Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

Certified Copy Editor and Proofreader


January 7, 2012

Standard rates for freelance editing jobs

How much can you expect to pay a freelance editor? How do you estimate a freelance editing job?

For freelance editors and their clients, estimating the cost and time for a project is an important skill. Here are some of the factors to consider when estimating a project, as well as some industry standard rates.

Freelance editing rates

Some suggested standard pay scales and productivity rates for editing:
  1. Productivity Rates in Editing (February 2011) from Catch the Sun (Canada, rates taken from US source).
  2. What do editors charge? Some guidelines on productivity rates and billing from the Editors’ Association of Canada.
  3. Janet Mackenzie, the author of The Editor’s Companion (written in 2004), suggests that an editor who is competent according to the Australian Standards for Editing Practice is worth at least AUD 50 per hour (about CAN 53).
  4. Editorial Rates (updated January 2012) from the Editorial Freelancers Association in the US. A lot of people consider these rates to be low.
  5. The Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University offers editing services. This is their rate schedule.

Freelance indexing rates

The Indexing Society of Canada has a nice two-page writeup on rates for indexing services. This is helpful both for indexers and their clients.

Factors that affect editing speed

Difficulty of the material

The level of specialization and complexity of the document are important factors.
  • Is the material very specialized? Is there a lot of specialized terminology that the editor will have to look up or define a style for? Scientific, academic, and technical material (such as user manuals) takes longer to edit.
  • Is the formatting complex? Are there many levels of headings, figure and table captions, footnotes and endnotes, and citations to format?
  • Are there complex stylistic considerations such as mathematical formulas, other languages, units, currencies, etc.?
  • Is there a defined style for the document, or does the editor have to try to infer the style from the document itself? A style sheet can make the work go more quickly. On the other hand, long, complex, and contradictory guidelines can slow it down.

Current state of the manuscript

The state of the manuscript before editing makes a huge difference. The more errors the manuscript contains, the more time it will take to edit, especially if there are places where the meaning is unclear, or if the style and formatting are very inconsistent.

Clarity of requirements

Has the editing task been clearly defined? Has all the information needed to complete the job been provided? For instance for a stylistic edit, has the level and style of language to be used been specified? For a copy edit or proofread, is there a style sheet, and is it complete and consistent? Does the client respond quickly to questions?

But that’s more than my hourly rate in my salaried job!

A freelancer’s hourly rate is higher than a salaried employee’s rate for a comparable job because it reflects her total cost of doing business. This includes expenses that are included in a salaried employee’s compensation: A freelance business has some extra expenses as well:
  • Non-billable time spent finding work and handling administration.
  • Professional development: improving skills, staying up to date, and taking courses and certification exams.
  • Many editors need disability insurance, commercial liability insurance, and errors and omissions insurance.
There are various rules of thumb for how much loading a contractor needs to add to her hourly rate to approximate the pay of a salaried employee. I think I’ve heard everything from 25% to 150% on top of the employee’s rate. A simple rule of thumb for calculating a freelance worker’s hourly rate is to take the target annual salary and divide by 1,000.

These numbers can give you something to work with when you’re comparing the cost of freelancers to in-house employees. And if you see that you’re paying an unsustainably low rate for freelance work, you’ll know that you can expect a high turnover as your freelancers leave you for higher-paying contracts.

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