Editing is one of the easiest freelance fields to get into. If you have any kind of formal education, you already have enough skills to help others edit and improve their written work. And as long as people keep writing, editors will always be in demand.
After I switched from academia to freelance editing, I helped many friends and former colleagues join the field too. And the most common question they had was:
How much should I charge?
Setting your freelance editing rates is one of the most important factors for success. And how much you should charge really depends on what kind of editing you’re doing. Here’s what you need to know:
What Type of Editing Are You Doing?
No one ever got rich calling themselves just an “editor.” If you want to make real money as a freelance editor, you need to specialize in certain areas that cater to people’s unique needs. Here’s an overview of some different types of freelance editing you can specialize in:
Copyediting (AKA line editing) involves reviewing content for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, as well as flow, tone, and clarity. People need copy editors for all sorts of things: you can be a book editor, working with manuscripts, web copy, research reports, etc.
Here are the recommend copy editing rates from the Editorial Freelancers Association:
Basic copyediting rates: 5-10 pages/hr at $30-40/hour
Heavy copyediting rates: 2-5 pages/hour at $40-50/hour
Proofreading is like copy editing but much less in-depth. Proofreaders do a final check of spelling, grammar, and typos on a draft that’s already been edited. If someone hands you the first draft of a book, it’s a copyediting project. Proofreaders do a final review of a draft, formatting and graphics included, before publication.
Rates: 9-13 pages/hour at $30-$35/hour
3. Substantive editing
Substantive editing involves evaluating a manuscript for its content, not spelling and grammar. In most cases, substantive editing involves fiction projects. Substantive editors critique the quality of a story, pointing out issues with flow and character development, maybe even doing some minor fact checking. Essentially you’re providing the author with advice and direction to improve the book.
Rates: 1-6 manuscript pages/hour at $40-$60/hour
4. Developmental editing
Developmental editing is like substantive editing, except you’re helping the author from the beginning of the writing process. Developmental editors are usually successful authors themselves who can help others with story concept development. Most developmental editing gigs are for fiction books or screenwriting.
Rates: 1-5 pages/hr at $45-$55/hour
5. Formatting and style guides
One thing you can do as part of your copy editing service is formatting and editing for specific style guides. You can charge quite a lot for simple tasks like creating a table of contents and formatting a book for epublication. Some clients may also need you to edit using a specific style guide, like the Chicago Manual, Associated Press (AP), APA style, and others. You might already have some experience with one of these, but you can also easily teach yourself a new style guide then charge more for your services.
Rates: 8-20 pages/hour at $35-$65/hour
6. Academic or technical editing
Just like with freelance writing, you can get paid a lot more if you specialize in academic, technical, or other high-level content editing. Most academic journals have their own unique style guide and submission requirements, so an academic editor can help researchers format their papers for the various journals they submit it to.
Most technical editing jobs involve user manuals or procedural instructions for highly specialized industries like engineering, robotics, medicine, or government regulations.
Rates: Ranging from $50-$150/hour based on level of specialization, according to Oxford Editing.
I mention English as a second language (ESL) editing as a separate category here because it really is a different kind of editing gig than all the rest. Editing content written by a second language speaker can (depending on their skill level) take a lot more of your time, so you should charge more for this service.
ESL editing is also a booming market. Second language speakers will hire you to edit their web copy, research papers, technical user manuals, restaurant menus — you name it. They don’t care if you’re a member of the American Editorial Association or not. As long as you’re a native speaker with a knack for spotting errors, you have a job.
Rates: ESL editing rates can vary greatly. It’s actually best to get a look at someone’s manuscript so you can see their English level before quoting them a price.
How Are You Going to Charge?
The Editorial Freelancers Association posts their rate recommendations as per hour, but that’s not the only way you can charge for editing services. There are actually 3 main ways to set your editorial rates. Each strategy has its own benefits, so you should explore and consider all of them:
1. Per hour
It’s very common for freelancers to charge an hourly rate for their services. Usually, they provide clients with an estimate of how much time a task will take, then use time tracking tools to monitor time spent on a project.
The real benefit of charging an hourly rate is that you’re paid even if a project takes longer than you thought it would. For example, if an editor is hired to review a 20,000-word article and it takes twice as long as they thought it would to complete, they’ll be paid for the extra time and effort.
The downside of hourly work is that your expertise and productivity serve to benefit your clients, never you. Say you’re an expert editor who can edit the same content in 2 hours that would take others 5 hours to complete. All that means is less money for you.
2. Per project/per unit
My favorite way to charge for freelance services is per project or unit. You can opt to charge per hour, per page, or per word. In this case a client can provide you with a brief of what they need done and you provide that service for them at a fixed-price rate. For example, you can edit a 1200-page book for $5,000. Or you can take a manuscript’s word count and extrapolate your rates from that.
Charging per project/unit helps you get the most use out of your time for your own benefit. The faster you work, the more projects you can take on and the more potential earnings. Clients are also more inclined to pay well for projects than hourly hiring.
The only downside of per project work is if you underestimate your necessary time investment. Then you can end up earning much less than you thought you would. I recommend spending some time in the beginning doing hourly work so you can figure out how much time it takes you to do things, then develop your per project rates.
3. A mixture
The last option is to provide a mixture of both hourly and per project rates where applicable. That’s what I like to do with my writing and editing services. I charge a base per-word rate to write articles, then provide editorial services at $50/hour. Or you can do some other kind of mixture that works better for you.
Factors to Consider When Setting Your Freelance Editing Rates
Now you have a good idea of the different kinds of freelance editing services you can charge for, as well as different ways to charge for them. But still, there is no standardized way to set your freelance editing rates. You need to consider a few key factors to decide on the right price for you situation.
Check out the competition
Especially when you’re first starting out, you want to keep your freelance editing rates competitive so you can get clients quickly. Once you have more experience editing and get testimonials from your clients, you can raise your rates. But right now you want to keep your rates similar to your major competitors.
To get a general idea what others are charging for the same editing services, you can turn to freelance job sites like Upwork or Freelancer. If you go to https://www.upwork.com/hire/editors/ you can browse editor profiles to see their hourly rate for different kinds of editing services, such as book editing:
Editors on job sites like these tend to be on the lower-end of the pay scale. You can also use Google to find independent editors who might charge higher rates.
Consider your business costs
Another important thing to consider when setting your rates is your business costs. It’s completely normal for an editor to have a much higher hourly rate because they have to cover additional costs that people with regular jobs don’t have to worry about. For example, you need to buy your own insurance, office supplies, internet, and software for work. You also have to spend a certain portion of your time marketing your business and pitching clients.
If you need help mapping all these costs out, there are actually quite a few calculators out there that can help. Just Google “freelance rate calculator” to find some options. Here’s a pretty helpful Q&A tool for rate calculation from Yourrate.co:
Be prepared to adjust your base rate
Once you do have your base freelance editing rates figured out, you’re going to want to make some adjustments. Certain aspects of a client project can end up taking you more or less time than what your standard rate includes. You should be prepared to tack on additional charges for different projects that you work on.
For example, you can take a look at someone’s manuscript and see that they need much more than a standard copyedit. Or maybe someone wants you to do fact checking as part of your editing service. You can add onto your base rate to reflect the extra effort it will take to complete these tasks.
If you want to learn how to maximize your editing income using tips from my experience freelancing plus my own rate card template, download this guide for free:
Ways to Increase the Value of Your Editorial Services
There are lots of different strategies you can use to make your services more valuable so you can raise your freelance editing rates. Here are a few options to explore:
You do not have to get professional certifications to become a successful editor. I have exactly zero credentials in editing yet I do it regularly for my clients. That said, if you want to have potential clients value your editorial services more, getting certifications is a great strategy. There are many options out there that require little financial and investment.
Here are a few to check out:
- Editorial Freelancers Association Courses
- University of Chicago Editing Certificate
- ACES/Poynter Training
- Editors Canada Certification
- Board of Editors in the Life Sciences Certification
- UC Berkeley Professional Sequence in Editing
- Society for Editors and Proofreaders Workshops
Get Social Proof
As you work with different clients, you should be able to raise your rates to reflect this experience. But in order to convince new clients that you’re worth more money, you need to illustrate your experience with social proof.
Social proof is basically evidence from other people that you have great editing skills. Try to get a byline as editor on as many published works as you can. That way you can mention these successful projects to potential clients, and share them on your website. Another good thing to do is collect testimonials from your previous clients and publish these on your website as well.
Offer Package Services
Another great way to increase the value of your editing services is by offering packages. Package services can include a collection of related tasks that people might need from an editor. For example, you could offer a premium editorial package including:
• Fact checking
• Proofreading and indexing
• Formatting for publication
Then you can charge clients more for these services as a whole than you would if you offered them individually. That’s how you can make a lot more money offering valuable package bundles!
The Bottom Line
If you made it to the end of this blog post, you now have a much better understanding about how to set your freelance editing rates. There are a lot of factors to consider when setting your rates and a lot of ways to make your services more valuable. Whatever rates you set, just make sure you revisit them regularly. Refresh your standard rates at least every 6 months to ensure you stay competitive and earn what you’re worth as a professional freelance editor.