A couple of weeks ago, I received this question:
I’m desperate for some good information here. I’m dealing with an editor who is asking me to sign a contract with a percentage of my future sales as part of the deal. I have never heard of this. Is this actually legit? She’s asking for 10%.
Further questioning revealed that the editor was also asking for $75 per hour.
My instinct, based on everything I’ve read and heard: No, this is not legit–for editing work, anyway–and it’s pretty damn greedy, too.
For one thing, $75 per hour seems steep, even for heavy developmental editing (my correspondent didn’t say what kind of editing was being proposed). For another, while ghostwriters sometimes ask for a royalty stake in addition to a fee, freelance editors typically charge only a fee for the work they do.
See, for instance, what the Editorial Freelancers Association, a professional organization for US-based freelancers, deems common editorial rates. The UK’s Society for Editors and Proofreaders also suggests minimum editing rates. Writers’ Market provides an in-depth look at editing rates, and here’s what the Editors Association of Canada has to say. Whether they suggest that editors charge by the hour, by the word or page, or by the project, none of these resources advise freelance editors to demand a share of the author’s future sales.
There’s nothing like getting information directly from the source, though. So I posted a question on Twitter:
Question for freelance editors: what do you think of editor charging hourly fee + % of book sales? Think I know, but checking. Pls RT
— Victoria Strauss (@victoriastrauss) February 18, 2016
I quickly received replies. Several of the editors I heard from didn’t want to be publicly quoted, but their responses were similar to these:
@victoriastrauss I dislike that immediately. I charge an hourly or per-word rate, since I believe royalties are for creators.
— Tam MacNeil (@TamMacNeil) February 18, 2016
@victoriastrauss Nope. I really don’t like the idea of a portion of my income being dependent on the author’s ability to sell the book.
— Holly Evans (@ShadowChaosFox) February 18, 2016
@victoriastrauss I charge per word. Charging by the hour seems too open to abuse. Have never heard of anyone charging on the % of sales.
— s.a.meade/author (@kestrelrising) February 18, 2016
@victoriastrauss Greedy and unethical. Royalties? No, unless they’re ghostwriting. I charge by page, $4-6 depending on variables.
— Richard Thomas (@wickerkat) March 19, 2016
There you have it. If you run across a freelance editor who wants to stake a claim on your future sales, run away. (And watch out for overcharging, too.)