A professional editor’s hourly rate

On his blog, An American Editor, Rich Adin, the owner of Freelance Editorial Services, first puts the matter of earnings into perspective with an array of statistics related to the cost of living in various parts of the United States. Then he argues that a freelance editor in the U.S. can’t stay in business in 2014 by charging only $10 an hour, and he goes on to calculate for his blog’s readers the costs of an editor’s minimal living and business expenses, concluding:

The $10/hour wage has multiple effects in addition to not being a “living” wage. The more often editors say they will work for that amount, the more difficult it is to rise from it. If a goodly number of editors are willing to work for that price, then the market price is being set.

critiqueAdin’s post teaches a crucial lesson. In fact, if you’re a freelance editor, you should hang it on your wall.

Adin realizes there are hordes of people willing to perform editorial work for only $10 an hour in a competitive market that puts a hellish amount of torque on talented and experienced freelance editors. I think we all realize the free market has come to be revered in an almost spiritual way that somehow prevents many consumers, customers, clients—whatever you want to term those who hire editors and other freelancers—from admitting to themselves that they’re doing business directly with other human beings.

Thank heavens not everyone is so willing to take every last, little economic advantage, ethical or otherwise, to get ahead. Today, someone said to me, “Because I don’t like to work for free, I don’t like to ask people to work for free.” Right. Wow. Someone who has internalized the Golden Rule. Such people still exist. Thank you.

Actually, I work on commission, not for free, but my labor does look like some sort of magical chaos that occasionally has no value to anyone. I get that. Part of what I do involves editing, and I’m good at it. All of what I do involves being meticulously organized, and I’m good at that, too. Like Adin, I know the dollar value of my work and can shift instantly into militant mode when people don’t recognize it.

But, seriously, none of us should ever allow ourselves to forget, when we’re doing business, that it involves other human beings, their livelihoods, and their dignity.

When freelancers find themselves miserable working for clients who don’t pay well, I always tell them to get rid of those clients, so they can free up hours to work for clients who do pay well. It takes a great deal of self-confidence to trust that the logic will work, but it does.

2 Replies to “A professional editor’s hourly rate”

  1. Hi Robin, I often thank you silently for reminding me of my worth when I was offering to use my expertise for free. When I’m tempted to help out, I give myself a few home truths 1) The minimum wage in Australia is $16.37 per hour and 2) Professional entities such as the Queensland Writers Centre suggest $40A per hr for proofreading and $80A per hr for substantive editing.
    The people who approach me for help are professionals, so I don’t need to be a charity for them. The current trend is to work for little or nothing in order to get exposure, which may lead to something better. But exposure is over-valued and undercuts one’s worth.

  2. Oh, Marsha, I’m so glad to know I helped in that way. When I was working as a freelancer, years back, another blogger asked me to edit a few very short pieces of writing. I agreed, thinking it was the polite thing to do and might lead to a paying assignment, but then I was forced to call a halt when the material kept coming. Even at that point, I didn’t realize I’d been played until the writer stopped corresponding and, I’m guessing, went in search of the next patsy. Since then, whenever another writer or editor tells me s/he’s agreed to provide a free critique or edit (I’m not talking about bartering, of course), the generous person is already regretting it. The work takes a lot more time and thought than is apparent. Setting a timer to measure exactly how much time might help put things into perspective.

    I’m in the mood to protest, and Rich Adin’s post was gratifying. ;)

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