What should I charge for copy editing work?
September 4, 2019 1:43 PM   Subscribe

A PhD candidate at a well-considered university recently contacted me to see if I would do copy, proof, and stylistic editing for her. Is there a going rate for this work, either on an hourly, per page, or per document basis?

Some details:

-- I was recommended to this person by a friend who thought I'd be good at it, but it's nothing I've done for pay before. It would be a side hustle.

-- I haven't even begun to think about or look into whether I'd need to pay taxes on this income. (Feel free to opine!)

-- The work would range from cover letters and job applications to dissertation copy.

-- I live in Los Angeles.
posted by kensington314 to Work & Money (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I work with someone who does this remotely (I suspect being remote is usual for this line of work, in which case your being in LA probably isn’t relevant). I met them via O’Reilly. Their rate is $35/hr.

You may incur expenses that reduce those taxes and you may fall below thresholds that eliminate tax entirely but you still need to report it on your tax return.
posted by caek at 1:58 PM on September 4


Technically, people who pay money to freelancers aren't required to issue a 1099 form and report payments that total less than $600 in a tax year. So in theory you'd be off the hook for taxes if you made less than $600 on this job, although you're supposed to report those eaernings anyway.

Of course if she pays you any amount off the books, it's up to you whether you want to report, but again in theory you're supposed to report ANY income.

Also for a job like this, you might have an easier time securing her as a customer if you agree on a whole-job amount. If she is a grad student with a limited budget, she might feel wary of committing to, say, $50 and hour if she doesn't know how long it will take you to do the editing. Not sure that'd be in your best interests, of course, if it turns out to be a hugely complex job.
posted by shaademaan at 1:58 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Yes, you pay taxes on it, unless you want to break the law.

I’m a professional copy editor with some involvement with hiring freelancers. Rates range from $40 to $80 an hour, but these are very experienced people with a specialty in scientific editing. Probably half of the people who apply, all of whom claim to be experienced professionals, don’t pass our test. Check the Editorial Freelancers Association for more info on rates.
posted by FencingGal at 2:00 PM on September 4 [7 favorites]


I'm also a professional copy editor, though I work exclusively in fiction. Like FencingGal, I also came in here to recommend checking the Editorial Freelancers Association. If you're on Facebook you might also want to pop into the Editors of Earth group. There may also be a subgroup or two that can help you focus in on academic editing and the like.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:19 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


As a warning, figure out what you can and can't edit on a dissertation. Each school should have its own guidelines. Here's a general one put out by an editor's association in Canada (although it is often recommended to U.S.-based clients and copy editors). If you've never done this kind of work before, there are likely issues you haven't considered (outside of taxes and rates).
posted by sardonyx at 2:25 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


The hourly rates can be hard to figure out, for you and the client, if you're both new to this. (Also, being new, it will take you longer in the beginning, which may not be fair to your first client.)

If you went with a page rate, the ballpark of $10 per typeset page, for copy/stylistic/proofreading, is fairly standard for an academic book (that comes to quite roughly $10/400-500 words). Caveat: I'm in Canada, things might be different in the US.

With a diss, the quality of the writing might be expected to be a tad rougher (though not universally), the formatting demands for the university's school of grad studies might be weird and finicky (not just as simple as... Chicago!), and the stakes for the client are somewhat higher (this thing will be picked apart by a committee and externals). So I think you could justify a slightly higher rate than that, in spite of your newness.

One warning: I've had some prospective grad student clients, as well as some tenure-track clients, who really wanted more of a life coach and/or a formative/developmental editor than a copy editor. Being a freelance motivator or sounding board is fine if they're paying by the hour, but steer clear if you agree on a per page rate, because those mentoring tasks will eat up your time faster than the Langoliers.

Lastly, if you end up doing it, borrow or buy a copy of The Subversive Copy Editor. It is full of helpful do's and don'ts. A lot of grousing that I've seen on social media by academics about their wrongheaded copy editors, and copy editors about stubborn academics, could have been eliminated if more people read that book and subscribed to its general Is This Worth the Fight? ethos.
posted by Beardman at 2:58 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Some considerations;

Is their field of study in your wheelhouse? Different fields can have their own idiosyncrasies and logic/ framework.

Have you seen samples of her current work? If it's a hot mess, then you might break ethical guidelines "fixing it." If it's really bad, "fixing" it might end up breaking it. If it's not so bad and only needs proofing and a minimum of massaging, then this might work out well for both parties.

I've done proofing and even heavy massaging for cover letters/ resumes and added something like 9 grade levels to them - it got them more opportunities but the discrepancies in the quality of writing submitted and their own aptitudes were revealed easily enough that it ultimately became a disservice.

I did a lot of peer editing, gratis, in grad school (cellular and molecular neurophysiology); some people appreciated and benefited from it, some people have styles sufficiently divergent from my own that both sides ended up unhappy. I would never presume to edit someone's work outside of cell & molec, only light proofing. Outside of neurophys was ok, but not if it wasn't a cell & molec based field of study - even if it was still within neurophys.
posted by porpoise at 4:03 PM on September 4


I work for a uni professor and her copy editor charges $75/hour. She sends an invoice to us.

If this person intends to pay via a university account (e.g. grant funds, startup funds, etc.), know that this typically requires pre-approval from the university's purchasing department to use that individual's services--make sure this approval occurs before you do the work. Know that universities can be SUPER SLOW at paying invoices!

Otherwise ask if the person will be paying as an individual, which would be simpler.
posted by tealcoffeecup at 4:46 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


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