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Researching Freelance Editing Rates

In response to last week’s post on low editing rates, Yateendra Joshi wrote in with a follow-up question:

Little information is available on standard industry rates in India. I realize that what I make here … is low going by US standards, but how do I get into that market? Any suggestions at all?

Excellent question!

It’s frustrating not to know what acceptable rates are in a certain location. It’s even more frustrating sometimes that there isn’t a universal rate, no matter the location. Maybe someday, all the world will be on an even footing and have a global currency. (A freelancer can dream!)

I would approach any new niche, whether one based on geography, subject matter, or something else, by trying to research going rates first. Good sources of information include the following.

Government labor departments and job postings. These sources may give you a sense of what editor employees earn. You can break down salaries to an hourly fee and then calculate how much more you need to charge as a freelancer to cover benefits and overhead.

The US Office of Personnel Management, essentially the HR department for federal employees, calculates hourly rates based on a work year of 2,087 hours (including paid time off). The US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest wage information (May 2020) shows that the national mean hourly wage for editors* is $35.53. This varies by state, of course.

Job boards like Indeed and ZipRecruiter, as well as LinkedIn’s Salary tool, can also give you a sense of what editors earn. You’ll want to be more precise in your description of “editor,” using job titles that fit most closely to the type of editing you do. You also may want to compare results from different boards, as their data is based on what they collect from their users. The searches I did for this article (copyeditor in Boston, MA) were fairly close to each other.

Professional editing organizations. Some editing organizations share rates information for freelance editors. To date, these have been based on the organization’s home country, so seek out organizations in the country you want work from. As well, be sure to note the basis of the rate information US organization EFA shares the median rates of members who complete its rates survey. Membership skews to editors of books, both for trade and self-publishers. The Northwest Editors Guild also shares average hourly rates based on a member survey. Members come primarily from the Northwest US, making the rates very location specific.

Freelance job ads. Ads that include rates will give you an idea of what clients are willing to pay. Professional editing organizations often have job postings and you may find some on the job boards. You can also do a broad search, like “freelance copyediting jobs in the United States” on Google (jobs is the magic word here).

Other freelance editors. You’ll want to ask editors doing the same type of work for similar clients in the same geographic region that you’re targeting. This is tough because people hesitate to share financial information. I’ve found it helps to ask people I have a good relationship with privately for ranges, with the understanding that I won’t share it with others.

Prospective clients. Especially with indie authors, one of the first things I ask is “What’s your budget for this project?” That can give you a starting point. If their budget is well below the minimum fee you need, you can decide whether it’s worth your time to negotiate.

Read more on working as a freelancer!

* According to BLS, editors (27-3041) “plan, coordinate, revise, or edit written material. May review proposals and drafts for possible publication.” See more here.

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