April 2 2013

A look at hourly billing

by Barbie in Editing

We came across this intriguing post at the American Editor blog: The Business of Editing: The Ethics of Billing, and it got us thinking.

As our clients know (and our Rates page tells you), we charge by the hour for editing projects. Some editors charge per word; others charge per page. For Carpenter Doc (and I’d argue, for all editors), hourly rates are by far the most accurate way to charge for our time. Per-word or per-page rates don’t take into account the quality of the document, instead charging a flat rate no matter the demands of the project. A well-written and well-structured document with only minor grammatical and structural flaws will take far less time to edit than one that has major errors in structure and composition. If we charged a per-page fee, the skilled writer would pay the same amount as the writer with the document that needs major work — even though we’d spend far more time on the latter project. This method of charging risks shortchanging us, in some cases, and overcharging clients, in others.

It’s difficult to offer a precise amount for any project because we don’t know the demands of the project until we’re working on it. We tell our clients that, on average, we edit 20-30 double-spaced pages an hour, which gives them a good sense of what the total will likely be. Of course, there are always exceptions to that average.

Back to the question posed by American Editor, we always charge for the amount of time worked, never more, even if we come in way under budget. If we hit the client’s budget maximum and still have work to complete, we contact the client to decide how to proceed. Quoting projects isn’t an exact science, so if we’re way off (which is rare), we notify the client right away to update him or her on any adjustments to the quote, no matter how small. You don’t want to blindside a client with an invoice that far exceeds the quote, so communication is key throughout the editing process. Honest reporting of time worked, of course, is essential as well.