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Freelance Editing: What To Charge?

A first-time freelance book editor asks, 'What To Charge?' Is my reply wrong (and not just cuz it's sexually 'charged')?  

 Earl, I need advice.  How do I figure out what to charge (an author) for the work he wants me to do?  While I've edited literary journals before, this is the first time I've been paid for my humble but earnest opinion.  Can you come to (a local writers' bar) tomorrow night and discuss with me?  

EARL RESPONDS:  

H-m-m-m-m... complexities abound here, m'am. Allow me to reply by parsing your inquiry thusly:

 

1. How do I figure out what to charge (an author) for the work he wants me to do?
Depends, of course, on precisely what he wants you to do. (I'm muffling a massive leer here, as possibilities race thru my own overheated mind-- but I'm sure that's just me, and that the project involves your editing skill-set, right? Still, give me a moment longer to enjoy the multifaceted images...)
! 
!! 
!!! 
!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
... (!).... 
Okay; I'm back now. (And lighting up a cigarette.) 
First, avoid an hourly fee. IMHO, editing services are high-level professional activities; charge a flat fee for either each chapter or the whole book.  Given the circumstances here, I'd recommend $200 per chapter if it's a content edit (in which you recommend content changes for character, storyline, etc.; $125-per if it's just a line edit to pick up typos, spelling, etc. (This is, BTW, significantly lower than the fees charged by established freelance editors; the luscious Ivory Madison --who runs Redroom.com, and will likely bar me from the site if she sees this posting-- previously outlined the wide range of editing fees in a comment to one of my blogs here.  It's at: http://www.redroom.com/blog/earl-merkel/a-writers-sos-was-my-reply-wrong --and her insights about freelance editing fees are both excellent and enlightening. But for a newbie editor, who is learning the freelance biz, a Walmart-level fee is only fair, eh?)  Naturally, you may decide to go a bit higher or lower, depending on how much you want the project-- but don't severely underprice your services; you'll regret it later, and editiing is tough enough without, as you labor over his/her masterpiece, resenting the author as a Scrooge McDuck wanna-be . 
If you guys go for the full-book contract option, count the chapters and bid a 15 percent discount of your per-chapter price. 
In either case, I'd suggest you require at least a three-chapter minimum, paid as a non-refundable advance retainer, with the option for either of you to walk away at the end thereof (it's only fair to both sides, since the chemistry and/or results may not satisfy either editor or writer). If you both decide to continue, require payment in advance for each subsequent three-chapter bloc  

2. This is the first time I've been paid for my humble but earnest opinion. 
(grin) As in most first-time endeavors, paid or not, one or the other of those involved may feel the initial activity ended up less than satisfactory.  My advice (in most of these instances) is to try it again when you both catch your breath. Hence, if this project is a full-content edit (as opposed to a line-edit), stipulate that you'll re-edit the author's subsequent re-write without additional charge-- ONE more time-- if the author requests it (If there's no request, you're either a real tiger in the editing-sack, or you can safely assume that he/she is just not that into you. In either case, accept it modestly and/or move on with confidence to the next project). 
Again, this literary second-wind re-do is only fair: you get to see if the suggested author-rewrite actually followed your advice and improved the book's characterizations, pacing, storyline etc.; he/she will get to decide if your input works for him/her and provides the requisite mutually perceived value-added.  

3. You didn't ask, but here's an additional point. 
Set deadlines, and stick to 'em. The author has to get you the material by this date, you have to get it back to him/her by that date, and the project will conclude no later than X-date. Neither of you want this to become a dragged-out affair. So to speak. 

4. Can you come to (the local writers' bar) tomorrow night and discuss with me? 
Why, you li'l minx, you-- was this inquiry merely a cunning attempt to expand your client base? I'm appalled!  Nonetheless, I will strive manfully to do so, if only to buy you a Manhattan to celebrate your new status as an (editing) professional. Congrats, and good luck!   --Earl "And Make Sure The Check Clears First" Merkel