What do freelance editors charge?
This is the question on the minds of editors and their clients. What is a fair and reasonable price for an editing quote? If I want someone to proofread or edit my work, what should I expect to pay for editing services in Australia? Does the price differ between Queensland and other states? How much does an editor usually charge as an hourly rate?
There is no more crucial question for an editor establishing their own freelance editing business, or for the writer looking for quality editing work that meets their budget. On the page below we have provided information for these two groups: Editors asking how to establish a rate for freelance work, and people seeking editorial services for their documents or manuscripts.
What do freelancers charge?
The following introduction was written by former Society Web Officer, Dave Gardiner, back in August 2004. It shows that not a lot has changed when it comes to setting expectations of a suitable fee for freelance editors. The subsequent headings highlight links to articles and resources on this subject.
There is no more hotly debated topic amongst freelance editors than what to charge for jobs. State editors' societies and editors have discussed this issue over the past few years. Should freelancers quote by the hour or by the word? Are there different rates for different services? How do fees vary with experience? Fortunately there is some useful information available that can help freelancers with setting their own fees.
The following information will give you a general idea about rates. You will notice that there is a huge variation in the fees charged, and this depends on many factors - experience, type of editing, and the size of jobs.
Survey of Editors 2009
Findings of the fifth national editors survey conducted at the conference of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), 'Getting the Message Across' in Adelaide in October 2009. You can find the article here.
An article concerning historians' fees was published by the late John Kerr in the November 2003 issue of Offpress, the newsletter of the Society of Editors (Queensland). In this article, he proposes a scale of fees for discussion. This can be taken as an indicative guide to rates based on experience.
The Society of Editors (Tasmania) Inc. has prepared a comprehensive fact sheet about how to quote and charge for jobs. Follow this link to the document:
Around the world
The National Union of Journalists (UK) has a Freelance Fees Guide that sets out rates for editing, writing, research, photography and other journalistic work:
For editors: Working out what to charge
The following meeting report by Jason Emmett is a summary of the presentation "Running a freelance business", given at the Society's July 2010 meeting. This report was also published in Offpress. You can read Kerry's full presentation here.
The Society was delighted to have Kerry Davies, principal of Kerry Davies Publishing Services based in Toowong, speak to members at the August meeting about running a freelance editing business. With more than 30 years experience as a freelancer (with a few stints in-house along the way), Kerry gave us her views about a number of issues, including how to set your rate, how to quote on a job, and how to maintain your business.
Following on from nibbles and drinks with members at Mary Ryan's on Park Road, Milton, Kerry led the session by posing a question-how do you, and your clients, value your work? Kerry suggested that the value we ascribe to our work is influenced by our 'professional self-esteem', based on understanding and appreciating our own personal skills and experience, and through validation and support for those skills and experience by our editing communities.
Kerry pointed out that Pamela Hewitt's latest survey, undertaken at the 2009 IPEd conference in Adelaide, indicates that the 'average' editor is female, aged 45 years plus, with at least one graduate-level qualification. Statistically, that also means that the typical editor is likely to be underpaid in comparison with the workforce as a whole. Kerry went on to highlight the importance of the editors' societies, and the ways we can work together to improve our lot-
Don't undercut colleagues without careful consideration. Simply undercutting to win a job also puts downward pressure on our rates in general.
Networking. Networking is an important tool for freelancers. You will be in a better position to source overflow work (when your colleague can't fit a job in, and the client asks for a referral). It also builds your marketing capacity by getting your 'brand' out there.
2. Professional development
Take as many professional development opportunities as you can. This will lessen the self-doubt that makes you cut your rate in the face of a question from a client. By honing and improving your skills, you'll be better positioned to negotiate from a position of confidence and strength, understanding the benefit you deliver for clients.
Be wary of discounting, and quote professionally. Once you've set a low rate, you'll have difficulty asking more next time. Give clients a professional written quote-establish from the outset that they are dealing with a professional, giving them the confidence that they will get a professional service.
Kerry also ran through some of the maths behind freelancing. She noted that when July's speaker, Brian Tucker, mentioned a freelancer taking $75,000 per annum, the room burst into laughter. Kerry admitted achieving this figure might be difficult, but she stressed that if you work hard, are persistent, and treat your business with true professionalism, it is achievable. She calculated that, assuming the average salary of a full-time in-house editor (say $55,000), a freelancer would have to bring in $69,000 a year to be in an equivalent position (given superannuation, leave, and other benefits of being in full-time employment). Based on certain assumptions (30 hours average work a week, two weeks holidays a year, little to no sick leave and potentially four weeks with no work), that means a freelancer needs to be charging at least $50 per hour to bring in an equivalent $55,000 (and superannuation) wage.
On the issue of quoting, Kerry discussed the differences between two fairly standard approaches-fixed price quotes and estimate-based quotes. While many organisations are looking for a fixed-price quote, you need to be really on top of your speed and skill to be able to avoid the biggest trap of a fixed-price deal-the work blow-out. If you are offering a fixed-price quote, all the risk lies with you in how much time and effort you'll need to expend on the project versus what you recover. You need to build in sufficient contingency in the fee to cover for time extensions, content delays, or unexpected content quality issues. These can be great if you get that balance right and can get through a job comfortably within your expectations. They can be nightmares when the unexpected happens.
On the other hand, estimate-based quotes (where you provide an estimate of the likely costs, but work to an hourly, or other, rate), provide a more flexible approach that share the risk more evenly between you and the client. They can be trickier to negotiate, particularly with short-term jobs for individuals, and corporate and government clients. Estimate-based quotes are generally better considered a better option for longer-term jobs.
When considering what is the best basis on which to quote, Kerry says that the principles are the same. Your fixed-price quote will be based on your hourly rate, assuming certain hours of effort, with a contingency for the unexpected extras.
This is what you'll need to determine if providing an estimate-based quote anyway, albeit that you're not 'locked in' to a final price from the outset of the job.
Either way, you'll need to spend time carefully considering what's involved in the job, and don't be afraid to ask questions to clarify what the client is after. If they're not forthcoming, you might already have sufficient warning to boost the contingency aspectů But Kerry pointed out that while the rate you charge is important (and she strongly believes that the societies need to work better together to help set expectations for reasonable rates), maintaining workflow and good business practices are critical to operating successfully as a freelancer. In this regard, Kerry offered some valuable tips for freelancers:
- Keep detailed and accurate timesheets. In addition to enabling you to provide excellent billing for completed projects, timesheets will help you quote for future jobs by giving you the best data from which to estimate how much effort a job will require.
- Get feedback from clients. Get feedback from colleagues. Share examples of your work with trusted colleagues, and work with other people to see what you can improve. - Build your reputation in your editing community.
- Read past editing work you've done to see how you've improved.
- Attend training. Strive to continually improve your skills. Language and style change continually, so you need to stay on top of that.
- Consider different rates for different tasks, but make sure that you adequately distinguish the skills you'll be contributing to those tasks.
- In lean business times, look at the benefits of short-term contracts in-house. But, in doing so, keep in mind how this will impact your availability for any regular clients you have, and counter any perception of 'being out of the freelance market'. Look into contract management services and see if they are for you.
- If you're basing a quote on sample work, make sure you get a sample from different parts of the work (e.g. a short piece from the beginning, the middle and the end). Otherwise, you might be getting a chunk that has already had substantial work, whereas the rest of the work has not had the benefit of that much attention.