When I tell people what I do, often the first question I am asked is, “How much do you charge?” I get a variety of responses to my answer from, “Oh, that’s not so bad,” to a blank face, to “Why so much?” Here I’ll explain how copyeditors and proofreaders tend to set their costs.
The Editorial Freelancers Association Chart of Fees
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) publishes a chart of rates on their website. (Check it out: https://www.the-efa.org/rates/.) It gives guidelines of the range of fees you can expect from a freelancer, which is what most of us are since we are hired for a project rather than receiving a salary from an agency. The fees are a pretty wide range, and I’ll explain the reasons for that later on. But here’s a quick recap based on the types of services I provide. Note that I’m using the standard two hundred fifty words per manuscript page as my guideline, as does the EFA.
- 5-10 pages or 1,250-2,500 words per hour
- $30-$40 per hour
- $0.012-$0.032 per word
- 2-5 pages or 500-1,250 words per hour
- $40-$50 per hour
- $0.032-$0.100 per word
- $40-$50 per hour
- 9-13 pages or 2,250-3,250 words per hour
- $30-35 per hour
- $0.009-$0.016 per word
Many of us use these rates as guidance for setting our own rates because it tells us what our peers are charging and what the market will bear. Additionally, for me, it’s in line with what I think my services are worth to make it worthwhile for my time.
From one copyeditor or proofreader to the next, you’ll find different bases for cost. Some of us charge by the hour, some by the page, and some by the word. Some just charge a flat fee. It varies by the person, but it also varies by the project, which makes it difficult for someone who may be comparing prices.
I choose to charge by the word for most projects. I think this is the fairest method for both parties. If I’m having a great day and am zooming through the work, I would lose money on an hourly rate. If I’m having a sluggish day, you would end up paying more because it would take me longer. The by-the-word rate doesn’t have such fluctuations. Plus, then I don’t have to worry about tracking time, which is easier all around.
Similarly, if I’m charging by the page, and your manuscript has a lot of pages where only a quarter of it is filled with text, it’s not really fair to you for me to charge you for a whole page. It’s also not worth my time to estimate how many full pages I really have to go through. So, a per-word rate is fair to both of us.
Occasionally I will charge a flat fee rather than charging by the word. This situation usually occurs with résumés for me. Résumés are more complicated than regular text because they’re usually not in complete sentences, have a lot of formatting to consider, and need to be considered against a job description or something else to ensure that the candidate is making themselves as appealing for the position as possible. In other words, they’re a lot more difficult, so by charging a per-word rate, I would be undercharging based on the amount of time it will actually take me.
For a website copyedit, it’s difficult to judge the number of words since the content is not usually in a format where word count is easily determined. Also, a website copyedit involves additional aspects such as making sure all of the links are working and are pointing to the right place. For these, only an hourly rate makes sense.
Some of the other considerations are the type of material, the quality, the timeframe, the method of work, and the copyeditor’s or proofreader’s personal situation.
The rate can change based on the type of material. I discussed above when I might charge a flat fee or an hourly fee rather than a per-word fee, but even within my per-word fee, I give a range. The range varies based on the copyeditor or proofreader, of course. It also depends on the market she’s working in; some markets won’t bear a high cost, perhaps because revenues aren’t expected to be high, whereas some markets may have complex materials and therefore pay more. For example, if you’re working on a science fiction novel and want a copyeditor with a science background to check your facts, you’re probably going to have to pay more for that knowledge and the extra expertise provided by that copyeditor.
I ask for a sample of the work before quoting a rate. The messier the work, the longer it’s going to take me, so the more I charge. The converse is also true: the cleaner the work, the less time it’s going to take me, so the less I charge.
The deadline could have a big impact on price. If I have to sacrifice personal time or marketing time to meet your deadline, then I’m going to quote you a price that will compensate me for that loss. As a freelancer, I need to be able to spend a good portion of my time marketing, including writing these blogs, attending networking events, and maintaining connections. If I can’t do that, I may lose revenue in the future. Additionally, as with everyone, my personal time is important to me; if I have to give it up, it needs to be worthwhile.
The method of work can have an impact as well. I find it easiest to work in Word (or GoogleDocs) where I can make the changes, and you can either accept or reject them. If I have to work on a PDF document instead, it takes longer to suggest changes simply because of the format. I can’t just make the changes directly and have them be easily visible to you; instead, I need to add a comment for every instance which physically takes longer. It takes longer for you, too, since you can’t just accept the changes and move on; you have to make the changes.
Another method that can have an impact is if you want a copyeditor or proofreader to work on a serialized project (i.e., work on a project in pieces rather than all at once). By not having the entire manuscript at one time, copyeditors and proofreaders lose some economies of scale. There’s also some extra administrative work associated with doing a project in pieces. Therefore, serialized projects will cost more.
I also mentioned above that if you’re looking for a copyeditor with additional experience or qualifications, you’re likely to pay more. For example, if you’re publishing an accounting textbook, you probably want a copyeditor or proofreader with an accounting background (like me!) who is more likely to catch when things don’t make sense rather than just catching that your sentence is messy.
Finally, copyeditors and proofreaders are generally freelancers, which means we’re self-employed. We have to pay both the employer’s and employee’s share of taxes. We have to purchase our own health insurance and benefits with no discount or reduction from an employer. Paying someone $20 an hour as an employee is not the same as paying a freelancer $20 an hour because freelancers have additional costs that employees don’t have. When our costs seem high, you may be thinking about W-2 wages rather than self-employment wages. We need to make a living too.
You Pay for What You Get
Copyeditors and proofreaders have received education or training in grammar and punctuation and have a natural ability to spot errors and help you improve your writing. Don’t get bogged down in thinking about cost. Think about the benefits you’re receiving. You’re getting a better overall product which will hopefully boost sales (or at least keep from impeding them), improve marketability, make a better impression on your audience, or all of the above, depending on the material and its purpose. Isn’t that worth paying for?
There’s a common issue in our industry where there’s a race to the bottom—people constantly undercutting others’ prices. The problem there is that you often pay for what you get, and if you’re not paying much or anything… well, that’s how it goes. Sure, you might get a copyeditor or proofreader who is just getting started and is only charging you a small amount (or nothing!) because she’s trying to build a portfolio. But, how hard would you work on things if you’re not getting paid what you deserve? I’m guessing the answer is “not very hard at all.” Beware the copyeditor or proofreader who isn’t charging you fair rates. You may get more of a headache than its worth.
That’s Great… but What Should I Pay?
My best advice is to find someone you feel comfortable with, and as long as her rates aren’t too far outside of the EFA’s guidelines, go with her. If you have a good working relationship with someone and get a good product, the cost doesn’t seem as important as it does when you have to work with someone you dislike or distrust.
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