThomasRedstone Posted

      The editors take 75%, the remaining 25% covers the costs of the business, and I think there was mention of a partner, so 10% of the revenue is for each partner, not a bad margin! I don’t think it can be much higher without risking upsetting the editors. The prices could be higher though 😉

  • Franki Kidd Posted

    The title leads me to believe that you did it, but towards the end of the post I’m
    thinking – He plans to do it. I know you have the site (looks good to me), but
    are you making that – or do you plan to be making that?

    BTW, your artwork looks fantastic!

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      It’s already earning that much; now I’m just thinking about how to take it to the next level.

  • Franki Kidd Posted

    Forgot to ask, why are you getting a PHD, other than so that people can call you Dr. You are succeeding in business. Butcher the school Dr. Murphy. 🙂

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      I’m going the PHD out of personal interest in literature (Paradise Lost and Revolutionary Politics), and it will be nice to put the initials on some of my books.

  • BooknookBiz Posted

    Derek: what isn’t very clear is the admin. As the owner of my company, I know precisely how much admin is involved, certainly for what we do. Having subbed out a few editors in the past 7 years–and having done naught more than make a few recommendations–I know how much “interference” I’ve had to run, when an author isn’t happy with an editor, or vice-versa. Right now, you’re running, if I read your numbers correct, a 120K business, from which you’re taking 12K. You’re talking about having 120 editing clients a year, for which you’ll earn 30K. My best guess on this–again, my experience is obviously different, but not totally dissimilar–is that’s going to be a FULL-time job, wrangling 10x author clients a month with 10 full, developmental-type edits in the works.

    You say–a bit blithely–that you can “hire staff” to handle the increased admin, when the time comes, but…okay, say you do that. Where are you going to find another full-time person who can rep you, and run the business, etc., for that same 30K?

    I’m not being argumentative for the sake of it. But after 7 years of running the business I have, I’ve learned that some businesses really don’t upsize well. That’s something that sunk one of my competitors–when he had to hire someone to do his job, basically, there wasn’t enough left over for the headaches.

    Are you saying that your editors handle all their own clients? There’s essentially NO admin? What happens when there is a dispute? (And given the ratio of disputes, complaints, etc., over editing I have seen–with seriously competent, professional editors–I just can’t imagine that it’s going to run itself.)

    Love to hear…

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      Yes, you’re mostly right, in that – right now I’m not really earning much, and when there are problems, I take full responsibility (which can mean refunds, or doing the work for free). So not ideal. But my partner manages mostly everything and 90% of projects go fine and the editors can handle the whole project working with the authors directly. I’m mostly hands-off. I’m mostly providing part-time income to some great editors… but I think organizing any business that brings in that much revenue a year, from one little website that doesn’t even get much traffic, is pretty cool. And since it wouldn’t be hard to double traffic, I can see it growing to a point where I would be making pretty good money with it. If I can get an extra 50K a year for mostly hands-off work, even if I have to troubleshoot and resolve problems sometimes, that’s not too bad. Now I just need 10 more business that bring in that much a year. 🙂

  • Sophie Playle Posted

    Creating a team of editors is something I’ve been considering for my own little business. (I’m a book editor, and I’m booked out six months in advance and have a waiting list of authors ready to book me in beyond that …) However, I’ve always been put off by the logistics of managing both the admin and the responsibility. Really interesting to see you’re so successfully pulling it off!

    I have a question, or four, though: How do you prevent editors from simply continuing their professional relationship with authors outside of your umbrella company? And if you put writers directly in touch with editors, what’s to stop them negotiating a deal privately but then telling you they don’t want the service any more? Is it just about trust, or do you have contracts …? (Even with a contract, surely you wouldn’t know if any of this was taking place?) I’m interested in hearing how you deal with this 🙂

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      I don’t worry about it – they could do that if they wanted, but I’d find out, and then we’d just kick them off the team. So they’d be losing all the leads. The hard part about editing is finding clients or customers, I’m basically handing them over on a silver platter, and paying more than many editors charge anyway. They aren’t likely to jeopardize it (if they do, it just hurts them… I can find more editors).

      • Sophie Playle Posted

        Thanks, Derek. Makes sense!

  • AmeeshaSmith-Green Posted

    Hi Derek,

    Thank you for the fascinating (and eye-opening) article. I too am a book editor, having worked in-house for a niche book publisher for several years and now as a full-time freelancer. Unfortunately, what I possess in editing skills I seem to severely lack in business skills! I’ve been working primarily through PeoplePerHour and good ole’ word of mouth, but I wondered whether your business is taking on any freelancers at the moment, or whether you’d be up for a chat on how to market my services better?

    Kind regards,


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