Posted on Jul 07, 2022
Live Chat: How to Set Your Freelance Editing Rates
Below is the transcript of our June webinar on how to set editing rates. Our guests are:
Jennifer Safrey has been a professional editor for over 30 years and, as an author herself, knows both sides of the coin when it comes to putting a good story together. She’s a member of Mensa and a two-time winner of Golden Leaf Award for Best Long Contemporary Romance Novel. Her specialty is in romance, fantasy, and women’s fiction.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey is an award-winning editor from New York with over 25 years of experience at Harlequin, where she worked with several New York Times bestselling authors, before deciding to go freelance. Her specialty is in romance, fantasy, urban fantasy, romantic suspense and YA.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Skip to 6:51 for the start of the discussion.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I started with Harlequin books in 1989. I was always a big fan of category romance and all sorts of books and reading. I was with Harlequin for 25 years, starting from an editorial assistant, working my way up to executive editor. I worked on the romance line and helped develop the Luna line and acquired many of the authors there. I worked with the Bombshell, Silhouette, and Harlequin lines as well.
When Harper bought Harlequin, I was out on my own. I started working as a freelancer about six years ago and have been managing to keep the lights on since then.
Jennifer Safrey: I've been reading my whole life and I've been a writer for a very long time, but my career started in the news business. I worked primarily for the Boston Herald for about 10 years.
When I decided to leave the news business, I was contracted with Harlequin to write. Shortly after that, I began to freelance edit for some ebook publishers. That’s where I started editing novels. Then I stopped writing and operated a yoga studio for about a decade. I edited that whole time on a freelance basis, but I really, really missed writing. So I sold the studio a few years ago and I'm now a full-time freelance writer and editor.
Setting a base rate: per hour or per word?
Jennifer Safrey: I do have a base rate. I offer the services of editorial assessment, developmental edits, copy editing, and proofreading, and I have base rates that I use for those. I always do per word rates; I never do per project and I never do per hour for a few reasons.
I used to do per project when I worked for publishers because it was a different kind of relationship and they offered me per project. But I found that many projects would take me much longer than other projects and working per project didn't usually take the length of the book into account.
I read and edit relatively quickly and don't want to charge per hour because that would cripple me in terms of how much work I'm really doing in a shorter amount of time.
I assess the project and I never go down from my base rate. Sometimes I'll go up if it seems like it's going to be a particularly challenging job; maybe English isn't the client's first language and there's going to be a lot more tinkering with it. That's how I do it.
Martin: Would setting per hour rates put a lot of pressure on you?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I think if you were working a strict nine-to-five job with an expectation of what can be done within that time period, you might be able to do it. The only thing I potentially do per project are proposals and query letters since those are a bit shorter, and fixed amounts. But when you're working on a project, you don't know if you're going to have to look stuff up, or if they're doing a British style versus an American style; your mindset is going to be a little bit different.
The things that would influence my base rate are how much I have to go check elsewhere, how experienced the author is, and what the series is.
Martin: Is there anything that can entice you to charge less than your base rate?
Jennifer Safrey: No, not really. When I make an offer, I take all of it into consideration and I know that my base rate is really the lowest that feels comfortable for me. We both live in the Northeast in the United States, so we have a particular cost of living here. I know what is going to make me feel comfortable and what rate is going to make me feel supported and well compensated for what I'm doing.
I find that if there's any reason that I'm tempted to undercharge somebody, I always talk myself out of it because I know if I take on a project and I'm not being paid what I really need and like to be paid, I'm not going to feel that good about the project. And I don't want to be in that frame of mind. I want to be in the frame of mind where I'm there and I'm 100% excited about doing what I'm doing. So yeah, I don't negotiate.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: The only time I think I've gone below my base rate is when I've already worked on the project and have done either a development edit or an editorial assessment. I'm familiar with the work and expectations, so if somebody comes back to me and wants to do a copy edit or something that's a little bit more involved, sometimes I drop it at that point just because I understand what it would be. It’s part of a larger package and potentially working back and forth during the author’s career.
Setting expectations and other factors that go into offering a rate
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: Reedsy actually does a nice little blog with information on their assessed rates. The editorial freelancers association, the-efa.org, is another place. Starting out, for an editorial assessment maybe a cent and a half per word, and then for a developmental edit maybe two cents per word, copy edits two and a half to three cents per word.
Wondering about how to set your own base rate for editing? Check out this guide which goes into average rates per service and per genre.
For more insights into freelancer rates, download Reedsy's 2022 Cost of Self-Publishing Report
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Sometimes the terms on Reedsy don't entirely match up to what I'm more used to. What Reedsy calls copy editing is a little bit closer to what I would call a line edit in traditional publishing. That's one of the things I like to clarify with the author to be sure that I am giving them what they want and expect.
I usually do the first two or three pages of a manuscript. That way they can see what they're getting for the price and understand why I believe it's worth it.
Jennifer Safrey: I think it's really, really important to set out expectations, because I think it's true that we in the industry know what a developmental edit is, and we know what a proofread is and what it isn't. I find that a lot of writers don’t. And this is not a knock on them. It's just that they're not coming at it from our direction. They don't know whether a copy edit means we're going to rewrite it — which I would never do.
So when I give them an offer, I usually lay out exactly what the offer includes and what they're going to get from me. When I detail everything first and then I give them the rate at the bottom, they can see how much they're going to get and what it's really worth.
I don’t really get into it in terms of what my expenses are. They don’t care about that; they care about what they're getting.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: One thing I'd like to mention is that on Reedsy there's a guide on types of editing for authors, but I find it useful as an editor as well — to point out to authors.
In my comments back to an author, if they’re debating between types of services, I’ll say what they can expect from the editorial assessment, and the price.
Using boilerplate responses
Martin: Out of convenience, do you have a boilerplate offer letter that you would include in every offer you send to a client?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: Pretty much, yes.
Jennifer Safrey: I actually also have little boilerplate paragraphs in there for questions that I get a lot. Sometimes a client will ask about a sample edit or sometimes they want an editorial assessment and a developmental edit at the same time. Those are fairly similar so I think they don't know which one they really want. Anything that’s come up more than twice or three times, I created a boilerplate paragraph that I can cut and paste.
Martin: Do you tell your client your rate per word, or do you just give them the total offer?
Jennifer Safrey: I give them the rate per word. If they don't specify the word count in the brief, I will message them before I give them an offer and ask. Then I do the math for them.
Finding rates that work for you
Martin: When it comes to setting your own rate, do you base it on what you think the market averages are?
Jennifer Safrey: That's a good question. That's something I had to think a lot about, because when I began freelance editing, like I said, I began per project with a publisher and those weren't really my numbers.
When I came to Reedsy, I was working on per word and I had to figure out where to put myself on the scale of people because I do have a lot of experience, but on YouTube there’s a Reedsy ad with a lovely woman who says “Do you know that you can hire the editor of The Hunger Games?” Obviously I'm not on that end of the spectrum. I just kind of found myself a little place within it that feels comfortable.
I did a couple of jobs and I adjusted the base rate a little bit because I realized how much time it was going to take to do certain things, but that's kind of where I started.
And in terms of expenses, other than my subscriptions — like my Microsoft, and laptop — my biggest expense is just the time that I spend on all of this. So that's what I'm mostly taking into consideration with my rates. Because I don't want to work more than 40 hours per week and I don't want to take on so many projects that I'm working 24/7 just to make ends meet.
It was a little bit of a juggling act at the beginning to realize ‘if I have this many jobs at this certain rate, I can do this many a week’. So sometimes it's a little bit of tweaking that you have to do when you start, but I think I have a feel for it now.
Martin: Matrice, when you left Harlequin and went full time freelance, did you have an idea of the number of hours you wanted to work in a week?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I think the change from going as a full-time editor to a freelance editor was dramatic in a couple of different ways. The money dropped a lot. The health insurance went up tremendously, and I think that's one thing that a lot of people don't realize; that we are paying our own health insurance.
That's one of the things that I'm going to have to cover each month along with the usual rent and travel and Dropbox for security, upgrading your computer, making sure that everything is safe, as well as different types of taxes. You also have to consider how much work you are putting into the project, if it’s a one-off project or if you’re going to be continuing on with the author and build from that point.
Informing and guiding the authors
Jennifer Safrey: Nancy asked [in the chat], if we ever suggest a different stage of editing or fewer stages if they aren't clear on what they're requesting? And I'm going to say yes, 100%.
I think it's pretty typical for authors to not really be sure what they need. So sometimes I'll chat to them beforehand and find out their deadline, and what kind of information they’re looking for so that I can point them to the kind of service they need. And if I think they're asking for too many services at once, I will tell them that too. I might make less money on the project but I think it's going to show the author that I care about them and I don't want to see them spend money on things they don't need.
Also, Gina said: “I found that many authors give one word count in their request, but the final manuscript has a higher word count.”
You are correct. I pretend the word count is going to be what the client stated and then when they give me the manuscript, I immediately check and make sure it's comparable. If it's close — maybe a $60 difference — I don't really care, but I have adjusted contracts both ways. I tell them and get their permission to do that.
Martin: We can readjust contracts here at Reedsy, but how would you break the news?
Jennifer Safrey: If it’s a pretty big difference in terms of time and money, I will sometimes message them about it and suggest a new quote. I guess I can get Reedsy involved and try to cancel the contract, but I've never had a writer be anything other than reasonable. I wouldn't worry about it too much.
Martin: I think, if they deliver a manuscript that's a good third over what they said and kick up a fuss, that's a red flag that this may not be a collaboration you want to continue with.
Jennifer Safrey: Exactly.
Room for negotiation?
Martin: When you give a client an offer on Reedsy, is there ever any element of negotiation?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: Well, timing is certainly one of them. If they need the edit faster or if they're willing to put it back two weeks to let me finish up some other projects, or if they want to switch from one type of edit to another.
I find the biggest advice I give is that people want a copy edit when they really need a developmental edit. Sometimes authors don’t take that advice. They think that the manuscript is perfect and ready to go and just needs to go into production — just fix a few grammar things. If they insist that that's really what they want, I'll go ahead after explaining that it’s not going to be the best novel it possibly could be. So yes, there can be some negotiation at that point to figure out what stage the manuscript is at.
Sometimes I'll also throw in a look at the query letter if it's a 120,000 word manuscript because that's a big input for some of these authors who are young and struggling.
Martin: Are there any things you find yourself able to negotiate whenever you are finalizing a collaboration?
Jennifer Safrey: I don't, usually. I don't negotiate on price. This probably comes from the fact that I owned a brick and mortar business for 10 years. I'm accustomed to setting a price and charging that price. I'm happy to break things up into installments if that makes things easier for people, but if they wanted one kind of edit and they definitely needed a developmental edit, like Matrice said, I'm usually going to charge a little more because it's a lot of sitting on my butt and looking out the window and thinking really hard. If that's out of their budget, I usually suggest other editors that might work for them.
That kind of brings me to something I always want to say when it comes to setting prices; I'm not really worried about losing jobs. I'm worried about people giving me bad reviews and not giving people what they want, but I'm not worried about making an offer and not getting that collaboration. Because if I did, I may end up taking projects that aren't suited for me or people that don't want to pay me the rate that I need. It's really easy to compromise the kind of work day you're going to have. And if you see an excerpt that’s not your thing, don't do it. Just give it to another editor. Another job is going to come along that's better for you.
I don't want to minimize anyone's need for money — we all need it — but I feel pretty strongly that if I'm not gelling with the writing right away, or I don't think they're ready for an editor yet, I'm just not going to take it.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: One of the options on Reedsy is to use an automated response along the lines of “The author's writing is not up to what I need.” I have used that option as a way to refuse the manuscript multiple times. And I probably get 25 to 30% of the jobs I give a quote for on Reedsy. 30 or 40% might never choose another freelancer or another editor because they hadn't realized the time, money, and commitment it takes. So it might get canceled even though I've done my two hours worth of work in order to make my offer. And then the remaining percent found somebody who syncs better with them.
Out of the 70 or 80 clients I've had through Reedsy, my reviews have been fairly strong because I want to make sure that I'm doing the best job for the authors that I'm working with and that they're going to get the best experience out of it as well.
Multiple rounds of edits?
Martin: Do you commonly work multiple rounds into any collaboration?
Jennifer Safrey: I will sometimes get someone that asks for a developmental edit and a copy edit, and that's great because then I'm working with them for a while and can see the changes they implemented. And they're kind of getting a second round developmental edit while I do the copy editing.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I will occasionally — if the author comes back and wants to know if they hit the ending or the arc right after they've worked on it — I'll sometimes read through and give a few comments back. Not doing intense work, but just to make sure that the feedback is right and that the author has incorporated it properly.
Jennifer Safrey: Yes, same. But only if it's just quickly looking at it.
Increasing your rates
Martin: Both of you have been working at least a handful of years over which things get more expensive, partly due to inflation. Have you raised your rates and how did you deal with long term, repeat clients?
Jennifer Safrey: I did increase my base rate incrementally in the last few months. I didn't really feel like I had to do anything other than that. I feel good about where I put it.
Right before or right after I increased it slightly, I had a repeat client come in. So I explained that I had raised my rates but could keep the same rate as before for the next couple of contracts. She said that was fine and didn’t mind if I increased my rate.
If a repeat client came in and I had drastically changed my rates, I would definitely let them know in the offer. When you have a really good client/editor relationship, that's what they care about. I try not to work with the people who are going to nickel and dime me because I feel like that's a red flag, especially right at the beginning. Once you give them good work, I think they're happy with that work.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I started at the medium-to-high rate and with repeat customers, I stick pretty consistently with that. But with new customers, I've definitely started moving up.
I have a base rate, but if a project comes in and I don't have anything scheduled in the next two weeks, I might lower it. If it's something that I'm scheduling three months out, then I'll keep it at the higher rate.
Tips to your younger freelancer selves
Martin: If you could go back to when you first started freelancing, what’s one thing that you would tell yourself?
Jennifer Safrey: I think it would definitely have been setting expectations with the author.
Years ago — I don't remember what site I was on, maybe Upwork — I had a client who wanted me to work on a first-time novel. I even talked to her on the phone and it was lovely. I was very excited to work with her and worked really hard on the manuscript. I had done 50% upfront, 50% when the project was done. She wanted a copy edit so that's what she got. Then she called me and was … I don't even have a word for how mad she was because she didn’t want me to make suggestions on how to fix things (which I did and which is even more than you would do for a copy edit) and could not understand why I didn't rewrite it.
I couldn't really blame her because I didn't realize that she didn't really understand what this was. I'm pretty sure I just refunded her money. Maybe these days I wouldn't have, but I also would've set much better expectations. That was a very big learning experience for me and it has never happened again because I felt terrible.
Of course, there are going to be clients who aren't going to be happy with what you do, even if you spell everything out for them, but I haven't really run into that much.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I think it would be to really take into account the amount of time you're spending on a project; the additional time pre-work and the after-work that comes into the project, as well as the actual text, deciding what you're going to offer, and then the conversation that I usually have with the authors after they've gotten their letter, talking through the project.
Also, understanding what your strengths are in terms of types of editing.
Undercharging and competing against other freelancers
Martin: Reedsy has a few articles about setting your rates as a freelance editor. This is something me and my colleague Yvonne have been working on over the past three or four years. We've been able to dig back into Reedsy’s database and see what freelancers have been offering.
We recently updated it, because we were seeing that the rates were getting quite stagnant and we started to feel that our article may have been artificially keeping them low. So we had to boost them a little bit to encourage people to keep up with inflation.
I think especially with more and more editors in our network, there’s a sense of competition that we really don't want you to feel because you're all in this together. So you should really think twice before you start undercutting any competition too much, even if you are starting.
As we've seen, people very rarely go for the absolute cheapest ones on Reedsy. Folks come to Reedsy, not because they want the cheapest editor, they want the one that's suitable. They want someone that they can be sure of.
If you're just starting, you can have a look at articles that give you a median, but don't feel like you have to undercut that and don't feel bad if you feel like you have the experience and are worth more.
Jennifer Safrey: Honestly, it hurts all of us when you undercharge. I think this is partly because I owned a different kind of business before, but I’ve learned that I don't compete on price. I compete on value for my price and the quality of my work. I'd rather compete on that than compete on price. I don't need to be the cheapest game in town, I just want to be the best game in town.
Any suggestions on how to draft a good offer letter that sets expectations?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: In my draft letter, I usually have a paragraph about what an editorial assessment will be, what a developmental edit will be, and what a copy edit will be. Then I usually talk about characterization, arc, scene, pacing, timing — you know, all of those parts. Lastly, I usually have a sentence or two about my reactions to their book; “Your characterization could use further work from what I've seen in the first couple of pages,” or “The story's not starting at the right place.”
I would also include my expectations of timing — when I'll receive the manuscript, when I'll get it back to them, and when it'll all be wrapped up. Those are the basic paragraphs, and then I can adjust it depending on the individual author and my response to the material.
Jennifer Safrey: That's a very strong kind of offer letter. One thing I like to add is how enthusiastic I am about their project. That brings me to reading the excerpt — all of it. Don't just read two paragraphs; read the whole thing. Then I like to tell them something I liked about it and why I would be really happy to work on it.
I feel like writers want that. They don't just want somebody who's competent; they want somebody who's excited about what they're doing. It's worth more than gold to them to have an editor who's really into their project, even if their project isn't perfect. If you can't work up that kind of enthusiasm in a draft letter, think twice about taking that project.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I usually put that stuff on the pages itself when I do the [sample] edit. “I really like this turn of phrase” or “This line was good” or “You’ve got a great ending here”. But both can work.
How much time do you spend on an average offer?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: It takes me probably 45 minutes to an hour, at least. Because I read through the manuscript and make some notes, depending on whether it's an editorial assessment or developmental edit. Then you think about it for 5 or 10 minutes.
Even though I have the boilerplate, you still have to do all the work for it. You have to look at the amount, when you have an opening in your schedule, if they haven't sent you some of the information you have to message them and wait for them to message you back, and then repeat.
How many editing projects do you work on at one time?
Jennifer Safrey: I can schedule maybe two or three in the same time period, but I generally work on them one at a time. Sometimes I'll work on two projects simultaneously, but I have to be in different head spaces for these projects. Maybe one is a proofread and one is a developmental edit. But if I'm developmentally editing somebody's book, I can only do one at a time. I don't have enough room in my head for multiple storylines and arcs and narratives.
I’m comfortable scheduling and juggling a few for the same time period, because — you'd be surprised — sometimes the author doesn't deliver it on time, and sometimes something comes up and I don't really want to be without work. I'd rather be slightly overscheduled than anything else.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: When I'm looking at my schedule, I try to leave myself two weeks for each stage of the project, knowing that other projects might come in during that time, somebody might deliver their manuscript, and somebody might miss the deadline. The actual working time might be four or five days on the project, but I try to schedule it within two weeks so that I can turn it around and get back to them and keep things moving.
How do you handle someone asking for sample letters?
Jennifer Safrey: Interestingly enough, most people don't ask for them. Sometimes people do and I'm pretty busy so I charge a $20 flat fee, and I'll do up to a thousand words.
A couple times I've done it for free — when I feel like the return on my investment of time is going to be worth it. Somebody was writing a 150,000 word book and she wanted somebody to edit her trilogy, which was going to be a decent chunk of change. I was happy to do her sample edit.
To me, maybe I don’t get the job and that’s fine, but the time I spend on sample edits is taking away from my paid clients so I usually charge for it.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I do sample edits as a rule. I'll do the first 2-3 pages sometimes without even thinking because I want to make sure the expectations are clear on both sides — what I'm going to offer and what they're going to get. So it's a no-brainer for me to do it that way.
Jennifer Safrey: I'm glad you said that Matrice, because I'm thinking about doing that now. I hadn't really thought about that before. I read their sample, I read every single word and I really sit and think about it. But I don't usually edit the sample. So yeah, that's something I'm going to consider.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I find the people who reject me are usually saying, “Oh my God, I really like what you’ve done, I just can't afford you.” But by being able to see what I've done for them and what I've offered, that will make the difference as a general rule.
Do you have a daily word count or some other parameter that you follow?
Jennifer Safrey: My daily parameter is that I’ll work until one o'clock and then I'll go for a walk, eat lunch, and run some errands. And then I'll work some hours at night. I don't really have a daily word count. Sometimes I'm working on something and I'm really motoring on it and feeling good about it. I’m a fast editor when I'm in it, but I don't really try to turn things over in two days.
I really want to make my life livable and happy, or else I would still have a full-time job. I'd rather do this as a freelancer and read when it's convenient for me. Some days I might go to the beach and then other days I’ll be at my desk for nine hours because I really want to get something done. I'm sorry I don't have a better answer for you. That's just the way I operate.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I tend to get about 100-150 pages done a day when I can, when I've got a project moving forward. Doing a copy edit versus doing a developmental edit, or an editorial assessment, are all very different speeds though.
I struggle because my best work is generally from eight o'clock in the evening until two o'clock in the morning. I hate that. I try to be a daytime person and then I find myself sitting down at eight o'clock at night and getting my work done then. That's my process, which is not a good one — I don't recommend it. If you can schedule it to be more regular, that is much better.
How do you define an editorial assessment vs. a developmental edit?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: When I do an editorial assessment, I will go through the manuscript and make comments in the margins with track changes on. If I notice that somebody constantly messes up on serial commas, I'll make a comment about that and put a link to a page that explains it. Or if their chapter endings aren't strong, there's an arc that's not being developed, or things are becoming repetitive, I'll make a note in the margins. That sort of thing — what the overall feel of the manuscript is. And then I’ll probably do an overall letter, combining my thoughts on it.
The developmental edit is much more in detail about what's missing, what the arc is all about, what the pacing is, and what the story is about, thematically. Are you achieving that goal? Are you reaching your readership with what you've put on the page, and what do you need in order to get there?
Jennifer Safrey: Same. I usually ask authors if the manuscript is done or if it's partial. If it's partial and they’re just looking for guidance on how to move forward, then an editorial assessment is pretty good. I can give big picture ideas and say what might not be working so far.
If the manuscript is done, you might want a developmental edit that's going to be in the weeds. I'm sure you can do an editorial assessment for a full manuscript, but I find that what they're usually looking for is based on whether they're done or not.
I say, “Whichever one you want is fine, but keep in mind that the editorial assessment is more big picture and with a developmental edit, I’m going to be picking up everything and throwing it around.”
Matrice: I sometimes use the HGTV method of comparison.
The editorial assessment is walking through the house and staging it. On the surface, things are where they're supposed to be. But when you do the developmental edit, you're painting the walls, moving the structures, you're putting a new door here, you're tearing down this wall. The copy editing will be painting out the margins and all the details of it. It’s the punch list that the guy is going through, and putting it all together.
Those are all the stages of building a house and, in the same way, building a manuscript. It doesn't really make sense to do a whole lot of skipping around — or doing them out of order, which is even the worst.
Do you send batches or turn the whole manuscript in at once?
Jennifer Safrey: I turn it in entirely at the end because sometimes I make a note for myself in the manuscript, then I’m 90 pages in and figure it out and have to go back to fix it, erase it, or make a different suggestion. A writer has never asked me for batches, and if they did, I would probably kindly try to discourage them.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I've had one or two that I've done in batches and sometimes it's because of their timing. They've already bought their Amazon due date so they'll ask if I can do three chapters at a time while they’re working on their edits and revisions.
And once, I admit, I would send the author every 100 pages because it was just a struggle. I wanted to get it on her plate and meeting that due date was important. So, there are one or two times I've done it, but for the most part, I agree with Jen. You need to understand all of the issues of the manuscript and what the author has done, and then go back.
Who are your typical clients; people who are self-publishing or traditional publishers?
Jennifer Safrey: I think for the most part it's either authors who are self-publishing or authors who have an eye on traditional publishing and want to turn in their best work to a traditional publisher. That's the vast majority of the people I see.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: With Reedsy, maybe 25 or 30% are consistently self-publishing their material and I'm working with them on those projects. About 20 or 30% are looking for an agent. And the others are going to be self-publishing their debut title on their own and don't have much experience or don’t know what the whole process will bring. Those are the three big groupings of authors that I get through Reedsy.
How do you set a deadline to return the work?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I keep a big calendar up on my wall and see what else is coming in, and budget myself two weeks. If the author says they need it sooner or that they can do it later, I'll make the adjustment. You just have to continually update your calendar with when the project is due and how many other projects you have in between.
Jennifer Safrey: Same. I'm always working off the calendar, what I already have on my plate, and what I know is coming in. I don't really mathematically figure it out. It really is just by feel. I know that it takes me maybe three weeks for a developmental edit of a super long book. And then I want to budget a little time to get together with them to talk about it. Whereas for a copy edit, it's a little different. When I look at the excerpt, I'll know if this copy edit is going to take me a little longer because it needs more work. I usually build in about a week’s cushion in my offers, just in case.
A lot of the time, the client gives you a deadline, which is nice. I kind of want to know if they’re trying to meet a deadline for something. Sometimes I have a little back and forth with the author before I give them an offer, just to get a sense of if they're in a rush or not.
I've gotten the sense from authors that a lot of editors say that they're really booked out until a certain date so, I wouldn't be afraid of telling them that. When I was really backed up once, I put it on the top of my profile, which is a great tip.
How many pages is your typical developmental edit letter?
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: Oh, that really depends. Is it a romance where it's mostly character development and pacing questions? Is it a science fiction where you've got a page and a half of world building — does the magic make sense?
I'd say at a minimum 4 pages, but I've been up to 15 or 20 pages when you add in everything. So I don't think there is a typical developmental letter.
Jennifer Safrey: I agree. I don't think I've had any letter less than 9 or 10 pages. The front bulk of my letter is usually about the overarching things that are going on — story issues, narrative issues, character arc issues — and then I give them a chapter by chapter breakdown, even if they're not fully related to those big picture things. So my letter tends to be less than 20, but usually not a lot less than 10.
Final advice to people looking to get into freelancing or those who are already freelancing
Jennifer Safrey: You have to love reading every second of the day. I think all of us do, or else we wouldn't be here, but really love this because it is a lot of reading and a lot of work. And you have to keep things like health insurance in mind, like Matrice mentioned earlier.
When I moved from full-time to freelancing, I moonlighted for about 9 or 10 months to make sure — proof of concept — that I had enough money to freelance full time. I didn't touch that money, so it’s now paying for my health insurance. I really prepared the best I could to be able to walk into the market and not panic if I didn't get jobs right away. I think that's — personally and professionally — the biggest tip I would give you. Financially prepare yourself to do this and then I think you'll be great.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I definitely agree with financially preparing yourself and also to give yourself that 15-20% cushion in terms of time and money and energy. Things are going to happen in your life and the author's life, and having that little extra cushion will save your sanity in the long run.
Martin: Amazing, thank you both for your time. Can people find you on socials?
Jennifer: Yes, I'm @JenniferSaferyAuthor on Facebook, and @JenniferSafery_author on Instagram. If you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to reach out.
Mary-Theresa (Matrice) Hussey: I'm @Matrice on Twitter and Instagram.