How to Set Your Freelance Editing Rates
Perhaps the biggest question facing editors on the cusp of leaving the security of in-house employment is how to determine their freelance editing rates. On the surface it might seem simple: just charge what a publisher was willing to pay you. After all, isn’t that the value the market has placed on you?
Well, just using your in-house rate may not be a great idea. The freelance market is a completely different beast, and you might be way off. You may ask for too little and lose out on potential earning. Or, you might ask for too much and struggle to get enough work to survive. On top of all of that, you now have to factor in the time and cost of being your own employer.
In this post, we look at average freelance rates set by editorial freelancers on the Reedsy network and, with their help, provide you with a straightforward five-step process for setting your own freelance editor rate.
What are average freelance editing rates?
Before we get too far, let’s look into some hard data taken from the Reedsy marketplace. To give you a ballpark sense of how much to charge as a baseline, here are average freelance editing rates. (Keep in mind that rates can differ depending on where you are based — we'll talk more about that later.)
|Type of work||Price per word|
|Content / Developmental Editing||$0.024|
|Copy Editing + Proofreading||$0.019|
Within each of these editorial types (copy editing, proofreading, etc) there will also be a range of baseline rates determined by:
- The freelancer’s experience and portfolio, and;
- What genre(s) they specialize in.
“I primarily edit fiction, but also do and have done extensive work with self-help books,” says editor Maria D’Marco. “I charge differently for this type of book because the content must be deeply edited for comprehension, consistency, and logic path — yet I must also maintain the writer's voice and aesthetics.”
Using data pulled from thousands of recent quotes from the Reedsy marketplace, we’re able to arrive at a whole selection of average rates for all three of the major editing services.
Content/Developmental Editing Rates
The average freelance development editing rates are as follows:
|Genre||Average Editing Cost per Word|
|Thriller, Crime, Mystery||$0.02|
|Sci-Fi and Fantasy||$0.0235|
|Children's Middle Grade||$0.028|
Copy Editing Rates
The average freelance copy editing rates are as follows:
|Genre||Average Editing Cost per Word|
|Thriller, Crime, Mystery||$0.016|
|Sci-Fi and Fantasy||$0.016|
|Children's Middle Grade||$0.025|
The average freelance proofreading rates are as follows:
|Genre||Average Editing Cost per Word|
|Thriller, Crime, Mystery||$0.01|
|Sci-Fi and Fantasy||$0.01|
|Children's Middle Grade||$0.01|
Now that you’ve seen dozens of averages across different disciplines and genres, you might feel as if you’ve just watched a round of Numberwang. Don’t worry, though. With the help of Reedsy’s most experienced freelance editors, this next section will give you a process for determining how much to charge.
How to set your freelance editor rate (in 5 steps)
Step 1: Research the market
Freelancers are, essentially, entrepreneurs. And, as any good entrepreneur can tell you, the first thing you need to do is understand your market and see where you might fit in.
Check out online resources
The Editorial Freelancers Association has a page that lays out a range of rates for each particular service. It’s not immediately clear whether these are recommendations or averages, but it gives you an idea of the ballpark you’re playing in.
Reedsy also has a freelance editor rates calculator which offers average per-word rates for each service across a number of genres.
Ask your peers
There’s no need to be cloak and dagger in your market research. Editor Andrew Lowe suggests simply asking your fellow editors how much they charge — either online or in person.
“They’re usually friendly and willing to help. Try to assess how long they’ve been in the game and adjust your rates accordingly.”
Indeed, once you have the lay of the land, it’s then a matter of determining your place in that world, considering the variables mentioned above: your experience, and the genres in which you work. That is why it’s perhaps most useful to benchmark yourself against editors in your niche with a comparable level of experience.
Step 2: Factor in your business costs
Here’s a mistake that’s all too common for first time freelancers: you set your rate, get as much work as you can handle, and at the end of the year, you discover a lot of red ink in your ledger. The root cause? Neglecting your business costs.
Working in-house has a lot of perks that will disappear as soon as you become your own boss. Some of the things you’ll need to account for when putting together your business plan include:
- Non-billable time spent on admin work (you can track this with a time tracker)
- Your workspace, software and materials
- Time spent developing your skills and learning new techniques
- Buffer room, in case projects fall through
Simply figure out how much money you need to make to cover these costs and live a lifestyle you’re comfortable with. Nobody becomes a freelancer because they enjoy defaulting on their mortgage: make sure your rate allows you to meet your personal needs.
Also, geography can play a big part in how much freelance editors charge. The cost of living in New York City is higher than say, Kansas, and it’s perfectly alright for your rate to reflect this. Plus, there’s a (probably unfair) level of glamour that comes with being an NY-based editor — why not lean into it?
Step 3: Determine your baseline rate
Once you’ve figured out where you stand in the market and have confirmed that you won’t go broke working at that rate — you may have found your baseline rate. Or, to be more accurate, your baseline rates.
It’s a good idea to set rates for each type of editing you want to cover (copy editing, proofreading) and perhaps ones for every genre you might work on. Arm yourself with these starting numbers that will help you price out what you conservatively imagine to be an average project.
(However, you’ll very rarely come across an ‘average’ project.)
Step 4: Adjust your rate to the needs of each project
Before you start quoting your base rate to each and every potential client that crosses your inbox, ask yourself the following questions.
What stage is the book at?
The ‘maturity’ of a manuscript will vary greatly from one project to another — especially in indie publishing — and have a big impact on the time you spend on it. In the early stages of communicating with a potential client, you may have to adjust their perceptions.
Andrew Lowe suggests approaching ‘immature’ manuscripts with great caution.
“Don’t take on work that clearly hasn’t been redrafted or just isn’t ready yet for editing. It’ll be a miserable few weeks of rewriting when you should be polishing and enhancing — and you’ll feel like you should have charged twice the fee.”
If an author comes to you for a copy edit, but the writing sample clearly suggests more structural work is needed, you need to realign expectations from the outset. Illuminate the writer and show them which services they would benefit most from — even if it means losing the job for now. It’s better that they come back to you at a later stage than work on a manuscript that you know the author will be disappointed by.
How long will it take to edit?
If you’re looking to make the jump from in-house to freelance, you probably have a solid understanding of how long it takes to edit a manuscript. Just keep an eye out for things that might blow out your estimate such as complexity of the content and familiarity with the subject matter.
Does it need more than just a standard edit?
Non-fiction developmental and copy editor Lisa Howard suggests adjusting your rate if the job involves specific formatting requirements.
“If the material falls into a “specialty“ category, then a certain editorial expertise is needed, meaning the writer can expect to pay more for that expertise. Examples would include cookbook editing (recipe formatting is entirely different than standard editing) or an academic work (again, those require nonstandard formatting knowledge).”
How long will it take to manage?
Every freelance editor knows their work doesn’t stop with the edit. You also have to:
- Communicate with the client throughout;
- Manage their expectations;
- Explain your process;
- Deliver the work;
- Chase up payments;
- And so on...
You will soon get a feel for how long client management will take – and while it’s likely to stay fairly consistent, keep an eye out for difficult authors or clients who might be a struggle to communicate with.
“Your time is valuable and each phone call, email, or meeting is your time and expertise and you want to make sure you factor that in your rates,” says NYC-based editor Laura Mae Isaacman.
With the answers to these questions in mind, you should be able to come up with a fairly accurate estimate of the effort required for the project. This will inform your rates, but shouldn’t dictate them. There is no magic formula, only a set intangible criteria you will also need take into account:
- Do you like the project?
- How interesting is the subject matter?
- Will the work let you develop new skills?
Sometimes, you will fall in love with a project and revise your rate card accordingly; in other times, you will favor a slightly less interesting, but high-paying project over a more fulfilling one. (This tends to happen a lot near Christmas.) It’s all part of the game!
Step 5: Revise your baseline rate every six-to-nine months
At this point, you should have an idea of how much you will be asking potential clients for in the coming months. However, this number isn’t set in stone. It’s worth remembering that no-one’s going to pay you more than you ask, so you have to know when it’s time to up your rate.
Based on interviews with freelance editors, here are some solid signs that you might need to update your base rate.
If authors stop wrestling with your quote
If you’ve ever been to a Moroccan street market and tried haggling with a merchant, you might understand how awful it feels to have them accept your first offer. The same principle applies to freelance work, says editor Christina Roth.
“When authors accept my proposals without questioning my fees — or when the authors who decline my proposals stop saying it’s because my fees are too high — I know I’m charging a reasonable (or too reasonable) a fee.”
If you get better at your job
This suggestion from Laura Mae Isaacman requires a high level of self-awareness.
“It's usually time to revisit your rates when your expertise is noticeable. If you're getting better at your job, your rates should reflect that. Revisit your skills every six to nine months, just like you would if you worked for a company.”
If broader industry rates change
“I tend to do an annual review, almost like an appraisal process,” says editor Ameesha Green. “I recheck the rates across the industry and factor in the experience I’ve gained that year to decide on my pricing for that year."
In other words, Step #1 is something you will want to repeat at regular intervals.
If you’re struggling to cover your business costs
“Everything you do costs more each year.” Maria D’Marco warns. Remember that with inflation, living and business costs go up each year. By not upping your prices, you will effectively make less.
“Do not expect repeat clients to accept this as a reason – Show them how the extra costs you incurred have helped them and their projects.”
As you increase your rates — whether it’s in line with your experience, inflation, or industry trends — editor Perrin Davies suggests emphasizing the value you bring to the project in your freelance proposal. “I always supply the edited sample to the potential client with the quote so we're both confident that my approach meets the client's needs and so the value proposition is evident.”
And there you have it. It’s probably not the only way to determine what you charge for your editorial work, but at the very least, it will get you thinking along the right track.
Do you have any questions about making the move to freelance editing? Drop an email to our team at Reedsy at email@example.com.