A hot topic at this year’s ELT Freelancers’ Awayday, and on pretty much any other day on the White Ink Facebook page, rates are a fact of freelance life. And if I’ve understood the general mood of the community correctly, they’re not going anywhere. Quite literally. In fact, as I sat down to write this, a cartoon from The New Yorker came up on my Facebook timeline, shared by another ELT editor – an appraisal scenario with the caption “In five years, I see myself with the same job title, about the same salary, and significantly more responsibilities.” Sound familiar?
As I see things, there a number of issues around the rates discussion that have been hitting the ELT freelance community for the last few years, and seem to be gathering pace at the moment …
Publisher relocation has meant that editorial staff unwilling or unable to make the move with their employer have made the move to freelancing, increasing the number of freelancers looking for work. Similarly, redundancies at many of the large ELT publishers have forced more editors out into the freelance market. More freelancers = more competition for work = it’s a buyer’s market and publishers can force rates down.
Hand in hand with redundancies comes general in-house belt-tightening and close scrutiny of P&Ls. Even if a freelancer is offered ‘their rate’ for the work, it’s likely that the number of hours will be pared right back. We also know that in large publishers, rates for the same type of work can vary between departments, and can depend on who is commissioning the work.
Some of the ELT publishers who provide a large proportion of a freelance editor’s work have made the move recently to paying fees rather than hourly rates. Anecdotal evidence shows that this can work well, with the fee divided by the number of hours the work takes working out at a good hourly rate, and on occasion can work in the editor’s favour. But there are also tales being told of scope creep (where the brief for the work keeps expanding, but the fee is fixed) and non-negotiable fees when the work required turns out to be considerably more demanding than originally described. If you’re a freelancer who finds yourself in this position, do you try and renegotiate the fee, or say nothing for fear of being labelled a troublemaker and not being offered work in the future? Tricky, isn’t it?
At the Awayday in January I heard one freelancer make the point that she is charging the same rate as she was ten years ago but feels unable to ask for a rate that factors in inflation, cost of living rises, increased experience, overheads, etc. that have come her way in that time. Imagine working in-house without a pay-rise for ten years and you soon realise that it doesn’t seem acceptable.
So, what can we do about it? In an attempt to find out what ‘the going rate’ for certain editorial jobs is, and what people are really experiencing in terms of rates and fees at the moment, Helen Holwill and I have set up our second Survey Of Freelance ELT Editorial Rates (we did the first one in 2013 so it will be interesting to compare results). There are 18 questions and it should take about ten minutes. Please do take some time to complete it before May 13th if you haven’t done already. Results will be available within a few weeks. You might also like to read An American Editor’s blog (and the comments) on Eight Reasons Why Editors Are Underpaid (Parts I and II), and have a look at the SfEP’s suggested minimum rates, although I think it’s worth bearing in mind that we offer a specialisation that posts like these don’t always account for.
I’ll be back again with a summary of the survey findings, but do please share any thoughts you have on the issue in the comments below.