KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, January 31, 2011

How Come You're Not Getting the Rates You Want as an Editorial Pro?

At some point in your career as a self-employed editorial professional, you're going to compare your fees with those of your colleagues. And some of you are going to wonder why you earn so much less than they do. It just might be your clientele.

Unfortunately, the arena that may most interest some freelance editors but that consistently pays low rates and even angles for lower rates is academic publishing. University presses historically have had little funding and thus very small budgets, which means they pay very low rates to freelancers. If academic book and journal manuscripts are your focus, then, you're going to earn very little. As the saying goes, you can't get blood from a turnip.

There is no shame in pulling in low fees if you do it for love of the material you edit. But if money is a problem, you'll have to decide which is more important to you: working on materials that you love—but earning very little because that's what that kind of work pays—or being able to command higher fees, even if the topics that you edit aren't perhaps your first love. If you decide that you want to go where the money is, you can do either of two things:

  • Look for arenas that pay more and that don't require you to earn additional degrees or certifications, such as business-to-business materials, web-site copy, public-relations materials, books and articles published outside academia.
  • Do some research to find a potentially interesting and higher-paying niche that requires more training ... and then invest time and money in getting that training, additional degree(s), or certification.

It's like the situation my husband, a cabinetmaker, faces: He'd love to not have to travel much and work on cabinetry only for nearby folks, but if he did, he'd go out of business for lack of funds. Most of the local folks are members of the middle class and can't and won't pay much at all for his services. So he travels a bit more to go out to Long Island's Hamptons, home to many extremely wealthy people who want all sorts of unheard-of things done with cabinetry and will pay whatever they have to to get those things. He's chosen his market, and it's not the penny-pinching middle class.

Have you put thought into finding a higher-paying clientele?


Laura Poole said...

This is interesting! I'm a scholarly copy editor, and I do a lot of work for university presses. I find that they DO pay better rates (comparatively), if they are smart enough to value high-quality work and be willing to pay for it. The more prestigious presses have bigger budgets and will offer a fee or rate that is quite acceptable to me. Any specialty work I can do also earns more.

Where I find I *don't* get the rates I want is if I quote a project for an individual author. Authors who have to pay for their own copyediting often are surprised at my rates sometimes, and balk at paying them. I don't mind this. If they don't want to pay my rates, then I refer them to someone else (I have plenty of work at my full rate to be able to pick and choose like this!).

Thanks for this interesting post!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Hmm. I've done work for big-name university presses, and they wanted champagne-quality work done but had only beer budgets. This has been the case for many other freelance editors I've corresponded with. I've read many e-mail-list reports of university press that want to pay the equivalent (whether in project fees, page rates, or hourly rates) of $25 or less (!) per hour.

And I've found that academic authors, especially in the sciences, are willing to pay my high fees to get my services, because they know that many of my authors go on to get their work published after I've edited it. Now, authors of fiction are a different breed. Many I've encountered are under the impression that self-employed editors can live on only $12 to $20 per hour. I stopped working on fiction long ago because it pays so very little.

Kristine Hunt said...

Katharine, I think you wrote this post for me!

I work for private scholarly presses, not universities. The pay isn't fabulous, but that just means I need to ask for a raise.

I get higher rates for authors, because I add a PITA factor.

I have been pondering what I can do to increase my income. I love scholarly editing and offer skills that I just need to advertise better, I think. I have also been expanding into indexing, as many of the authors I work with need that as well.

Laura Poole said...

Katharine, I admit that I might be an anomaly on this one! I am rather surprised that university presses don't pay as well... maybe I've been lucky. Also, I note that because I don't live in New York (or San Francisco), I can get away with charging a bit less ... Lower cost of living here, so at least in the past I could set my rates extremely competitively and lower than "New York" rates.

I will say that at least one of the university presses I do a lot of work for has recently slashed budgets and schedules across the board. That gets quite frustrating... it's sometimes difficult to decide if it's worth my time to take a project.

Great discussion!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Brava, Kristine! There is not an overabundance of indexers, so offering that service is a great way to get better rates.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Laura, if anybody can make working with academia profitable, it's definitely you!

TeresaB725 said...

Great post. I've learned to raise my rates every couple of years and not ask but present it as a fait accompli. Sometimes I read posts by freelancers wondering how they can ask (beg) for a raise. No, no, no! We're not employees asking for a raise (and any good employer gives raises before being asked); we're businesspeople setting fees that, like everything else, rise periodically. It's not just a cost-of-living increase, either, since we gain more experience and expertise through the years, thus giving our clients a bigger bang for their bucks even as our rates increase.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

You're so right, Teresa. Like you do, I raise my rates periodically and present it matter-of-factly.

Dawn Colclasure said...

This is a very good point. It's very true; I have seen this happen in many businesses and in my own freelance work. Thank you for posting about this.

By the way, I mentioned this blog in the January issue of my newsletter, in the "Blog Brag" section. Find it here:


Keep up the good work!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Dawn, thanks very much for mentioning my blog in your newsletter. And I'm glad you stopped by. It's always nice to hear new voices.

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