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How much do I charge for copy editing?
September 3, 2006 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Freelance copy editing: what's the going rate, and how much should I charge?

I'm currently a copy editor for a local magazine, which pays me $15 an hour for my freelance (not technically on staff) copy editing each month. The magazine's editor recommended me to a friend of hers who's writing her dissertation and needs a skilled copy editor to put it through the wringer. If this works out, the friend is going to recommend me to her other Ph.D.-candidate friends as well.

It sounds very promising, and I'm looking forward to the work. I love copy editing. But since I'm just starting out with this, I'm really not sure what hourly rate I should charge. Here are my current thoughts:

-I get the sense that the price the magazine is paying me is a steal, but since it's my first professional copy editing gig and I have a day job, I'm okay with that. It's worth it to me to gain the experience. What I'd like to know is this: what's the industry standard hourly rate for copy editing? (Or yearly salary, broken down.)

-Should I give this woman a discount from my current "corporate" hourly rate, so to speak, because she's an individual (and a friend of my editor, who knows how much they're paying me at the magazine and might call foul if I charge this woman more)? Or should I charge her the same?

-A factor: I don't yet know how long the dissertation is, nor how dense it is, nor how tight the writing is, so it's tough to estimate how many hours this will take. This site says the rate is much higher for academic copy editors for exactly these reasons. This mediabistro thread talks about going rates, as well—$30 seems to be about average for book copy editing, but that's not academic copy editing. Should these references be a factor in my decision?

-Would it be better to charge a flat fee, plus a slightly lower hourly rate? That seems more complicated, but it could be an option.

Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this!
posted by limeonaire to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
A factor: I don't yet know how long the dissertation is, nor how dense it is, nor how tight the writing is, so it's tough to estimate how many hours this will take.

Especially because you will be editing academic writing, charge the highest hourly rate you can get away with. No discount. You have to account for the high proportion of indecipherable gibberish that will be presented to you as if it were plain fact.

If in the end you feel that you were paid too much -- if, I am saying, a miracle occurs -- you can always take one more step towards sainthood and refund part of your fee because "your writing was such a joy to work with" or whatever expresses your true feelings. Then let the pope know. He keeps track of these things.

(And be ready to show prospective customers that first link or something similar.)
posted by pracowity at 9:04 AM on September 3, 2006


If the going rate is above $15, then I would charge $15 (your current copy editor rate) and tell the person that you are working at a discount for her and anyone she recommends would likely be paying closer to $25-30 or whatever the going rate is. You get the experience, she pays you for that experience and the helps with your own learning curve and you have gone on record that this is a discount. Maybe she will want sainthood herself and offer you a bonus at the end for your incredible work.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:33 AM on September 3, 2006


I found this site to be especially helpful in figuring how much to charge.
posted by fenriq at 10:00 AM on September 3, 2006 [2 favorites]


I'm a copy editor (not freelance, though), and I would charge at least $25 an hour for freelance work. If you give someone a discount on the going rate because you're not confident in your experience, then that says to your client that you're offering inferior work.

I would also charge by the hour -- no flat fee business -- and document the hours of work. The number of pages won't really indicate the amount work required. And if her writing doesn't require that much work, then you won't feel like you've overcharged her because you won't have had to spend that much time on it.
posted by Airhen at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


I've never charged less than $35 an hour for freelance writing or editing -- and that was 10 years ago, when I was fresh from undergrad. If you are just starting out, you might want to give people a few deals, but don't expect to retain those clients when you start charging a regular rate.

Contact local writers' associations and look at a few writers' market publications. This will give you a better understanding of typical rates.

My profile has a self-link to calculating consulting fees, which you may find applicable to your situation. I started out as a freelance writer, but quickly expanded my services to cover related areas.

There's nothing wrong with charging by the project, especially if you write/edit extremely quickly and don't want to end up making nothing because of that.
posted by acoutu at 12:21 PM on September 3, 2006


Always start out a little below market rate. You'll end up with more work than you know what to do with, unlike all the suckers who set their prices too high out of some kind of misguided principle that their 'unique' skills are worth it, and then proceed to get no work whatsoever.
posted by reklaw at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2006


Don't charge less than $25.
posted by languagehat at 2:00 PM on September 3, 2006


Always start out a little below market rate. You'll end up with more work than you know what to do with, unlike all the suckers who set their prices too high out of some kind of misguided principle that their 'unique' skills are worth it, and then proceed to get no work whatsoever.

Yes, maybe, but charging too little gives people the expectation that copyediting doesn't cost much, and then no one is willing to pay actual going rates, and then you've not only screwed yourself out of normal wages, you've also screwed other editors out of their normal wages.. $15 falls into the "too little" range; I agree with languagehat that $25 should be your minimum. (And yes, I'd say $30-35 is the going rate for people advertising on university campuses.)

Also, if you feel uncomfortable charging the going rate (which you shouldn't, really, given that you're currently working as a professional editor), maybe give her a discount on the first couple hours, and then raise it to a normal charge?
posted by occhiblu at 9:34 PM on September 3, 2006


FWIW, I've charged up to $115 an hour for business copy editing and $55 an hour for masters' thesis editing, so $15 is really too low.
posted by acoutu at 10:47 PM on September 3, 2006


Thank you for all the excellent responses so far. It's sounding to me like $30 is what I should charge at this point—$25 if I feel like being saintly.

I don't feel uncomfortable charging more, as long as I know it's the going rate—I just wanted to make sure I wouldn't be making a mistake and losing her business (or future business) by pricing my services incorrectly. This is why I Ask Metafilter—'cause I know a number of you have far more experience with this than I do right now.
posted by limeonaire at 6:42 AM on September 4, 2006


(And yes, I like em-dashes. They're my one weakness.)
posted by limeonaire at 6:46 AM on September 4, 2006


Something to keep in mind, too, is that freelance rates can seem a bit high in comparison to salaried rates because as a freelancer, you have to make up for the (unpaid) time you spend finding clients. Even with something like your current gig, presumably you don't have to spend a couple hours every week or day checking in with them to maintain your job, so it makes some sense to take a lower rate in exchange for getting rid of that hassle. But if you're going to start managing multiple clients, you lose that convenience -- hence the higher rates.
posted by occhiblu at 10:45 AM on September 4, 2006


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