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The FastEditing Eye

The FastEditing Eye

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Pricing Models V; in Which I Answer Frequently Asked Questions


A number of questions have come up during the course of this series of blog posts. So with this final post in the series, I look at the most common questions and try to answer them.

But first I want to emphasize two approaches that govern a lot of my business philosophy:

  1. It depends.
  2. Whatever works.

You might be reading this series, thinking, “Yeah, but ...” That’s fine. What works for one freelancer doesn’t have to work for another. If you read the entire series and say, “Yeah, but I have good reasons to charge an hourly rate,” then go for it! Your hourly rate will be all the stronger because you’ve given some thought to how and why your business is structured. That’s a win for you—and really for everyone in our industry.

1. Do most editors have a set price per word? Or do you calculate a special per-word or flat fee for each project?

It varies from editor to editor, from niche to niche, from client to client. Some editors have a set rate and post that rate on their websites. Others base the per-word rate on the needs of a specific project, the client’s budget, the schedule, and other intangibles.

I’m in the second camp. Usually I have a minimum effective hourly rate (EHR) in mind—sometimes a target per-word rate as well. I look at the entire manuscript, spend an hour doing a thorough sample edit (including making a style sheet, editing the citations, and running macros), and then figure out how many words I edited in that hour. I use the EHR and my pace to come up with a word rate and then a project rate. I use the project rate to pitch a flat fee, most of the time.

There’s a lot to be said for having a set per-word rate, though. It lets you publicize your rates, which discourages the tire kickers. And it puts the freelance copyeditor on the same footing as many professionals who just state what their charge is. As an earlier post mentioned, my freelance translators always just told me their per-word rate, and I could take it or leave it. It’s a refreshing approach.

2. If you charge a per-word rate, don’t you cheat yourself if the project is a mess?

If you have a set per-word rate for copyediting, you do run the risk of shortchanging yourself on a single messy project. Many copyeditors who charge a per-word rate report that it works out over time for them, much as I have found that project rates work out over the long haul for me.

That said, the variable messiness of projects (and other unpredictable factors like schedules and budgets) is why I prefer to evaluate each project and customize a per-word rate and then a flat fee that gets me to my target EHR. I might have a target per-word rate in mind as well, but the sweet spot and the long view are the two aims in my bids.

3. When you charge by the word, how do you count the words? Original word count, edited word count, or something else?

How to count all the words in Word. Click to embiggen.

Always use the word count of the original document. (You can add word counts for any new, additional text the client might send later.) This is for a few reasons:

  • The original word count is the only variable you and the client can agree on. Use Word’s built-in word counter (be sure to have it count notes and text boxes as well—see the image in this question). If you have a lot of files for a project, use the great WordCounter add-on from the Editorium to quickly obtain and add word counts for the entire project.
  • The client benefits from knowing up front, based on the original word count, what the copyediting project will cost. Neither you nor the client can know what the final word count will be.
  • Charging by the original word count eliminates an unconscious editing bias that might cause you to add text as you edit. Without meaning to, you might expand wordiness to drive up the final word count—when in fact our job is usually to reduce wordiness.

4. What about charging by the page?

This question often comes up in response to job postings in which prospective clients offer a fee per page.

If you’ve been editing long—or if you ever taught high school or college composition—you know writers can mess around with how many (or few) words fit on a single “page” by changing the margins, the typeface, the font size, and so on. A page rate puts us in the position of educating clients on the idea that the editorial standard for a “page” is 250 words.

So I never agree to a per-page rate dictated by the client. What I do instead sometimes is charge per 1,000 words—or 4 standard pages. Clients more easily understand the 1,000-word block than the 250-word standard page.

5. What is included in the EHR? What about emails, phone calls, style sheets, templates, hand holding, etc.?

I track all of that as part of my EHR. That’s what makes it an effective (or actual) hourly rate—it accounts for the word count as well as less tangible tasks like emails and style sheets.

In a later blog post I’ll get more into the nitty-gritty of time tracking. But here are my general rules:

  • When I estimate the job, I pad my timed sample by 10% to allow for admin. Then I use that padded figure to calculate a per-word rate and then a project rate.
  • At the end of the job, I look back at the project to see what EHR I achieved. I have tracked all time for the project in an Excel template—editing time as well as admin time—and my spreadsheet rolls that all into the total time spent. Then it calculates things like EHR, my effective pace of words per hour, standard pages per hour, and so on.
  • I use the metrics as learnings for the next job, so I can get better at estimating.

6. How do I convert a client from an hourly charge to a per-word charge or a flat fee?

Please check out my post that addresses the client-side benefits of a per-word charge. At the end you’ll find talking points to sell your next client on a per-word rate. You can also adapt those to pitch a project rate!

7. What about cleanup editing, development editing, line editing, substantive editing, or ghostwriting/ghost editing?

Those are all topics for other blog posts down the road. But in general, the closer a heavy editing job veers toward rewriting or text development, the more likely I am to switch to an hourly rate. It’s too difficult to estimate a realistic per-word rate for such work.

Cleanup editing is more specific to copyediting, but I also typically charge by the hour for cleanup editing. I can't estimate a per-word charge for cleanup without knowing how well the client (or author) will answer queries, whether I’ll get reams of entirely new text to insert and edit, and how much tweaking I’ll need to do across the manuscript based on feedback.

Let’s Review

That brings us to the end of this series on models for pricing copyediting. I’ll be taking a week off to recharge my blogging battery. In the meantime, let me know if you have specific questions you’d like to me to address in the areas of the business of freelancing or editing. See you next time!