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How to Quote a Copyediting Job

by Janice Campbell 

Quoting prices for freelance writing or editing work can be tricky. Here are a few guidelines to follow.

 

How to quote a copy-editing job.NAIWE was recently contacted by a member who is transitioning from work-for-hire to freelance copyediting. She was finding that it was a major challenge to provide an accurate quote for potential clients. The member requested help in creating a quote for a potential new client.

Until recently, this editor has worked with a single employer, with a predictable level of editing to be done in each project. Since she started freelancing and joined NAIWE, she's started to see a much wider variety of projects come across her desk. When she e-mailed NAIWE, she had just quoted a job without seeing the potential client's work, but she'd no sooner hit "send," than she had second thoughts about the wisdom of doing this. Here's her question and my answer, with details changed to protect privacy for both editor and client.

Copyeditor Question

"A potential client just e-mailed, requesting a quote for editing about 50 short stories. I’m afraid I may’ve blundered, though. I told him $50 each for editing, $75 each for editing plus proofreading. Are those figures laughably low?

I just realized I’d quoted a price without knowing how much work the client has, or knowing how badly it may be written. How do you quote a job, and is there anything in the member area of the NAIWE site that would help me do a better job next time?" 

NAIWE's Response

"Your figures don't sound bad, though sight unseen is always risky. I suggest asking to see a sample of his work before offering a firm quote next time. There is a link to a rate calculator in the Rolodex page of the member's area. This may help you next time. Meanwhile, I'll describe how I come up with a quote.

When I receive the initial request for a quote, I send back a brief e-mail containing the following elements:

  • A courteous "thank you" for the opportunity to quote
  • Inquiry as to the client's goal for the piece (traditional publication, self-publication, personal satisfaction, etc.) and level of editing desired
  • Request for a representative sample of the work (two chapters, three short stories, ten pages, a back issue of a newsletter, etc.) 
  • Statement of how quickly I can respond with a quote after receiving the samples

After looking over the samples and the client's goals for the document, I prepare a quote, following these steps:

  1. First, edit a defined portion of the sample material (500-1000 words or even more, depending on the length of the document) to the client's specifications
  2. Time it: See how long it takes to edit the selection
  3. Divide your total time by the number of words or pages to get the average time per word or per page
  4. Multiply this figure by the total number of words/pages in the document
  5. Multiply the resulting time estimate by your hourly rate
  6. Add 10% (or more, if you choose), and that is number you'll quote in your estimate"


Here's the Estimating Formula

editing time per page x number of pages x hourly rate + 10% = quote

If the client wants a service I don't provide, such as proofreading, I refer him or her to another NAIWE member for that portion of the job.

 
Although it could have turned out differently, this story has a happy ending.  Our editor felt that she needed to request a sample before signing a contract in order to make sure that her quote was realistic. She wrote a tactful and businesslike e-mail to the client, who responded with samples, and was agreeable to a slightly higher quote than her initial estimate. She was lucky this time, and next time, she'll definitely remember to ask for a sample before quoting!
 
There are other ways of calculating what to charge for editing, evaluation, proofreading, and other services. I invite other writers and editor to offer additional suggestions. At NAIWE, we'd like to start a swipe file in the members area with sample e-mails for various situations, so if you have any you'd like to contribute (they'll be posted with your name on them, so other members will know whom to thank). I think it will be a real time-saver for us all! 

(C) 2008 Janice Campbell; Director, NAIWE 
Janice Campbell is the Director of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, a professional organization for literary and commercial freelance writers and editors. 



 

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