By Holly Bargo
Anyone who’s been a freelance writer or editor for more than 10 minutes knows that far too many people undervalue (or completely devalue) the skill, time, and effort required to produce well-written content. It’s hard work, folks.
Writing for Pay
Go to any freelance platform (e.g., Upwork, Fiverr, Guru, etc.) and you’ll find solicitations and bid requests for writers to produce “error-free” work with “perfect grammar” for poverty wages. Sure, being offered $125 to produce 15,000 words might not sound all that bad, until you break it down.
Research shows that it takes approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes for the average writer to draft, review, self-edit, and revise 1,000 words of content. That’s an average. You may produce good content faster or slower; however, it’s useful for calculating per-hour wages.
Using that average, let’s calculate how much time that 15,000-word novella will take. For mathematical ease (because math is not my forte), I’ll use 3 hours and 15 minutes, or 3.25 hours, as my average time to produce 1,000 words of polished content. Here’s the calculation (15 [units of 1,000 words] 3.25 hours = 48.75 hours). That 15,000-word novella will take 48.75 hours to produce.
The typical, full-time work week is 40 hours. That $125 fee works out to a wage of $2.56 per hour ($125 48.75 hours = $2.56 per word).
Now, let’s deduct the platform’s 20% commission, which leaves you with 80% of the fee paid. (Oh, forgot that, didn’t you?) Instead of being paid $125 for that 15,000-word novella, you’ll be paid $100 ($125 80% = $100). That, of course, reduces your hourly wage on this project to $2.05 per hour ($100 48.57 hours = $2.05 per hour).
Would you work for that?
We can break down the fee on a per-word basis. For that 15,000-word novella, you’d be paid $0.008 per word before the platform skims its commission from the fee. After the commission is deducted, you’d earn $0.006 per word. In either case, that’s less than one penny per word.
Again, would you work for that?
Whether a freelance writer charges by the word or by the hour, knowing how to calculate the value of time, skill, and effort leads to ignoring or turning down a host of projects with unreasonable deadlines and insulting budgets.
The Cost of Editing
Now that we’ve established a range of acceptable value for freelance writers, take note of professional editing fees. Refer to those same sources. These rates surprise authors, especially indie authors new to publishing. Like writing, editing requires sophisticated skills and expertise that have value.
Editing speed varies greatly depending upon the quality of the written content, the editor’s skill, and the type of editing performed. One article written by an editor “guesstimated” an average editing speed of 1,500 words per hour as a reasonable baseline to calculate fees. Use the same simple math to figure freelance writing rates to figure freelance editing rates.
For instance, if you’ve got a 50,000-word manuscript to be edited, expect the editor to work 33.3 hours on the manuscript (50,000 words 1,500 words/hour = 33.3 hours). Offering a professional editor $100 to edit the manuscript values his time, skill, and effort at $3.00 per hour or $0.002 per word.
Quite frankly, I won’t work for that and neither should anyone else.
Somewhere I saw statistics showing that fewer than 10% of authors (even less for self-published authors) earn more than $1,000 per year in royalties off books sold. With over 1 million new titles published each year, competition for readers and their money is fierce. Producing one full-length novel to professional standards often means operating in the red. To be blunt: you’re not going to recoup your investment.
Offering lowball fees for skilled work devalues the service you’re trying to hire. Accepting low-bid fees for your skilled work devalues the service you provide. Understand the value of the work and uphold it. That may mean saving up for months or years to hire a professional editor or ghostwriter.
To determine whether your valuation of service coincides with industry standards for professionals, check the Editorial Freelance Association and The Balance and ClearVoice. Such sources offer professional freelance writing and editing rates in ranges, with the lower ranges for beginning vendors and the higher rates commanded by experienced, expert professionals.