Pricing and quoting for freelancers

Frequently asked questions

Answered by the Society of Editors (Tasmania) Inc.

If you are wondering what to charge as a freelance editor and how to quote for jobs, these are some questions you're likely to be asking. We hope that the suggested answers are helpful.

What are the options for charging?

MEAA rates

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (an amalgamation of the Australian Journalists Association and Actors Equity) publishes award rates for their members who are editors employed by book publishers in the eastern states and the ACT. The rates are for in-house, part-time and casual editors, and provide a useful benchmark. (Search for 'freelance rate'.)

Fixed-price quotes

Most freelance editors worry about fixed-price quotes. We have all underquoted at some time, but it does get easier to quote well the more often you do it. If you keep accurate timesheets with comments about the nature of each job (for example, a note about whether it was easy or difficult), you will have a good database to draw on for guidance.

Never agree to give a fixed-price quote without seeing at least a quarter of the manuscript. If you can't see the whole document, ask for a sample from the middle or the end because the beginning or first chapter may have been well polished. The real editorial work is most likely to be needed later on.

At the end of a job for which you have given a fixed-price quote, check your timesheet to see how well you estimated the time required. Learn from the jobs where you have underquoted. Why did they take longer than you thought? Why were they more difficult than you first believed? Have you learned questions that you could ask about other jobs in future? Could you have handled the work more efficiently?

Hourly rate

Most freelances have an hourly rate that they use when estimating cost in order to prepare a quote for an editing job.

Some freelances don't have a single hourly rate. What they charge an hour will vary depending on the job, how quickly they work, how familiar they are with the subject matter, whether specialised knowledge or skills are required, how much they want the work (and are willing to fit in with a client's tight budget, for example), the urgency of the work, the editor's relationship with the client, and the state of the manuscript (including the quality of the writing and the format).

Charging by the page

You will sometimes get requests from people who can tell you how many words or pages their document consists of. The quality of those words, they may assure you, is outstanding. However, unless you have seen a representative and sizeable portion of the words or pages, the numbers don't tell you very much. An A4 page could contain 250 well-written words in 12 point Times, double-spaced, or it could contain 550 confusing words in Arial Narrow set solid. Once you have seen what the manuscript consists of, you can work out what you want to charge by those units instead of by hours, adding whatever percentage you have decided on for associated work like checking facts, making or responding to phone calls and emails, and any other relevant tasks besides straight editing work.

Not just the words on the page

When you are estimating how long a job will take, you should factor in up to 20 per cent of extra time to cover related and unrelated phone calls, urgent emails, questions and answers to the client, and all the other interruptions to your editing work. A five-minute phone call about an unrelated job can cost you up to 30 minutes in finding and supplying required information and lost concentration. Experience will teach you how much work you can actually do in an average day. For some people it is about five billable hours spread over eight hours.

The client's budget

Sometimes a client will be open about their budget. If it isn't as much as you would usually charge for the kind and amount of work involved but you are keen to work on the project, you could offer to do the work for the amount available. Or you could offer to do as much as you can up to the budget limit. In that case you would need to specify clearly what you would definitely do, and what would be done only if time and the budget permitted.

If the budget is higher than your estimated fee, don't feel embarrassed to say so. There may be other services you could offer—checking facts, negotiating with the designer and printer, checking proofs or project management.

What do I say when people ask for 'a ballpark figure'?

You can tell them that you can give them a figure if they insist, but that it may have little value. Unless you have seen some of the manuscript you can only guess how long it might take to edit—even if you have edited similar material for the same client in the past.

You can explain that every document is different and that the amount of work involved varies. You can't predict how fast you will be able to work. You won't be able to gauge whether the job requires any specialist knowledge or skills.

You may come up with an hourly rate but explain that what you charge varies depending on the nature of the work and that without knowing how many pages you can edit in an hour or a day, the hourly figure is meaningless.

In short, you can offer several reasons why you cannot provide a ballpark figure that has any meaning.

Some clients will press you, especially if they don't yet have a manuscript (or not a complete one) but they must put in a bid for funds from next year's budget. In those cases, not wanting to be unhelpful, you could make up a figure, but be very clear that that is what you have done. Explain that you cannot undertake to stick by it.

How fast should I be working?

There is no easy answer to this question. Much depends on your knowledge of the document's subject, whether or not you are a quick worker, the quality of the manuscript, the formatting of the pages, the number of words on the pages, the amount of checking you need to do (if you are required to check facts or references), the volume of questions you need to ask the author or project manager, the number of interruptions you get from other clients, and your need to do a first-rate job. Some parts of a job may require an hour of work on just one or two pages. At other times you may be able to edit six or more pages an hour.

Timesheets

Some clients may ask you to keep a timesheet and submit it with your invoice. It is useful to keep timesheets for all work. You may like to have a daily diary in which you record the start and finish times for each job as you work on it through the day. This is useful if you have more than one project on the go and you are responding to phone calls, emails and visits relating to various jobs, as well as the main editing task for the day. Or you may prefer to keep a separate timesheet for each job, recording start and stop times for each session of work on that job alone.

As you complete each job, when you add up the hours for your invoice, compare the actual totals with your estimates at the start of the job. This builds your knowledge of roughly how long different types of work take.

What is it reasonable to ask a client?

What should I put in a written quote?

Specify—in an itemised list, if that makes it clearer—exactly what you will do, when by, and what the cost will be (plus GST if applicable). You may also want to specify what you won't be doing for the price.

Should I ask for a contract?

It depends on the client. Some will require you to sign a contract.

If you are in any way doubtful about the client or the work—not necessarily because you don't trust the client but perhaps because you haven't worked for them before and you haven't seen much of the manuscript—it can be helpful to come up with a contract of your own that specifies clearly what you are undertaking to do. Contracts are also useful if you have a client who is disorganised or likely to change scope.

The Editors' Association of Canada has a very useful form on their website, which you could look at as a model.

What do I do about scope changes?

If you have underestimated the work required or the scope changes while you are working, talk to your project manager quickly. You need to get early advice from the client about what can be done to vary the contract or change the terms when the amount of work required is not what you thought or what you agreed to do.

If the job turns out to be smaller than you estimated, charge accordingly. The client will be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, if preparing a quote is difficult, you may even include a statement to the effect that if the job takes less time than you have estimated you will charge less.

Can I ask for progress payments?

For a long job (one that will take more than, say, 30 days to complete), you may well negotiate for progress payments—perhaps on the basis of fortnightly or monthly invoices. Many editors will insist on a significant portion of the fee to be paid in advance, particularly if the client is new.

Contact the Society: e-mail: info@tas-editors.org.au
Post: Society of Editors (Tasmania), PO Box 4512, Bathurst Street PO, HOBART TAS 7000

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