I recently mentioned on Twitter that I was having a good work day, averaging eight pages of lettering per hour, which prompted a surprised reaction from some people.
So… I thought it was worth breaking this down. I'm amazed how many freelancers seem to struggle with the idea of valuing their time appropriately and managing it with their "business head" on. Make no mistake: as a freelancer, you're doing something creative, but you are a businessperson and you can end up either starving or working an insane number of hours if you don't get into the habit of business-like thinking.
So… that eight pages.
I aim to letter a page every ten minutes on average. That's not to say that I stop working on a page after ten minutes, or cut corners to hit an arbitrary time limit, but if a page takes much more than ten minutes, I try to stay conscious of the fact that I'm now behind schedule and make an extra effort not to dally over easier pages.
The key thing is: those ten minutes are the actual time spent lettering the page. There's a whole lot of other stuff that goes into getting a book across the finish line. Let's assume a standard 22-page book, so we're talking about three hours and forty minutes to letter the book.
First of all, I treat preparing a book for lettering as a separate task. It's a fairly dull, unchallenging process, so at the end of each working day, when I'm likely feeling a bit worn out, I'll prep the next day's book so I can hit the ground running in the morning.
The script needs reformatting (a process detailed here) which is usually fairly quick, but dependent on exactly how the writer has formatted it originally, can be quite time-consuming.
Then I create blank Illustrator pages for the whole issue and insert those blanks into an InDesign document that I'll use later for generating PDF proofs. Once all that's done, I place the art on each Illustrator page and copy and paste the text from the script onto the lettering documents, ensuring that text formatting matches (pasting text into Illustrator doesn't keep bolds and italics, so you need to manually re-apply those).
That whole process usually takes about an hour, which translates into adding near enough an extra three minutes per page.
Then the lettering, which takes an average of ten minutes per page.
After that, I need to generate a PDF proof, upload it to somewhere like Dropbox and email off a link to the proof to the editor or the creators. That takes about ten minutes — or maybe another half a minute per page.
At some point, the corrections will come back. Occasionally, 'notes' will actually be cover for a stealth re-write, but this isn't the place for that rant. Even a 'normal' round of corrections will probably take an hour… call it another three minutes per page.
Repeat the proofing process for another thirty seconds per page.
Assuming there are no further rounds of corrections, that means that each page has effectively taken seventeen minutes. That's an extra seven minutes of non-billable time that you need to make sure is covered by your page rate — whilst it looks like you're doing six pages an hour, you're actually doing less than four.
Once you've had approval, you'll need to upload the final files. Whilst you can automate the export process to a degree, when batch exporting, say, EPS files, it's still necessary to re-open those files and manually delete the artwork layer. The whole process probably takes another twenty minutes, or another minute per page.
At some point, you'll need to generate an invoice and get that sent off. Even if you don't have to expend time chasing payment, that's probably another ten minutes of work there, or near enough another thirty seconds per page.
So… that's eighteen and a half minutes per page, assuming only one round of corrections, and assuming that you don't have to chase payment on your invoice. One extra round of corrections will easily push that total over twenty minutes per page, meaning that you're doing less than three pages an hour.
All of which neatly illustrates how all that 'invisible', non-billable stuff quickly adds up and eats into your page rate. You need to count all of it and keep track of it, or your page rate can quickly fall to the equivalent of an hourly rate lower than you'd make flipping burgers or stacking supermarket shelves.