Last time, I wrote a bit about work availability in the book production business. Today, it’s time for the rates question.
The question of how much to charge is often on new editorial freelancers’ minds. And I think we get into our fears about being rejected or underbid and run into the same issues that happen when looking for a job and not asking what we are worth salary-wise just in order to get the job. I don’t think that being job scared all the time will serve us in the long run as either employees or freelancers. Let’s look at this a different way.
I prefer to look at rates as part of a value-and-match question for both the provider of a product or service and their client.
We can’t initially know for sure all of the motivations of a potential client (we are not them), so let’s begin with our side of the value-and-match: the freelancer in this case. What do you want from this gig? As an editor, you can get anywhere from $20 to $120US per hour (or less or more), depending on how potential clients see your value and what match relationships you create. I’m sure famous fantasy author, Neil Gaiman, pays his developmental editor an excellent rate: a) because he values her expertise very highly, b) because she values her expertise very highly, and c) because they are a good match for each other. As a result, she may not need many other clients in order to make a good living.
But you and I may not meet a famous (and prolific) author and become their go-to editor, and maybe you are just starting out in the field. Maybe you are the major/sole breadwinner in your family, or maybe you just want to create some supplemental income. You see, we all come from different places in the experience-expertise-compensation-need spectrum. So, comparing your rates to other folks is not particularly useful. There is a rather large range of actual hourly rates for publishing services, a large enough range that your needs can probably be met somewhere along the range at some point.
The key to success, I think, is to know your value, and find the right client matches. You may start out a bit lower than some average hourly rate (I normally charge by the page or even word and track my hourly to make sure that rate is working for me, so if I can go faster, I make more anyway, and the client has a fixed fee to budget for), but one key is to not be afraid to raise your rates as your expertise and reputation grow. And also to not be afraid to drop a client if they insist on remaining too cheap after you have moved on to better rates with others.
That’s been the pattern of my experience: finding returning clients willing to pay higher rates and letting go of early ones who want to pay the same rate they did twenty-five years ago (yep, it happens!). Those clients I’ve kept know my value and will pay a small premium for it. Letting go of the matches that don’t work for you can be just as important as getting that client match you’ve always been looking for. No point in wasting your time with a rate that won’t pay the bills.
Your client match (for content, personality and payment) is definitely out there. Go be irresistibly attractive with your excellent value as a publishing services provider, and they will find you.