In researching authoritative sources for corroborative quotations to use in a client’s blog, I came across various sites regarding industry standards for editing. Interesting.

Many writers, especially indie authors, fail to use a professional editor. Furthermore, they fail to understand the three basic categories of freelance editors: 1) development/structural; 2) content/substantive; and 3) copy/line. In many cases, the copy editor also serves as the proofreader. All three categories focus on different aspects of the manuscript and all three overlap somewhat. The overarching goal for each editor is to improve the story.

An editor is more than simply a professional reader. For content editors and copy editors, improving the story means analyzing every word in the manuscript. Software cannot perform this task effectively, because software doesn’t account for nuance, slang, dialect, or context. Some things must be done the hard way to do them well, and doing things the hard way to deliver the exacting attention to detail a manuscript needs takes time, skill, insight, and an intimate understanding of language and storytelling.

Anyway, freelancers always struggle with pricing their services. In days past when writers understood the concept of standard manuscript format, editors could gauge their capacity to edit by the page and price by the page. Today, writers have mostly lost all notion of the standard manuscript page, which averages 250 words. With variations in margins, page size, font and pitch, and spacing, editors who could one price their service by the page can no longer do so. A writer stating that he needs editing for a 100-page manuscript may be referring to a manuscript containing 25,000 words or 60,000 words. The variation in word count completely obliterates an editor’s ability to estimate a project fee; therefore, many editors now price by word count instead of page count.

The basis for determining pricing relies upon the capacity of the editor to edit so many words per hour and the per-hour wage he feels is fair. Industry standards for freelance editors show an average editing speed (or capacity) of 6 pages per hour. Assuming standard manuscript format, that’s 1,500 words per hour. An editor who wants to earn $60 per hour would then charge that amount to edit a 1,500-word document.

Editing speed factors into setting deadlines. Today, I fielded an RFP for an editing project: a 365-page manuscript to be edited and delivered in seven days for $75 budget. If we assume a standard manuscript page, that’s an anticipated 91,250 words which translates to approximately 61 hours of work. That means I’d earn a whopping $0.81 per hour. (If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you know I won’t accept that–and I hope you wouldn’t either.) On the other hand at the other end of the spectrum, an editor at the top end of the standard industry rate would command $3,660 for the same project. Assuming that top rate, if the editor were to put in 61 hours into this project in one week to meet that deadline, then she would factor in overtime: $90 per hour for 21 hours. That comes out to $2,400 for the first 40 hours + $1,890 for 21 hours of overtime = $4,290.

Either way, that original $75 budget drastically devalues the editor’s time, skill, insight, and experience.

Because I know the value of editing, I offer clients of large projects (e.g., novel length manuscripts) the option to edit in chunks. For a pre-determined amount per week, I edit a corresponding chunk of text. This option allows the client to accommodate the expense more comfortably into his budget and provides me with a predictable income stream every week. It works out for both parties.