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The high cost of professional editing: how much should you pay your proofreader?

I’ve been a full-time editor for about six years. In that time, several dozen people have asked me what it takes to start an editing company, and asked how much they should charge for editing and proofreading services.

For many years I advised that 2 cents per word was a reasonable price.

After all, for an 80,000 word book, and editor can make $1600. That book would probably take a few weeks; even if he edits at 1000 words per hour, for two 40 hour work weeks he’d be making $20 an hour, at least double minimum wage. Around $38,000 a year. Not huge, but a reasonable wage for an alternative, freelance career.

Of course he’ll also have to pay all the business costs associated with being self-employed, as well as specialized taxes. He’ll have to pay his own health insurance and think about having enough for a mortgage or retirement.

Once he figures out the costs of doing business, charging 3 cents a word may feel necessary.

But if he wants to grow the business and hire new editors, he’ll have to charge more. Ditto if he wants to keep competitive, rank high in Google, or advertise to attract new customers. Professional editing and proofreading is becoming a competitive market. Done ruthlessly, it can be profitable for a business owner.

Here at PaperPerfect, I like to think we compete on value, rather than price, and that our prices fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Reasonable, but not cheap.

But after browsing around some of our competitor’s websites, I may have to rethink that assumption. Here’s a screenshot I just pulled from a site I saw aggressively advertising:

For about 30,000 words, “Complete Editing w/ Comments at 5.1cents per word comes out to (minus 5% if you “like” them on Facebook). It will cost you extra if you want it done quickly, or super quickly.

For the same exact service (we don’t offer any “basic” options – complete editing with comments is the only thing we do) we charge $585. That’s just enough to pay our editors a reasonable wage and also pay for the overhead costs of running the business.

Maybe it’s because we’re still small. Maybe if we want to grow and dominate, we’ll have to advertise aggressively and double our prices too. But I know editing is a very expensive necessity, and I like being able to offer writers quality service at a price that doesn’t hurt too much.

I can’t promise that we won’t raise prices in the future; after all, we need to retain editors of the highest caliber, and they deserve to get paid what they’re worth. I’m also noticing, as our reputation for excellence grows, that demand for our work is picking up; and our list of loyal repeat customers keeps growing.

Staying small may not be an option much longer. But whatever happens, I guarantee we’ll think of our clients first, and find a way to serve them without charging them more than the value we provide.



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