Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to Quote a Copyediting Job

A new freelancer who is transitioning from work-for-hire to freelance copyediting asked how I recommended quoting a copyediting job. Until recently, she's worked with a single employer, with a predictable level of editing to be done for each project, but as a freelancer, she's starting to see a much wider variety of projects come across her desk. 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. I have changed the actual dollar amounts and altered a few details for privacy. Her 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?

My answer: 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. Here's my method: 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 to the client's specifications
  2. Time how long how long it takes to edit the selection and divide by the number of pages to get the average time per page.
  3. Multiply this figure by the total number of words or pages in the project
  4. Multiply the product by my hourly rate
  5. Add 10%, and that is the estimate.

In short: Calculate editing time per page x number of pages x hourly rate + 10% = quote.

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!