An American Editor

June 5, 2013

Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”

Perhaps the toughest issue to deal with as an editor is the prospective client (or existing client) who contacts you about a project, asks for a quote, and says, “I can get it cheaper!” Dealing with such a statement should bring out the editor’s professionalism (and business savvy). I discussed the matter of cheap pricing previously in The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly. Now it’s time to discuss pricing in the face of resistance.

The most common responses are to tell the client about your experience. “I’ve been editing this type of manuscript for 30 years. Can the other editor match my experience?” Or to relate how happy your clients have been. Or any number of other general responses that don’t really highlight why you should be hired at any price.

The second most-common response seems to be an attempt to lower one’s price to bring it in line with the lower price the client says another editor quoted.

In both instances, I think the response is the wrong response.

Under no circumstance, once you have quoted a price, should you lower the price (subject to an exception discussed later). If you are not worth the price you quoted, why did you quote it? If you are worth the quoted price, why lower it to less than you are worth? And why would you start a bidding war with yourself — a war that you can only lose and even lose repeatedly, once the client learns that all it has to do is say “lower your price” and you jump to do so. I make it an absolute rule never to lower a price once given, except in the circumstance to be discussed later. You may be a great editor, but I am the greatest of all editors — and I let clients know that in many ways, not least of which is that I do not lower my price.

If the client insists, I suggest that it would be best for them to hire the other editor and call me when the editing needs fixing.

The exception is this: when I also reduce the services to be provided. In other words, I make pricing a companion to services: more service equals higher price; less service equals lower price. But even then, there is a limit to how little I am willing to do and to how low a price I am willing to quote. Which brings me to the nonfinancial response.

Years of experience is a great selling point, but it doesn’t mean anything in the face of a client’s budget. What does matter are the services to be provided. My first response to the client is, “Do you have the quote in writing?” If yes, which is the usual case in these e-mail-negotiation days, I ask for a copy of the quote. (At this juncture, I haven’t said yes or no to whether I will lower my price, so the client still has hope.) I am usually provided with a copy and then I start on my rebuttal. (When asked why I need a copy of the quote, I say I need to verify the terms and conditions of the price I am being asked to match or beat so that any quote I provide matches those terms and conditions. Although not said, I also want to verify that the person who made the quote is capable of delivering the promised quality and work.)

If I’m dealing with a prior client who should be familiar with my work and pricing, I ask why, knowing my pricing and having this quote in hand, did they contact me for a quote. What I want to do is draw the client into admitting that they like my editing and would prefer that I do the work than to hire someone else. This is important because it starts to draw the client toward my way of thinking about fees.

If this is a new or one-shot client, I have to take a different approach, so I ask what is most important to them as regards the project. Is it cost? Quality of the edit? Experience? Something else? If the answer is cost, I stop the discussion and suggest that they try someone else. I tell them that I take too much pride in the quality of my work to denigrate it by lowering my price to where I cannot justify taking on the work or would earn so little that my only concern would be getting the project done. If they ask for names of other editors, I tell them that I do not know any professional editor whose quality of work or pride in that quality is such that they would be willing to match or underbid the quote they already have and that I make it a policy not to provide names of nonprofessional editors whose work I cannot vouch for.

If they give me an answer other than cost, then I ask about what services are included in the other editor’s quote. Rarely are those services spelled out — the client doesn’t know what is included except “copyediting” or “editing,” which can mean anything. Usually the quote reads “copyedit of xyz at/for $abc.” If the quote is based on an hourly rate, I also ask if it includes a limit on the number of hours (usually not), and what happens if the editing is not done when that limit is reached (definitely never spelled out).

Once I have drawn all this information out of a client, I can begin my “defense.” This is where a professional editor can shine. Explaining what is included and what is not included in editing helps the client define precisely what work the client wants. As I go through the various options and the client says yes or no, I begin to build a quote. What I want the client to grasp is that, when the client hires me, she knows exactly what services she will get for the money. There is no gambling on what will be done or not done.

Importantly, it makes the client a part of the quoting process. If the quote is still too high for the client, I can now say, “If we eliminate this service, the price would be $xyz.” It is picking from the buffet and creating one’s own version of editing.

I also only quote a project or per-page fee, never an hourly fee. I explain to the client how this can save them money and is competitive with that lower bid they received. More importantly, I explain that it assures the client that a complete job will be done and that no additional money will be paid by the client to have the job done and done right.

What I am doing is making the client confident that the only smart decision is to hire me as a professional editor. I try to get a client to compare apples to apples, which the client cannot do with a quote that simply says “copyedit of xyz at/for $abc,” especially not if the quote is based on an hourly rate with no limit to the hours and no explanation of what happens should the limit be reached with the editing incomplete.

There are other things I do as well, but the important point is to be professional and make the client see the value of hiring a professional editor.

How do you deal with the client who says, “I can get it cheaper!”?


  1. Thank you so much for this. This is one area that stymies me daily, and I know I am continually shooting myself in the foot when it comes to justifying my rates to a client. I need to print this out and read it often.


    Comment by Stacey Tobin — June 5, 2013 @ 10:52 am

  2. Great post! I’ll be saving this information for future use. I know I have lost at least one potential client because I didn’t know how to effectively respond to “I really like your editing style, but this other editor is cheaper.”


    Comment by Susan G. — June 5, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

  3. Another great article, Rich, one that highlights your professionalism. I’d suggest a follow-up article explaining specifically what items are available on the editorial buffet. Enquiring minds want to know!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by EditorJack — June 5, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

  4. Unlike Rich but like many other professionals, I do charge an hourly rate. I give clients a formula for estimating cost and promise to notify them when we appear to be heading toward the upper limit of the range. I never dicker over the fee. If a client says my expert services are too expensive or he wants me to cut corners, I wish him well (like Rich, I do not recommend cheaper editors) and say I may be available later if he wants someone to repair damage done by a nonprofessional editor. Sometimes I drag out the old saw told me by a veteran printer 40 years ago—A job has three factors: speed, quality, and price. You can pick any two.
    Please note that I don’t run a company that hires other editors, and I can well afford to wait for clients who gratefully pay my professional fees. I’m a solopreneur, semi-retired. My strategy may not work for young people without a stellar track record, or for people teetering on the brink of insolvency. It works just fine for me.


    Comment by theoriginalbookdoctor — June 5, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  5. This is great advice. I shall also be keeping it for reference. However, like theoriginalbookdoctor (who posts above), I also tend to charge by the hour (though when I work as a translator, I charge by word count). I often edit texts by authors using English as a second language and the quality of the writing and hence the amount of work can vary hugely as a consequence – even across the same project if a number of different authors are involved in a particular book.

    It is also often the case that I don’t see all the texts at the time of the initial enquiry, or even at the start of the project, so charging by the hour works best for me, and once clients know that I am not going to overcharge them, it generally works fine. One area where I find it very difficult, however, is when asked to give a price for a major, multi-author project before I am able to judge the quality of the texts. I feel my flat hourly rate should probably come down if I am guaranteed a few weeks of solid work. But again, I won’t know the quality of the worst (or the best) work until I am halfway through the project, and there are bound to be all sorts of additional unknowables – such as texts arriving late on the eve of going to print, etc. I feel I could easily price myself out of the jobif I pitch too high – but equally easily, I might end up getting relatively poorly piad for an awful lot of work… If anyone has any advice for such occasions, I would very much appreciate it.



    Comment by Duncan — June 7, 2013 @ 7:54 am

  6. Typos noted by the way…. ; >


    Comment by Duncan — June 7, 2013 @ 8:02 am

  7. I’ve been “guilty” of responding to such prospects with something along the lines of, “My rates are based on my skill level, experience and history of satisfied clients. Please feel free to contact other editors if my rates are beyond your budget.” If they come back later, my rates may just have increased!


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — June 7, 2013 @ 10:49 am

  8. […] Perhaps the toughest issue to deal with as an editor is the prospective client (or existing client) who contacts you about a project, asks for a quote, and says, "I can get it cheaper!" Dealing wit…  […]


    Pingback by Business of Editing: "I Can Get It Cheaper... — June 7, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

  9. […] your rates – and come up with ways to support those higher rates when clients push back (see Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”). Expanding your thinking is the first step down the road to ending struggling to make a […]


    Pingback by The Struggle to Make a Living | An American Editor — June 12, 2013 @ 4:00 am

  10. “If the client insists, I suggest that it would be best for them to hire the other editor and call me when the editing needs fixing.” YES!! I have been that “fix-it editor” more than once!!


    Comment by Heidi Mann — June 18, 2013 @ 11:50 am

  11. Another thing I have learned along the way is that all of these sorts of conversations (happening before you actually start the work) take a lot of time, which is time that the potential client isn’t paying you for. Even when I use previously composed text and modify for a new client, all that communicating can turn into a good chunk of work. Something to consider when figuring out my rate!


    Comment by Cassandra — June 20, 2013 @ 7:34 pm

  12. What a great list — pretty comprehensive.After eight years as a freelancer — 3.5 full-time, I have heard most of these questions. And unfortunately, have gotten stung by saying “Yes” to a few of these.Usually, charging 50% up front has been the hardest for me. A note to newbies — it’s usually best to not commit to a price over the phone during the initial confirmation with a client — especially if they can be a little pushy. Get the client’s email address, hash out the project on paper and make sure you put a figure or rate that you would be comfortable charging. Pretty it up in an estimate template if you like, but, submitting a quote/estimate via email will allow you to think about what to charge and not allow them to push you over on pricepoint.Kudos Samuel, for not reacting harshly to some of the uncivilized morons on the comments section. People that shun wisdom usually end up fools.


    Comment by Kara Noble — June 22, 2013 @ 12:23 am

  13. […] is much the same message we discussed just a few months ago in Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!” in which I […]


    Pingback by I’ve Been to the Mountain . . . | An American Editor — October 2, 2013 @ 4:00 am

  14. Yesterday I read 2 things related to this on Freakonomics:
    1. Anyone who has gotten a discount root canal knows you get what you pay for. (Inelegant editing can be as painful as a root canal.)
    2. Offering cut-rate price by a noob may incentivize clients to recognize the worth in an experienced practitioner. (I used incentivize; cue the onslaught.)

    Excellent comments here, and a respectable argument for why experience is worth the price. Hear, hear.


    Comment by scieditor — October 2, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  15. […] that of already-contacted editors who were not hired because of price. As we discussed in “Business of Editing: ‘I Can Get It Cheaper!‘,” I suggested that they keep on searching but lower their […]


    Pingback by What is Editing Worth? | An American Editor — October 14, 2013 @ 4:02 am

  16. […] issue of “I can get it cheaper” (see The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly and Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”) keeps raising its ugly head. In the past two weeks I have had offers for nine projects of which […]


    Pingback by How Much Is That Editor in the Window? | An American Editor — August 6, 2014 @ 4:01 am

  17. […] Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!” […]


    Pingback by So, You Want to Be an Editor — Why? | An American Editor — March 18, 2015 @ 4:01 am

  18. […] Sometimes you have to brace yourself to stand tough and tall about your rates. You probably will encounter prospective clients who say they can find someone less expensive. Fine. Don’t let them bully you into cutting your rate. Clients who try to bargain you down to less than you think you should be paid are likely to be headaches on other aspects of working together, including getting paid at all. Wish them luck, tell them you may still be available if the less-expensive options don’t work out — and consider increasing your quoted rate if they do come back to you because the cheaper editor turned out to be less than stellar at doing the actual work. (For another perspective, see Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”) […]


    Pingback by On the Basics: Dealing with the Perennial Question of Setting Rates for Our Work | An American Editor — April 20, 2015 @ 4:02 am

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