How Much Does (and How Much Should) a Proofreader Cost?
Posted by Jake Magnum | November 6, 2018
The fee you’ll be asked to pay for proofreading services will vary a lot from one proofreader to another. So, how do you avoid overspending while ensuring your proofreader does their job properly?
What “Should” a Proofreader Charge, and Are These Rates Fair?
What is the recommended fee?
A fitting place to start this discussion is with an examination of the rates recommended by two prominent proofreading associations: the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SFEP) and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).
The SFEP suggests that proofreaders charge a minimum of £24.30/hour (about $31.50/hour), which is $11.45/1000 words. The EFA suggests that proofreaders charge $30-$35/hour, or $11.81/1000 words on average. (The conversions to cost/1000 words are based on the EFA’s statement that a proofreader should be able to work at a speed of approximately 2,750 words/hour.)
What does the typical proofreading company charge?
Just because a couple of associations have proposed a certain fee, this doesn’t mean that proofreaders charge this fee.
To see whether the recommended rates are representative of what a writer can expect to pay a proofreader, I searched for “affordable proofreading services” on Google. The top ten ranked companies are listed below, along with the least expensive rate offered by each:
Scribendi – $16.37/1000 words
The Write Proofreader – $14.00/1000 words
Magnum Proofreading – $10.00/1000 words
Cambridge Proofreading – $19.10/1000 words
MadProofingSkills – $20.00/1000 words
HyperGraphix Editing – $17.50/1000 words
PaperBlazer – $20.00/1000 words
Vappingo – $20.00/1000 words
Portland Proof – $7.00/1000 words
Skylight Editorial – $7.00/1000 words
As the list above indicates, one company might charge two or three (or more) times what another charges. Furthermore, some proofreaders (not on this list) charge more than $20.00/1000 words, and you can hire the services of a proofreader on Upwork or Freelancer for as little as $1.00/1000 words. Clearly, the recommended rates are not being used.
Still, from the information we have, we can determine that a high-quality proofreader will cost somewhere between $5.00/1000 words and $20.00/1000 words. We can also notice that it is probably unwise for a writer to pay much more than $12.00/1000 words.
Is the going rate a fair rate?
Based on what the SFEP and EFA advise, along with the rates most proofreaders are charging, a proofreader can easily make twice as much as a beginning independent author makes from their writing and their day job combined. This fact implies that the proofreader is more valuable than the author, and this is a strong indicator that standard proofreading rates are not fair for everyone.
The going rate for a proofreader favors the author who has a lot of money while disregarding the aspiring independent author who is holding down a regular job and using whatever spare time they have to follow their passion. Independent authors work just as hard and can produce writing that is just as good as traditionally published authors, and so they deserve access to the same services. In my opinion, it is not fair that new authors are forced either to pay over $1,000 to have their book proofread or to publish a book that contains errors.
Does Paying More Get You More?
To some extent, the adage “you get what you pay for” rings true when it comes to choosing a proofreader. A proofreader charging around $1.00/1,000 words is probably inexperienced and might not even be a native English speaker. They’re likely charging a low fee because they don’t have many (or any) regular clients yet. Thus, it’s difficult to tell whether they’re any good, and such a proofreader will probably miss some things.
A proofreader’s rates are based on factors other than skill and experience
If a proofreader is charging a rate from which they can make a living, perhaps $12.00/hour or so (which could translate to as little as $4.00/1,000 words), they have probably acquired a solid base of clients who they can count on for regular business, implying that they are skilled. Above this rate, a proofreader’s fees are more indicative of factors besides their skill and experience.
For example, a stay-at-home parent who proofreads to supplement their spouse’s income is under less pressure to charge a high fee than someone who depends on their proofreading income to pay their mortgage. Also, someone who can proofread 3000 words/hour can make the same hourly wage as someone who can proofread 2000 words/hour while charging less per word. Sadly, greed is also a factor; one proofreader might increase their rates so that they can work fewer hours while maintaining their lifestyle, whereas another keeps their rates on the low end so that all authors can benefit from their services.
How much better can one proofreader be than another?
Furthermore, a proofreader is limited in terms of what changes they can and can’t make. Thus, once a proofreader can consistently produce documents with no technical errors, there is little room for improvement.
While an editor will make changes and suggestions based on their expertise and style that another editor might not have made, a proofreader is not given this room to express their creativity (it is not a stylistic choice, for instance, that “recieve” should be spelled “receive”). Once a document contains zero technical errors and perfectly adheres to the appropriate style guide, a proofreader’s job is done.
So, a competent proofreader who makes $15/hour will provide an author with a document that contains zero technical errors, and a competent proofreader who makes $40/hour will also provide an author with a document that contains zero technical errors.
How to Get the Best Value
You don’t want to hire a dead cheap proofreader and then realize that you paid so little because your proofreader wasn’t very good or because they rushed through your document to increase their hourly wage. But you also don’t want to pay $2,000 for a service you could have gotten for $500-$1,000.
As with any purchase, it is possible to find a good bargain on a proofreader if you’re willing to do some research. If I were looking for a proofreader, I would approach my decision of who to hire similarly to how I would go about buying a fancy shirt. Here are the steps I would take:
1) Find several proofreaders who might be worth hiring
This is like going into a clothing store and grabbing a few shirts that I think would look good on me. I wouldn’t consider buying a shirt with a huge hole in it. Similarly, I wouldn’t pursue hiring a proofreader who has poorly written content on their site, a blog that hasn’t been updated in a long time, or other “holes.”
2) Get free samples from proofreaders who seem qualified
A proofreader who doesn’t offer free samples is like a clothing store that doesn’t have a fitting room. While I could buy a shirt without trying it on and be satisfied with my purchase, I am less likely to be disappointed if I know it fits well before I buy it. In the same way, I wouldn’t recommend hiring a proofreader without getting a sample first.
3) Eliminate proofreaders who return unsatisfactory samples
A proofreader who returns a subpar sample is like a shirt that doesn’t fit right or that doesn’t look as good on me as I thought it would. These proofreaders can go back on the rack.
4) Compare the prices of the remaining options
Ideally, I would have received a few samples that contain zero errors. The proofreaders who returned these samples are the two or three shirts that I am considering buying after trying several on. If I’ve decided that I like these shirts equally but need only one, I would obviously buy whichever one is the best deal. I would make my final decision on a proofreader in the same way; out of all the good ones, I would hire whoever is the least expensive.
To sum this up, you shouldn’t simply find the cheapest proofreader you can and trust them to do an adequate job, nor should you pay a proofreader $30/hour and assume that they must be great at what they do because they charge so much (even if they are great, you’ll be overpaying). The best strategy is to find several highly skilled proofreaders and choose the least expensive among them.
If you’re an aspiring author, I hope the information given here will help you make an informed decision when the time comes to hire a proofreader. If you know any aspiring authors, please share this article with them. I know some independent authors who have been burned by expensive proofreaders who did not take their job seriously, and I hate to see that kind of thing happen.