You Get What You Pay For

loaves of breadEvery so often, potential individual clients reach out to me for a cost estimate, usually regarding a manuscript. (I say “every so often” because much of the editing work I do is for established clients like consulting companies and hybrid publishers, whereby the rate of service is already set.) “How much would you charge for this piece?” these writers ask, and then they describe what they want and when they want it done by.

Many times, what they want is a copy edit, line edit, or manuscript evaluation, all of which take a good bit of time. And of course, they want it done yesterday.

Okay, maybe not really “yesterday,” but many people think that once they’re finished with a draft, they can hire an editor the next day and have feedback returned the day after. All for the price of . . . what? A loaf of bread? A pair of shoes? A computer? A car?

All of those, actually, because the rate of service varies so widely. (Though I’m not sure anyone could edit a full manuscript for the price of a loaf of bread, unless you’re talking about this kind.)

For example, while the Editorial Freelancers Association rate chart shows a rate of $46–50 per hour ($.04–$.049 per word) for line editing, that’s the median range (“based on data generated by a survey administered to EFA members in April 2020 by Venture Research Associates”), which means the actual data points fall well above and below that number. For copyediting fiction, they quote $36–40 per hour ($.02–$.029 per word), and for proofreading, $31–35 per hour (also $.02–$.029 per word). They don’t have a range for manuscript evaluation, but Jane Friedman, a well-respected publishing industry professional does:

$300 to $500 for a partial manuscript evaluation (typically 20–25 double-spaced pages), $1200 to $1500 for a full manuscript up to 60,000 words. Most of us will evaluate longer manuscripts and either bill a small per-word amount after the initial 60,000, or a stepped increase, like $250 for each additional 10,000 words.

My guess is that some people who aren’t familiar with the industry might be shocked by those numbers (and I do not charge that much for an evaluation). But here’s the thing: editing in all forms takes time and knowledge. So if I spend 40 hours on your book—and that’s entirely possible with many books—what is that time worth?

I decided to look at a few costs in the real world for services provided that most people cannot do themselves (an editor would also fall into that type of service). Let’s take a look at some of those average costs.

Private piano lessons: $40–100 per hour
Private violin lessons: $5575 per hour
Haircut for women in Ohio: $4570, minus tip (usually takes under an hour)
Plumbing services: $45-150 per hour (before trip fee/materials)
Attorney fees in Ohio: $81–$453 per hour

Quite a range, right? And yet many people don’t think twice when they pay bills for those services. They also don’t think twice when they head to Starbucks each morning for their $4 coffee or eat lunch every day at the neighborhood café.

And yet some of the folks I provide quotes to either 1. don’t reply at all (implying I was too expensive) or 2. balk at the fee.

To be clear, my rates for each type of editing are below the industry average. I feel lucky to be able to work from home, the cost of living in Ohio is less than in other states, I don’t have any overhead, and I’m just happy to do what I love. I’m grateful for every client who has trusted me with their work, and I’ve offered deals and negotiated prices with several. But my time and experience are worth something, too, and some people want me to work for around $10 per hour, which is less than minimum wage in 25 states.

That’s right. They’re asking for a service they cannot perform themselves, and they want me to work for less than minimum wage.

I’m not sure what my plan is going forward. Though there is always room for improvement, my work speaks for itself. When someone I do business with tells me I’m undercharging and I should increase my fee with the next contract renewal, that means something. When clients pay their fee and return to me for a second or third book, that means something too. But the educator in me says to educate people, and I suppose that’s why I’m writing this post.

I’ll leave with a parting quote, again by Jane Friedman: “Beware of too-good-to-be-true prices.” Someone might be able to edit your work for the price of a loaf of bread, but remember that old adages are based on truth, and you might just “get what you pay for.”

Photo of bread loaves by Wesual Click on

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