This post is for editors new to freelancing.

If you do a search for “rates” in any editing group on Facebook, such as the Editors’ Association of Earth, you’ll find numerous threads debating the topic. Many long-time editors have a bone to pick with the generalized editorial rate charts published by various editorial associations. From my own website:

You can find out more about what the going rates are for editorial and writing services through the EFA, EAC, SfEP, and Society of Editors (Western Australia). Please keep in mind that generalized rate charts like those linked to above fail to differentiate between one editing industry and another. For example, a developmental edit for a nonfiction book about the evolution of Japanese funerary rites requires a different skill set and methodology than a developmental edit for an Afro-futuristic space opera novel.

How you charge and what you charge is subjective. Many successful freelance fiction editors I know only charge around $0.015 to $0.018 USD per word for most levels of editing, while other freelance fiction editors scoff at those rates and charge double or triple that. Some freelance editors who specialize in legal editing, science editing, or medical editing charge $60 USD or more per hour for their services.

Per-word or per-page rates are ideal for all involved when your editing pace is reasonably quick and when clients want to know how much they will be charged up-front. Hourly rates are fair when you have to work slowly to do the edit properly. A flat project rate might be best if you there are a lot of variables to consider when pricing out the job, but you should include a detailed scope of work in the job contract and have clauses outlining additional charges for any tasks beyond the scope of work.

Determining how to charge your rates depends on what you need and what the market (your clients) can bear.

Most editors only track and bill hours spent editing a document; looking things up in style guides or dictionaries; other necessary research for the edit; and any other related tasks that are included in the scope of work in your job contract with the client. If a client puts excessive demands on your time through numerous phone calls or daily emails, you might want to include a clause in your contract stating you will charge an hourly rate for any communications that require more than a certain amount of your time during the project. Other things like administrative tasks for your freelance business (bookkeeping and taxes, marketing, professional development, etc.) are not included in billable hours.

Don’t worry too much about categorizing how you spend your time while actually doing the edit. Focus more on tracking the total time worked accurately and billing the client appropriately.

Toggl is a wonderful time-tracker, but I use Excel, too. If you’re on Facebook, I would encourage you to join the Business + Professional Development for Editors group and ask your questions there. You might want to first do a search in the groups regarding time tracking, too, since there are existing threads on the topic in that group, I’m sure. Network with other editors through social media as much as you can, too; there is so much you can learn from respected industry veterans through social media.

Many editors avoid working (read: editing) more than 4 or 5 hours at a time because they might start “gliding” after that. That is, their brains might begin to anticipate that the text they are reading is flawed, so they unconsciously start to skip over errors to make the reading process easier. (Isn’t the human brain a wonderfully efficient machine?) If you’re freelancing, any downtime you have on workdays will (or should) be spent on the business and administrative aspects of your work.

Let’s use an example. Let’s say your typical workday looks like this:

  • 15 minutes booting up the computer, opening a document to be edited, applying a template to the document, and setting up the style sheet
  • 1 hour and 30 minutes of editing
  • 15 minutes responding to client and potential client emails
  • 15 minutes of social media (business-related)
  • 1 hour and 30 minutes of editing
  • 30 minutes for lunch
  • 30 minutes of bookkeeping and invoicing
  • 1 hour and 30 minutes of editing
  • 15 minutes updating your macros
  • 15 minutes doing necessary research related to your current editing project
  • 1 hour and 30 minutes of editing
  • 15 minutes responding to client and potential client emails and phone calls
  • 15 minutes of social media (business-related)
  • 15 minutes catching up on industry-related news through a customized news aggregate like Google News

That’s a workday of 9 hours (excluding the 30 minutes for lunch). The only billable hours are the ones you spent editing (6 hours) and spent on necessary research related to that editing project (15 minutes, so long as you included that research in the scope of work portion of the job contract). In some cases, time spent communicating with the author might be billable if their correspondence demands are excessive, but you would have to have such limitations and charges mentioned in the contract before you begin working with that author.

Disclaimer: Before I break down the numbers, please know that this is based on what works for me and for what I know works for some of my colleagues. Your mileage may vary.

I digress: If you have set boundaries so that you don’t work billable hours more than 5 days a week, then you can anticipate working approximately 31 hours and 15 minutes of billable time each week. Let’s say you live in a modest home with your significant other, your child, and a cat in a city with low cost of living. You have three humans, including yourself, and one furbaby to help shelter and feed. Your partner does bring in some income, but it’s not quite sufficient to cover all of your family’s expenses. There’s no shame in that, and we will assume that’s one reason among many why you want to work as an editor.

After determining what your personal financial needs are (what bills you have to pay, general household expenses for you and your family, what expenses you incur for your business, anticipated taxes, insurance costs, etc.), you might realize you need to earn approximately $750.00 USD per week—gross rather than net (which comes to $40,000.00 USD gross annual income)—to cover all of your business and household expenses which aren’t already covered by your partner’s income. That would also give you a little disposable income for savings and other things. You would need to charge at least $24.00 USD per billable hour to earn $750.00 USD per week.

For a new editor or for an editor whose freelance income is not the sole or primary income for their household, $20.00 to $25.00 USD per hour is an acceptable (though admittedly not ideal) rate. If you track your work and realize your editing speed is usually around 1,250 words (or approximately 5 pages) per hour, then you can break that rate down into $4.80 USD per page or even $0.0192 USD per word. Once you have more experience, you could increase your rate quarterly or annually until you’re earning approximately $35.00 or $40.00 USD per hour. If you specialize in something like scientific or medical editing, you could charge $55.00 USD per hour or more.

Time for a quick reality check: Most freelancers have a few weeks each year where work is scarcer than at other times. Let’s say after your first few years of working as an editor, you realize you have a consistent dry season in July and August where your workload is about half what you have during the rest of the year. Or maybe it’s not so much an exact period of time, but rather a running total of eight weeks each year where your workload is much lighter than you want it to be.

Either way, that means if you are still charging $25.00 USD per hour and you are earning $750.00 USD per week gross all other (10) months of the year, then you are only earning around $375.00 USD per week gross during those 2 dry months. That means your gross annual income drops down from the anticipated $40,000.00 USD to approximately $35,357.00 USD. That’s a difference of $4,643.00 USD! If your dry seasons are fairly consistent from year to year, you should increase your hourly rate by another $2.86 USD to make up for those slower months (meaning you’d charge $26.86 USD per hour instead of $24.00 USD per hour) to make sure you still earn a gross annual income of $40,000.00 USD.

Here are a few other things to consider:

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to increase your rates on a fairly regular basis as your experience grows and inflation happens. What that looks like is up to you (once a year? once every two or three years?). What kind of income do you aspire to? What kind of income do you think is reasonable? What rates can your ideal clients afford to pay? What rates do your ideal clients want to pay? What are your peers and direct competitors charging for the same services you are offering? Can you diversify your skill set and offer other services (indexing, transcription, translation, book formatting, etc.) to help give you extra revenue streams for when editing work is scarce?

I personally quote by the project instead of offering per-word, per-page, or per-hour rates. I do this for a few reasons: Hourly rates were only reasonable when I worked more slowly than I do now. As I became more experienced and efficient as an editor, the amount of hours it took me to complete any given project dropped. I could have increased my hourly rate, but I felt that would not be received well by certain clients. (Again, what works well for me may not work well for you, and vice versa.)

Per-word and per-page rates, in order to be competitive with others who charge that way, are typically much lower than what I would ever charge. That is, it does not make sense for me to charge a per-word or per-page rate that—when broken down by the amount of hours I typically spend on each project—is below minimum wage. However, for editors who work much faster than I do, that kind of per-word or per-page rate is justifiable when compared to how many hours they spend on each project.

While I do have a rough range of per-word rates listed on my website to help potential clients estimate what a project might cost, I have a disclaimer about how the differences between one project and another might cause the rates for each to vary.

To figure out what to charge for a project, I have both an hourly rate and a per-word rate that I use as baselines. From there, I consider things like . . .

  • the deadline or turnaround time the client is requesting;
  • the length (word count) of the document;
  • the type of edit needed;
  • the complexity of the subject matter;
  • the amount of research I might need to do to complete this job (referring more to catching up on style guides I’m not familiar with versus researching the subject matter of the document);

. . . and so on. I will come up with a project rate based on those considerations while trying to stay within a certain range of what I know my competitors charge, what I know my clients can afford, what a reasonable hourly rate would be for the project, and the minimum amount I need to make from the project to make a profit and have it be worth my time.

2 thoughts

  1. This is excellent and loaded with good, practical advice. I’m commenting as a seasoned freelance editor (22+ years) and a West Coaster where the cost of living is ever higher than in much of the U.S. interior. The starting rate suggested in this sentence — “For a new editor or for an editor whose editing income is not the sole or primary income for their household, $20 to $25 USD per hour is an acceptable rate” — is the same range I worked in as a new editor in the late 1990s. Twenty years ago. When we rented a San Francisco flat for less than $1,000. And paid our health insurance premiums quarterly — they were that low. It’s disheartening to learn that these starting rates haven’t budged in twenty years. Also, I think an experienced editor should not be charging less simply because they are not the sole or primary income provider. This assumption that the freelance editor is providing only a supplemental income while someone else makes sure the household can survive has dogged our profession. Just my opinion. Admittedly from a primary breadwinner.

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