If you look at freelance job listings, you’ll see that many clients pay by the hour. University presses and smaller publishing houses, however, tend to pay by the project, which can be daunting for a freelancer. How do you know how much time to spend? How do you use your editing skills efficiently? As a freelance editor who works primarily with clients who pay by the project, I’ve developed a few strategies to ensure that I’m using my time wisely so I get the hourly wage I want.
When I have a fixed-price project, I first look at the amount I’ll be paid and divide it by my minimum hourly wage. If a copyediting project pays $1,300, I’ll divide it by $40 to get about 33 hours. I then divide the number of pages (e.g., 225) by the number of hours (33). I now know I need to copyedit about seven pages an hour, which is quite fast (average copyediting rates for nonfiction books are four to six pages an hour).
I then look at the project requirements and see what tasks are absolutely required (e.g., make sure the document adheres to house style; check that in-text citations match the reference list) and what tasks would be nice to do (e.g., try to get rid of passive sentences). Next, I work for two hours on the manuscript. Since the first chapter is usually the best, I often choose a middle chapter to start with. After two hours, I evaluate my work. If I’m editing seven pages per hour, I’m satisfied. If I’m editing five or six pages an hour, I think about how I can be more efficient.
If I’m editing about four pages an hour, I look at the project requirements and consider negotiating with my client. Most university presses and small publishers have little wiggle room with their budgets but may be amenable to revising the project requirements. Let the client know upfront that the project may take more time than you expected and then suggest a way to modify the requirements. For example, if the client wants you to change passive sentences to active ones, suggest that you fix the easy-to-revise passive sentences and highlight the more cumbersome ones. It is always better to communicate with your client early on rather than at the end—no one likes surprises.
Sometimes I don’t accurately estimate my time and I see my hourly rate decrease as I get toward the manuscript’s end. If that happens, I finish the project to the best of my ability. Better to leave a client happy knowing that you can always decline the next project or negotiate at the front end next time.
How to increase your editing efficiency
This article was originally published in Tracking Changes (Spring 2021 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.