An American Editor

December 28, 2010

Coming to Grips with Editing in 2011

In a few days, the calendar turns a new page and we move into a new year. For me, it will be a new fiscal year, as my fiscal year is the calendar year. This change got me thinking about whether 2011 will be better than 2010 and whether 2010 was an improvement over the Recession Years.

Starting from the past and moving forward, a look back on the Recession Years shows that they were not so terrible for me. Yes, business was down; yes, I lowered my rates to remain competitive; but even so, I did quite well over all. What the Recession Years meant to my business was that I had less need for additional help, which was clearly not good for those who relied on work from me, and that I paid less for the work I did provide.

This past year, 2010, was a significant improvement over the Recession Years. Business was up and I was able to provide work for more editors than during the Recession Years, but not for as many editors as in the years preceding the Recession Years. Unfortunately, what I could not recover was the price level. To remain competitive, I had to maintain my prices.

The coming year, 2011, looks brighter yet. I doubt I will be able to raise my prices, but I expect to see a greater volume of work. But even here competition is forcing changes. I expect that I will have to offer more services albeit without a concomitant increase in price. This remains to be seen.

I expect 2011 to be a more competitive year than any previous year. An increasing number of people are hanging out their shingle proclaiming themselves as freelance editors. This trend, which has been going on for a number of years but has spiked in the past year or so, seems to be fueled by the ebook evolution. Some commentators have noted that with the rise of self-publishing of ebooks, more authors will need editorial help. Unfortunately, this misreads, I think, the evolving market.

A trend that I am sorry to see, but which is gaining rapidly, is the trend to not make use of editorial professionals. I read more comments by authors saying that the economics of self-publishing preclude any kind of professional help, assuming they want that help to begin with. I also see an increasing number of authors who believe that all they need is spell-check — no other editorial help is required for their books. And I have seen in the past few months an increasing hostility toward editors because the editors do the job for which they were hired — correct grammar and spelling, question incoherence, and the like, but the authors think they speak in the voice of a god.

But most concerning of all is the increasing number of small publishers who are following the author trend. Several have commented that they have stopped hiring editors because what they pay a professional editor can be the difference between a book being profitable or a money loser in the short-term. Besides, they often add, readers don’t really notice when a book is well edited. (Isn’t that the desired end result?)

So where will editorial services be in 2011? It is a mixed bag. I see increased work for my company yet declining work for editors over all. The ebook evolution that should be cause for cheer for editors, may, in fact, be cause for gloom, especially for those editors who do not master the skills needed in an ebook world, which skills are supplemental to — not in lieu of — those needed for print books.

In a way this reminds me of the transition from paper-based editing to electronic editing that occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s. I remember how resistant many editors were to that change and when they finally did make the transition, they learned only barebones skills — they didn’t master the new skills. It isn’t unusual today to speak with an editorial colleague only to discover that the colleague’s grasp of the hardware and software used in their business is minimal. (I still remember attending a class on copyediting where the instructor told students that learning to edit on the computer was unnecessary because no one was doing electronic editing. Of course, all my clients at that time were happy to load me up with work because I was doing electronic editing and few other editors were doing it.)

Where will you be in 2011? Do you see a bright future for yourself and for editing in general? Do you think editing is a dying skill? Share your thoughts.

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