What you should charge in 2023: Setting your freelance editing rates for success
Ask any freelancer: Determining your rates can be almost as challenging as the actual work itself. There's plenty to consider, and you don't want to leave money on the table or lose a client. To help, we've put together this in-depth guide.
Don’t forget dollars are only part of the equation
“How much is this going to cost?” How many times have you been asked that in your freelance career? Probably so many times you could answer in your sleep.
But not with a number, with either “It depends” or “I have a few questions first.” Giving a quick answer to how much something costs—especially when you’re talking about freelance editing or freelance editing rates—without getting some more detail never ends well. As you tease out more information you start to run the numbers in your head.
Okay, 100,000 words, very technical topic, first time author. That’s going to bump to the higher end of the range. A looming deadline and the job needs to be done fast? That means pricing your editing rates at the higher end, plus 15% rush charge. The picture gets clear and all you need is to give a number.
What is that number? What’s that range you start with to work out how much to charge for your freelance editor rate? There are no easy answers (especially a flat rate) to those questions. Our other posts about setting your rates and advice to give our past selves, all touch on the topic and all have the same answer:
Whether it's copy editing, developmental editing, or even being a book editor, there are a few resources for finding out how much to charge for freelance editing rates and they all break things down like this:
- Per word rates.
- Per page rates.
- Per hour rates.
- What kind of work is it.
Generally, your per word rate can be converted to a per page rate (assuming 250 words per page) for many types of editing. Your per hour rate comes from how many pages per hour you can edit. And the kind of work takes on a whole new set of questions based on its nature and what kind of editing is needed.
Let’s start with some benchmark rates from the Editorial Freelancers Association, an association you can become a member of.
EFA survey results
The EFA surveys its members regularly to answer that immortal question: what’s the going rate? EFA makes it clear they aren’t setting freelance editing rates or saying this is how much members should charge—there are a lot of sticky legal issues around professional groups and rates—only “this is what our members say they charge”.
But the editing rates (see the table below) give you a really good sense of the range and how different kinds of jobs require different rates. Any freelancer who has a single, one-size-fits-all rate is going to have problems. Editing work for $60/hour is just fine for a tight piece from an experienced writer. Then there are pieces where there isn’t enough money in the world for you to take on the job—even as a beginner.
Freelance editing rates range from $61-70/hour for consulting to $30-45/hour for proofreading and everything in between.
The EFA survey is cited as the best industry benchmark you can get, but it’s not the only way to get a feel for how much editors charge. Before you set your freelance rates in stone based on these survey, talk with fellow freelancers. Get their feedback on what they charge as editing rates for different kinds of projects based on your experience. Freelance editors who have years of experience and are sought after, charge premium editing rates for their work. When you’re just starting out as an editor, you can’t necessarily charge high editing rates.
Experts have a proven track record and have honed their skills to where charging based purely on words or hours or pages might not even make sense. Successful editors like Miranda Marquit and Blake Atwood talk about things like:
- What kind editing is it? Simple proofreading or giving in-depth advice on the work?
- Is the work very technical or in a very specific niche?
- Is it copy editing? Developmental editing? Book editing?
- Is the work fiction, non-fixture, academic, business?
- What’s the scope and scale of the project?
These questions just scratch the surface of the things you can ask about a work, but starting with these four will make both you and the client think about the work. Editing, like writing and designing, is a creative skill. There is a lot of nuance to being a good editor.
To make sure the work is even right for you in the first place, you need a clear picture of what’s required.
Before we delve into how those questions affect your rate, let’s talk about how you price your work. Not just the dollars and cents, but are you billing by the word, the page, the project, or the hour. Each option comes with pluses and minuses—and how much financial risk you take on with the project.
How you price the work
For a lot of freelance projects—writing, development, and graphic design especially—billing on the most granular part of a work seems a little strange. Some writers charge by the word, but more often freelance writers charge by the piece with upper and lower word counts. Can you imagine developers charging by lines of code or graphic designers charging by the number of layers an image has?
It seems strange because these kinds of jobs have the scope and scale set out in terms of complexity and how long it will take to get a job done. Freelance editing is a little different. In editing it’s the number of words and type of editing that give the editor a sense of scale.
Charging per word
The standard in the editing world is charging per word. When you tell an editor you need a 7,500 word count (roughly 30 pages) non-fiction book chapter proofread—just typos, grammar, and spelling—the editor gets a good estimate of how long it will take. Charging per word is like charging per project because there is a shared amount of risk involved.
The editor is assuming they can proof 7-10 pages an hour. If the work isn’t as polished as the author says, it might take longer. If the work is in better shape, it might take less time. No matter the time needed to edit the chapter, the cost will remain the same because everything is tied to the word count (when submitted, of course) when you charge per hour.
Charging per hour
If you charge for freelance editing per hour, you’re shifting the risk more towards the writer than the editor. No matter the word count, the editor will take however long it takes to do a good job. If the piece is in good shape, the author gets a good deal, but if the author has oversold how polished the chapter is, the editor knows they will be compensated for the extra work needed.
The risk in charging per hour is, unless a writer sets a cap on the number of hours allocated, the cost can balloon out of control. It’s up to the editor to give a good and fair estimate of how long it will take to work on the piece and advise their client if it’s taking longer than expected.
"Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers."
- T.S. Eliot
Charging per page
Like charging by the word, charging per page is a shared-risk method. The number of pages doesn’t change and the amount charged can’t change if the work is harder than expected. The challenge with charging per page is, today we don’t work in pages. When you sent pieces of paper to your editor, you knew how many pages you had. You might have a rough idea of the number of words (based on 250 words per page on average), but only a rough idea.
Now writers know exactly how many words their works is, but not how many pages it is. If you want to charge per page, make sure you tell writers you assume 250 words per page. If you look at the work and their page is a lot more than 250 words on average (or a lot less), you need to adjust the rate accordingly.
Charging per project/piece
Most common in freelance writing, development, and graphic design, per project/piece is another shared risk kind of pricing. As the freelancer you look at the scope of the work and estimate how long it will take you—plus other factors we’ll discuss in a moment—and come up with a price you think is fair.
All project-based work has the same risk for the freelancer—if you guess wrong and the project takes longer, you’re not getting more money (usually). When a project takes longer you won’t be able to take on as much work. If one project takes up the same amount of time two projects would take, you’re on the losing side of the equation. However, if like Mary Kole, you know how long a typical project takes, you can safely charge by project when setting freelance editing rates.
The catch is you only get to that level of surety after doing hundreds of projects.
What types of editing are needed?
With how you’re charging your clients sorted out, you need to make sure you adjust your rate based on the kind of editing needed. There is a big difference between checking for spelling, typos, and grammar (proofreading) and reading for flow and characters and concept (developmental editing). Each level of editing needs its own set of editing rates and expectations.
Copy editing is the middle of the road editing. This means you’re looking for more than typos, but not changing the story or structure. You’re reading a final draft from an established writer and putting some polish on the piece.
Copy editing includes doing some re-writing (editing) of the work, but still keeping everything in the author’s voice. You’re not editing for style here. It's more so asking if the piece flows and makes sense. If you’re proofreading you might highlight an awkward or hard to read sentence for the author to fix, when you’re copy editing you’re suggesting changes to the piece to improve it.
Copy editing might include making sure the author followed the correct style guide to make sure everything is formatted properly before publishing. Sometimes a proofreader will do a final check before publishing, but a good copy editor should be able to edit and proof a piece at the same time.
Proofreading is the most basic type of editing. You’re looking for spelling errors, grammar errors, and simple stylistic edits (Oxford comma, one space after a period, spaces around dashes). A proofreader could—and probably should —note if something doesn’t make sense for the author to fix. If you’re only being paid to proofread, you don’t need to change it—your client likely doesn't expect to pay you for it.
Developmental: Style and substance
Developmental editing come much earlier on in the writing work and editing process. This is conceptual and giving feedback on characters, plot, scenes, logic, and flow. The line between ghostwriting and developmental editing can get blurry. If a work isn’t complete, and you’re being asked to flesh out a concept that might only be a few bullet points to start with, are you editing or writing?
Developmental editing on the EFA table starts to get close to consulting rates, and for good reason. At this early stage, you are consulting with the author how to edit and improve the piece before a complete or final draft.
Important editing pricing factors
The final part of setting the right freelance editing rates for a freelance editing job is understanding what kind of writing are you working with. There is a big difference between editing a children’s book and a peer-reviewed scientific paper. Different kinds of pieces need different kinds of expertise.
A freelance editor who works on journal articles for social sciences might be completely lost editing a physical science paper. Not only are the citation styles different, the language and writing styles are different as well. A science editor might have an equally hard time being a good editor for a casual article for a lifestyle magazine.
Here are a few of the things to think about before pricing or accepting a freelance editing job.
Complexity, topic, and genre
Are you editing documentation for an aircraft technical manual or a piece on the latest food trends for a magazine? You need to gauge both how much to charge and how long editing will take based on how hard the piece is to read and work with per project.
If you’re doing copy editing, and especially developmental editing, it helps to be familiar with the topic. It’s not essential to know everything a subject matter expert (SME) does when setting freelance editing rates, but it doesn’t hurt. Familiarity helps you suggest other ways to say something without accidentally changing the meaning.
Technical topics can be extremely hard to wade through. They have terms you need to be familiar with and stylistic conventions that might seem strange—or wrong—to non-technical editors. This means it will take you longer to work on the piece, even once you are familiar with the space, so you can’t take on as much work.
You need to adjust your rates to account for not being able to take on as many clients compared to someone who is editing a less-technical piece.
The EFA guide recommends book editor prices based on different writing genres.
A non-fiction book is different than fiction, business different from science. This plays to both the complexity of the pieces, but the mindset of both authors and readers.
Copy editing for academics is different than romance authors. Both kinds of works have their own unique challenges, and the audience’s expectations of the book or paper are very different. A good fiction book editor will use their copy editing to make sure characters are relatable and make sure inconsistencies don’t pop up between scenes. Scientific papers are written in a completely different style and have technical terms to double check.
Mixing up these styles wouldn’t get you repeat business from that client. When you decide to take on an editing job, you need to be sure you can handle it. Not just the timeline or the size of the work, but what kind of work is it in the first place.
Don’t take editing jobs you aren’t prepared to do well or have the expertise to do well. Instead, take the time to improve your editing skills and diversify your experience before taking on more challenging projects.
No matter the freelancer, rush jobs cost extra. No one has a special rate when you have a lot of time to work on something. That just means you can spread out the work over a longer period of time, which lets you take on more work.
Rush editing jobs are different. Rush editing jobs mean working longer hours than usual or on days off. Rush editing jobs can mean pushing out other work that you’ll have to work extra hard to finish on time. Rush editing jobs mean you might have to explain to a client their piece isn’t going to be ready when you thought.
Rush jobs mean hassles for you and other clients. If you’re being asked to do a rush job, it needs to be worth your while. You need to feel the extra work and potential problems with other clients is worth the money you’re getting.
Sometimes you can’t take a rush job. Sometimes no matter how much money is being thrown at you, it’s just not worth it. Decide for yourself how you handle rush jobs and if there is some astronomical sum of money you’d take to do the work no matter what.
Some freelancers quote editing rates they think no one would pay for a rush editing job, only to find the client is desperate enough to say yes. Be ready for the yes.
It’s always nice to dream.
"A good editor is someone who cares a little less about the author's needs than the reader's."
- Dene October
It’s not just about the editing rates you charge
Many editors develop a specialized niche and don’t stray from it. You need to decide for yourself if you’re going to be a generalist or a specialist and price yourself accordingly. Your editing rate isn’t just about money or your time, your rate also includes all your experience and skill.
Your editing rate sets an expectation for the quality of your work. In the software as a service (SaaS) world, charging a premium price signals to large companies you’re worth it (though avoid charging too much). Charging too little for your work might be telling people you’re not all that good in the first place.
The table above is a guideline. It’s the results of a survey from one group of freelance editors. The pool might be broad, but it’s still a limited group of people. Talk with friends and colleagues. Get a feel for how and why other freelance editors and writers charge for their work.
Don’t be afraid to charge a premium price for special expertise (say translating or editing translations). If you’ve developed a special skill or have years of experience—even if you haven’t been a freelance editor before—those count for something.
Make sure you charge the editing rates you’re worth and don’t flinch from it.
Don’t forget about invoicing and payments
The final part of setting yourself up as a freelance editor, whether it's copy editing, developmental editing, or as a book editor, is invoicing and getting paid. Setting up invoicing and online payments can be a royal pain, expensive, and confusing. You could start by using an invoice template to bill your new clients, but without the proper tools, it can be difficult to track down unpaid invoices and accurately measure how much money your business is bringing in.
An invoicing tool like Wave can help you create, send, and manage unlimited invoices for free. Wave makes it easy to start sending professional-looking invoices in just a few minutes. You can set up recurring invoices for regular clients, and you can even automate payment reminder emails that are sent to overdue clients who are overdue.
Wave also makes accepting online payments—bank transfers or credit cards—a snap. You connect Wave with your bank—which typically is set up in a day—and you’ve just made it easier to get paid. With Wave there are no hidden or surprise fees. You’ll know exactly what you’re paying whenever you send and invoice.
That’s not all, of course. Wave has tools for:
- Working with accountants
- Tracking your expenses
- Creating estimates that become invoices with a click
Get started with Wave now and start sending unlimited invoices for free.