What is a reasonable rate?

With all the variables that impact the act of copyediting–how difficult is the text, are there foot- or endnotes, is the client an ESL author, is the schedule restrictive, etc.–coming up with an appropriate fee can be challenging. The most commonly used methods are by the word, by the page, and by the hour. Each of these has advantages for the editor, and many clients will ask to be charged using one or another of these methods.

By the word gives the author a concrete amount with which to budget their project. Twenty-five thousand words at $.04 per word is an invariable $1000. For the copy editor, payment by the word can be a blessing or a curse. If the text is quite approachable, well written, and the author’s style is identifiable, 25 thousand words can be edited in a fairly short time thereby increasing the editor’s hourly wage. However, if the text is challenging, technical in subject, or poorly constructed, copy editors can find their hourly rate plummeting. For example (adapted from The Copyeditor’s Handbook, Amy Einsohn):

A light copyedit of a standard text is about 6-9 pages per hour (standard being a carefully prepared document of 250-325 words per page with no tables, figures, footnotes, etc.). So, if we say an average rate of 7.5 pages per hour, with an average of 285 words per page, the copy editor is covering approximately 2138 words an hour. At the $.04 per word rate, that is $86 per hour. Great rate of pay, no?

Now, a heavy copyedit of a standard text is about 2-3 pages per hour. Again, let’s plug in our average pages per hour (2.5) and words per page (285). The copy editor is covering approximately 713 words an hour. At $.04 per word we get $29 per hour for challenging work. This hourly is well below the average rates for heavy copyediting as outlined by the Editorial Freelancers Association: $40-50 per hour.

In the first scenario, the client should get a better rate. In the second, the copy editor is loosing out. So, what is the best way to arrive at that happy medium where author and editor are satisfied with the fees? There are three ways:

  1. Adjust the per word pricing. If the per word was reduced to $.025 per word the easy job would come down to $625 or $53 per hour. This is a higher per hour rate for a copy editor but the work of a highly skilled editor is worth the cost because of the money it saves in decreasing the possibility of costly corrections further down the publishing line. By increasing the per word to $.05 per word for the difficult job the hourly comes to $43. That is in the ball park of reasonable.
  2. Charge by the page. In the publishing industry, a page is defined as 250 words double spaced, 12 point. Once the difficulty of the text is determined, a page per hour rate can be used to calculate a price per page. The actual page per hour rate will change throughout the text and the per page rate will establish a comfortable base line for the editor and author. For the easy job at 7.5 pages per hour and a target hourly of $35, the per page price is about $4.50. With the difficult job at 2.5 pages per hour and a target hourly rate of $40, the per page price is $16. This seems quite high and may put off a client. Charging by the hour may be a solution here.
  3. Charge by the hour. This is perhaps the most difficult fee to set. However, it can be one of the most accurate when calculated by a seasoned copy editor. By taking the time to do a review of ten pages or so of the document (this is not a free copyedit), the copy editor can more accurately gauge the difficulty of the text and thereby calculate appropriate fees. This is best used in an estimate or quote format. When the final fee is accepted by both parties it is set in stone regardless of how much time over or under the estimate the editor actually works (there are other safety measures built-in to contracts that protect the editor and the author).

The process of charging reasonable fees for an editing project can be involved and difficult. However, spending time at this vital aspect of a freelance editor’s business management will increase accuracy over time and a better return on investment for the client.



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