What do you charge? How one editor sets rates.
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
You’re an author intending to self-publish, and you know that you want an editor to look over your manuscript. You’ve done your research—you know what type of editor you need, what to expect when you get your work edited, and even where to find editors to get in touch with. But as you’re looking through these editors, you start to notice that they have sometimes wildly different rates for the exact same service. How can this be? Why does one editor charge so much less (or more) than another?
Why editors charge such different rates.
Basically, the reason editors charge such different rates for similar services boils down to two factors: life circumstances and experience.
In general, editors with more experience charge more. The reverse of this is that newer editors tend to charge less.
Editors who have been formally trained in editing tend to charge more as well. Those starting without any formal training tend to charge less.
Those who live in more expensive areas (think urban centers like San Francisco) usually charge more than those who live in less expensive areas.
Editors with a spouse or partner who is also contributing to household expenses often charge less than those who are the primary breadwinner or those supporting themselves entirely.
For some, editing is a fun side gig that also happens to bring in some spending money—these editors usually charge less than the ones for whom editing provides their livelihood.
How I set my rates.
As for my personal circumstances, I live in Kanagawa, Japan (a quite urban area) with my husband, where we lease an apartment and have a pet dog. I have a year of formal experience in editing at the time of this writing (July 2020), and I have an editing certificate from the University of Washington. For my first year of freelance editing, I decided that I would set my rates based only on household expenses. As I gain more experience, I foresee raising these rates a bit.
First, add up expenses:
pension (Japan’s version of Social Security)
non-grocery incidentals (toilet paper, shampoo, etc.)
professional development (books, classes, seminars)
On top of these expenses, I added a little more for spending on random extras like new clothes or the occasional night out, and then added another 25% on top of the total to set aside for freelance tax.
Next, figure out how much time I’ll actually spend working:
Of course, I don’t want to be working 365 days a year, so I had to do a bit of calculating to see how many days a year are actual workdays.
52 weeks/year x 2 days/weekend = 104 weekend days
20 days/year for Japanese holidays
10 sick days, just in case
10 personal days for whatever I want
Total days off: 144
365 – 144 = 221 workdays/year
I find that, depending on the project, I can only get about four to five hours of good editing in before my brain conks out and starts making errors instead of fixing them. The other two to three hours per day of work I do, like replying to emails, writing blog posts, maintaining my social media, etc. are unpaid hours—there’s nobody sending money each time I update my website. That means that I don’t count those admin hours in my calculations, because no money is coming in for those.
So for 221 workdays, that means I’ll do about 1,105 hours of work per year. For an hourly rate, I divided my expenses above by this number.
But wait, Toni, you charge per word, right? Not by the hour?
You’re right, I do charge per word. I chose to charge per word because I feel this is most transparent for potential clients. You can come to my site, see my rates, and check if I’m within your budget easily, which I find really valuable when comparing services myself.
How I come up with my per-word rate.
I have a general idea of how many words I can edit per hour, based on previous clients’ manuscripts and assignments from my editing certificate. I used these words per hour rates to come up with a price range for my website, but I actually determine each manuscript’s rate on a case-by-case basis.
When you send in your sample and ask me for a quote, I time myself while I edit your sample. This gives me a general idea of how quickly I’ll be able to get through the manuscript, which tells me about how many hours I’ll need to finish it. The rest of your sample also gives me an idea of how complex the manuscript is—Will I need to keep track of many different fantasy countries, their names, their rulers, and their politics? Or is the story set in the modern world, where I can just keep track of well-known settings and simple character traits? These factors make a huge difference in how much time I’ll spend editing, so my rate will vary depending on these.
How to know you’re getting a good rate on editing.
The best thing you can do is shop around. Send the same sample pages out to several different editors you’re considering and see what you’re getting for the price you’re quoted. This will also help you get a better idea of the general range of rates you can expect for your project.
Choosing an editor, though, is often more about the match between author and editor than it is about the match between budget and price. If you don’t like your editor, if they seem impersonal or uninterested, or if they don’t do good work, then you still won’t be happy no matter how good of a price you got. So when looking for your next editor, don’t just focus on price. Take some time to evaluate whether you and this editor are a good match, too.
Here’s a final thought:
Finally, I just want to paraphrase the iron triangle here: when it comes to hiring an editor, there are cheap, fast, and good. You can only have two. If you find an editor who claims to be all three, proceed with caution.
For more information about how different editors set their rates and why professional editing costs what it does, I recommend the following blogs:
Why is Editing So Expensive? by Sophie Playle at Liminal Pages
The Real Costs of Editing. Here we go again! by Judy L. Mohr at Black Wolf Editing
A Continuing Frustration — The Going Rate by Richard Adin at An American Editor
How much does fiction copyediting and proofreading cost? by Louise Harnby
How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book in 2020? at the Reedsy blog
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