The 2016 survey of freelance ELT editorial rates – some conclusions

ELT FREelance rates

A couple of months ago, my partner in ELT Freelancers, Helen Holwill, and I sat down to think about redoing the ELT Freelance Editorial Rates survey that we had first done in 2013. We’d been spurred into action by a number of comments about rates not going up in line with experience, etc., that we had heard at the Awayday we organised in January.

By no means a piece of scientific research, our questions were designed to gather a snapshot of where freelancers are right now so we could make some comparisons with the 2013 results. In total, we had 113 responses and briefly summarised the findings here. Anyone who had given us their email address when they completed the survey was also sent a full summary. (Of course, you can’t stop people forwarding a PDF to their friends, and this post on the Copyediting blog that I came across as I was collating the results makes some very good points about thinking about the bigger picture of survey results before blindly accepting them.) (More brackets, but if you ever fancy doing something like this, Google Forms are your best friend.)

So, what are the key points we’ve drawn from this year’s survey? There seem to be a few things that jump out …

  • Between us we have a huge amount of experience. Over 50% of responses were from people with over 15 years’ experience. That’s quite something, and should definitely give us bargaining power when we consider some of the issues that emerged from the questions about rates and set-fees questions.
  • Rates have, on the whole, stayed the same since 2013. This year 65% of responses to the question ‘What is your impression of the rates paid by publishers over the last few years?’ said that the rates have generally stayed the same. Given that a lot of the people who answered the questions in 2013 also answered them this year, the indication is that despite being three years’ more experienced, our income has not kept up. And looking back at the 2013 results, people were saying then that rates hadn’t increased in the previous couple of years, which is really worrying. Whether this is because people haven’t put their rates up and asked for more, or clients have refused to pay higher rates, isn’t clear. However, what we did find out is that the most frequent response to the question ‘What is your hourly rate for proofreading?’ was £25 per hour in 2013, and it’s remained the same in 2016. The same can be said for project management rates – £30 per hour was the most frequent response in both surveys for that area of our work.
  • There has been a considerable rise in the percentage of people responding to say that clients have been moving towards offering fixed fees rather than paying by the hour. 46% of respondents agreed with that this year, as opposed to 36% in 2013. Whether fees work out as well as hourly rates is still unclear, but the good news is that people are willing to challenge unfair fees, and renegotiation is possible in the majority of cases. This is good news because when one publisher announced that it was going to pay fees only, and that there was no room for manouevre if work was more involved or took longer than anticipated, there was a fair amount of concern. It’s good to see some evidence to the contrary.

For me, and a number of others that I’ve spoken to, the main concern is that rates are not going up in line with experience. It’s all very well to research market rates, talk to others to see what they’re charging, carefully calculate inflation rates and the cost of living and running a business from home (and of course we should all be doing that as a matter of course), if the client rejects your new rate and offers you last year’s rates. Of course, if you’re not happy to accept less, they will go away and find someone to do the work for the rate they have to offer. If you need work, you’re likely to accept the rate and get on with it, doing a professional job and planning to stand firm next time. (If you’re not sure what you should be charging, or need a recap, there is a great series of posts on the An American Editor blog on just this topic. In addition, the UK’s Society for Editors And Proofreaders’ suggested minimum rates for this year are here.)

I found myself in this position last summer. I was in a quieter period with work when a fellow freelancer contacted me and asked if I could take on a couple of stages of a project while she was on holiday. The job sounded interesting and I was happy to help out, so she put me in touch with the commissioning editor. When the commissioner contacted me and we were discussing the details, it emerged that the hourly rate was going to be considerably less than ‘my rate’ for that level of work. I couldn’t believe that the other editor, who had already stepped onto the plane, was being paid that either as we have similar levels of experience (and the evidence from both rates surveys shows the offered rate to be considerably below the average for the work), so I stated my rate. The commissioning editor said that wasn’t an option and offered me the rate halfway between the two, despite needing the work done there and then. What to do – stick to my guns, turn the work down, miss out on any money at all, and blot my copybook with that contact – or agree to the rate and get stuck in? I accepted the rate, immediately wished I hadn’t, and spent the next couple of weeks begrudgingly enjoying the project. Lo and behold, I handed the work in, the commissioning editor gave me some great feedback, and immediately offered me some more work at my usual rate. You win some, you lose some, but do you chance it and find out?

If I had turned the work down, the commissioning editor would have had plenty of other freelancers to choose from. With a rash of redundancies from most of the major UK-based ELT publishers in the last 12 months, I’m regularly contacted via the White Ink Facebook page for tips on getting started. I’m pretty sure that most new freelancers’ rates are lower than mine (I’ve been editing ELT materials since 1997 and freelancing since 2008), and making contacts and getting work is the name of the game when you’re starting out, so accepting a lower rate than I’m used to isn’t going to be an issue for lots of people. Which perpetuates the situation with the rates not going up. I’m fairly sure that this topic is going to come up at the 2017 ELT Freelancers’ Awayday, so there’s plenty more discussion to be had, and hopefully we can find some ways to address it.

In my next post I’ll be looking at ways ELT freelancers are finding to supplement (or even replace) their income from editing, but in the meantime, if you have any thoughts on the rates issue, please do comment.

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Why don’t you …

If, like me, you grew up in the UK in the 70s, you’ll probably remember being encouraged to “switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead” by the kids’ TV show, Why Don’t You … ?

I’m certainly not saying that my work is boring, but I do think it’s good to get out and do something different from your day-to-day every now and then. I’ve always been an advocate of making time in the day to go for a walk, swim or gym class, but what about literally taking your eyes away from the screen to focus them elsewhere for a whole day. That’s what I did last Wednesday …

I meet my great friend Liz every few months for a mid-week catch-up, usually over a hurried lunch because one of us got stuck in traffic on the way or because we have to leave sharply to get home for a Skype call / school pick-up. About six months ago, Liz suggested we next caught up for a whole day at a craft school rather than in the pub. At a clay sculpting workshop. Erm, ok, yes, sign me up and let me know how much I owe you. And that was the last I thought about until last weekend when she sent me the reminder email telling me to bring an apron and some ideas. Gulp!

Being pretty organised about my diary, I had remembered to avoid scheduling any calls or meetings for the day I’d be out, and didn’t have any problems moving work round to fit, which was a relief. I’d given the key people I’m working with plenty of notice that I wouldn’t be contactable for the day, and set off, determined to enjoy a full day away from all things ELT, editing and social media-related. I wasn’t sure I’d manage not to check in, tweet or download my inbox, but certainly had every intention of not doing so.

I needn’t have worried. It turns out that having hands covered in clay is the best way of avoiding checking your phone! And trying to work out what to do with a large lump of clay focuses the mind and leaves very little room for worrying whether you’ve got any Basecamp messages or missed Skype calls to respond to.

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Before

And so we spent a peaceful day with Beatrice Hoffmann and six others at the Ardington School of Crafts, shaping, bonding, digging and flicking. Once I’d been told firmly that the idea I’d gone in with was pottery, not sculpture, and had to do a complete re-think, we were off. There was no discussion of anything work-related, and even though I found out that the lady making a whale’s tail next to me was a dentist, no one even asked me if I worked. Liz and I sat in the school’s garden at lunchtime and caught up on personal stuff, and I can report that I didn’t check my phone once during the day, even though I did use it to take some photos. I did have to stop myself a couple of times, but I was enjoying being away from it all so much, I avoided the temptation. Only when I’d got home and had supper did I check in, and guess what – I didn’t have a single email in my inbox that required any action. Plan ahead, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t take a day out.

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During. Can you tell what it is yet?

So, what’s the point of this post, other than to share my snaps? Excuses for not taking time out often include not having enough time, feeling guilty, or thinking it feels selfish. However …

  • taking some time away from your work to do something completely different can be refreshing. As you might go for a walk to mull something over, a change in perspective can help you think more clearly when you come back to your desk.
  • learning a new skill or trying something you’ve never done before could help you find a new direction or hobby. (Clay sculpting was fun for a day, but I won’t be pursuing it further.)
  • arranging a day away from your desk doesn’t have to leave you panicking about when you’ll catch up with work. Plan far enough in advance to give clients notice that you’ll be unavailable and put your out of office message on your email and voicemail.
  • if you’re freelance, a day away from your desk is likely to mean a day without income, and if you’re doing a paid activity, and possibly also need to pay for childcare, etc, this is a consideration. But the benefits should outweigh the costs, and there are plenty of activities that don’t cost anything. A simple day of walking would be a great tonic.

Liz has suggested I choose our next activity. Almost a week on and I’m thinking that a day at a spa might be a relaxing thing to do. But then again, I’ve always wanted to know how to ice a cake without lumps and bumps …

Have you got any recommendations for ways to take time out, or how to manage fitting a new activity in with work?

In case you’re wondering, here’s the finished article (with reference photo just in case!). Just waiting for it to come back from firing in Beatrice’s kiln before I find a home for it in my office, as a reminder that time out isn’t time wasted.

Working together, apart

I’ve worked from home for almost eight years. For the first seven and a half of those years I had a quiet existence most days between about 7.30am and 5pm, doing my editorial and project management work, interrupted once a week when the cleaning lady appeared. Then one day my husband came home and told me his company was closing his office and he’d be working from home in future. Much as I love him, I’m pretty sure my face fell. (And he’s read and approved this before I’ve posted it!)

We’ve been working under the same roof now for long enough to have got into a bit of a groove. There has definitely been a period of adjustment, and I still miss the peace and quiet of my solitary working days, but I think we’re getting there. I thought I’d have a look at some of the differences between us and see if I could share some tips for anyone else who might find themselves in a similar situation.

Noise 
This has been the biggest issue for me. I like to work in total silence. No radio, no classical music, no ambient noise. Certainly not someone else’s phone calls, particularly when they come in several times and hour and are heralded by this ringtone. (Him: “It’s a classic.”) And not every ping of a text message, inbox update or calendar reminder.

To address this issue, and to enable him to keep his job in sales and, if I’m totally honest, to save him from hours of my Skype discussions, we try to do the following as far as possible:

  • Keep both our doors shut
  • Put phones on mute, leaving just the vibrate on
  • Keep voices down
doors
Too close for comfort?

When I was planning this post, I asked others on the White Ink Facebook page and Twitter for their workspace-sharing tips. Other noise-related suggestions that came in (names have been left out to protect the relationships involved, but thank you if you contributed!) were to “coordinate so you try to avoid working on a tricky job that needs your full attention when your other half has a conference call”, “make sure he knows not to do the hoovering outside my office when I’m on Skype”, “wear headsets” and “put other half in a soundproof bubble”. Not always easy to do, but in our house we do usually have a quick chat at the start of the day that might include mentioning times of planned calls, just as a bit of a warning to each other in case quiet/noisy jobs can be timed to fit in.

Space 
When we were house-hunting, just as I was setting up as a freelancer, we had strict criteria for our property search: three bedrooms – one for us, and one for each of my grown-up stepsons in case they were both at home at the same time – plus an office for me. Now we have two bedrooms and two offices. His is supposed to be ‘quick release’ in case of several guests – a desk that is made of trestle legs and a worktop balanced on them so it can be put down and moved without much effort, and easy-carry storage boxes for keeping stuff in, so they can be shoved into my office to make way for the futon. In six months we’ve had to do this once, and it worked fine. Far more important is the need to have our own day-to-day workspaces.

His
His

It is going to work out for the best if you can have your own rooms, or at least work in different parts of the house even if you can’t set up permanent workstations. A closed door says ‘do not disturb’. The preferred setup seems to be for one person to be upstairs and the other one downstairs. If one of you is a “keyboard-thumper” it might be best for them to be on the ground floor.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have to work in the same room, let alone at the same desk. I did speak to one freelancer recently who told me she likes to take her laptop into the room where her partner is working because she likes to be close to him. Let’s just say that wouldn’t work for me.

Tips from others who do share a room include having separate desks if possible, particularly if your other half is a “violent writer” who shakes the desk; not using a round table because two laptops don’t fit that shape very well; going into another room for phone calls, and “pretending the other one isn’t there – no eye contact, no friendly chat, no cat videos”. No cat videos?!!

Lunchtime
When we started working from home together, he was ready for lunch at midday. I like to hang on until 12.30, if not 1pm. So we started doing our own thing when we were ready, and have generally carried on like that, not meeting up much for lunch. I like to use the time away from my desk to sit in the kitchen, listen to the radio and catch up on Twitter; he’s more likely to put the TV on in the living room. We’ll occasionally make a date and go to our local cafe for lunch on a Friday but invariably one of us has to get back for a meeting.

Others seem to enjoy meeting up for lunch to catch up, and deciding early in the morning who’s on lunch duty is one freelancer’s tip.

Hers
Hers

What happens about tea and coffee in the morning and afternoon? If I want a cuppa, I’ll offer him one, and vice versa, but we don’t automatically make the other a drink. If you’re the person closest to the kitchen, do you do the tea-making, or do you use it as a chance to get some steps in if you’re the one further away? (The same question to the person closest to the printer – do you deliver printouts to your partner, or let them come and pick them up? We have two printers!)

Hours 
Much as it’s important to respect each other’s space, it’s a good idea to agree on the working hours you’ll keep and define when the end of the workday will be. I’m a flexible freelancer so often start working at 7.30am, take a break to go to a gym class, then come back and work through until about 5 or 6pm. He is bound to central European office hours, so can’t just nip out. The key thing is that we have both generally finished work for the day by about 6pm and then do our best to shut work out. If you don’t disturb each other during working hours, whatever those are, you will have a productive day.

Being able to switch off from work is easier to do if you keep your work stuff out of living areas. Having two offices, we don’t have much of an issue with this (unless you look in our garage, which is more like his company storeroom. The less said about that, the better.), but if one of you works at the kitchen table during the day, it’s a good idea to clear work away in the evening so you’re not tempted back to it, and so you can keep a clear work/home separation.

Other tips that were offered during the planning stage of this post, and from my own experience, include the following …

  • If your partner is having a bad day, show some empathy. It’ll be your turn next.
  • If you’re the one having a bad day, consider going out to give the other one some peace and quiet.
  • Communicate via email if you want to ask the other person something so they can answer when they’re ready, rather than shouting up the stairs and disturbing them.
  • If one of you is a hot body, but the other someone who feels the cold, get a heater for the cold one’s room. It will save you both battling over the thermostat.
  • Have a night out separately each week so you don’t get totally sick of each other.
  • If it’s not working out, or for a change of scene/company, consider booking into a co-working space for a while.

Can you offer any other tips? Add them in the Comments.

ELT freelance rates

ELT FREelance rates

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.

Vitamin CPD

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is the term used to describe the learning activities professionals engage in to develop and enhance their abilities.

The CPD Certification Service

Although CPD is a term I’ve only picked up on relatively recently, when I worked in-house as an editor and project manager it was part of the deal so didn’t need a label. I had the opportunity to attend conferences, training sessions on any new software I was expected to use, refreshers for best editorial practice, and various improve-your-productivity days. And it didn’t cost me anything more than a few hours away from my desk. As time passed, I became increasingly aware of, and responsible for, training budgets, but the money wasn’t coming out of my pocket or my salary, so I made the most of whatever was available for myself and my team.

Now I’m a freelancer and have to find, and fund, my own development opportunities, so everything must be a bit more considered in terms of time and cost commitments. I thought I’d take a post to conREMAIN CURIOUS AND KEEP LEARNINGsider the options for your next dose of vitamin CPD.

Let’s start with the most costly. Conferences are often two or three days long and some distance away. That’s several days’ lost income, plus travel, subsistence and accommodation expenses, and not forgetting any additional childcare costs or calling in of favours from family and friends to meet all your commitments while you’re away. But consider the benefits of learning new skills, making new contacts and catching up with others, and finding out what’s happening in your industry, and the costs might just be outweighed. This year I’ll be going to the IATEFL conference to catch up with the latest in the ELT industry, and the SfEP conference to see what’s happening in the editing world. I’ve planned for both well ahead of time, have told clients I’ll be away, and will keep the weeks either side of both conferences fairly free for getting ahead/catching up with work.

If getting to major conferences like these isn’t an option, check to see if they are live-streamed or recorded so you can catch up later. IATEFL Online is a great way of watching some of the sessions live from that conference. Also look out for Twitter hashtags and follow them to find out what’s happening either at the time or from the comfort of your sofa after a day at your desk.

There’s also the day conference option – either attending a single day of a longer conference – or going to events that only last a day, often at a weekend so there’s no need to miss a day’s work (although there may be other implications for family matters, etc.). You may still have travel costs, but again, consider the benefits like networking. I’ve already been to three day events this year: the ELT Freelancers’ Awayday (I organised that one), the MaWSIG conference, and The Enterprise Network’s Women In Business event. These events have given me a good mix of specialised and general input – and a wide range of sandwich fillings and biscuits. (Tip: take your own lunch to any event if you’re concerned about healthy eating.) Any events like this will be live-tweeting with a hashtag, so all is not lost if you’re not there in person.

What about going on a course to brush up or learn a new skill? Check out your local adult education college for a huge variety of subjects (I’ve recently done an eight-hour WordPress course for £75 at mine), the more costly but highly focused Publishing Training Centre, a local enterprise network, or an independent supplier. The most useful session I’ve done since going freelance was a morning learning about Twitter. Spending a small amount of time and money to learn the basics and a few tips has saved me hours in the long run. A quick online search ought to sort you out with whatever you’re looking for.

One online course supplier I’ve used on several occasions is Lynda.com. You can get a free 10-day trial of any of their courses – ranging from business, to tech, to something you haven’t even thought of yet – then follow them in your own time. If you know what you want to learn, YouTube might be a good first port of call before you go to a paid service like Lynda.com. I’ve learnt some nifty Excel tips, eyeliner application pointers, and how to empty the grey water tank on a motorhome from vloggers there. Not all strictly CPD, but you get the idea.

In a similar vein is the webinar. Look out for topics related to your area of expertise advertised on social media or through professional memberships. I’ve watched some great IATEFL webinars in the last few months, some social media-related things from Socially Sorted, ELTjam’s LX for ELT webinar (link to replay here), and Dr Freelance and Laura Poole talking about getting the work–life balance right. Webinars usually offer an opportunity to ask questions and interact with the speaker more than you can with something like the Lynda.com courses, and are an excellent way of getting some CPD from the comfort of your own home. Look out for replays if you can’t make the live dates, although some are limited-time only, so don’t delay too long.

While we’re talking about online delivery, have you listened to any podcasts as part of your CPD? I recently met coach Ruby McGuire at a networking meeting and heard her mention her Rock Your Fabulous Biz podcast so went off to iTunes to check that out. It’s important to factor time into your schedule for CPD, but I find listening to a couple of podcasts while I’m out for a walk gets two things done at the same time. Download some for the next time you’re in the car/on a train and reach your destination with some new ideas to follow up when you get home.

What haven’t I mentioned yet? Blogs. The best are those that give you some content that leaves you thinking when you’ve finished reading. My current regular work-related reads are the SfEP blog, Louise Harnby’s Proofreader’s Parlour and the Copyediting blog.

Forums. Got a question that you want expert help with, or some suggestions for further reading on a topic? Post on a group forum (or, similar, in a LinkedIn group or on a Facebook group or page), and you could have your answer in minutes.

Books. Whether a print copy for your reference shelf, or an eBook for your Kindle library, a new book is a sure way of learning something new.

Leave a comment and tell me what you’ve learnt lately, and which are your favourite ways of learning as a freelancer.