An American Editor

February 15, 2012

The Business of Editing: Pricing Yourself Out of the Market When Applying for Work

Part of my business involves having editors work for me on projects that I obtain from major publishers in the medical field. I constantly receive applications for work from editors. Every applicant receives my editing test, but I often never hear from them again, which is just as well, as their pay expectations are unrealistic.

One of the things that an editor who is looking to work for me has to state, when applying, is the minimum per-page fee the editor will accept. After all, why waste my time if I know that, no matter how good an editor the applicant may be, the minimum fee the applicant will accept is unrealistic and exponentially greater than the gross amount I will receive from my clients?

Of ten applicants, nine will state a minimum acceptable fee that is stroking the stratosphere. It isn’t that difficult to translate a per-page fee to an hourly fee to determine the “realness” of the asked-for amount. Most publishers expect editing of six to eight pages an hour and, when setting a budget for a project, base it on that rate of editing. So if you state your minimum acceptable fee is $25 per page, which I see often, you are asking for $150 to $200 an hour — a great fee if you can get it, but not based in the reality of the editing world.

There are four basic types of “employers” for editors: the publisher, the author, another editor, and a packager. (“Publisher” includes businesses and government agencies and anyone who ultimately will put their name on the document as the publisher.) In the case of the publisher and the author, the relationship between them and the editor is a direct one, so the editor can expect to receive the full amount of the fee the publisher or author is paying. And in the case of the author, the author may be expecting to pay a higher hourly rate than the publisher.

The latter two, however, are middlemen, and the job applicant should expect to receive less than what a middleman receives from the ultimate client. Middlemen are entitled to some return for their effort in finding the work (not to mention putting together and managing the team to produce it).

The finding of that ever-elusive work can be a costly endeavor.  Plus, it is the middleman’s reputation that is at stake when an editor is hired, not the editor’s reputation. I know the difficulties of finding enough work to keep editors busy year-round and I know that my clients never ask who the editor is/was: If the job was done well, I get the kudos (which I then pass on to the editor who actually earned the kudos), but when something goes amiss, I’m the one who has to smooth ruffled feathers and I’m the one who spends hours doing so; I’m the one who stands to lose the client and future work. In addition, I’m the one who spends money promoting the group’s services.

The middleman also acts as a buffer between a problematic client and the editor.

Perhaps more importantly from the editor’s perspective, at least in my case as middleman, I’m the one who gambles on getting paid. Of course, I am speaking only for my own business in this regard, but I make it a habit to pay an editor for the editor’s work within 24 hours, which is often before I bill the client and long before I actually receive payment. Should a client delay payment by weeks or months, or even never pay at all, the editor never knows as the editor was paid.

When applying for editorial work, the applicant needs to both keep in mind who the work is for and investigate what the going rate of pay is — and how it is calculated — for the type of work that the “employer” does. Of course, it would also help the applicant’s chances if the applicant had the requisite skill and knowledge to edit the types of publications the employer works on or produces.

But a realistic financial expectation is a key to getting past the initial stages of review by the employer. No matter how good an editor you may be, no prospective employer will give you a second glance if you price yourself out of the market. You cannot assume that if you pass a test but your fee request is above what the employer pays, you will have the opportunity to modify your request to bring it into line. That may occasionally happen, but it happens so rarely that an applicant should assume it never happens at all.

Again, it is the combination of realistic financial expectations and excellent editorial skills that wins work in today’s very competitive editorial market. Applicants for editorial work need to know and understand the market in which they are seeking editorial work. Does your experience indicate otherwise?

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