Editors in North America can be hired for anywhere from $25 an hour to north of $60 an hour, which is reasonable compared to a lawyer, CPA or a plumber, but it’s far from free. Some editors will tell you they’re charging by the page or the project but we all base our fees on our preferred hourly rates.
Editing rates by specialty
- Substantive editing, $50-$60 per hour or more, depending on the editor.
- Copy editing, $40-$50 per hour
- Proofreading, $25-$50 per hour
A good ballpark figure is 10 cents a word, so a 100,000-word book might set you back $10,000 while a 400-word blog post could cost around $40. These are just rough averages, however. Some editors work cheaper and some charge substantially more — it’s all about supply and demand. People with the most skill have the least availability and the highest rates. People with the fewest skills have the most availability and the lowest rates. If you go cheap, you get cheap.
And if you’ve heard that publications are laying off editors left and right and that you should be able to score a good deal by hiring a recently unemployed editor, take my advice: If you find one offering discount rates while building a clientele, go for it.
But bear this in mind: Most editors coming out of professional publications like trade journals, magazines and newspapers find work pretty quickly in the freelance world, because while anybody can call themselves an editor, deadline-tested talent is still relatively rare. Skilled medical and science editors are even more scarce, and their rates reflect it.
Editors usually charge one of three ways:
- By the hour
- By the page or word
- By the project
Here’s a look at the pluses and minuses of each billing method:
Hourly Rates for Editing
Hourly billing works best if you have:
- A regular, well-defined volume of copy within a defined time frame — say three articles a week that are always 700 words.
- The same writers who usually need the same amount of editing.
- The same editors who usually edit at the same pace.
The upside of hourly billing is that it encourages editors to be thorough — this can be extremely important if the writing requires a lot of rewrite and reorganization.
The downsides of hourly billing are twofold: it encourages contractors to pad their hours, and it can expose you to costly surprises.
If you’ve found your ideal editor but she insists on being paid by the hour, protect yourself by setting a maximum number of hours.
Something else to keep in mind: Editors will often swap maximum rates for a reliable income stream, so somebody who charges $50 an hour for a one-off project might accept $40 an hour for an ongoing job with a set number of hours every week.
Word/Page Rates for Editing
Billing by the word or page is more common with single projects like books, reports and website copy, particularly in cases where the editor needs to process graphics and photos and perform lots of formatting.
A few things to keep in mind:
- A standard page is 250 words — don’t bother trying to cheat the editor by widening margins or shrinking the type size. It won’t work.
- Your editor may have to account for several rounds of revisions. If your report has to be approved by four department heads and several committee members, your rate will be higher.
- Editors will bill by the initial number of words/pages if those numbers shrink over the course of the project, but they will bill by the final number of words/pages if those numbers grow.
Many editors prefer page/word rates because they reward efficiency compared to hourly rates, which pay the same every 60 minutes no matter how much work actually gets done.
Project Billing for Editing
Editors who’ve been working for several years have a very precise idea of how much editing they can get done in an hour, so many prefer to bill by the project rather than the hour or page. Things to keep in mind about project billing:
- It tells you exactly how much you’re going to pay, so you don’t have to worry about your editor padding his invoices.
- There’s a built-in incentive for an editor limit how much time he devotes to your project.
Because editors know that doing great work is the best kind of marketing and that getting paid by the project provides built-in discipline (the longer the job takes, the less money we make), project rates can be the best set-up for everybody. But they do put a premium on speed, which can come at the cost of quality.
You Get What You Pay For
Don’t ask an editor about the value of good editing — we’re not exactly impartial on the matter. Ask a writer. The good ones agree that editing is an essential step in the publishing process. At the very least you want a proofreader to clean up the embarrassing typos or a copy editor to tighten sentences and apply general fit-and-finish. But don’t forget that the most time-intensive work — substantive or developmental editing — also demands the highest pay because it delivers the most value.
Editing is the quality-control phase of your content project. If you scrimp on editing, you scrimp on quality. It’s that simple.
- What is editing, anyway?
- How long should editing take?
- The difference between substantive editing, copy editing and proofreading.
- 5 essentials to bridging the gap between experienced editors and inexperienced writers
- Think like an editor: a four-step plan for adding more content to your company website