If You Want an Editor, Prepare to Pay

It’s a pretty short topic this week, but one that I see coming up in a number of the communities that I’m in…how to hire an editor. Now, the full topic on how to hire someone is something to go into more in depth later, but for today, I’m going to explain the nuts and bolts of why editors can be so expensive…and why you should be wary of cheap ones!

So here it is: outside of how “good” an editor is (which can be hard to quantify), there are two elements to the fee that they will charge you: they will want to charge a sensible hourly rate, times the number of hours it takes to edit your project. Let’s start with the hours, since that’s more straightforward.

I find that on average, it takes about four hours to edit a finished hour of audio. If I’m assembling it into a podcast, or adding music or doing a lot of post-processing, then I’ve had that climb as high as eight hours per finished hour. Yes, it takes that long, and no, most people don’t even notice it when they’re doing it themselves. Anyway, as a general rule, I charge for four hours editing per finished hour of audio, for a simple project.

But then we get to the part about the rate. This part is notoriously difficult to pin down because what freelancers charge as an hourly rate can vary wildly, and is dependent on a number of variables you will probably never be privy to. But here’s something to consider. In the United States, the living wage for a family of four is $15.84 an hour. So you should expect a US-based freelancer to charge around that much as a bare minimum. For a one-hour podcast, that works out to more than $60 per episode. In reality, it should be much higher, since the living wage is based on a 40-hour work week and freelancers rarely reach 40 hours of true work. Long story short, I would be suspicious about the amount of care and time a freelancer would take on my project if they were charging less than $60 for a one-hour podcast episode.

But here’s the problem: if you do a quick search on a freelancing website like Upwork, you’ll find a number of listings significantly lower than that. Here are some reasons you may want to avoid them:

  • Many low-price listings come from freelancers for whom English is not their first language. That could hinder their ability to understand your project, and to take direction from you if you need to.
  • Low-price listings also frequently denote a new user with little experience or someone who is unable to pull more lucrative jobs because of their standard of work.
  • A fee that is very low is probably unsustainable. If you want to have a relationship with your editor and have them grow with you, you want to ensure that they are compensated fairly for their time. If you are paying well below a living wage, expect that they will trade up or just give up eventually.

Of course, I have to give a huge caveat and say that despite these warning signs, you could find a diamond in the rough. Even I didn’t charge very much when I was starting out!

Overall, my point is this: pay your editor well. It will serve you well in the long run. BUT, if you can’t afford to, there may be alternatives, and this is speaking particularly to podcasters…

If you just really hate editing, I have a few tips to make the process easier:

Tip #1

Reformat your show. A well-structured show will often deliver the same content in less time. Consider whether you could structure your show into half an hour instead of an hour. That would save you a good couple hours’ editing time. And since most listeners listen for content, not time, you *could* still have the same impact.

Tip #2

Relax the standards you set for how your podcast should sound. Do you edit out every single “ummm”? Do you obsessively remove every breath sound? These are things that many listeners don’t actually notice, even if to you it sounds like nails on a chalkboard. I went into the “ummm” thing in more detail back in my October 11th episode, so please go and have a listen if you want a more detailed explanation.

But back to the tip…By relaxing the standards that you set for yourself, you might find that you dramatically cut down the editing time. When you stop to listen to a cut three times every couple of seconds…that really adds up!

Tip #3

Spend time up front training yourself. Make a conscious effort to get into good habits with the way you talk. Focusing on best practice for a few episodes will help get rid of a ton of “ummms” and it’ll even get you thinking about how to get around flubs in a way that makes it easier on your editor (aka YOU). Again, I’ll go into more detail on some of my best practices in a future episode.

So that’s it. If you’re contemplating getting an editor, please don’t skimp on the fee. It will be worth it in the end (and I’m not just saying that because I’m an editor for hire!). If you have the budget to do it, a good editor will actually do you wonders. But if you really haven’t got the budget, I’d recommend giving cheap editors a pass. There are things you can do to make your own editing easier, and you’ll probably end up with a better product.