In the first post in this series, we defined professionalism and identified three criteria for being a professional editor. We looked at skill and knowledge in the second post. Now it’s time to think about what it means to charge for professional editing and proofreading services within the context of PEG’s Code of Conduct and what it means to be a professional editor.

A question all too often asked among proofreaders and copy editors is what to charge for their services. The response remains the same: evaluate a sample of the text using your skills and knowledge, place a value on your time and recognise that you are offering a service rather than a favour. Perhaps the question should be: Do you think of yourself as a professional editor?

If we recognise ourselves as skilled professionals offering a service that potential clients can’t do themselves (criterion 1 of being a professional editor), then we are similarly placing a value on that skill and service offering. Such value requires payment. The scale of payment, however, becomes contentious because of lack of regulation and a wide range of rates offered. It’s not a simple task to determine what your rate should be but a few things should be considered.

Skills and knowledge

As discussed in part two of this series, professionalism rests on formal training and maintaining competency through commitment to continuing professional development (CPD). Professional editors take their work seriously and understand the need to remain informed of best practice in the field. This requires investment of resources and time but ensures a high standard of service delivery. An editor who embraces this aspect of their work is entitled to demand fair payment for their services.

That said, the PEG Code of Conduct reminds us not to accept work that is unlawful or dishonest and not to accept bribes or kickbacks. We can’t place a monetary value on work that compromises professional ethics or that misleads members of the public about our services as a profession.

Time, overheads and tax

Our services as copy editors require time and overheads. We need at least some infrastructure to run our businesses and we need to be compensated for the time it takes to do so. We also need to see to our statutory obligation to pay tax. We can’t be asked to render services without being able to see to these responsibilities. Payment of services must take into account our skill and our requirements to render services.

The PEG Code of Conduct binds us to fair rates – neither too high nor too low. Liaison with colleagues, awareness of our skill level and recognition that what we do constitutes professional services will go a long way towards establishing a sliding scale of rates that is fair for all.

Professional editors who ‘don’t need to earn’ or who have other means of covering their overheads still recognise the value of service delivery. They do not undermine the profession by offering low rates with which others can’t compete and which gives members of the public an inaccurate impression of the value of editing as a professional skill.

Professional etiquette

Professional editors hold their profession in high esteem and with the regard it deserves. Professional editors respect their colleagues and, for this reason, fair rates are charged. As the PEG Code of Conduct notes, however, you can still offer services for free or for a good cause (but your baseline rate as a professional editor should remain stable).

Baseline rates for services

Your level of skill and information about existing rates should help you formulate a starting rate to charge. This needn’t be fixed but could contain room for increase or discount, dependent on the task demand. Some professionals have a rate card that has starting rates of their services with a clear explanation of what would lead to changes in the rate offered. A thorough quotation and clear working contract with times for delivery, payment terms and service conditions gives clients the confidence they need to trust your professional service delivery.

With an established rate that is clearly documented, you can be considered professional and feel quite within your right to charge a fair rate for services. In this way, you uphold the status of the profession and secure the long-term interests of your own practice as a professional. It’s the correct thing to do and forms part of behaving according to a code of conduct expected of professionals, which will be discussed in the last post in this four-part series.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PEG.

About Alexis Grewan

As an editor and writing consultant, Alexis Grewan values accuracy and upholds high standards of editing and writing practice. She is ethical, vigilant, disciplined and reliable. She is also a collaborator with a flexible style of communicating – a generally proactive engager on every level. Clean copy, on time, makes sense to Alexis.

About PEG

The Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company (NPC) in South Africa. Since moving to online activities in March 2020, PEG has been able to offer members across South Africa, and internationally, access to an extensive online webinar programme. Continuing professional development remains a key offering and the first PEG Accreditation Test was administered in August 2020 to benchmark excellence in the field of editing.