How to Estimate Freelance Editing Project Rates and Timelines: A Comprehensive Walkthrough

editorial business topics

Hey there, fellow editor! If you've ever found yourself puzzled about how to estimate freelance editing project rates and timelines, you're in the right place. I’m about to demystify the entire process, breaking it down into easy-to-understand steps. I'll even walk you through an example featuring Delilah, an experienced editor, to show you how it's done in real life. So, grab your calculator and let's get started!

Step 1: The Importance of a Sample Edit

First things first: you'll want to start with a sample edit. This is a crucial step when you're figuring out how to estimate freelance editing project rates and timelines, especially for line editing, copyediting, or proofreading projects. Aim for a sample size of 250 to 500 words, remembering that 250 words equals a standard page in publishing. If you're working on a particularly complex or nuanced manuscript, you might even consider stretching that to 1,000 words.

Why is this so crucial? Think of the sample edit as a first date with the manuscript. Even if you don’t share your sample edit with the client, this is your opportunity to assess compatibility, get a feel for the depth of work required, and most importantly, gauge the project's scope and time requirements.

Pro Tip: Always request to see the client's entire manuscript or document, not just a random section they provide. This allows you to choose a section from the middle of the document for your sample edit, which is often where the writing starts to unravel. This can give you a more accurate sense of the work involved.

Step 2: Crunching the Numbers to Calculate Your Quote—Including Overhead

Once you've completed the sample edit, it's time to dive into the math. Don't worry; it's not as intimidating as it sounds. Here are the basic formulas you'll need:

1. Words Per Hour: Words in sample ÷ Time for sample in hours 

2. Total Estimated Hours: Total word count ÷ Words per hour

3. Total Estimated Cost: Total estimated hours × Your desired hourly rate

Pro Tip: Most editors make the mistake of stopping here, but the estimated cost should never be the final number you present to the client. First, you need to add a percentage on top to cover your overhead: think business expenses such as software, hardware, office supplies, as well as non-billable hours spent on marketing, admin tasks, and other business-related activities that don't directly generate income.

To accurately account for your overhead, add these two additional steps:

4. Overhead: Total estimated cost × 0.10 (this example uses 10%, but you'll need to calculate the percentage based on your specific needs)

5. Final Project Rate: Overhead + Total estimated cost

Why is this so important? Because if you only consider your desired hourly rate for the project, without factoring in your business expenses and non-billable time, you'll find that you're not actually earning enough to sustain your business in the long run. So, to get a true project rate, add a percentage on top. Anywhere from 10 to 15 percent should suffice if you're just getting started, and as you get more familiar with your financials, you'll want to adjust this percentage as needed.

Step 3: Comparing Your Quote with Past Projects

After you've calculated your initial quote and estimated hours, it's crucial to compare these figures with similar past projects. This step is often overlooked, but it's a goldmine of information. It allows you to adjust your quote based on real-world data, taking into account any variables or distractions that might have influenced the sample edit.

If you've been diligent about keeping records of past projects, this step becomes a breeze. You can easily compare how much you quoted, how long the project actually took you, and make data-driven adjustments to your current quote. This ensures that your quote is not just a theoretical number but grounded in practical experience.

Pro Tip: Keep a detailed record of past projects, including the time taken and the rates charged. This historical data can be invaluable when estimating new projects. 

Step 4: Scheduling and Adding a Buffer

Now that you've got your numbers sorted, it's time to consult your schedule. Look for your first available slot and set an appropriate deadline based on your estimated hours.

Pro Tip: Always give yourself a buffer of at least a few days to complete the project, even if you think you can finish it in less time. Why? Because life happens. You might get sick, face unexpected personal commitments, or even encounter unforeseen challenges with the document itself. Having a buffer gives you the flexibility to adapt without compromising the deadline. It's better to under-promise and over-deliver than to find yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to ask for an extension. For large projects, I build in a seven-day buffer.

Step 5: Communicating the Quote and Timeline to the Client

Once you've done all the legwork, it's time to present your quote and timeline to the potential client. This is your opportunity to shine, so make sure your proposal is detailed, professional, and transparent. Outline the scope of work, your estimated hours, the total project rate, and the timeline. The more comprehensive your proposal, the more confidence the lead will have in your abilities and professionalism, and the better chance you'll have at converting them into a paying client. 

Pro Tip: Consider using professional proposal and contract software like Dubsado or PandaDoc to make a lasting impression on leads and win more projects. These platforms offer customizable templates that allow you to present your quote in a polished, professional manner and make signing your contract simple.

Step 6: Setting Daily Editing Goals

Congratulations, the client has accepted your proposal! Now it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of planning your daily editing goals. This involves setting milestones based on the total manuscript and your estimated hours. These daily goals act as your roadmap, ensuring you stay on track and meet your deadline. They also give you a sense of accomplishment as you tick off each milestone, making the project feel less overwhelming.

Pro Tip: Use a project management tool like or a simple spreadsheet to track your daily editing goals and overall progress. This will help you stay organized and make it easier to adjust your schedule if needed.

Delilah's Example: A Comprehensive Walkthrough

Let's bring all these steps to life with an example featuring Delilah, an experienced editor. She has a potential new line editing project: an 88,000-word science fiction novel. She starts by doing a 250-word sample edit, which takes her 8 minutes (or 0.133 hours, calculated by dividing 8 by 60).

Here's how she calculates her quote:

  1. Words Per Hour: 250 ÷ 0.133 = 1,875
  2. Estimated Total Hours: 88,000 ÷ 1,875 = 47
  3. Estimated Total Cost: 47 × $50 = $2,350
  4. Overhead: $2,350 × 0.10 = $235
  5. Final Project Rate: $2,350 + $235 = $2,585

After crunching the numbers and reviewing her schedule, Delilah believes she can complete the manuscript in just over two weeks (16 days). She sends the client a detailed proposal that includes the project rate and a three-week timeline (since she always adds a buffer).

Using her internal calculation that she can likely complete this book in 16 days, Delilah calculates that she needs to edit approximately 5,500 words per day to meet her deadline. She schedules these daily goals into her calendar, ensuring she stays on track. She also sets reminders to review her progress at the end of each week, allowing her to make any necessary adjustments to her schedule. If she ends up needing more time, that final buffer week will be her safety net.

And there you have it! You're now well equipped with the tools and knowledge you need on how to estimate freelance editing project rates and timelines. So go out and tackle those quotes with newfound confidence and precision. May your projects be fulfilling, your estimates accurate, and your professional journey prosperous. Happy editing!


Are You Charging What You're Worth?

New to editorial freelancing and feeling like you need to learn all the things? Overwhelmed with projects but not making enough money? Forgoing breaks and vacation time to meet deadlines? My free, 9-lesson course gives you actionable ways to find your ideal freelance rates, say goodbye to the hustle, and build a profitable business that energizes you.