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Thanks to the rise in the number of people wanting to work from home, freelance proofreading has become a popular career choice. A lot of people worry about the earning potential though and wonder how much do proofreaders make?
As a seasoned freelance proofreader, I’m going to break down how much a proofreader can earn per year, per hour, and per word and how you can increase your income.
How Much Do Proofreaders Make per Year?
When people ask, “How much money can you make proofreading?” they’re usually looking for an annual salary figure rather than a per hour or per word.
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report from May 2020, the mean annual wage for a proofreader is $44,670. When you look at the percentile wage, it varies quite a bit, with the lowest 10% earning $26,340 and the 90th percentile earning $65,840.
Salary.com reports a higher average proofreader salary in the United States of $53,419 as of May 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $46,875 and $60,996.
ZipRecruiter lists the national average salary of a freelance proofreader as $51, 391, with annual salaries as high as $91,500 and as low as $20,000.
Indeed reports an average base salary of $53,951 as at June 7, 2021.
Payscale reports an average base salary of $46,113 as at May 29, 2021.
As you can see, the average salary varies across each job site. It’s important to note that these sites rely on algorithms and anonymous submissions to calculate their average salaries.
How Much Do Proofreaders Make per Hour?
Average hourly rates for proofreaders vary widely across the various job sites as well.
Salary.com states that the average hourly wage for a proofreader in the United States is $26 as of May 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $23 and $29.
ZipRecruiter reports that the average hourly rate works out to be $24.71.
According to Indeed, the average hourly rate for a proofreader is $22.74 as at June 5, 2021.
Payscale lists the median hourly rate as $18.39, with $11.79 on the lower end and $30.12 on the higher end.
According to Proofreading Academy (whose graduates get guaranteed work with Proofed), an entry-level proofreader can earn $15–$20 per hour with Proofed once they have proofread their first few documents. This can rise to $25–$50 once they have more experience and become more efficient.
Freelance Proofreading Rates
It’s important to note that it’s not entirely clear from many of the above websites whether these average salaries and per hour rates apply to salaried employees or freelance proofreaders.
As such, I researched the main editorial societies to find out what they suggest proofreaders should charge based on surveys they have done of their members.
Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) median rates as at April 2020: $31–45 per hour depending on complexity.
The EFA is the only editing society that breaks down how much proofreaders charge per word. As you can see from the image above, it varies depending on the niche and complexity of the document, as does the average page speed. If you are proofreading fiction or nonfiction, you might charge around $.02–$.029/wd. Medical/STEM and business documents are more complex, so you might charge around $.03–$.039/wd and $.04–$.049/wd respectively for those.
Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders (CIEP) suggested minimum rates as at 1 March 2021: £25.70 per hour (approx. $36.35)
Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders, and Indexers of Ireland (AFEPI) recommended minimum rates as at March 2017: Proofreading or light copy-editing: €25–€35 per hour (approx $30.43–$42.60)
IPEd in Australia provides average figures based on experience level, but it doesn’t mention proofreading specifically; instead stating that the figures are for self-employed editors.
Editors Canada also provides some interesting guidance on what editors charge but stops short of providing actual figures.
How Much Money Can You Make Proofreading?
I’ve thrown a lot of figures at you now, so let’s put this information into a table so we can get an overview of how much proofreaders get paid:
|Average Proofreader Earnings|
|Avg Salary||Per Hour|
*The CIEP and AFEPI figures were in sterling and euro respectively, so I have converted them into USD for ease of comparison.
**The rate depends on level of experience and efficiency.
Should I Charge per Word, per Page, or per Hour?
It’s completely up to you how you decide to charge, and if you choose not to show your rates on your website, you can decide on a case-by-case basis which one suits the job.
Personally, I prefer to charge a per word rate for book-length projects or documents with more than 1,000 or 2,000 words because it’s the most straightforward. However, I find a per hour rate works better for very short documents; otherwise you can end up being paid pennies.
One of the downsides to charging a per hour rate for proofreading is that you have to be pretty good at estimating how long a job will take you so you can give the client an idea of how much it will cost them overall. Otherwise, you may have to renegotiate with your client halfway through the job and that might not go down well!
Per page can work well if you’re proofreading in the traditional sense where pages have already been typeset to the standard length of around 250 words per page.
The Hidden Costs of Freelancing
Don’t forget that, as a freelancer, you need to make sure that you’re earning enough to cover your expenses. When you’re a salaried employee, you typically get benefits like healthcare, sick pay, vacation pay, etc. Your employer also typically takes care of making sure your taxes are paid to the government.
As a freelancer, you need to set up and fund all of these things yourself, so you need to make sure that you factor those things in when setting your rates.
It’s also worth noting that editors can typically only edit between four and six hours per day before they start to experience fatigue. As such, they only bill for twenty to thirty hours per week.
You also need to set aside time for admin, marketing, networking, continuous professional development, etc. This time will not be paid. Some editors and proofreaders add 30% when setting their rates to account for the costs of running a business.
Factors That Affect How Much You Earn as a Proofreader
There are several reasons why some proofreaders earn more or less than their colleagues.
If you’re just starting out as a proofreader, you may not have any experience built up yet. As a result, you may wish to charge a slightly lower price in order to get your first few clients. Clients with a lower budget may be happy to work with an inexperienced proofreader.
However, as soon as you have a few jobs under your belt, I recommend raising your prices to industry standard as you deserve to be paid appropriately for your work.
Type of Client
The type of client you work with can have a big effect on how much you earn. If you choose to find work on freelancer websites like Fiverr and Upwork, you can expect to earn a bit less because these clients typically have a smaller budget.
You may also earn less from working with publishing houses compared with self-publishing clients. However, publishing houses will offer more regular work, so it’s about finding the right combination of clients for you.
How Difficult the Subject Matter Is/How Bad the Writing Is
Many editors ask to see a sample of the writing before they provide a quote for the job because it will take longer to edit something that’s badly written, includes a lot of technical jargon, or has a lot of footnotes.
If you have any technical expertise or advanced qualifications like a PhD, you can charge more for the types of jobs that require that.
How to Make More Money Proofreading
Get Retainer Clients
One way to increase your income is to get retainer clients. These are clients who will pay you a set amount of money each month to proofread their content. The benefit of this is that you will have regular work and income and won’t have to market your business as much. One drawback of this arrangement is that you may start to feel more like an employee than a business owner.
Some potential clients who may need to hire you on a monthly basis include full-time bloggers and any business that has a blog or email newsletter that gets published regularly.
Get More Repeat Business
One way to get repeat business is to attract clients that you know publish often.
Publishing houses publish dozens of books every year and hire freelance proofreaders as well as other types of editors. If you can get added to their freelancer pool, you’re almost guaranteed to have a steady stream of work.
However, the pay tends to be slightly lower when you work with book publishers because they put their books through so many rounds of editing, formatting, etc. and need to keep their costs low.
Consider working with self-publishing authors who write a series of books or write in a niche that requires publishing frequently like romance.
Get Referrals from Your Existing Clients
Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get more proofreading clients. People trust their friends and colleagues to only recommend service providers that they like and trust.
To encourage your existing clients to refer you to their writer friends, you could offer a discount on their next proofreading job in return for a referral.
Avoid Freelancer Websites
While freelancer websites like Fiverr and Upwork can be a good place to get some experience, they shouldn’t be the only place you look for proofreading jobs. These websites usually take a large percentage of the fee as their commission. Working with clients directly like self-publishing authors, bloggers, and businesses will allow you to set your own rates and keep all of the profits.
Offer More Services
You may wish to add additional services to increase the number of clients you can work with.
Proofreading and copyediting are similar but there is a distinct difference between them. Copyediting involves editing content at sentence level. Copyeditors check for correctness, accuracy, consistency, and completeness, focusing on fixing mechanical issues like grammar, spelling, and punctuation so readers don’t trip over typos.
Another type of editing you can add to your service offering is developmental editing. Developmental editing involves looking at the big-picture issues like plot, flow, tense, structure, characterization, pace, and point of view rather than details like grammar and punctuation.
If you’re not sure what the difference is, this blog post explains the different types of editing.
To be a good editor, you need to understand good writing, so working as a freelance writer could be a great way to make extra money. There are lots of ways to make money as a writer including the following:
- Writing for newspapers and magazines
- Freelance blogging
If you want to learn more about becoming a freelance writer, check out this free 6-day email course called Get Paid to Write.
Virtual assistants help businesses with a wide variety of tasks including proofreading and writing. As a virtual assistant you can also carry out tasks like the following:
- Handling customer complaints and refund requests
- Writing blog posts
- Proofreading posts
- Formatting and scheduling posts
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Setting up and monitoring social media accounts
- Replying to comments and questions
- Designing graphics
If you want to add virtual assisting to your service offering, check out this Jumpstart Your Virtual Assistant Business guide.
Choose a Different Niche
Your income can vary depending on which niche you choose to work in. Proofreading scientific, technical, or medical writing is more lucrative than other types of writing because of the level of expertise required, so if you have a background in any of these areas, it may be worth highlighting that on your website.
For example, in the table below, ZipRecruiter lists the average proofreader salary as $65,377 for a scientific proofreader. Take note of the other job titles used below when searching for high-paying online proofreading jobs.
Another way to make more money is to proofread longer documents as the word count will obviously be higher and it will take you more hours to complete. For example, you could proofread books instead of blog posts.
How to Find Proofreading Clients
Finding proofreading clients is one of the most daunting things about starting a proofreading business. Very few of us are equipped with the knowledge and confidence to find clients without having to do research first.
If you want to cut your research time in half, check out this course from The Proofreading Business Coach. Elizabeth Wiegner’s Learn How to Get Proofreading Clients course will show you exactly how she gets (and keeps!) her proofreading clients and how you can do the same.