An American Editor

August 5, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)

One problem with editing as a profession is that it is easy to set one’s self up as an editor. The result is that every day brings new editors into competition with existing editors. And every day the question gets asked: “What should I charge?”

The first response to that question, at least in the United States, is to take a look at the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) list of editorial rates. It does no harm to look at the rate schedule, as long as you recognize the failings of the schedule and do not rely on it for setting your rates.

The EFA schedule of rates is based on surveys of EFA members. Consequently, the survey excludes data from the many thousands of nonmembers. More importantly, the portion of the membership that responds to the survey is just a small fraction of the EFA membership, which itself is but a miniscule fraction of the universe of editorial freelancers. There are other biases in the survey as well.

The EFA schedule is also problematic because it fails to define its terms. For example, what does “basic copyediting” include/exclude that distinguishes it from “heavy copyediting?” What justifies the range difference? Suppose the copyediting were “medium.” How does that differ from “heavy” or “basic?” (For a discussion of light, medium, and heavy and their real-world relationship to editing, see The Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy?)

Bottom line is that the EFA schedule of rates is a place to begin but not to stop. It should be reviewed then discarded.

A problem with the query about what to charge is that the asker believes in a false assumption — that there is a “going rate.” There really isn’t a going rate in editing. It is true that many publishers pay similar fees for work, but if you look at what work is required, you will see that there is a great variance among publishers. In the case of authors, there is no rate similarity that is author imposed. Authors deal with editors on a one-to-one basis, and negotiate rate one-to-one. Publishers, in contrast, deal with many editors simultaneously and thus have company-established pay guidelines that they impose.

Although there is no “going rate” per se, it could be argued that there is a de facto one because Publisher A will offer pretty much the same as Publisher B by way of compensation; only the amount of work demanded (i.e., services required for that pay) varies — and should be carefully looked at and incorporated into your determination of what to charge.

Ultimately, any “going rate” has little meaning in the absence of it meeting your needs, which is the crux of the issue of what to charge.

The most important factor in setting a rate is knowing what your effective hourly rate (EHR) has to be in order for you to make the income you need. We have discussed the EHR several times. The original discussion and explanation is found in Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand. That article covered the surface of the EHR.

The EHR gives you a better picture of what you are really earning. For example, if you charge $30 an hour but are able to charge and receive payment for only 20 hours of a 40-hour workweek, your “gross” EHR is $15 not $30. You need to account for all of the hours in a workweek. The gross EHR isn’t a “true” EHR because it accounts only for hours, but it is better than blindly choosing a number that sounds good or matches the rate of some other editor whose circumstances and needs are likely to be different than yours.

The true EHR also accounts for expenses incurred by your business. For example, if you work from your home and pay $500 a month in utilities, you might attribute $250 a month to your freelance work. That works out to $57.70 a week (or $1.44/hour) in utilities expense that you “would not otherwise incur” if you were working outside the home and for someone else who supplied the utilities during the workweek. (Even if your utilities bill would not be lowered by your working outside the home, some portion of the utility cost is attributable to your working from home.)

Utilities are but one of the expenses that are attributable to your freelance business. Health insurance is another, especially if you had employer-paid health insurance before pursuing your freelance career. The point is that you need to identify all your freelance-related expenses and add them to the mix to determine what to charge.

Let’s pursue the example of a true EHR using an hourly rate of $30. If you charge $30/hour for copyediting (however you define copyediting) and have billable work for 20 hours, your gross EHR = $15 an hour, which is calculated this way:

$30 per hour × 20 billable hours in 1 week = $600
$600 ÷ 40 hours (standard workweek) = $15 EHR

Now that we know the gross EHR, we need to fine-tune it to determine the “true” EHR. Consequently, from the gross EHR subtract the cost of utilities, as follows:

$15 (gross EHR) − $1.44 (freelance portion of utilities per hour) = $13.56 (“true” EHR)

We are only using utilities as a cost here, but the deduction from the gross EHR would be the freelance portion of all expenses of maintaining your business, broken down into its hourly value, such as the appropriate portion of health insurance, other required insurance(s), telephone and Internet service, rent or mortgage, hardware and software, etc. In other words, the $13.56 in the example is still high.

Once you have figured out your EHR, you need to determine your target gross yearly income. In reality, you will pick a number that you would like to earn and see if it is feasible.

Let’s assume that your target gross income for a year is $50,000. That equates to a gross of weekly income of $961.54 (based on a 52-week year), which equates to a minimum EHR of $24.04 (based on a standard 40-hour workweek). Is the $30/hour rate you charge sufficient to generate your desired annual gross income based on your EHR?

The answer and more in Wednesday’s Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part II).

Links to the other articles in this series:

 

17 Comments »

  1. “What to charge?” and “What’s the going rate?” come up all the time in various discussion forums – the EFAlist, LinkedIn groups, other discussion lists, the Communication Central conference, etc. I have two stock responses: (1) What I charge isn’t relevant to what colleagues might charge. (2) There is no such thing as a going rate.

    Both are because we don’t have the same skills, experience, ability or chutzpah, much less the same kinds of clients.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — August 6, 2013 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

  2. […] Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I), we ended with this question: Is the $30/hour rate you charge sufficient to generate your desired […]

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    Pingback by Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part II) | An American Editor — August 7, 2013 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  3. […] parts I and II of Business of Editing: What to Charge, we discussed the effective hourly rate (EHR), how to […]

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    Pingback by Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III) | An American Editor — August 12, 2013 @ 4:02 am | Reply

  4. […] effective hourly rate (EHR) discussed in parts I, II, and III, is based on a 40-hour work week. The calculated EHR is what is needed to be earned […]

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    Pingback by Business of Editing: What to Charge (IV) | An American Editor — August 14, 2013 @ 4:02 am | Reply

  5. […] previous four parts of this series (I, II, III, and IV) discussed the effective hourly rate, how to calculate it, and how track it. The […]

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    Pingback by Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part V) | An American Editor — August 19, 2013 @ 4:00 am | Reply

  6. […] unfamiliar with the effective hourly rate concept or wanting a refresher, see the five-part series Business of Editing: What to Charge beginning with Part I, which includes links to Parts II through V, and for an overview, Thinking […]

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

  7. […] As we have discussed numerous times before, I accept the market rate and work to figure out how to convert that market rate to an effective hourly rate that exceeds my requirements. (For those unfamiliar with the effective hourly rate concept or who would like to refresh their memory, do a search on AAE for “effective hourly rate” and/or begin with this essay: Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I).) […]

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    Pingback by The Business of Editing: The Pride of Price | An American Editor — September 10, 2014 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  8. […] required or desired effective hourly rate (EHR). (For the discussion of effective hourly rate, see Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I) and subsequent parts; also search An American Editor for effective hourly rate for additional […]

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    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Workflow | An American Editor — October 15, 2014 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  9. […] which we have discussed numerous times (see, e.g., the essays on calculating fees that begins with Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)). Fees come in three flavors: wanted, market, and required. I want to charge a fee of $50 an hour, […]

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    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part I) | An American Editor — October 24, 2014 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  10. […] Discounting is fine when you are in a position to do so, when your business is such that whatever loss you will take can be made up for. It is also fine when it is connected to volume. But under no circumstance is it fine to discount below your required EHR, which means you must have calculated your required EHR beforehand. (To calculate your required EHR, see the five-part series “Business of Editing: What to Charge.”) […]

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    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Discounting Rates | An American Editor — January 7, 2015 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  11. […] — Rich Adin, An American Editor, ‘Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)’ […]

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    Pingback by Why is Editing So Expensive? - Playle Editorial Services — January 27, 2015 @ 7:32 am | Reply

  12. […] What’s a “good” rate of pay? This is the first problem that arises when we make statements about how lucrative particular clients groups are, and it can confuse the new entrant to the field. Some national editorial societies offer guidance on suggested minimum rates (see, e.g., the Editor’s Association of Canada, the Editorial Freelancers Association [United States], and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders [United Kingdom]). Note, though, that while many new entrants to the field will aspire to these rates, for others they may not be high enough. Rich Adin, An American Editor, advises using these guidelines as “a place to begin but not to stop” (“Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)”. […]

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    Pingback by The Proofreader’s Corner: How Lucrative Are Your Editorial Clients Really? Keeping an Eye on Creeping Costs (Part I) | An American Editor — February 9, 2015 @ 4:03 am | Reply

  13. […] Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I) […]

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

  14. […] your required effective hourly rate (rEHR). (For that discussion, see the multipart series “Business of Editing: What to Charge.”) In the absence of knowing your rEHR, it is not possible to know whether the price you are […]

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    Pingback by Business of Editing: Does Market Perception Matter? | An American Editor — March 30, 2015 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  15. […] effective hourly rate (rEHR)? (For discussion on how to calculate your rEHR, see the “What to Charge” series of essays.) Of what value is it to “know” that the rate chart says you […]

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    Pingback by Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts | An American Editor — April 6, 2015 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  16. […] nothing more than a wild guess. To calculate your required effective hourly rate, see the “What to Charge” series.) Once I answered that question, I had to decide whether there was any flexibility […]

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    Pingback by So, How Much Am I Worth? | An American Editor — April 29, 2015 @ 4:00 am | Reply

  17. […] not sure what you should be charging, or need a recap, there is a great series of posts on the An American Editor blog on just this topic. In addition, the UK’s Society for Editors And Proofreaders’ […]

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    Pingback by The 2016 survey of freelance ELT editorial rates – some conclusions | White Ink Limited — July 30, 2016 @ 2:48 am | Reply


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