“How long will it take to edit this?”
The question comes up a lot. At first, estimating seems like a shot in the dark. The best bet is to do a few random pages and multiply your findings to take in the whole manuscript. Also, take 60 seconds to edit a sample and identify the most pressing changes that are needed. However…
[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]Page per hour guidelines follow.[/pullquote]
More than a decade of detailed invoicing has shown me that guidelines I once found in The Editorial Eye (shown below) are pretty accurate. They even accounted for the ranges they gave. The publication is now out of print.
(Note that these rates can only be applied to a single selection of continuous prose. They do not apply to graphic texts nor can they be applied to the sum of all text on a series of slides, for example. We are collecting data about editing slide sets to establish some kind of pace benchmark. Please answer the 6 question survey.)
2000–2500 words pg / hr
Faster if: few errors, simple format, nontechnical or familiar content, clean copy, no style queries required
Slower if: many errors, complex format, copy marked up, style checks required, contains equations, symbols, or foreign characters (symbols, not foreigners 😉
1000–1500 words / hr
Faster if: few errors, nontechnical or familiar content, printout legible & double-spaced, no references or cross-references, no tables or figures
Slower if: many errors, content technical or unfamiliar, printout difficult to read or mark, working online*, reference style inconsistent, incomplete or don’t match text
500—1000 words / hr
Faster if: well written and organized, nontechnical or familiar content, single author, no references or cross-references, no tables or figures, working online*
Slower if: poorly written or written by non-native English speaker, content technical or unfamiliar, multiple authors (but need one voice), hard copy edit*
*depending on skills, working online can speed a substantive edit but slow a copyedit
More recently, I found a handy productivity chart put out by the Editorial Freelancers Association. It looks to be in the same ball-park, though it doesn’t explain the variability.
My advice on estimating for a new project is to use the high end of the scale, then add 10%. Or, if the client is inexperienced and the topic is unfamiliar, use the high end of the scale and double it.
Once, my final bill came in well under such an estimate. Once. One substantive editing project in my recent past actually ended up with the rate of one page per hour. It was excruciating: dense, complex, and unfamiliar. In the future, I will recommend a colleague who is better suited to the subject and style of that particular client.
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*This post appeared in the original blog on Valentine’s day, 2011. As it is by far the most popular post from that old blog, I gave it new life here. Updated photo July 31, 2012. Added instant calculator Nov. 2013.