As a copyeditor, you can charge by the hour, by the word or page, or by the project, and there are good reasons for each of these methods. The density of the material you're editing, whether it is indeed ready for copyediting and should have first undergone more developmental editing, the speed at which you edit, limitations on the client's budget, and the type of material you edit can affect how much you effectively earn on each project, especially when you charge a project fee or per-word or per-page fee. Consider what four experienced copyeditors have to say about the various fee structures.
Editor Audrey Dorsch often quotes project fees to her clients:
Hourly rates tend to scare people who don't really understand that they are contracting with a business, not hiring an employee. If they see an hourly rate, they compare it to hourly rates they know of in various areas and may or may not like it. With a project fee, they evaluate whether the project is worth that much to them. They don't think about what the editor is making per hour (nor should they—it's none of their business).
Project fees, then, don't change: You quote a project fee before beginning work on the project, and that's the fee that you will bill the client for when you've finished the project. But editor Elaine Kehoe sometimes prefers to quote hourly rates, where the total amount that she will bill is not known until she is finished with the project:
[Audrey has] a valid point, but I remain unconvinced that a project fee is always better than an hourly rate. As a case in point, I'm now working on a huge textbook, for which I'm charging my usual hourly rate. But problems have been rampant with the project since the beginning, some of them developmental in nature. In short, the book should really not yet have been sent for copyediting, and I'm ending up cleaning up a lot of things that should've already been set, such as adding a new section to all chapters and making certain global changes. Development and marketing went over the sample chapter I edited and returned it to me to have the newly approved changes made. I've spent a lot of time on the phone with and e-mailing the production editor. The schedule is being revised. If I had done this at a project rate, I'd be losing money. With my hourly rate, I'm assured of getting paid for all the work I do.
In answer to Elaine's point about potentially losing money with a project rate, editor Amy J. Schneider says:
That's when you call the client and say that the project is now beyond the scope of what you originally agreed to, and you negotiate a new fee.
Editor Laurie Rendon, who edits journal articles, book chapters, and other academic materials, always charges by the 250-word page:
I charge a page rate, and I find it all comes out in the wash. I almost always make close to the same dollar amount per hour (except for small jobs, which always take longer per page). I charge a page rate because in my experience most things I edit end up taking the same amount of time per unit. If it isn't a problem with English, then it's a problem with repetition or omission, or a computer glitch, or something else.
I hope that these editors' wise words have given you the tools to decide how you'll charge your clients.
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