In the first part of her 2016 Best Practice series for eSense, Sally Hill talked about quoting for translation jobs. Here on the blog we are also re-publishing part 2, which continues the theme in relation to editing jobs. This article first appeared in eSense 42 (2016).
Before I get started on how to quote for editing jobs, let me touch on the thorny issue of the different levels of editing. After all, what I do as an editor may not be the same as what other editors in SENSE do, and this will of course affect the rate we charge and the time it takes to edit a text.
What do we mean by editing? What does the client expect?
In their chapter of the SENSE Best Practices Handbook entitled ‘The Ins and Outs of Editing’, co-authors Lee Ann Weeks and Ann Bless make the important distinction between ‘editing’ and ‘editors’ as referred to in the publishing world and the terms as used by most editors in SENSE. They also set out the difference between ‘proofreading’, ‘copy-editing’ and ‘substantive editing’, or what is generally understood by these terms. They use ‘proofreader’ to refer to the person who ‘compares the penultimate version of a text (ie, copy) with the final typeset/formatted version of the text (ie, galley proofs, page proofs, uncorrected proofs).’ This is similar to the definition used by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading [formerly known as The Society for Editors and Proofreaders, ed.] in the UK. Their website provides useful information on the distinction between copyeditors and proofreaders. A useful rule of thumb the CIEP provides is that a proofreader does about ten pages (some 300 words per page) an hour. If what you do takes considerably longer, you are probably copyediting and not proofreading. But ‘proofreading’ is also used in other contexts and I discuss this a bit more below.
You should be aware of the level of editing that you offer – and of course inform your clients of this. For new clients you could offer to edit the first page or so for free so they know what to expect. I sometimes include a sample edit with my quote so the client knows what they will be getting for the amount quoted. A client just expecting corrections regarding grammar, spelling, syntax and consistency (what I call language editing) may not appreciate me changing sentences around or commenting on content. As an editor used to substantive editing – and particularly used to educating PhD students while editing their work – I find it hard to limit myself to just language editing. If a new client asks me to do so I pass on the name of a colleague. For more on sample edits, see this forum discussion.
Or is what I do proofreading after all?
If you are more of a fixer and a flagger, then the other type of ‘proofreader’ may be a term more applicable to what you do. And if you proofread student manuscripts and PhD theses then you are also in luck – the SENSE Thesis Editing Guidelines developed by SENSE’s special interest group for members working in academia (UniSIG) are available on the website. They include such useful items as suggestions for acknowledgements and a form to clarify the help editors provide to students. In these guidelines the term proofreader is defined as ‘third party interventions (that entail some level of written alteration) on assessed work in progress’.
So I know what I do but how long will it take me?
This is one of the hardest things about being a freelancer and a sample edit can really come in handy. For me, when a new manuscript comes in I can now estimate from the length and the quality of the English how long it will likely take me to edit it. But when I first started doing this work, I would edit one or two pages and time myself before getting back to the client with a quote. Sometimes this would backfire if the quote was too high and the client went elsewhere, but I learned quickly to quote a range. I tell clients that it may take me less time than the number of hours indicated but it will not cost them more than the maximum quoted, even if I go over the maximum number of hours (my loss). And when I find myself going off on tangents while editing a text that is just too interesting – when the time I spend on research (eg, reading up on certain molecular pathways or surgical interventions, or scanning other publications to see how other authors use certain terms) exceeds that strictly needed to edit the text – I do not bill the client for that extra time.
Quoting a range of hours not only allows you to invoice the client for less than the maximum if you don’t need all the hours (never a problem), it also gives you a bit of a safety net in case some sections of the text need extra attention. However, some editors quote and charge by the word, which has two advantages: both parties know beforehand what the costs will be, and as an editor you don’t have to keep track of the time spent on the text. A huge advantage if you are easily distracted by incoming emails (just close the program – works wonders!) or need to stop regularly while editing to answer the phone, feed the kids, hang up the washing, take the dog out, etc. Although you will need less time to prepare your quote, don’t forget to have a good look at the text before you start! This is of course also the case if you charge per hour. After all, some texts have multiple authors and you want to avoid nasty surprises.
Handy pricing calculator
You can of course use both hourly rates and word rates depending on what each client prefers. A post in April 2016 on the Facebook page of the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences’ points to a handy pricing calculator (pictured above) that allows you to see the equivalent fee per hour, per page, or per 100 words according to manuscript length and the editing level required according to ‘pages-per-hour’. Not only useful for editors but also for translators and writers. The Excel calculator is available for free via the website of the US-based Copyediting-L email discussion list and generously provided by David Newmarch.
It is a little cumbersome in that it is based on a page count, but if you have a word count then dividing by 250 will give you the page count to fill in. And you cannot actually type numbers in the spreadsheet so it takes a bit longer to fill in your rate and your speed. But... once you do, you can compare per word and per hour pricing options and also calculate what your weekly earnings are based on your rate and number of billable hours. And as I mentioned in part 1 of this series, paying attention to rates and earnings is an essential part of running your business.
I have not mentioned specific rates. What you charge will likely depend on your experience and should be a combination of what you feel you are worth and what your clients are prepared to pay. If you find it hard to know what to charge then just ask around – in my experience other SENSE members are happy to tell you what they charge, just not online. And that is one of the many reasons for attending SENSE workshops and SIG meetings and chatting with fellow language professionals. The results of SENSE’s 2012 rates survey indicate that rates for editing vary from €30 to €80 per hour, the average being around €55 (use the pricing calculator above to convert this to a word price).
 Nigel Harwood, Liz Austin & Rowena Macaulay (2012) Cleaner, helper, teacher? The role of proofreaders of student writing, Studies in Higher Education, 37:5, 569-584 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2010.531462
Those of you who proofread for students should not miss the upcoming UniSIG meeting, on Friday 8 October! Nigel Harwood, Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Sheffield, UK will be speaking on 'The ethics of "proofreading" student writing at UK universities'. His research interests include academic writing, English for specific and academic purposes, and TESOL materials/textbook design. He has recently published a series of articles on the proofreading of student academic writing. Registration for this event closes at 9:00h on 8 October.