Thanks again for your thoughts, MJS. You ask about pay and other specifics in my line of work. To answer your first question, I work directly with writers rather than with journals, because journals have no incentive to provide copyediting for submissions on their own dime. Journal editors generally focus mostly on stuff like formatting, while it’s the responsibility of the writer to seek and pay for their own copyediting. My work, then, is about making the research “readable” so that it has a passing chance at being accepted for publication, or so that it will pass a thesis or dissertation committee’s review. It’s very rewarding, but it can also be very high-stress, particularly because most writers don’t realize how much work their writing needs, and when they’ve been trying to “perfect” it until the eleventh hour, that leaves me with even less time to fix dozens/hundreds of pages, all at once. It’s challenging, it can be stimulating, but every project brings a different level of stress and (proportional) reward.
In reality, academic editing is highly specialized and can fetch upwards of $100/hr if the editor has a graduate degree and years of experience, but even though I have both, I charge on the lower end of average — $55, up through $70 for expedited work, with discounts for certain circumstances. (Here’s an excellent, albeit slightly dated, resource from another professional academic editor, regarding how the process goes and how much a client should expect to pay.)
Alas, most of my clients are grad students who don’t have the budget for the amount of work that they need. Moreover, we are also living in the era of Grammarly, and poor writers don’t realize that grammar and punctuation are the least of their problems, so I can only imagine that many prospective clients nowadays likely turn to Grammarly instead of professional editors. (Not even to mention that Grammarly can’t tell you whether your scholarship is sound or provide feedback on the way you’re presenting the research itself, but that’s a whole other matter.) I can see reasons why work like mine might dwindle.
On top of this, as I’ve written in a previous essay about the drawbacks of making a living as an editor, there’s the fact that many clients fear professional embarrassment over the fact that they need editorial assistance, so word of mouth travels very slowly (if at all). :-/
At the end of the day, academic editing is fun and stimulating and should pay well, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Those are the realities of the job.