I’m often asked how we price up editorial work. I smile, shrug my shoulders and wryly say “It’s tricky.”
They probably think I’m being evasive to guard some elaborate formula that we’ve devised over the years.
I wish that was the case.
The reality is that pricing editorial work accurately is very difficult, especially when we operate in such a competitive market.
Of course, we base our work on hourly and daily rates for different types of editorial work.
The problem, however, is working out exactly how long a job will take.
We do know roughly how many words or pages we can copy edit accurately in an hour (or a day), and how many words a report writer can produce in any given timeframe.
Beyond those basics, however, we know there will be a myriad of variables that we can’t accurately assess until work on a project actually starts.
If it’s a writing assignment, how good is the source and background material? How clear is the brief? How many rounds of amendments will be needed? And will the client change their mind?
Then there’s editing which is a detailed, analytical job. You only really find out how good or bad a text is until you start picking away at it. So many we work on are written by more than one person. You’re cruising along nicely and then suddenly you hit a section which has an entirely different style and tone, and you have to drop down to first gear and slowly rewrite until the join doesn’t show.
And from time to time, we have to come up with a blind estimate when the material to be worked on doesn’t yet exist, or the client wants us to create the material but isn’t quite sure what they want.
Our advice to those starting out
So experience will always be your biggest and best tool. If you’re starting out, of course, what you need to know right now is how to begin amassing that experience. This checklist covers a few factors that we always consider:
- Always base your estimate on hourly or daily rates.
- Be realistic about how much you can do within the timeframe you’re being asked to work to.
- Remember other time-consuming necessities beyond the writing or editing. Planning and client liaison, for instance, must also be paid for.
- Assume that 75% of a given job will run as expected.
- Accept that something unexpected will happen to the remaining 25% and it will alter all the assumptions you made in the planning stage. It might be something that speeds things up. It’s more likely to slow everything down.
We base our estimates mainly on fixed rates for that first 75% and then give ourselves licence to be more flexible with the price of the last 25%.
We can either add time/costs if we suspect – for whatever reason – it’s going to be problematic, or we can cut the cost for the last quarter if we’re optimistic about it, or if we particularly want the work.