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What's the going rate for editing a book?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by daveevansedge, Oct 19, 2006.

  1. daveevansedge

    daveevansedge Member

    First off, sorry if this isn't posted in the proper area of this site. If not, the moddies can feel free to move it to a more appropriate spot.

    Here's my situation: I might be involved in editing a chapter of a book (perhaps 15-20 pages) that's under consideration for publication. From there, the possibility exists that I might edit the entire book at some point, if indeed the decision is made to publish the book.

    So, my question is: Have any of you done this, and if so, is there a going rate for this type of work? The principals involved aren't short of cash, if that info is helpful. I just want to have some idea of how much to request for this work.

    Thanks for any help any of you can be.
  2. swenk

    swenk Member

    Four pages about pens, and no responses for poor dave??

    Some free advice, with apologies to any client who may have paid me for the same:

    The honest answer is, there's no real answer. What is your time worth? What are they willing to pay? I always let the other guy make an offer first--you can always ask for more. Don't put your price on the table until they do.

    Take into consideration:
    --Are you truly editing (ie, cleaning up someone else's writing), or are they giving you scraps and tapes and scribbles, expecting you to do the real work? Can you get a look at it before you jump in? When you work with non-writers, they often assume their work is a lot better than it really is. Judge your potential time accordingly.

    --Are they offering you money to get this initial chapter into shape, or are they asking you to share their risk at this early stage, before they have a publisher? I've seen it done both ways--there's nothing wrong with being paid for your work. If they get a book deal, and you edit/write the entire book, you can always apply the initial money to the overall fee.

    --If you DO end up working on the whole book, you could be paid a flat fee, or a percentage of the total advance. The flat fee is more common--that way you're not on their contract. Discuss in advance whether you'll get a portion of royalties if they earn any. If the answer is no, take that into account when you settle on your initial fee.

    --I work with a lot of writers who would gladly take less money in exchange for their name on the book. Would you get any credit for this? And or With? Name buried on title page? Acknowledgement page? Separate, or swirled in with the FedEx guy and the latenight Kinko's copy machine repairman? Doesn't hurt to ask.

    --Make sure you get everything in writing; there's no such thing as a 'friendly no-brainer deal' as soon as money changes hands. If they don't like your work, can you keep the money, if you gave them your best effort? If they bail on the project, do you still get paid? If they get sued, are you off the hook?

    Good luck---Probably more advice than you asked for, but that should send you in the right direction. Next time I'll have to send you a bill. ;)
  3. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    Swen's post should be obligatory reading for anyone thinking of doing freelance editorial work in the book biz.

    Generally, editors are guns for hire. Very few get a piece of the royalties, otherwise they'd be the author.
  4. clutchcargo

    clutchcargo Active Member

    Trust me, there are dozens of definitions of what editing a book means. On one end of the scale, does it mean taking tapes, transcribing them and then writing the stuff, or on the other end taking a well-written manuscript that just needs to be copyedited? It could also mean ghostwriting a book. Also, be careful about wanting to have your name put on the book in any form or fashion. If the book turns out to be a load of garbage, you sink with it, no matter how good an editing job you do. And if the publisher and/or author gets sued, you will get served as well, even though you didn't actually create the work.

    Make sure you get a good gander at a sample of what they want you to edit, and ask whoever is hiring you to tell you as best they can how much they expect you to do. Do they just want you to copyedit it no matter how tempted you are to rewrite parts of it, or do they want you to rewrite it start to finish? Huge difference.

    What I would do is get a word count on what the manuscript is, get a look at a sample chapter, and based on what their expectations are, take a good guess at how many hours it will take you to edit the book. Keep in mind, your editing time may involve hard-copy edit as well as posting edits to electronic version, and all that time has to be accounted for.

    Once you get in your mind a good idea of total hours needed, and be generous to yourself, multiple that by what you think a good hourly rate would be. Take that number and add about 10-20% to it to give yourself some buffer, and that becomes your flat fee. Don't feel guilty if you think you are overcharging---you will have to pay Uncle Sugar a self-employment tax in addition to the usual IRS/FIFA stuff, plus you are responsible for your own expenses.

    Finally, demand one-third of the flat free upfront before you do any work. Then demand another one-third when you submit half an edited manucript to them. The first third is nonrefundable, and the second one-third becomes nonrefundable once they accept the edited first half you submit to them.

    I've edited about 200 books for large publishers as a staffer and as a free-lancer for both publishing companies and self-publishing individuals. If you do any work without any advance payment, you are taking a big chance of not getting paid. There's several tacts they will take to rationalize not paying you, to include the old line about your work being "unacceptable" or whatever.

    Finally, be cautious about doing any deals that are royalty only, or at least your flat fee gets cut in half with a promise of royalties on the back end. Either way, that's dangerous territory. Even honest, well-meaning publishers/authors won't be paying you any royalties until at least 6-9 months after the book is PUBLISHED, and it might not get published until 3-6 months after you've finished your work. Or it might never get published. That's just the way it is in the book-publishing business, and I kid you not.

    Hope that helps.
  5. daveevansedge

    daveevansedge Member

    All of that helps a great deal. Thank you all very much. For the moment, if I'm involved, it's just going to be on one chapter. Details are sketchy right now, but that's OK, as I haven't been asked to do anything yet.

    And as has been suggested here, I'd actually already been advised to tell them I want to see that chapter to peruse it before I decide if I want to be involved in editing it. If it's a POS, well, I may not even want to be involved in one chapter, let alone a whole book. And regardless of my involvement, I don't want my name anywhere except on a check, but I appreciate the advice regarding both sides of that debate -- having it included somewhere in the book or having it nowhere to be seen.

    I also hadn't thought about getting part of the payment in advance, so I appreciate that info as well. So I'll see to it that there's no way they get off scot-free. Again, thanks for the info.

    And Swenk, thanks for not billing me. I'm a longtime newbie -- I've been signed up and hanging around this board for years and was on the previous incarnation -- but I just don't post often. So I guess as a newbie (though you're one as well), I'll have to fetch you a beer if this works out for me.
  6. clutchcargo

    clutchcargo Active Member

    Where's my beer?
  7. daveevansedge

    daveevansedge Member

    My apologies for the oversight. It's sliding down the bar right now.
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