If you hire a freelancer to edit or proofread your written work, how much will they charge?
There’s no simple answer, but there are some things you can do to help make sure you’ll get meaningful quotes. Otherwise, you may get quotes that are higher than they need to be (which means you’ll either overpay, or turn down a suitable editor who could have done the job for less). Or you may run into problems later, as it turns out that your chosen editor has badly underestimated the amount of work needed.
Here are some pointers to guide you on your way.
By the way, if you’re looking for tips on finding a suitable editor or proofreader in the first place, here's an article I wrote about this a while ago.
One of the basic things to agree on is whether you’ll be charged a fixed fee or an hourly rate. Even with a fixed fee, the editor* will probably estimate the number of hours the work will take and multiply this by the hourly rate they want. So, either way, the level of hourly payment that each editor is looking for will be a factor.
(* To keep things simple, I’ll just use the words ‘editor’, ‘editing’ etc., even though the actual work might be proofreading.)
You’ll also need to give the editor some information to help them gauge how long it will take to do the work. If the fee is going to be a fixed one, this will obviously help to determine it. Even if you’re going to pay by the hour, a rough work estimate will give you some idea of how much you’ll pay and how soon the work can be completed. It’ll also help the editor to judge whether they can fit the job into their schedule. (Yes, I know, some of this is obvious – but I couldn’t really leave it out.) Your own scheduling requirements also might affect the fee or rate that the editor will quote.
Now let’s look at this in detail.
Fixed fee or hourly rate
Which is it to be? If the scope of the work is fairly clear, a fixed fee is probably in the best interests of both parties, as you’ll know how much money will change hands from the outset.
But if there’s some doubt about how much material needs to be edited, an hourly rate might be more sensible. You could try to agree on a limit to the number of hours, and what should happen if, later on, this doesn’t look like being enough for the agreed scope of work.
Or, if you’re expecting to give your editor a regular stream of small jobs, agreeing on a fee for each job might mean you’ll both spend too much time discussing quotes (perhaps sometimes delaying the work); and then there’s all the extra invoicing, record-keeping and other paperwork. So, in these cases, using an hourly rate with monthly or quarterly invoicing may be more efficient all round.
How much per hour?
There is no standard rate. Each editor will have their own desired rate in mind, or perhaps a range of rates for different types of work. A lot will depend on their levels of experience and expertise. The UK-based Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) publishes a set of suggested minimum rates, but the words ‘suggested’ and ‘minimum’ are both important here.
Helping the editor to estimate the work needed
Different editors will have different questions to ask, according to the types of work they offer and how they prefer to produce estimates. For example, a fiction editor might want to know which genre your novel fits into. I don’t edit fiction, but I think the factors that I’m about to describe are fairly typical.
Crucially, you and the editor both need to have a clear understanding of the type of service that the editor will provide: for example, development editing, copy-editing, plain English editing or proofreading. Some of these terms aren’t commonly understood and are open to interpretation, and you’ll need to make sure you agree on exactly what the editor will do. This will influence how long the work will take; and, as mentioned already, it might affect the hourly rate.
As you might expect, the length of the material to be edited is a key factor. If possible, you should tell the editor how many words there will be, at least roughly. A page count isn’t normally very useful by itself, as the editor won’t know how many words an average page will have (and if you do know that, you can calculate the overall word count yourself).
Although an approximate word count will do, it should be a genuine estimate based on facts, rather than just a ‘finger in the air’ educated guess. Make sure it includes all the types of content that will need to be edited, not just the main text. If you’re developing the content in Word, it’s easy to see the current word count in your document, or each of your documents. Even if you’re still working on it when you’re looking for a quote, it makes sense to estimate carefully what the final count will be.
If you’re looking for someone to edit the written content of your website, getting a word count isn’t straightforward and can take a while. You may well need to create a list of pages (most likely using Excel), then copy the content of each page into Word in turn so that you can see how many words it has, and finally add these counts together. This list will be helpful for the prospective editors you get in touch with, though, especially if it includes the web address of each page.
As well as the length of the main text, other types of content can affect the amount of work needed, such as tables, illustrations, notes and references, if they need to be cross-checked with the main text and perhaps with each other. Make sure you tell the editor about these (if you want them to be checked, which is usually wise), and say roughly how many of each will be included. Also, if there are a lot of headings, especially with multiple levels, this will add to the complexity, as will frequent cross-referencing.
The type of material also makes a difference, along with its purpose and the target audience. For example, complex technical material generally takes longer to edit, per word, than something that’s been written in simple language for a wide readership.
If you need to the editor to follow a particular style guide, they’ll need to spend some time reading it, absorbing it and possibly changing their settings in some editorial software to reflect it. The more complex (and/or quirky) it is, the longer it will take to do the actual editing, because the editor will often need to pause and check that the text complies with it. On the other hand, a good style guide might save time, as the editor won’t need to spend so much time trying to work out your style preferences and, potentially, raising queries about them.
The format of the document (usually Word or PDF), and how it should be edited or marked up, usually won’t have a huge impact on the size of the job – at least if you don’t need anything out of the ordinary. But this will need to be agreed in advance anyway, and the editor is likely to bear it in mind when estimating the effort needed.
It’s also helpful to agree in advance on whether you’ll want the editor to do any follow-up work after the initial edit – for example, to help with resolving their queries after you’ve answered them. If so, and if you’re going to be charged a fixed fee, an estimate of this work could be factored into the quoted fee; or you could agree that it won’t be included in that fee, but will be billed additionally at an hourly rate.
Finally, but crucially, you usually should provide a sample of the content if you possibly can. This needs to be long enough to give the editor a useful impression of what the complete document will be like, particularly the style and quality of writing – perhaps something like 1,000 words. The sample also needs to be typical of the overall content, in terms of the type of language used and how carefully it’s been written and checked. However, a sample might not be necessary if the editor has worked on similar material for you before.
Urgency and timing
Some editors charge a premium for an urgent job. (Some might call it a ‘rush job’, but that might make you worry about how carefully they’ll do it.) Also, if your timeframe requires the editor to do some of the work at the weekend, on a public holiday or in the evening, they may well charge extra for that portion of it.
This might seem like a lot of information to give to your potential editors, but it’s worth the effort to help make sure you’ll get realistic quotes.
Rather than scrambling for answers each time an editor asks you these questions, why not prepare those answers before you start looking for quotes? You could save time by including this information in your initial query – it’ll be a good way to get a potential working relationship off to a smooth start.
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Thoughts on Words
An editorial blog. Posts by Graham Hughes.