A short guide to proofreading rates and the methods for determining them
There is no short answer to this question. In theory, as a freelance proofreader, you can set your own hourly rates which, according to the 2013 guidelines of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) in the UK, should be a minimum of £21.40 (US$33.29) for proofreading. Copyright restrictions prohibit any further disclosure of SfEP guidelines here, but you can view them online. However, theory does not always correspond with practice. Proofreading rates vary from company to company. Most publishers have their own set rates for freelance work, and it’s up to you to accept the rates or simply decline the job.
Experience is key
When you’re first starting out, gaining valuable proofreading experience is the most important factor. You should think about landing proofreading jobs to beef up your portfolio, even doing volunteer jobs or working for free. Experience and good references are important to potential clients and will allow you to reasonably ask more for your services. This is not the time to be concerned about whether you’re getting the recommended proofreading rates. Charging lower rates now will pay off in the future; it will allow you to attract new clients and eventually be more particular about who you want to work for, what type of work you would like to do, and what rates you’re prepared to accept.
Some special considerations
Before signing a contract or agreeing to a rate or fee for a job, make sure your client is clear about what a proofreader does; you don’t want to agree to proofreading rates only to find out the work actually requires copyediting. Many proofreaders offer per-word or per-page fees, as well as options for hourly or flat rates. You can offer higher rates for weekend work or a faster turnaround time, or you can offer discounts for lower income groups, such as students or people on benefits.
Most people prefer to know exactly what proofreading services will cost before making a commitment. Base your per-page or per-word proofreading rates on earnings of $15.00 to $40.00 per hour. (Calculate how many pages or words you can read per hour.) Charging by the page is often preferred. The established industry standard for a “page” is 250 words. To figure out your exact page count, divide your word count by 250. Remember that hourly proofreading rates do not include expenses such as postage and telephone charges, which you should figure into your expenses.
Pricing a job depends on several factors: the breadth of the assignment; the type of work to be done; the discipline (general, scientific, legal, etc.); the type of employer (magazine, tech firm, nonprofit, etc.); and your experience with the topic. These factors will determine where your fee for a particular job will fit within the $15.00 to $40.00 proofreading rate range mentioned above. Clients submitting science, technical, or medical material prefer proofreaders with backgrounds in these fields, and the level of technical expertise required drives proofreading rates for these types of documents to the higher end of the spectrum. Social sciences documents tend to draw lower proofreading rates, and work from the trade publishing sector rarely returns the standard recommended rates (however interesting these jobs may be).
Your own business
As a freelance proofreader, you are effectively a small business owner. The proofreading rates you choose to accept or the jobs you turn down are up to you. Think about your goals and how important a particular client is to you and your business. Negotiation is always an option. But remember that accepting a lower rate for a client who promises regular work in the future might be more profitable in the long run than holding out for top dollar on a single job. Think about what you might earn from this client over the course of time or the value of the experience you might acquire. Remember that repeat work also means you won’t have to spend time and money marketing yourself; repeat work makes for a sustainable business.
So there you have it—the many components you need to consider when establishing freelance proofreading rates.
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