The CIEP’s wise owls are all Advanced Professional Members, with well over 100 years of editing and proofreading experience between them. We asked them whether they publish their prices on their website.
I debated this with myself for quite a while, and decided that I kinda would make price information public. My website links to the Institute’s suggested minimum rates as a starting point for negotiation, and explains that the actual price will depend on the condition of the text, what work is wanted and at what speed. One of my pet hates when browsing for services is having no idea whether I can afford a particular provider, or whether they’re overpriced (or suspiciously underpriced) for what they offer. I don’t want to have to give up my email address just to find the whole thing is a non-starter. Indicating the lowest prices also weeds out the people who want 100k words done for a tenner. And giving an external authority for the lowest possible price cuts down arguments (I believe, anyway!). I always pitch in at rather higher than those minimums though, ‘because I’m an APM and those are the lowest rates that should be entertained by anyone’, and I find that people accept that rationale pretty easily. Whether it’s the kind of clients I work for (my red-flag radar is highly active), or whether the website is working its magic, I don’t get people trying to drive down the price much at all. Well, not for private clients – we all know that some publishers and packagers have their own ideas of a ‘sensible’ budget!
I have never made my prices public, for several reasons:
- One size does not fit all: if I made widgets, then I would sell each one for the same price. But editing jobs are all different: you have to weigh up size, complexity, subject matter and state of the manuscript, among other factors. All affect the price.
- Clients differ: some pay per 1,000 words, some per hour; some offer a fixed fee. Some will negotiate (asking our rate), some won’t (offering a fee). For those who ask we can assess the job (see above) and for those who offer we can decide whether the fee is worth taking.
- Urgency affects your fee: deadline is an additional consideration. A job that arrives at 4pm on Friday with a deadline of Monday morning commands a higher fee than the same job offered over two weeks.
- Our reasons for taking work vary: we have clients we aspire to work for, we have those who pay the bills. We may accept low-paid work from a client who calls once a month. But we may decide to establish a better standard of pay with a new client with whom we want to build a long-term relationship.
My starting point is usually CIEP-suggested minimum rates of pay, but for the above reasons I would never advertise a set price for a job.
I can see the argument in favour of publishing prices, but I choose not to. This is because I work with a range of clients in different sectors, and the way I agree pricing with all of them is different. For most, I agree a rate per project (either for the whole project, or per thousand words, or per page), but sometimes I agree an hourly rate. All of this tends to work out for me within a rate range I find favourable, while also working with my clients’ budgets. I don’t discuss with clients what the others pay me, just as I don’t discuss any other aspects of our agreements and contracts. However, I do find it helpful to share some pricing information privately, with colleagues. This helps me with quoting for new work, and can help them too.
I don’t publish my prices for one very simple reason: no two jobs are ever the same. As a result, my rates vary. I do a wide variety of work that can range from proofreading a doctoral PhD thesis to editing a company’s white paper, to project-managing a team of writers or doing a ‘proof/edit’ on a self-publisher’s novel. I normally charge by the hour, but when I work with PhD students or self-publishers I’m more likely to negotiate a fixed fee. For some clients I may agree to a day rate. Mostly, but not always, my rates are somewhat above the CIEP’s suggested rates because as an Advanced Professional Member my higher rates reflect that my experience matches my membership status. But I once charged ‘mates’ rates’ to a colleague who asked me to work on his first novel because he is also a close friend (that was also the only occasion I worked with a friend – I’m usually strict about separating work and my private life to avoid complications). And on another occasion, I charged triple my usual rate as I worked on a project for a client that had a multimillion-pound turnover: if I’d not charged what they expected, as such companies expect suppliers to be expensive, they’d have wondered why I was so cheap, perhaps imagining I wasn’t that experienced, and I doubt I’d have got the job.
I don’t find publishing rates is helpful. For example, a potential client could look at them, think I was too expensive and go elsewhere, whereas if they don’t know my rates in advance they will at least contact me and we can have a discussion. If their budget is tight, I can offer a more limited job for the amount they can afford. It also means I can avoid tricky conversations if I estimate the cost of a project for a potential client and they respond with ‘But your website says £XX for proofreading, not £YY’. In my experience, businesses often ask for proofreading when they actually mean copy-editing. So I’d rather have a chat about fees once I know exactly what they want and need. I have seen arguments for publishing one’s rates, but I’m unlikely ever to be convinced of the merit.
I don’t put my prices on my website or other promo material. The main reason for this is that it is very easy to be ‘held to ransom’ over the sorts of ballpark figures one is compelled to quote ‘blind’ to cover all possible eventualities. If, for instance, I were to say ‘My rates range from X to Y’, it’s very hard to then quote more than Y once I’ve seen a sample, as the message the potential client takes from that is that their work is terrible. And that’s never a good way to start a relationship. Either that or X and Y represent such a huge range as to be unhelpful in the first place.
However, I can quite see how quoting rates might reassure potential customers and also dissuade people who are not willing to pay what I want to charge. So I don’t completely ignore the rates issue on my site. Instead I explain that I tailor what I do to each person’s specific requirements and offer a free short sample edit. This seems to work for me in that I attract the types of client I want to attract. But it’s a decision I review from time to time, as I do most of my business practices.
I fudge the pricing issue on my website, which I often think looks a bit unhelpful, but there are three reasons.
First, I worry that putting my hourly rate out there will reduce the number of enquiries, and I won’t have the opportunity to justify my rate in ‘conversation’. Secondly, my work is extremely varied and therefore price-elusive, ranging from serious law books to literary fiction to children’s illustrated. And thirdly, while I could publish an hourly rate, I would find it impossible to give an idea how that translates into what the client will actually pay, because my words-per-hour rate of progress varies so dramatically depending on the nature of the material, and how clean it is.
My calculation for quoting purposes almost invariably depends on the rate of progress through a (free) sample. Assuming I know the final word count, I divide that by the words per hour achieved in the sample, and multiply the result by my hourly rate – and of course every project is different (unless it’s a regular client, in which case no need for all this malarkey and I can go straight to the price).
So, my publicly stated rate can be summarised in the editor’s two favourite words: it depends!
The revised second edition of the CIEP’s guide Going Solo: Creating your editorial business is now available – it’s a great place to start if you’re considering becoming a self-employed editor or proofreader.
*Louise Bolotin died in October 2022; her contributions are much missed.
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.