Last week I talked about how copyediting is a hidden cost of publishing. With the down economy, many employers are cutting costs by trimming salaries, outsourcing editing, or eliminating the editing process entirely. What can copyeditors reasonably expect to make when they do find a new job or land a new client?
Starting copyeditor salaries for employees
Robert Half International (RHI) publishes an annual series of salary guides, including one for creatives (copyediting comes under content creation and management). Data is collected from:
- Thousands of freelance and full-time placements made by RHI
- RHI’s recruiting and staffing professionals
- RHI research conducted with advertising and marketing executives
- RHI’s analysis of hiring trends
RHI analyzes starting salaries because, as it says, “factors such as seniority and work ethic make ongoing pay difficult to measure.” The analysis also doesn’t include bonuses, benefits, and the like.
According to RHI, a copyeditor:
- Edits copy to correct errors
- Polishes and rewrites copy as necessary
- Ensures conformance with editorial guidelines
- May verify facts and write headlines or captions
Its 2012 starting salaries for content development and management are:
Salaries vary by location, of course. The Creative Group of RHI offers the Salary Center, an online calculator, to help determine average salaries in a given area. For example, a copyeditor with at least three years’ experience can start at $66,082 to $91,448 a year in Boston but only $49,005 to $67,815 a year in New Orleans.
Starting copyeditor rates for freelancers
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) just released updated rates for freelance editors. Data was collected from EFA members. Although freelancers can charge by the word, page, or project, survey takers were asked to report rates in hours. A page is defined as 250 words. The EFA’s posted common rates as of January 2012 are:
Charging by the project or project piece is generally thought to be more beneficial because an efficient editor will make more per hour for the same work. Writes Ruth Thaler-Carter in the comments section of “Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand”:
If I charge $50/hour and work on 10 pages an hour, I get … $50/hour. If I become more efficient by using some of the editing tools … and polish off 15 pages in an hour, I still get … $50/hour. I might get more pages done in fewer hours, but then I don’t make as much money as I would if I worked more slowly instead of more efficiently! However, if I charge by the page and can produce 15 pages/hour instead of 10, I’ll make more money.
What’s not included
RHI and the EFA give copyeditors a decent place to start from when thinking about competitive salaries. Neither of these analyses takes into account variables such as industry and experience, both of which can affect pay rates greatly. The last report I saw on rates by industry was from 2008 (and I’m unable to locate it right now, of course). That report had newspaper and book publisher copyeditors earning the least, with business and web editors earning the most. I imagine that web editors will not be among the top earners forever as the web becomes a great part of our daily work lives, but for now web editing still seems to command higher pay rates.
If you know of a report on copyeditor pay rates by industry, please let me know in the comments section below!