D.J. McPhee
4 March 2024
Posted inEconomics of Publishing Post authorD.J. McPhee

Editor Rates for Freelancers

Editor rates for freelance English editors can be a contentious subject. Because there is no single body that establishes rates (though there are some larger groups that have similar thoughts), freelance English editors are free to set their own rates and to charge what they feel their work is worth. This market is vast, and there are countless freelance editors that are available to you.

But, for you, there are inherent problems with this system. For example, how do you know if an editor is good or not? Will an editor’s rates tell you anything? Can an English editor meet your expected deadlines? When there are conflicts between you and an editor, who is right?

The list of questions goes on and on, but here we’ll be addressing three primary questions:

  1. Does an editor’s rates mean they’re good?
  2. How do you ensure you have a high retention?
  3. What should your editor rates be?

Because there are many different ways to handle a team of English editors, we’ll be steering clear of management issues in this article and focusing on the business relationship. Before we look at these three points though, let’s quickly discuss why good editors matter.

Why you need good editors

It isn’t enough to say you want good editors. English editors can be highly skilled experts, and as such many of them are not cheap. As the amount of expertise an editor has increases, so too do the editor’s rates.

But why do you need good editors? Why not just hire from a service, or even use an AI-based English editor?

In short, because they aren’t able to do the job properly. There is a lot of nuance in the English language that AI simply cannot handle. In the same way that artificial intelligence is unable to discern the nuance of knowledge, they are not able to do the same with grammar.

When rules need to be followed is important, but so is knowing what rules can be bent or broken.

A high quality edit allows your journal’s manuscripts to be clear and concise. Your authors are relying on you to provide a high quality edit that won’t change the meaning of their text, but also will help to clarify any fuzziness in the manuscript. If your editor’s rates are too low, you will find that the quality editors won’t be willing to stick around to work for you.

Does an editor’s rates mean they’re good?

This can be a really challenging question to answer. There are a few general realities that you can keep in mind when it comes to editor rates.

Remember this, “the cheaper the rate, the less time an editor is spending on the project“.

Imagine two editors, one charges $0.02/word, and the other charges $0.005/word. Two cents per word vs. half a cent. So if your document is 1000 words long, one editor is costing you $20 and the other editor’s rate is netting them $5. Ask yourself what kind of editing you would honestly expect if someone was making 5 dollars an hour.

An editor’s rate won’t necessarily tell you about their skill, but it will give a sense of whether they know what the market looks like. Generally, a professional editor knows what standard expectations and going rates look like.

The only way to know if an editor is good is to work with them. Of course, there are situations where you might be able to have an idea of what an editor is like. Recommendations, for example, are a great source of potential collaborators.

How do you ensure you have a high retention?

The biggest issue with retention from the editor’s point of view are the editor’s rates.

You may have a rate that you feel is fair, but that falls well below market expectations. You may also be offering what would be considered “fair” wages, but are asking for far more than is reasonable. An English editor’s remit is to edit, so asking them to do layout is adding work to their project. An editor might be willing to do this additional task, but not for free. Remember, if you start adding more work and then not paying for it, your editors will be making less money.

There is also a different issue that exists when it comes to retention: Skill vs. Boredom.

If you’ve got good editor rates, then another issue to keep in mind is that freelance English editors are largely being paid to do a single task for you. They’re paid to edit. What this means is that you have an employee simply might not like doing the work you’re asking them to do.

Freelancer contracts always have termination conditions that affect both parties. So if an editor is bored of working for you, they’ll simply move on to other projects. This happens with far more certainty if employees aren’t being paid fairly.

Pay your editors well, but consider getting them to edit other projects for you as well.  This might be something like internal newsletters or email templates. Almost anything that is “public facing” can always use a second set of eyes.

Low editor rates and new editors

There are some companies that pay lower editor rates in the hopes of attracting newer editors. Newer editors are more likely to be less skilled, but more willing to work for a lower rate to get experience. The problem occurs when this editor gains sufficient experience to move on to other higher-paying projects. While this system can work, it does not encourage freelancer retention and can negatively impact your reputation as an employer.

Remember, while freelancers are a “company of one”, they often talk with many other freelancers. They are as much a community as they are competition.

What should your editor rates be?

This answer really depends on you and your budget. While you should always be sure to budget for contractors and freelancers, you may not have a lot of money to do this. The most important thing that you can do is establish a healthy working relationship with a freelancer. Be open, friendly, and reasonable. But it is a business relationship—both you and the freelance English editor need to be on the same page in terms of expectations.

As with most things, “you get what you pay for” is true. Trying to cut corners with freelance editor rates can lead to poor work being done (which can wind up costing more if you need to send a document out to get re-edited. If something needs to be edited twice, it often would have been cheaper to just get it done by a skilled editor in the first place.

Industry standard editor rates

There is always some amount of flexibility in editing rates, based on many variables. Generally, “fair” rate would be somewhere in the $0.02-$0.04/word range. You are asking editors to edit highly technical content and have an understanding of one (or more style guides). You may also be asking them to learn your own house guidelines. Asking employees to work for free is, at a minimum, unethical. At worst, it could be illegal. If you’re going to ask someone to adopt atypical editing guidelines, make sure that you pay accordingly.

Remember, your company lives or dies on its reputation—not just clients can affect this. Your team has a massive impact on your success.

D.J. McPhee
4 March 2024
Posted inEconomics of Publishing
Post author D.J. McPhee
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