Brass Tacks Season

MAY 7, 2019

By Matthew Bennett

Before becoming a full-time editor, I went out and picked up Sara Horowitz’s The Freelancer’s Bible. I had taken many contracts but had never strung them together as my sole source of income. Horowitz’s insightful book introduced me to the regular beats of an editor’s day: early-morning emails, the job hunt, marketing, marketing, and marketing, followed by the nitty-gritty of editing. But importantly for this post, the Freelancer’s Bible taught me how to calculate my rates.

Our May 13 meeting builds off the 2018 rate survey information provided by members. This survey shows that editors charge a range of prices, in part due to our members living in both urban and rural areas, where costs of living diverge. Client types also determine a freelancer’s rates. Some members work with deep-pocketed corporations, while others work with shoe-stringed poets. As a result of the survey, and so members may negotiate rates better, the Guild will publish a rate chart on our website based on the results. (A link will be sent to members upon publication.)

Money and Calculator.
Probably you aren’t taking payment in cash as an editor, but it’s prettier than a spreadsheet!

Let’s look at a formula that’s an easy and necessary one, especially living in the Northwest. Here’s how freelancers may calculate the rates they need to earn a livable wage. Horowitz asks that editors determine their desired salaries, then their real-world costs (e.g., rent, transportation, health insurance, and food), then their profits, usually at 10 to 20 percent. “Profit isn’t the same as salary,” Horowitz explains, continuing, “consider your salary a business expense (paid out to you as your own boss). Profit is charged over and above your expenses.” Here’s the formula:

(annual salary + annual expenses + annual profit) / annual billable work hours
= basic hourly rate

This budgetary approach—depending on how you tinker—might produce the sock or the buskin, the traditional masks of comedy or tragedy. I’d suggest finding the rate that leaves you smiling. For your own sanity, estimate fewer than 80 hours of work per week (seriously, folks). I’d also recommend you use the formula to find your rate before next week’s member meeting, where the Guild’s survey and rate negotiation tactics will be discussed. At the May 13 meeting, advisor to creatives Ted Leonhardt will guide members in the art of negotiation.

Horowitz is doing great things with the nonprofit Freelancers Union out in New York. For more information on rates, see the The Freelancer’s Bible, especially pages 38–45. See also the several rates calculators available online, such as the beautifully simplified Your Rate, which works elegantly from desired salary, hours per week, and weeks off per year.

What do the results of the 2018 member rate survey mean for you and your business?  What’s the best way to negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome? Come to the Seattle-area members meeting next week and find out: Monday, May 13, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Community Hall at Phinney Center, 6532 Phinney Ave N., Seattle.

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Matthew Bennett

Matthew Bennett began editing in 2008 at Ronsdale Press. He founded Cascadia Editors Collective in 2016 after completing his PhD at the University of British Columbia. His current editing work includes novels, creative nonfiction, short stories, academic texts, and white papers. He is also a writer. Matthew has worked with manuscripts at every stage of production, from initial submission to final publication, providing developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, and artistic guidance.