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Thread poster: Robert Forstag
Rates for content editing/rewriting of English text needing major revision
Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:22
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
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Dec 19, 2009

When I say "major revision," I mean text that has either been produced by a non-native speaker, or text that, in relation to the level required, is markedly substandard (e.g., a Ph.D. dissertation written in English that might be considered acceptable by an average 10 year-old child).

To be taken into consideration in quoting on such projects are the comments that inevitably need to be made to justify drastic corrections, as well as the questions that need to be addressed to the client for purposes of clarifications, the exchange of e-mails attendant on dealing with such issues, etc.

Based on my experience and charges, I would say that $35-$60 per hour is an acceptable range for such work, with $35 representing a bargain rate and anything below $35 substandard.

I would be interested and grateful to read others' thoughts on this, particularly from those of you who have actually done such work.

[Edited at 2009-12-20 16:49 GMT]


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:22
Member (2003)
German to English
Basically a sound call Dec 19, 2009


Robert Forstag wrote:
Based on my experience and charges, I would say that $35-$60 per hour is an acceptable range for such work, with $35 representing a bargain rate and anything below $35 substandard.


I would tend to add 50% to each end of the range, but that's mostly a matter of the current exchange rate. If you had expressed yourself in euros, I would agree for my local market in any case and suggest moving to the high end of the range or beyond if the deadlines involved or the stress due to quality issues are above what would be considered normal.

Consider all the time involved, including communication and note writing. If the author or ordering party insists on detailed justifications (basically wants an English lesson), let them have these at proper cost.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:22
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Thank you, Kevin Dec 19, 2009

As always, your comments are most enlightening.


A stark reality of this level of work when it comes to projects such as dissertations written by non-native speakers is that, even in a best-case scenario, you do not receive truly just compensation. Take the case of a 150,000-word dissertation that requires major correction, interaction with the author to resolve issues, etc. Such work might involve 300 hours of actual labor. At a "rock-bottom" rate of $30/hour, this would mean a total cost of $9000. Yet many persons--even those desperate to get their doctoral degrees--would balk at such a cost (and may in fact simply be unable to pay it).

So it becomes an issue of what is minimally acceptable to you, your circumstances of the moment, the ability to accept other work while dealing with such a bear of a project, etc.

Very interesting blog, by the way (and one which I intend to explore further when I have more time).

Happy holidays to you and to all!

[Edited at 2009-12-19 17:49 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:22
Member (2007)
English
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hourly rates are fairly fixed, surely Dec 19, 2009


Robert Forstag wrote:
Based on my experience and charges, I would say that $35-$60 per hour is an acceptable range for such work, with $35 representing a bargain rate and anything below $35 substandard.


Surely, an hourly rate is an hourly rate. It only varies if you think the buyer may be prepared to pay more than your normal rate.

What surely changes is the number of words you can expect to edit in an hour. If the text is good, then you can obviously zip through at a fast rate; if the text is as you describe then it needs a major rewrite and that takes a lot of time.


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Laurie Price  Identity Verified
Mexico
Spanish to English
+ ...
I frequently do this kind of work-- ESL editing -- and Dec 19, 2009

I tend to say 32 euros and up per hour, depending on the level of correction required.

These kinds of documents tend to be written very unevenly, with some pages needing only minimal or basic correction -- oftentimes a good number of those pages before suddenly coming to a few pages that are practically stuttering and need to be completely rewritten.
On some occasions I've worked on documents written by multiple authors (all collaborating on the same document) that have been full of surprises -- 8 good pages, 3 awful pages, 5 so-so pages, 1 wonderful page, etc.

For that reason, it's very useful to have quoted your price as "and up per hour, ..."

It IS a lot of work, but as a writer and editor, I have to admit that I find it very satisfying to effect such substantial improvement.

In dollars, I think that $35.- per hour is a bit on the low side. ESL editing can end up being substantive editing and should be renumerated.

All best!


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Laurie Price  Identity Verified
Mexico
Spanish to English
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perdona! remunerated! Dec 19, 2009

x

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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:22
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@Sheila: I do not think that the hourly rate is a constant Dec 20, 2009

Thanks for your response. I would somewhat disagree that an hourly rate is a constant. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two factors--rush deadline and difficulty/unpleasantness of the work--that might impact on hourly rate. Perhaps most importantly, there is also--as I think you allude to--the tradeoff between rates asked and the maximum the client is willing to pay for a given project. As I mention in my previous post, I have had situations where a client was not able to pay what I felt the job to be done was worth, but where I nonetheless took the project on because I needed work/money at that particular time. Then there is the contrary circumstance where the need is not so great, and therefore where I have not been willing to work for a rate falling below my preferred range. I think most of us have been on both sides of that equation....

I suspect that there are a good many "heavy editing" jobs where whatever the contractor earns is considerably less than what his or her labor is worth: not because of any conspiracy or disrespect, but because the client is simply unprepared--or unable--to pay what would truly represent an equitable rate.

Rewriting is often very difficult work indeed. It can sometimes be a good deal more difficult than translating.

[Edited at 2009-12-20 01:32 GMT]


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:22
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@Laurie: Then again, there are other kinds of situations.... Dec 20, 2009


Laurie Price wrote:

It IS a lot of work, but as a writer and editor, I have to admit that I find it very satisfying to effect such substantial improvement.



Thanks for your reply.

I would agree that there is a satisfying feeling when you can heal a lame piece of writing. Unfortunately, there are some circumstances where what you are starting out with is so essentially deficient that the most prodigious efforts will be incapable of transforming water into wine. Instead, the goal becomes more to purify the bilge in order to make the water drinkable.

And in those cases, I would have to say that any sense of satisfaction is really somewhat muted....





[Edited at 2009-12-20 01:33 GMT]


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:22
Member (2003)
German to English
Stark realities Dec 20, 2009

I have yet to see a 150,000 word thesis; so far they have been rather more modest in scope, though depending on the author's situation I can see that costs might be an issue. Not as often as I have expected, however. In recent years, we've done quite a few MBA theses or similar, and the authors placed enough importance on the professional value of their work that they were willing to pay rates for editing or translation that were right up there with well-funded direct clients in industry.

The stark reality is that education is expensive today, and if the candidate wants to enjoy the benefit of professional work that he or she cannot produce independently, there is the stark reality of the going rate to be paid. I will not for a moment entertain the idea of taking on a project like that at a low rate and turning down better work. Even if I find the thesis fascinating, value is value and there is no reason to practice charity here. If I want to do that I'll go give platelets at my local blood bank or fund a village school somewhere.

If you're about to miss the next house payment and there isn't much on the horizon, then you do what you must, but most of the time a sober, carefully presented offer detailing the value to be delivered will achieve what you want or set the stage for something good in the future. If you don't do so already, hang out a bit on the blogs and forums for freelance writers, guys & gals who do all kinds of copy for hire. You'll find that the high end of what you suggested is not really considered a stellar rate. I don't remember anything specific about editing, but you might ask there.

The two qualified ladies I know in England who work exclusively as monolingual editors charge something like GBP 30 for ordinary stuff, and they are cheap.


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:22
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
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I need some education Dec 20, 2009


Robert Forstag wrote:

Based on my experience and charges, I would say that $35-$60 per hour is an acceptable range for such work, with $35 representing a bargain rate and anything below $35 substandard.



Hi Robert,

To me, an hourly rate has nothing to do with the difficulty level or complexity of the project. A difficult task does require more time, for which you can quote more hours. But the hourly rate should always be a fixed amount.

Can you educate me on the rationale behind your arguement?



[Edited at 2009-12-20 09:36 GMT]


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:22
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@JYuan Dec 20, 2009

Hi JYuan,

The first part of the answer to your question is that it is very common to charge "rush rates" for work that must be completed within a very tight time frame, and "weekend rates" for work that has to be completed over a weekend. So, right off the bat, there are two circumstances that would increase the normal hourly rate.

Then, in my view, the hourly rate could also vary depending on the inherent difficulty of the task at hand. Let's look at this within an editing context. Think of the headaches involved in editing a document produced by a non-native speaker that might require 20 minutes just to disentangle a single sentence, e-mails requesting clarification, perhaps even having to research matters of fact on the internet. Then think of editing a document that is essentially in good shape and that simply requires some correction of phrasing hear and there. Now think about spending 3 full days on each kind of document.

Would not the first circumstance involve more arduous work, and therefore merit higher compensation?

An analogy might be with a bricklayer required to work with much heavier bricks than normal and with a mortar that emitted a noxious odor. If he had to work under these conditions, he would likely charge more money for his labor.

I hope this helps!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:22
Member (2007)
English
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work is work - accept it and be paid or refuse it Dec 20, 2009


Robert Forstag wrote:
I would somewhat disagree that an hourly rate is a constant. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two factors--rush deadline and difficulty/unpleasantness of the work--that might impact on hourly rate.


I agree that my hourly rate is somewhat dependent on whether I actively want and/or need the job, as opposed to "well, I suppose I can fit it in". However, it's never more (or less) than 20% away from my normal rate.


Perhaps most importantly, there is also--as I think you allude to--the tradeoff between rates asked and the maximum the client is willing to pay for a given project.


Actually, what I was referring to was a client who I believe might be prepared to pay more than my normal going rate. If the client cannot pay my rate (and I am not prepared to lower it) then the client will have to go elsewhere. Lowering my hourly rate, then charging an increased number of hours, is not my way of working.


I suspect that there are a good many "heavy editing" jobs where whatever the contractor earns is considerably less than what his or her labor is worth


That doesn't sound as though it has anything to do with hourly rate, but poor estimation of the time required. For me, the two are (almost) entirely separate. The hourly rate is the amount you need to earn for one hour's work to show a profit and earn your living. The time required for the job is the real variable in the equation and yes, I agree that that can be very difficult to estimate. But I don't see that quoting 1.5 times normal hourly rate helps at all.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:22
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Spanish to English
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@Sheila: Point of clarification Dec 20, 2009

I never meant to imply--and I don't think I did imply--that one should play games with the hourly rate in order to end up with a bottom-line figure that is acceptable or optimal. Yet this indeed is what you seem to imply when you write the following:


...what I was referring to was a client who I believe might be prepared to pay more than my normal going rate .

What does that mean? That you charge *more" than you think your work is worth if someone has plenty of money? This I don't get.

Other than that, I salute you if you are consistently in a position where you never have to accept less than what you think your labor is worth. I am not always in such a fortunate position. And I suspect that many others are not either....


[Edited at 2009-12-20 16:39 GMT]


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:22
Member (2003)
German to English
Why not? Dec 20, 2009


Robert Forstag wrote:

...what I was referring to was a client who I believe might be prepared to pay more than my normal going rate .

What does that mean? That you charge *more" than you think you your worth is work if someone has plenty of money? This I don't get.



I would scratch out your "you think you your worth is work" (presumably intended as "what you think your work is worth") and write in "your usual rate" and respond "heck, yes!"

This is one of those basic strategies for improving one's rates in what may otherwise be a static market: identify clients who are well-funded and charge them a better rate. Quite a reasonable thing to do, really. Higher rates are often accompanied by higher priority or greater willingness to allocate capacity, "extras" that one can afford to create because there is less economic pressure (extras like customer glossaries where none exised before often go over very well). If one is in the "fast food translator" class and wants to graduate to something less stressful and better compensated, with a corresponding higher level of service, this is one road to take.

Also with regard to variable hourly rates: I think it is reasonable to demand more per hour for work which will produce higher levels of fatigue and make me less able to use the remaining hours of the day productively. Although I hate reviewing and usually turn it down, there are a few colleagues (some here on ProZ) whose work is simply so good that it is a pleasure to read, and any problems are quickly identified and corrected. I can edit their work for three hours and have a clear, rested mind to continue with other things. I have seen botched work, on the other hand, where the density of errors is so great that it's like untangling a huge snarl of yarn full of thorns and burrs. After an hour of that I have to take a nap for the next two hours. So the latter will in fact cost more in the unlikely event I agree to mess with it (which will probably only be for a case of dispute resolution - usually I would just insist on retranslating such a botched job).

[Edited at 2009-12-20 15:53 GMT]


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:22
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Spanish to English
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@Kevin: There is an hour--and then there is *an hour* Dec 20, 2009

Once again, your points are solid, but in the scenario you intially describe in your last post, you are "adding value" and therefore your higher-paid work (with all the extras of added glossaries, higher levels of care and attention, or whatever) is indeed worth more.

As regards differential rates for work producing "higher levels of fatigue," you capture exactly what I am referring to. It truly is exhausting to edit a text by (taking a worst-case scenario) a non-native speaker whose command of the language is so poor that a prodigious amount of educated guessing--supplemented by a flurry of clarifying e-mail exchanges--is necessary to just get a few pages of text into decent shape. In this regard, I think my analogy with the bricklayer in a previous post in this thread is particularly apt.

So, in other words, we can agree that an hour is not an hour is not an hour.

One other thought that has occurred to me is that--when cases permit it--a tradeoff can be worked out with a client whereby a very relaxed deadline is exchanged for a somewhat reduced rate on a longish project (a tactic that would perhaps work best with material that is very time-consuming and tedious, but not especially difficult). In this way, the project in question can serve as a kind of "filler" during slow periods without becoming the overwhelming burden it would most definitely be were completion required within a more compressed time frame.

[Edited at 2009-12-20 16:45 GMT]


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Rates for content editing/rewriting of English text needing major revision







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