An American Editor

August 30, 2013

Worth Noting: Are You Less Satisfied?

Are you less satisfied with life than you think you should be? The answer as to why you are and I am not may well surprise you.

The culprit may be Facebook!

How much time do you spend on Facebook?

Past researchers found a link between Facebook use and jealousy, social tension, social isolation, and depression, but those studies were cross-sectional, making them unreliable for drawing broad conclusions. Those studies may have confused correlation with causation: It is equally possible that those spending more time on Facebook are generally more prone to negative emotions than those who spend less time as it is that the cause of the negative emotions was spending time on Facebook.

In an intriguing study published August 14, 2013, researchers from the psychology departments at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and University of Leuven (Belgium) found that the more time one spends on Facebook, the less satisfied one is with life (see Kross E, Veduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al.  Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PLoS ONE 2013;8(8):e69841). From the Abstract:

Over 500 million people interact daily with Facebook. Yet, whether Facebook use influences subjective well-being over time is unknown. We addressed this issue using experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and psychological experience. We text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people “directly” did not predict these negative outcomes. They were also not moderated by the size of people’s Facebook networks, their perceived supportiveness, motivation for using Facebook, gender, loneliness, self-esteem, or depression. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.

Another study was conducted by social science researchers from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany) and Technische Universität Darmstadt (Germany), which was presented at a social science conference in February-March 2013 (see “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?”), and which found that Facebook aroused envy of others in users, leading to dissatisfaction. From the Abstract:

The wealth of social information presented on Facebook is astounding. While these affordances allow users to keep up-to-date, they also produce a basis for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale. Even though envy may endanger users’ life satisfaction and lead to platform avoidance, no study exists uncovering this dynamics. To close this gap, we build on responses of 584 Facebook users collected as part of two independent studies. In study 1, we explore the scale, scope, and nature of envy incidents triggered by Facebook. In study 2, the role of envy feelings is examined as a mediator between intensity of passive following on Facebook and users’ life satisfaction. Confirming full mediation, we demonstrate that passive following exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction. From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.

According to both of these 2013 studies, Facebook has a negative effect on the emotional well-being of the young adults who were studied and surveyed. Unanswered, of course, is whether older folk who are frequent users of Facebook fare better than the young adults studied. (I wonder what the researchers’ results would be should they study LinkedIn users.)

Perhaps it is time to kickback, relax, enjoy a cup of tea, say goodbye to Facebook, and do more face-to-face social interacting. I can only conclude that my satisfaction with life is enhanced because I am not a Facebook user. Perhaps that accounts for my generally upbeat disposition :).

August 28, 2013

What is Editing?

Have you ever wondered what editing really is? Or about what course of study is best for preparing for an editing career?

The practical answer to the latter is that it doesn’t matter what you study because education is valuable and broadening; experience matters more. But when backed to the wall, my answer, unlike that of many of my colleagues, is that the best courses of study are philosophy and law.

The reason is because of what editing is. Editing is the art of language compromise, not the art of strict structure application. I suppose a little context would be helpful.

The matter arose in a discussion on LinkedIn in which I suggested philosophy as the best course of study and another member suggested linguistics. Linguistics is a wonderful field and certainly of great interest to editors, but it is a structural field. True, it wonders about word origins as well as how words are used, but its focus is the structure and lineage of language.

Philosophy and law, on the other hand, focus not on structure but on how to think. Both are “argumentative” fields — Does a god exist? If I don’t see you, do you really exist? What is my place in society? — What role should/does X play in social affairs? — that require thinking about all sides of a question. The difference, I think, between the philosophy-trained thinker and the linguistics-trained thinker is the difference between the average chess player and the chess champion. We all can learn to play chess and even to play it well; few of us, however, can master the advance thinking techniques required to be a grandmaster.

(Before I stray too far afield, let me reiterate that all education is good and all education can prepare a person for the intellectual challenges of editing. What we are discussing is the hierarchy.)

Much of editing is structure-oriented, such as grammar and spelling, and coding manuscript. Structure is mechanical and can be self-taught or picked up in a couple of courses on, for example, grammar. I grant that it is the rare person who develops that same depth and breadth of knowledge about the structural issues via self-learning or a couple of entry-level courses as would be obtained from the rigors of a university major in linguistics, but how much is really needed for editing, especially as editing is the art of language compromise, not the art of strict structure application.

Over my 30 years as an editor, what I have most realized about some of my editor colleagues is that they are very capable of applying the “rules” of language. Where they are weak, and what I think often distinguishes the good, competent editor from the great editor, is that they are unable to “think” about what they are editing. They are unable to grasp a broader picture by, for example, putting themselves in the shoes of a variety of readers or by analyzing a text from multiple angles. To use another metaphor, most editors are like professional baseball players in that they are the better, more professional, more able players from the pool of would-be professional players, but are not the superstars who are an even more finite group. Baseball fans recall Willie Mays, for example, but how many of his teammates on the 1954 World Series team do we remember?

It is this “thinking” ability that I believe philosophy and law teach but that linguistics and other study disciplines do not. Linguistics will teach us how to ascertain the origins of all the variations of “god,” but not to think about what “god” means in the context of the manuscript and as being conveyed to the variety of hoped-for readers of the published manuscript. Linguistics doesn’t really teach the art of communication as much as it teaches the science of communication, but editing is (or should be, I think) more concerned with the art than the science.

I am not suggesting that the science of editing is unimportant. Knowing what punctuation to use where and when is very important in making sure that the author’s meaning is correctly understood (using Lynne Truss’s famous example, is it “eats shoots and leaves” or “eats, shoots, and leaves”?). Knowing whether the right word is being used to convey the intended meaning is equally important, as is choosing among the homophones (does the author mean to, too, or two?). And good editors do these tasks well and correctly. For the most part, I suspect, this is the job for which most editors are hired. And this is the job for which most education prepares us.

Yet there can be more to editing than just those tasks. And, for many of us, when we suggest rewriting a sentence or a paragraph or reordering paragraphs or chapters, we are embarking on that additional path. As we gain experience, we begin to think differently about language and its use. I know that the editing I did 30 years ago is not as good as the editing I do today; those intervening years have taught me many things and exposed me to many new ways of looking at language. The more I read and learn, the better editor I become.

But even 30 years ago I had the advantage of having been trained to think analytically. That is the legacy of a philosophy and law education: It is not what to think, but how to think. What I think about is of little importance to philosophy; the methodology of thinking about it is important.

Editing is a combination of structure and philosophy; it is not one without the other. The more accomplished one is as an editor, the more skilled one is at both prongs. Most of us begin our editing careers strong in one prong but not the other, and we build strength in both prongs as we gain experience. But if asked what is the best course of study for a wannabe editor, my answer is philosophy or law because it is learning how to think that is hardest to master.

Once we have mastered how to think about language, we learn that editing is more the art of language compromise and less the science of applying rules.

August 26, 2013

Personal or Emotional Satisfaction & the Job of Editing

On a freelance list to which I subscribe, Carolyn Haley asked me, “Rich, do you get any personal or emotional satisfaction from your work?” The question was asked in followup to a posting I had made to a thread-opening question asking whether any editors had a “joy client or project,” that is, a client or project that brought especial pleasure to the editor. Some responders talked about clients, some projects, some teachers.

My response was as follows:

The clients who bring me joy are those who

  1. pay my asking price on or before the invoice due date
  2. do not disturb me while I’m editing
  3. tell me and all their friends and colleagues that I’m the greatest editor ever
  4. insist that their publisher hire me to edit their book
  5. have my telephone number and e-mail address memorized so they can contact me quickly and often
  6. submit manuscripts that are so clean they require minimal effort to conform to the chosen style (particularly those whose reference lists run hundreds of references with 99% of the references in perfect format)
  7. call me before calling any other editor to see if I can fit their project into my schedule, and especially those willing to wait for me to fit them in
  8. want my services so much that they are willing to accommodate my schedule at the expense of their schedule
  9. do not ask for herculean efforts in exchange for slave wages, do not write in jabberwockyese, and have a great sense of humor
  10. pay my asking price on or before the invoice due date (a trait well worth repeating :))

On the list, I responded to Carolyn’s question as follows:

…I always get personal satisfaction from every book I edit. If I didn’t, I would have long ago found a different career. Of course, there is also the personal satisfaction of running a profitable business, finding ways to beat the constant push to suppress prices, finding ways to become more efficient, etc.

I also get satisfaction at seeing the number of subscribers to my An American Editor blog increase and to the number of times my articles are liked or tweeted.

But the truth is that should my business or my blog cease tomorrow, I would not feel any less satisfied — personal or emotional satisfaction — because what truly gives me pleasure and satisfaction in life lies outside those confines.

Bottom line is that I view what I do as a job, and the reward for doing a good job is making money. My personal and emotional satisfaction quests go toward my children and grandchildren — toward such things as making a cranky baby smile, playing catch with my 15-month-old granddaughter, helping her unload all the plastic containers from a cabinet and throwing them on the floor (although the subsequent rewashing and restoring isn’t so satisfying), seeing my son admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court, sitting with a book on location while watching my wife create a new painting, and the like.

I do not view my editing as anything more than a job/business that I like and at which I am qualified and good. I look forward to going to my office and working, but I look elsewhere for personal and emotional satisfaction. I would find no satisfaction whatsoever in knowing that I did a magnificent editing job, turning a book from junk into literature, [only to find] that I have to struggle to get paid or to pay my bills. Editing is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

The question about personal and emotional satisfaction made me wonder about how colleagues view their work and whether there is a correlation between personal and emotional satisfaction and financial success as a freelancer. (I do recognize that each of us has our own definition of success and that not everyone counts financial success as the most important measure of success.)

I have wondered about this before. Years ago, when I was a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, we had discussions on whether editors are artisans or business people. In those discussions, I was in the very tiny minority — many times a minority of one or two — who said we should be business people first, artisans second. Twenty years later, the discussion appears to not have abated.

Think about painters, actors, writers, photographers, and other artists. How many do you know who are making a comfortable living solely from their art? Don’t most of those we know have either another job or a significant other who provides financial support? Think about why that is. Is it because their priority is personal and emotional satisfaction from producing their art rather than the business aspects of the art world? Consider, also, how many of them hire agents to handle the business aspects.

Editors aren’t different. We make conscious choices to elevate one aspect of our work over another. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as long as we are willing to accept the consequences of those choices. For most editors, elevating the creative function over the business function means less income.

Why? Because it becomes difficult to make appropriate business decisions. Do we give a manuscript a second pass, knowing that if we do we will find errors that we missed on the first pass, when that second pass will be at our expense, not the client’s expense? The artisan says “Yes, I make that second pass” because it is more important to reach perfection (the personal/emotional satisfaction) than to be adequately paid; the business person says “Not unless I am compensated for the additional work” because in the business world, decisions are made on a profit-loss basis.

This is not to say that creative satisfaction does not play a role in the business-first approach or that business does not play a role in the creative-first approach. Rather, it is which is dominant and which approach forms the basis for decisions we make.

I find it interesting that many of the editors who struggle financially are those who are unwilling to place personal and emotional satisfaction from editing second to sound to business practices. They tend to refuse work because it doesn’t appeal to them, ignoring the financial considerations. There is nothing wrong with such a decision as long as the editor understands the tradeoff.

And, yes, I do know some editors who successfully place artisan values above business values and succeed. But for every Tom Hanks there are hundreds of unsuccessful actors. In editing, it is no different — for every successful editor who places artisanship first, there are hundreds who are unsuccessful. If we could all be exceptions, there would be no rule.

Every morning I look forward to my editing day — even those days when I am editing a book on colonoscopies — because I know that every day brings me satisfaction. I know that I am an excellent editor, that clients are very rarely displeased, and that my services are in demand. I can look at my bank account and not worry. And I know that at the end of the day, I will be able to indulge in those activities that bring me personal and emotional satisfaction without worrying about how I will pay my bills.

For me it is the business approach that has to dominate my editorial services. I need to be able to objectively evaluate clients and manuscripts based on financial return, not on whether a topic appeals to me. The very last thing I want to do is worry about meeting my obligations; the very first thing I want to do is face each day knowing at the workday’s end, I will be indulging in those things that bring me satisfaction.

I would add one more “wondering.” I wonder how many editors who place creative above business have a family for which they are the sole financial provider? I suspect that it is easier to choose the creative over the business approach when there is a safety net of some sort or when the only person relying on your efforts is yourself. I admit I have never been in such a situation, which probably partially accounts for my business-first approach.

How about you?

August 23, 2013

Worth Noting: Proofreaders-to-be: Loving Books Isn’t Enough

Every so often I am asked what it takes to become a thriving editor. Often, I’m told “I could be an editor because I read so much!” My stock answer has always been, “No, reading books is great, but not enough for most people to become an accomplished editor.”

I always hedge the bet a little because I have never forgotten the movie I saw decades ago, called “The Great Impostor,” starring, if I recall correctly, Tony Curtis, which was based on the true story of a Canadian who became many things — including a Navy shipboard surgeon and a university professor — just by reading.

It has also been my experience that no matter what I would tell the inquirer, my advice was falling on deaf ears.

Louise Harnby, proofreader extraordinaire, faced a similar inquiry and wrote about it on her blog. Her article, Proofreaders-to-be: Loving Books Isn’t Enough, is excellent and should be read by everyone with an interest in becoming an editor or proofreader. It is comforting to know that I’m not the only one whose advice is sought and then ignored.

Louise has also written a book, Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers, that looks intriguing and has garnered very positive comments from colleagues I know and whose opinion I value. On that basis, I recommend taking a look at her book; I know I plan to. There is no such thing as knowing too much about one’s business.

August 21, 2013

Implied Promises & the Professional Editor

Previously, we discussed the demand for perfection (see The Business of Editing: The Demand for Perfection) and the disconnect between expectation and reality. Not discussed then, but of equal importance, is the question of an editor’s implied promises.

An implied promise is just that: a promise or warranty that the buyer — in our case, an author or publisher — can reasonably infer from statements or actions made by the editor. It is not something that the editor expressly says to the client. For example, if the editor said to the client, “Your manuscript will be error-free when I am done editing it,” the editor would be making an express promise (or warranty) to the client that, in fact, the manuscript will be error-free.

I suspect most of us are shaking our heads and saying to ourselves that no editor would be foolish enough to make express promises like that, but, alas, I see comments all the time from editors who make such statements. Sometimes I think I should hire them and, if they do not deliver, hold their feet to the proverbial fire.

But what worries me more are the implied promises. These are the promises that we do not expressly say to a client but which a client can reasonably infer. Perhaps we use a slogan, such as “Making manuscripts perfect!” or “Nothing slips by my eagle eyes.” Maybe it isn’t a slogan but a company name that there is an implied promise, as in “Roseanne’s Perfect Editing Service” or “The Perfectionist.”

As editors, we know that words have meaning and that, if we use a word, it is reasonable to expect the reader to draw a conclusion or inference. This is the ultimate purpose of advertising: the use of words and images to steer an observer down a certain path.

Words carry implied promises. When we hold ourselves out to be professional editors, we are not defining exactly what makes us professional, but we are implying that whatever professional means in the context of editors, that meaning includes us. And it is reasonable for a client to do what we have not done — define professional in the context of editing and apply it as the standard against which the client will judge us and our editing efforts.

It is this vagary that concerns me. I do not wish to imply that I am not guilty of exactly the same vagueness, because I am. But because we all do it does not mean it is not worrisome.

Clients have certain expectations about what an editor does. That, in fact, we may or may not do those things doesn’t matter. Because we rarely define the parameters of our work and because we have no universal working definition of what exactly is a professional editor, we subject ourselves to clients drawing implied promises from our calling ourselves editors.

In prior posts, I have discussed contract terms and how some clients try to take advantage of us with terms that are onerous, such as subjecting us to laws that govern a country in which we do not live and most likely have never even visited. The terms of such contracts are both express and implied standards. It is express in that (assuming we agree to the proffered terms) we subject ourselves to the laws of the foreign country; it is implied that we understand our responsibilities under those laws, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t agree to the terms.

And so it is with clients who hire professional editors. We express that we are professional and imply all that professional encompasses; we imply that both we and the client understand the limits of what professional editor means. That we and our client understand the term differently is both our fault and dangerous for us, because, in the marketplace of opinion, it ultimately will be the client’s interpretation that will prevail.

We work with words, so we need to step back and look at the words we use to promote ourselves and to obtain business. What implied promises are we making? Are we implying that we will deliver an error-free manuscript? Or that our rates are the lowest? Or that we are equally skilled at editing science fiction as we are at editing engineering texts? Or that we are masters of the “standard” style guides and usage books applicable to the area of the manuscript?

We need to deal with author/client expectations just as we would have our expectations dealt with; that is, we need to eliminate as many areas of disharmony as possible by being upfront about what the client can expect when we are hired. We need to explain to the client exactly what role we will play and what the client can expect us to accomplish with the client’s manuscript. We must avoid leaving it to the client to imply.

When we choose our business names and slogans, we need to carefully tread the fine line between puffery (“I am the best”) and the implied promise (because I say I am expert in the Chicago style, you can expect your manuscript will conform 100% to the Chicago style). A failure to live up to the implied promises as the client sees those promises could be disastrous for our business reputations and our pocketbooks.

The point is that we need to look more carefully at our interaction with clients to be sure that we are defining terms carefully and minimizing the potential effect of any implied promise. We need to define professional, just as we need to define what constitutes a page and what constitutes an error. We need to prevent the client from developing unwarranted and unreasonable expectations as for the measures against which our work will be judged.

Consequently, we need to stop rushing forth with offers that a potential client can accept to our chagrin. For example, when a client tells us that a manuscript is 450 pages, before we rush to quote a price for the project, we need to verify that it is in fact 450 pages and not 900 pages. Because when we make our quote based on the client-provided information without verifying it, we are impliedly accepting that the manuscript is that long — even if the client used quarter-inch margins with 7-point type to get that length — and that we can, and will, do the work in the time and at the price we think is appropriate for a 450-page manuscript.

It doesn’t matter if you define a page as 250 words and I define it as 1800 characters; it matters that you have a definition and base your response to the opportunity on that definition, which might well be very different from the reality of the manuscript. That is, it matters if you define a page as 250 words and the client’s manuscript shows a page as 600 words.

August 19, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part V)

The previous four parts of this series (I, II, III, and IV) discussed the effective hourly rate, how to calculate it, and how track it. The remaining question, as several colleagues have noted to me, is: “Why bother?”

Professional editing is a business. If it were a hobby, it would not matter whether or not we made a profit because we would be pursuing editing purely for our love of editing. Yet, for most of us, editing is a business, and as a business we need to be concerned with profit and loss. Even businesses that are organized as nonprofits need to be concerned with profit and loss. The difference between a for-profit and a nonprofit business arrangement is that the former distributes any profit to its “owners” whereas the latter uses any profit to further its goals (i.e., there is no distribution to owners because there are no “owners”).

A business cannot make a profit if it does not generate income in excess of its costs of doing business. It’s a simple concept but one that seems to be just outside the grasp of many business owners.

Knowing whether we are making a profit or suffering a loss is important to editors because we, just like all other businesses, need to constantly evaluate whether what we are doing is worth continuing to do. If we are not making a profit and if we cannot adjust what we are doing so that we do make a profit, perhaps we need to pursue a different career path or conduct our business differently.

Tracking one’s effective hourly rate (EHR) is a way to determine the health of one’s business. It is also an alert system to tell us if and when we need to make adjustments in how we operate our business.

If we know, for example, that no matter what we do, our current client base will not pay a rate higher than $20 an hour (or its equivalent), and if we know that our EHR, as we are currently operating, needs to be higher than what our client base is willing to pay (the required EHR), then we know that we need to make adjustments in how we conduct our business.

This is the critical and most important reason to know and track the EHR. When we operate without knowledge of our EHR, we assume that if we bring in $1,000, it represents mostly profit. This is the allure of the hourly rate: an hourly rate makes us believe that we are earning a decent income because we are assured that for every hour we work, we earn that hourly rate. In real-world business, however, it is not so simple.

Editors, like all businesses, have a production line. I know we do not like to think in those terms, but the fact is that we do operate a production line. (A “production line” is not synonymous with “assembly line.” Production line refers to the manner and order in which we do our work.) We receive a manuscript and we take certain steps in dealing with the manuscript, steps that we repeat with each project. For example, the first thing we may do is clean up the file to remove extraneous elements like extra spaces. Then we may break out reference lists from the main text, or put figure legends in a separate file, or insert bookmarks, or whatever. Ultimately we get to the editing phase, but it is rarely the very first thing we do.

As part of our production line we may do multiple passes. We may do a rough edit, then a second edit, then a cleanup, then a final pass to search for anything we may have missed. What exactly each of us does is not as important as that we recognize we have these steps and that we can articulate them. The articulation is important because part of what we need to do if we are not making a profit is determine what steps in the production line can be omitted or modified so as to make the step more efficient.

One publisher, for example, looks for the least-expensive editor who meets certain minimal qualifications and then provides a multipage checklist of things it expects the editor to do. There are several interesting aspects to the list, one of which is the blurring of the roles of the developmental editor and the copyeditor. The publisher expects copyeditors to fulfill both functions for one very low price. In addition, the publisher has its own style. which differs from standard styles in small, subtle ways. However, failure to comply with the publisher’s house style results in requests for the editor to repeatedly go over the manuscript to fix it for no additional fee.

Faced with not earning the EHR, an editor has to determine what changes can and must be made in the editor’s production line in order to earn the EHR. Will, for example, eliminating a second or third pass over the manuscript reduce the hours sufficiently to raise the EHR? Will changing the production line to a single-pass process do the trick? What other adjustments can be made that will result in increasing the EHR? Or does the editor need to drop this particular client? Can the editor afford to drop this client (i.e., how easily can the revenue this client generates be replaced)?

The reason to bother with calculating and tracking the EHR is to create a foundation for making business decisions. Bringing in revenue of $50,000 a year is nice, but meaningless, if we do not know what our cost of doing business is or whether the procedures we follow are hampering, increasing, or having no effect on our profitability — or even how many hours we need to work to make that income. It is also meaningless if we do not know whether doing work for a particular client is profitable. If working for a particular publisher is not and cannot be profitable, should we not know this so we can decide whether or not to drop the publisher and find other clients?

Perhaps even more importantly, bothering with the EHR lets an editor determine how well the editor is doing over time. Is the editor’s speed and efficiency and productivity increasing or decreasing or remaining stable — month to month, year to year?

The EHR also spreads the earning requirements over the full work week, thus accounting for the nonbillable time we need to devote to business, such as for marketing. It also is (usually) a rate we can more realistically expect clients to accept. More importantly, unlike an hourly rate, the EHR forces us to think in terms of a business week and not just in terms of billable hours. Too many small business owners think that the only hours that are part of the business calculation are the billable hours, which is incorrect.

Finally, the EHR, unlike an hourly rate, lets us fully measure productivity and efficiency. The more productive and efficient we are, the more often we exceed our EHR. When we charge by the hour, we can never exceed that hourly rate.

The EHR is foundational information that acts as a guide to business decision making. It is something against which a business can measure what the business is doing and determine whether the business is on the correct path or needs to alter its course — making calculating the EHR worthwhile.

Links to the other articles in this series:

August 14, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (IV)

Originally, part IV was scheduled to be the last part of this series, and was to tackle the question, “Why bother?” However, what was part IV is now part V. The change was made because I have received several requests for clarification on how to determine what to charge. The confusion seems to stem from two things:

  1. The effective hourly rate (EHR) discussed in parts I, II, and III, is based on a 40-hour work week. The calculated EHR is what is needed to be earned each hour of that 40-hour work week. This does not mean that you must have 40 billable hours, just that this is the EHR that each hour has to earn even if the earning has to be compressed into 20 billable hours.
  2. I did not take the calculation to the final step, which is determining the actual hourly rate. I assumed that readers would be able to make that final step themselves. I have been using the EHR for so many years that what to do seems obvious to me, but in reality, it is not so obvious — as readers have pointed out — and so that is the topic of this post: How do you calculate the actual hourly charge?

For purposes of this example, let’s change the dynamic a bit. Although we’ll retain the $30 per hour charge, the 20 billable hours per week, and the 40-hour work week for purposes of calculating our current net EHR, let’s make our expense number a more realistic $4.60 per hour (based on these monthly expenses allocated to the business: rent/mortgage = $500; heat, water, and electric = $200; telephone = $40; and maintenance = $50). This changes our net EHR to $10.40 ($15 gross EHR − $4.60 expenses) based on a 40-hour work week.

(If your work week is only 30 hours, the method of calculation is the same but the numbers change. For a 30-hour work week, your gross EHR would be $20 and the same expenses would equal $6.13 per hour, giving a net EHR of $13.87. The figures change because the number of hours over which the EHR has to be earned has changed. You need to calculate the EHR using your work week, expenses, and hourly charge.)

Although some readers think we only need to pay attention to billable hours, that is not true. It is true that in a 40-hour work week we do not bill for 40 hours; we do have administrative matters and marketing, for example, that need to be addressed for which we cannot directly bill a client. But these are no different from the rent. They need to be paid for and every business calculates what it needs to charge customers by including time spent on nonbillable matters. The same is true for sick days and vacation time. These items are part of the expense of doing business; we just cannot give them precise numbers like we can give rent.

Consequently, the hourly charge that we determine accounts for the facts that we have only so many billable hours in a week and we also have hours in the week that we have to devote to nonbillable matters.

If we were to use the net EHR we calculated ($10.40), your average weekly earnings, after expenses, would be $416 or a yearly income after expenses of $21,632. But our goal is for that yearly income to be $50,000.

Here are the steps we need to take to obtain the EHR data and calculate how much we need to charge to reach our goal of $50,000 after expenses:

  1. Calculate the EHR for $50,000:
    $50,000 ÷ 52 weeks = $961.54 per week
    $961.54 ÷ 40 hours = $24.04 EHR
  2. Add the expenses to the EHR because the EHR currently only represents our net income (after expenses) goal
    $24.04 EHR + $4.60 expenses per hour = $28.64 EHR
    (or an average gross weekly income of $1,145.60 which translates to gross yearly earnings of $59,571.20)
  3. Calculate the number of billable hours in a year:
    20 billable hours per week × 52 weeks = 1,040 per year
  4. To determine the hourly rate you have to charge, divide the gross annual income by the number of billable hours:
    $59,571.20 ÷ 1,040 billable hours = $57.28 per hour

Now you know what you have to bill per hour to have a net annual income of $50,000 while having only 20 billable hours a week.

Your question is: This number can be calculated without calculating the EHR, so why go through the trouble of calculating the EHR? Why not go to the heart of the matter directly?

The answer is that few of us can directly charge the hourly rate we need to earn. How many of your clients would knowingly pay you $60 an hour for copyediting? Most of us have difficulty transparently charging and collecting that amount, especially if we work for publishers. That is why we began this series with the hourly charge of $30.

We need to calculate the net EHR to see what we are really earning under our current charging scheme. Most of us see that this week we brought in $600 and the week before we brought in $900 and last year we had a gross income of $41,628. And we also see that when it came time to pay the rent, we paid it, even if we struggled to do so — the same being true of our other bills. But few of us really know what we are really earning, and in the absence of knowing that, we have no foundation on which to evaluate the manner in which we run our business.

The hourly charge figure tells us that if we want to continue our current way of doing business, we need to double our hourly charge (from $30 to $60). In other words, our current business methods are not sustainable at the level of our economic goal.

The $28.64 EHR, which is based on your economic goal, tells you what hourly rate you need to average over the 40-hour work week in order to meet your economic goal. This number is important because it is often a more achievable number. It is also an argument for abandoning the hourly rate method for the per-page or project-fee method of billing, because, unlike the hourly method, these methods reward you for productivity and efficiency.

The result is that with these three numbers in hand, you are in a position to evaluate your current business and can align your goals with your decision regarding what and how to charge. For example, if you know you need to charge $60 an hour for 20 billable hours to meet your goal, you can either find clients willing to pay that rate, increase the number of billable hours in your work week, or lower your economic goal. If you increase your billable hours from 20 to 30, the hourly charge drops by approximately one-third, from $57.28 to $38.19 (or from $60 to $40). (Note: The EHR does not change. The EHR changes only if the work week total hours change and/or the economic goal changes.)

In my experience, it has been impossible to charge the hourly rate I would need to meet my economic goals. On the other hand, by analyzing my work habits, increasing my productivity and efficiency, and using a per-page/project-fee method of charging, I have been able to meet, and almost always exceed, my required EHR. There are weeks when I do not meet the EHR over the course of the work week hours, but those weeks are made up for by the weeks that I exceed my EHR.

The EHR also serves as the standard against which I judge my business. I evaluate clients and projects based on the EHR. Clients whose projects regularly do not meet or exceed my EHR become ex-clients, because I know they cannot be made profitable.

I am not in business to lose money or not meet my goals, which is why I rely on the EHR and review it constantly. Are you in business to lose money? Under your current setup, how do you know whether you are making or losing money, and if you are making money, how much you are really making?

Next is part V, which tackles the question: “Why bother?”

Links to the other articles in this series:

August 12, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III)

In parts I and II of Business of Editing: What to Charge, we discussed the effective hourly rate (EHR), how to calculate a true EHR, why it is important to have a definition of what constitutes a manuscript page, and why I think it is smarter to charge by the page or project rather than by the hour. But knowing your required EHR is not enough; you need to track it as well.

I use two programs to track my EHR: Timeless Time & Expense (TT&E) and Microsoft Excel. In the case of TT&E, I am using an older version because it does all that I need. TT&E is not freeware and it is a bit pricey if all you want is to track time, but I like that it makes it easy to track multiple projects. In any event, what you need is a good timing program that will track how much time you spend on a project and give you a total time.

Excel is a program that most of you are familiar with. However, as with TT&E, it is not necessary to use Excel; any quality spreadsheet program will do.

Tracking time is key. I round total time up to the nearest quarter hour. For example, if the total time I spent on a project is 25 hours and 1 minute (25:01), I enter that as 25.25 hours. I know that somewhere along the line I missed timing a few minutes of work, so this is a way to compensate.

Another thing I do is track the time based on billing cycles. If a project is to be billed only upon completion, then I track the time until the project is complete and being billed and use the single total time. If the project is being billed in batches, then I track the time for each batch and enter the time in Excel batch by batch.

As you can see from the following image, I use a simple form to track important data.

In the sample, I have given a spread of per-page price ranges. The key, of course, is to maximize price and minimize hours. (I know that some of you will point out the high pages-edited-per-hour rate that this illustration uses. The pages and hours shown are taken from a real project. Remember, however, that this is an illustration and your figures will differ.)

What is important is that even at the lowest per-page price of $2 per page, the EHR exceeded the required EHR of $25 (based on editing 16 pages an hour; at a rate of 13 pages per hour, the EHR would still be exceeded but at 12 pages an hour, it would not be met. However, at $2.50 per page, where the illustration has a 19 pages-edited-per-hour rate, even at a rate of 12 pages per hour the EHR would be exceeded). This illustrates that it is possible to have a low rate and still meet and exceed the required EHR if you are efficient and productive. Do not, however, take this as an argument for a low per-page rate, nor an indication that you will always exceed the required EHR, nor an indication that one can always edit at such a high pages-per-hour rate — this is just an illustration of how to calculate and track the EHR.

If the per-page rate had been $2 for the whole project, the EHR would have been $38.45 based on the numbers. However, to achieve that EHR, the editor would have had to average, as indicated in the image, 19.23 pages an hour. Depending on the project and the parameters of the project, that may be doable.

But we stray off course.

The key to determining what to charge is determining your required EHR. But to determine that EHR, you have to have accumulated data. In the beginning, you guess, but as data accumulates, you can be more precise in your calculation. The important data are the EHR for each batch of submitted manuscript, as well as for the entire project, and your average number of pages edited per hour (shown in the image at the bottom far right).

Unfortunately, the image doesn’t show the column labels. Column A is the Date; B is Batch #; C is Number of Pages; D is Per-page Rate; E is Number of Hours; F is EHR; G is Charge; H is Total; and K is the Average Pages/Hour. You need the column information for the following Excel formulas to make sense.

Although the information is important, columns A and B are not needed to calculate any of the other data in the table.

The formula to calculate the EHR of column F is:

=IF(E11=0,””,(C11*D11)/E11)

where, for example, E11 represents the data in column E row 11. The “” is an instruction to leave the cell in column F blank if the data in E11 equals 0.

To calculate the Charge of column G, use the formula:

=SUM(C11*D11)

The Total column (H) needs two formulas. The first is only for the very first row of data, which in this example is row 11:

=SUM(G11)

The formula is that simple because in this instance, the Charge and the Total are identical. To calculate subsequent Totals by row, the formula is:

=SUM(G12+H11)

which means to add the new Charge found in this row (G12) to the Total in the row immediately above (H11) so that the Total in this row is a running total. Remember that the numbers (e.g., 12 in G12) represent the row number; the letter represents the column.

All of the data is row-centric; that is, the calculations are for the row only. The exception is the Total column, which is a running total.

The Profit/Loss Data row is where we get our overall information. The formulas for the various entries are as follows:

Total Pages: =SUM(C11:C22)
Total Hours: =SUM(E11:E22)
Ave Effect Hrly Rate: =IF(E24=0,””,G24/E24)
Total Billed: =SUM(G11:G22)
Project Gross Profit: =SUM(G24-D24)

Finally, the formula for the Ave Pg/H is:

=IF(E24=0,””,C24/E24)

Because I hire other editors to work on projects, I need the IC Fee and the Gross Profit percent (%) information. For those who never hire someone else, these items can be omitted. For those that do hire, you manually enter the amount of total fee paid to the other editor under the IC fee and use this formula to calculate what percentage of the total fee you retained:

=IF(G24=0,””,H24/G24)

Although not shown in the illustration, you can also track your EHR over the course of time by adding up the total hours from each project and the total billed for each project and dividing the grand total billed by the grand total hours.

With this data at hand, you can determine whether you are charging enough for your services. Adjustments can be made as needed. This information will tell you the state of health of your business. If you see that you are not making your required EHR, you need to analyze why not. Are there things that you can do to improve your efficiency and productivity? Or is the only solution to raise your prices and find new clients?

Part IV adds some clarification and Part V concludes the series, tackling the question: Why bother?

Links to the other articles in this series:

August 10, 2013

Worth Noting: Anatomy of a Publisher

Filed under: Worth Noting — Rich Adin @ 10:29 am
Tags: , , , , ,

In the New York world of publishing, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (FSG) is a venerable name. I never knew much about its history.

Years ago, I sent some of the people who worked for me to a seminar in New York City on the basics of copyediting. Although they had worked as editors for quite some time, they, like most of us, had little formal training in the field and I thought this would be a good opportunity for them to get some exposure to the thinking of someone whose job responsibility was managing editors.

The course instructor was a managing editor from FSG with many years of experience.

After the first session (if I recall correctly, it was a 4-weekend course), I asked what had been discussed. What they reported distressed me — it was as if the instructor believed she was still living in the world of 19th century publishing. The instructor said, for example, that computers were a passing fad and that publishers would continue to require editing on paper, so learning how to edit on the computer was a waste of time.

Needless to say, I wondered if the course was a waste of time and/or money. (Turned out it was a waste of both.) I could not understand the instructor’s mindset.

At long last, I can understand the instructor’s thinking. The explanation lies in the book review of Hothouse, by Boris Kachka, in “Anatomy of a Publisher: The Story of Farrar, Straus & Giroux” by Robert Gottlieb, which appears in the current issue of The New Yorker. The review is well worth reading for its insight into the FSG world of publishing from its founding after World War II until its sale to Holtzbrinck.

August 7, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part II)

In Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I), we ended with this question: Is the $30/hour rate you charge sufficient to generate your desired annual gross income based on your EHR? The answer is “no.”

Your current charge of $30/hour is not enough to generate the desired gross annual income of $50,000 because your net EHR is $13.56 (based on 20 billable hours in a 40-hour workweek), not the required minimum EHR of $24.04. Your EHR is $10.48 too little. Based on your EHR, your gross annual earnings will be approximately $28,200, or a little bit more than half of your desired annual gross income.

There are several options for curing this problem. First, increase the number of billable hours you work each week. At the hourly rate of $30, you need to generate at least enough work to bill for 34 hours every week for 52 weeks a year (or its equivalent). That will generate a net EHR of $24.06 ($30 × 34 hours = $1020 ÷ 40-hour workweek = $24.06). That is not impossible to do, but if you haven’t averaged at least 34 hours a week of billable-at-$30-an-hour-work over the course of a year in past years, you will have to devote some time, money, and effort to bring your workload to that level.

Second, you could lower the amount of your desired gross annual income. That would certainly change the calculation, but it would raise other questions, such as: Are you earning enough to meet your bills? Are you earning enough to warrant remaining a freelance editor? Is your annual income sufficient to support the lifestyle you want?

The third option is to raise your hourly rate to $51 an hour and continue to generate an average of 20 hours of work a week for 52 weeks, which would give you a net EHR of $24.06 and meet your income goals.

The fourth — and best — option is to calculate the net EHR you need to meet, which is, in this case, $25 (it really is $24.06, but rounded numbers are easier to deal with and so we round up). Then, instead of trying to charge and collect an hourly rate of $50, charge a per-page or project fee and work to increase your efficiency so that you can generate your necessary EHR. It is more likely that clients will accept a per-page or project fee than an hourly fee that they view as too high or outside their budget.

Also very important to consider when deciding whether to charge by the hour or the page/project is this: If you charge $3 per manuscript page, you need to edit a little more than 8 pages an hour to meet the $25 EHR. If you can edit 10 pages an hour, your EHR will equal $30, which is $5 more than needed. As time passes and that extra $5 adds up, you build a cushion for those times when you have no work, a cushion that may still allow you to maintain the EHR of $25 over the course of the year.

And don’t forget this: The $25 EHR is based on your generating enough work to bill for 20 hours a week on average. Thus, to meet your goal, you need to copyedit approximately 167 pages a week. (A cautionary note: Remember that all of these example calculations are based on our net EHR but that our net EHR is incomplete. You must do your own calculations based on your own business.)

Option 4 is, in my thinking, the best option because, as many freelancers have noted, publishers generally do not offer rates above $25 an hour, and authors aren’t knocking down doors in a scramble to pay editors $50 an hour. Most publishers offer a rate between $18 and $25 an hour; some publishers, to their discredit, I think, offer rates of $12 or less an hour. In addition, we are competing worldwide with editors who do not calculate their EHR needs and will accept work at any price offered. Consequently, the best way to charge is a per-page or project-fee rate because you can compete effectively yet increase your productivity and efficiency and thus raise your EHR to a sum much higher than the offered hourly rates — in other words, by becoming more efficient and speedy, you can make a $20 hourly rate (when converted from a per-page rate) an EHR of $50.

Which brings us to the next matter: calculating a page. There are lots of ways to calculate a page. One of the most common formulas is 250 words = 1 page. But there are other formulas, such as counting characters. It really doesn’t matter what you decide equals one page; what does matter is that you have a definition, that you make it known to clients, and that you apply it before quoting a price.

Regardless of how you ultimately decide to charge — whether by the hour, the page, the word, or the project — it is important to be able to calculate the number of pages because for most people, the number of pages has meaning as a measure. In addition, editors think in terms of how many pages they can edit in an hour, not how many words they can edit in an hour.

In a recent online discussion, someone was looking for an editor to edit a 248,000-word manuscript that they said equaled 450 pages. Before bidding on such a project, you need to have a standard definition of what constitutes a page so that you can rationally determine what to bid. In this instance, the author calculated a page as 550 words, more than double the commonly used 250 words. Were I to bid on this project, I would bid as if the page count were 992 pages, not 450. One page equaling 550 words is not within my lexicon.

If I placed a bid based on the 992-page count, I would be prepared to explain what constitutes a page and how I calculated the manuscript’s true (for editing) size. This count is important to me because I have a pretty good idea of how many pages I can edit in an hour. That number is a range that covers badly written manuscripts through well-written manuscripts. Knowing the correct number of pages by my definition of what constitutes a page and knowing how many of those pages I can edit, on average, in an hour, lets me knowledgeably decide if I can undertake the project and how much I need to charge.

If the author insists that the correct page count is 450, my response would be that it doesn’t matter — this is my bid price for the manuscript as described, whether we call it 450 pages or 992 pages. What matters is that I have a definition for a page that I apply when calculating my fee.

This is important because I charge by the page, not by the hour. I have a high EHR that I want to meet and a key to knowing whether I can meet that EHR is knowing how many pages I can expect to edit in an hour. The more pages I can edit, the higher my EHR.

In contrast, if I charged by the hour, aside from the fact that my true EHR would be significantly lower than my hourly rate, it wouldn’t matter how many pages I could edit in an hour. I am being paid by time, not by productivity — and I will not be rewarded for being efficient or productive; in fact, I will be punished if I am efficient and productive because I will earn less (in gross) on the project. When I charge by the page (or by the project), I am rewarded when I am efficient and productive.

Every time I exceed my required EHR, I am given a bonus. In contrast, if I charge by the hour I can never exceed my required EHR (and usually cannot meet it), thus I can never receive a bonus.

I know the concept of EHR can be confusing, maybe even daunting, but combined with a firm definition of what constitutes one manuscript page, it is really the best way to determine what you should be charging.

In Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III), we will discuss tracking the EHR.

Links to the other articles in this series:

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