How to work out what's a good or bad fee for the job
One of the things new entrants to the field of editorial freelancing want to know is: What’s a good rate?
Terms like good, high, fair, low, poor and predatory are problematic because they’re used by individual freelancers to reflect their own experiences and circumstances, which are often very different.
Rate talk can trip us up if we're not careful.
And while it can be interesting to listen to colleagues’ opinions of whether a fee is low or high, their views might not be in any way useful for us because we need to make decisions based on our circumstances, not someone else’s.
One of the first potential trip-ups occurs when the conversation takes place between colleagues from different countries. This issue is one of currency, particularly fluctuations in the exchange rate.
Proofreader A lives in Oxnard, CA, USA. She tells her colleagues in an online forum that she’s accepted an offer from an agency to proofread 4,000 words for US$25.
The job is budgeted to take one hour. Some of her US colleagues say that the rate is unacceptably low; some even believe that she’s encouraging a race to the bottom by accepting such a fee from an organization whose rates are clearly unfair.
Meanwhile, Proofreader B, who lives in Manchester, UK, is reading the forum thread.
Proofreader B needs to earn a minimum of £20 an hour to meet her needs.
Conversations that include blanket terms such as high and low therefore don’t help Proofreader B. Because the exchange rate fluctuates, so do her perceptions of whether a price is good or bad.
It’s not just currency fluctuations that affect our perceptions of good, high, fair, low, poor and predatory in relation to editorial rates. Circumstances muddy the waters too.
Proofreader C lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She tells her colleagues in an online forum that she’s accepted an offer from an agency to proofread 4,000 words for £16.
The job is budgeted to take one hour. Some of her colleagues say that the rate is unacceptably low; some even believe that she’s encouraging a race to the bottom by accepting such a fee from an organization whose rates are clearly unfair.
Meanwhile, Proofreader D, who lives just down the road from C, is reading the forum thread.
Proofreader E lives to the west in Strabane.
Proofreader F lives next door to E.
So, conversations that include blanket terms such as high and low don’t help Proofreaders D, E and F either because although they’re all operating within the same geographical region and the same currency market, their circumstances are all very different.
Deciding what rate works for you
If you want to work out whether Agency X, Publisher Y or Packager Z’s rates are acceptable, you need to know what good, high, fair, low, poor and predatory mean to you based on your situation – not anyone else’s. The same thing applies to deciding what price to set with clients who come directly to you.
Consider the following:
That data – as it applies to you, not your colleagues – will give you a useful initial benchmark with which to evaluate whether a fee is low or high.
Your colleagues’ opinions are interesting but your colleagues are not responsible for running your business or your home, so their opinions should not be used to determine whether you accept or decline work at a given price.
While I don’t believe that colleagues should be the sole determiners of the fees we accept or offer, I do think they’re the go-to people for many, many more types of information. See this post on the value of networking – both online and offline.
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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