An American Editor

June 14, 2017

From the Archives: What to Charge (Part I)

(The following essay was originally published on
An American Editor on August 5, 2013.)

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 Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part II).

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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