Jump onto any of the many freelancing platforms (e.g., Freelancer.com, Fiverr.com, Upwork.com) and you’ll find a plethora of projects seeking freelance writers and editors, among other services. More than once, I’ve run across a “buyer request” that includes a statement to the effect that the potential client has reviewed similar projects on the platform and knows that the budget specified for the project is fair.
What that so-called research omits is that the published budgets for those projects are low-balled 99.99% of the time. They’re unreasonable to begin with.
So, if you’re in the market to hire a “creative” (I really dislike using that word as a noun), then here’s what to expect and not to expect.
Expect a skilled writer with native fluency in the language used for the document. If you’re publishing an article in Spanish, then find a native speaker of Spanish. Proficient fluency doesn’t catch idioms and colloquialisms, which leaves the content sounding stilted, overwritten, and overly formal.
Ghostwriting, nonfiction especially, requires work beyond actually writing the content. It may involve literature research, interviews with subject matter experts, and more. That pre-writing work takes time, effort, and the good judgment to know what information is relevant and what’s not.
Writing is a craft and well-written content demonstrates competence or even mastery of that craft. Competence and/or mastery comes from years of practice and effort. The value of this expertise is calculated into the ghostwriter’s rates. Beginners with little experience deliver less value, because they’re basically learning on the job. They charge entry level fees. Skilled writers are professionals and invoice for their compensation accordingly. If that’s not clear enough, there are two excellent sources for professional writing and editing rates: the Editorial Freelancers Association and freelance platform nDash.
These authoritarian resources show rates that may result in sticker shock. However, when it comes to writing, you get what you pay for.
Writers write content; editors refine content. That’s the basic dividing line between the two. Editing may include some rewriting and revising of existing content, but it generally does not include wholesale creation of new content. That’s what writers do. Editors improve existing content. That effort may entail reorganizing the sequence of paragraphs or sections and/or correcting grammar and readability errors. Different kinds of editors perform different tasks; some editors excel in more than one type of editing. Before hiring an editor, understand the kind of editing your document needs.
What an editor does not include in his or her services as part of editing is creation of new content or graphic design (e.g., cover art/design) or page layout. These tasks go beyond the scope of editing. An editor may have knowledge of document design and may offer suggestions for improvement. As with writing, it helps to hire an editor who’s familiar with the topic or the genre, especially if you’re looking for someone who will check facts for accuracy or who knows what works best with the target audience.
When an author hires an editor, the author does not receive a manuscript ready to publish. The author receives a manuscript that looks like the editor’s red pen and yellow highlighter hemorrhaged all over it. The author is responsible for reviewing every single change and accepting it, rejecting it, or otherwise revising the content.
Authors should also understand that editing isn’t usually a one-and-done process. Proper editing requires multiple passes through the manuscript, meaning the editor edits, the author reviews and revises, then the editor edits the manuscript again. Sometimes this cycle repeats several times, depending upon the extent of rewriting involved. The final round of the editing process is proofreading which detects and corrects those usually small errors that slipped through the cracks. Proofreading may occur before or after document formatting.
For an accurate range of rates charged by professionals, see the EFA link above.
Cover design differs from page layout, although graphic designers do both. Most writers and editors do not excel at graphic design and page layout, which pros execute using sophisticated software specifically intended for the task. Canva, Microsoft Word, and other programs don’t make that cut. The necessary software isn’t cheap and there’s a steep learning curve to using it well.
Cover design concerns just that: the book’s cover. Accurate calculations are required to ensure the correct size of the document. This task entails understanding the difference between light and pigment, the importance of resolution (and what it is), and various artistic techniques to alter images and text.
Page layout concerns everything between the covers and how the book appears when the reader opens it and turns each page. Choices in font and leading (i.e., line spacing) affect the readability of the content. Margin shift, image placement, and text wrapping must be accommodated. Page layout requires gut-level consistency throughout the document, regardless of how long that document runs.
Graphic designers consider how things look, not how they read. That means they are not responsible for typos and other content errors.
Follow the link for an accurate range of freelance graphic design rates.
As an independent author, you are responsible for the quality of the product you produce. Once you sign off a completed task, the vendor you hired is no longer responsible for any problems or flaws detected afterward. Many vendors, however, will do their best to accommodate after-completion requests for correction.
As an independent author, whether you want to publish a book or your business wants marketing collateral, you accept the responsibility and obligations of a traditional publishing company in the production of your material. That means the services a traditional publisher pays for either with in-house staff or hired contractors shift to you. You may have expertise in the above areas which may enable you to save a bit of money, but few people are skilled in all those tasks.
Don’t do your book, newsletter, magazine, or other document a disservice because you don’t want to spend money. If you want professional content, then be prepared to pay professional rates.