Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pricing the Work of an Editor

Received an interesting query recently from a fellow freelance editor:
I am in the process of becoming a freelance editor.

In trying to determine how much to charge for editing, I came across your
web site.
Would you mind sharing with me how you determine how much to charge a client?

I am currently negotiating with a potential client. He has a fiction book and some web pages he would like for me to edit for spelling, grammar, word choice, sentence structure, and clarity. When trying to determine how long it would take me to edit each of his web pages, I believe it would take me between 20-30 minutes per page. Is this typical, or am I too slow? His writing is difficult to get through. 692 words of prose took me an hour.

Please could you give me your professional opinion regarding how you might handle pricing for a client like this? Your web site is beautiful and lends itself to giving you the appearance of being knowledgeable and professional.

I look forward to hearing from you!

The thing is, this query is neither unusual nor surprising. In fact, pricing is an issue that most editors – like many, if not most, service professionals – deal with on a regular basis. The challenge becomes making sure you price what you are worth.

I made this case strongly in my reply:
Your questions about how to price are at the heart of every freelance editor’s business – and survival. One thing I have learned through years of experience is that you only hurt yourself by trying to price low in order to make sure to get the client. I happen to be on the high end for fees, because I offer a great deal of consultative and marketing experience beyond the pure editing.

There are some industry standards you can use to guide your pricing structure. For one thing, you must know word count, as opposed to the number of pages in a document. The industry standard is 250 words per double-spaced page using a 12-point font. Given those parameters for a page, most qualified editors can manage to read between 5 and 10 pages an hour. Based on that description, your 20 to 30 minutes per page is quite slow – but, again, I am unsure of how many words are on the pages in this particular manuscript. Of course, it is customary to factor the degree of complication/difficulty into your pricing – and if it is dense work that is just harder to plow through, you should definitely price accordingly.

One of the biggest challenges I think most editors face is the fact that we are in a highl
y specialized business that requires a very specific skill set. No, it’s not brain surgery or rocket science, but it is important work for which we have been well trained and deserve to be well compensated. The bottom line is that you need to learn how to deal with the prospects who are just shopping price. Chances are these people will not ever become your clients, because they want the cheapest rate, seemingly in spite of quality.

My answer to these queries is always to remind the writer that they are not shopping for a commodity like tires or laundry soap. They are looking to hire someone to attend to their life’s work – presumably a project into which they have poured considerable time and energy. Why, then, would they be willing to shop it to the cheapest editor they can find?

Good editing is expensive – but good editing will make or break acceptance by an agent or publisher. Good editing can position the writer as a credible expert, while lack of editing can potentially present them as a quasi-illiterate, even though they may be brilliant within their field. Good editing is the aspect that turns otherwise decent writing into outstanding writing that will edge out any competition, whether that’s in the form of Web copy, a short story contest, or a book proposal.

My friend and former client, Jeremy Tuber, wrote an outstanding article titled, "What It Says About You if You Are Willing to Cut Your Prices." In it, he takes to task those clients and prospects who try to wedge you down on price before agreeing to do business with you.

He describes a situation in which an affluent client asked him to reduce his price by 25 percent:

Instead of defending my quote or caving to his demands, I asked him, “If I was immediately able to reduce my price by 25 percent to compete with your other offer, wouldn’t that suggest that my initial quote to you had not only been over-inflated, but that it was unfair?” As you might have guessed, the surprised owner didn’t have an answer.

Here's a quick tip: No matter what business you are in, never reduce the price without also reducing the value. If a prospect asks you to reduce your price, ask them which item in the proposal they are willing to do without.

That advice translates seamlessly for editors. If someone asks you to reduce your price, tell them if you agree to that, they'll have to let you know which chapter(s) they would like you not to edit.

Use your best judgment when pricing your work. You know how fast you are, how accurate you are, and how much you can improve any single piece of writing. Choose a price - and then stand by it. The right clients will come, and willingly pay your fee. Let the rest find someone who is a lot less sure of their value and worth.

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