Setting Rates for Freelance Editing Work

Freelance Editing
Embarking on a freelance editing career is a great move. After all, writers need editors to help perfect their work. But writers (or their publishers) seek editors for many different tasks. Some writers, for example, may want basic proofreading of their work, while others need a more thorough review for structural problems and readability. As an editor, you’ll have to decide what services you will provide and at what cost.

Types of Editing

Not all editing is the same. There are different levels of editing, and knowing what each one involves can help freelance editors decide exactly what type of work they wish to perform. Below are descriptions of the three main types of editing most clients seek:

  • Proofreading – mainly checking for punctuation, spelling and grammar, and usage errors
  • Copyediting – more in-depth than proofreading, copyediting includes fixing style issues, substituting words, and rearranging sentences and paragraphs for better flow
  • Substantive editing – complex editing that involves making major structural and organizational changes, some rewriting, and fixing inconsistencies and readability problems

Some clients ask for a combination of two or more types of editing, and often editors who take on a copyediting or substantive editing project will naturally fix spelling errors and other less involved issues they come across. Other clients go beyond requesting traditional editing work and seek help with things like researching, indexing, formatting, design, and even writing. When advertising a freelance editing business, freelance editors must clearly specify what services they offer, including comprehensive details of those services, and whether they’re willing to consider tasks that fall outside the scope of traditional editing.

How Freelance Editors Charge for Their Work

Freelance editors can either charge by the hour, the page, or the project, but most editors set their fees based on either an hourly rate or a cost per page. Which one is best? It all depends on you, the editor. Are you able to work quickly and with accuracy? Or do you work better without time pressure?

If you decide to charge by the hour, understand that you must keep careful track of your time. Working on a project from 2 to 6 p.m. may not exactly translate to 4 hours of work. Did you take some time in between to answer a phone call, eat a snack, or read email? Some guesswork may be involved when charging by the hour.

Freelance editors who charge by the page, however, take a bit of a risk by not knowing how much time they’ll need to devote to each page. Factors like the project’s layout, number of words per page, and difficulty of the work can all impact an editor’s time. Of course, you’ll want to be adequately compensated for your time, so it’s helpful to figure out how your per-page rate translates into an hourly fee. And whether you charge by the page or the hour, you should always attempt to preview a project to get a better feel for the work involved.

Common Fee Ranges for Freelance Editing Work

So what do most freelance editors charge for their work? The Editorial Freelancers Association lists common editorial rates on its website, noting that rates depend on certain criteria, such as time frame, nature of the work, and expertise.

According to the EFA, a typical proofreading fee is $30-$35 per hour (at a pace of 9-13 manuscript pages per hour). Basic copyediting runs $30-$40 per hour (at 5-10 manuscript pages per hour). And substantive editing can cost a client $50-$60 per hour (at 1-6 manuscript pages per hour). These estimates can also be used to figure out per-page rates. Say you copyedit at a pace of approximately 8 pages per hour and you’d like to make $32 per hour. Your per-page rate for copyediting would be $4. The EFA’s full listing of editorial fees can be found here. Keep in mind, though, that these fee ranges are just guidelines.

Freelance editors who are new to the profession, for example, may want to set their rates lower than these guidelines. In fact, it doesn’t hurt for a new freelance editor to perform a job or two for free to help gain experience, speed, and references. On the other hand, freelance editors who have an abundance of in-house editing experience or editing-related expertise may wish to set their rates higher than the EFA’s recommendations.

Of course, a client’s resources can impact a freelance editor’s fees, too. An author who’s self-publishing a book likely won’t have the same budget as a large publishing house or advertising agency. But while the latter may be willing to pay higher rates for freelance editing, working for a self-publisher is a good way to gain experience – and a reputation.

One more thing. Although setting rates for freelance editing work is the responsibility of the editor, it isn’t unheard of for an editor to ask a client what he or she normally pays someone for the type of work to be performed. Says Carol Fisher Saller in her book The Subversive Copy Editor (University of Chicago Press, 2009), “You might fear that letting someone else suggest a rate is a good way to get lowballed, but think of it merely as a starting point for negotiation.” And no matter who suggests the rate, expect to do some negotiating.

Deciding what services to provide and setting editing fees are two important tasks for any new freelance editor. Consider both carefully before taking on that first project. It’ll help get your freelance editing business off to a good start.