How to Set Your Freelance Editing Rates
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 your situation.