An American Editor

October 29, 2014

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part III)

Part I addressed the first three preparation steps: (1) know your required effective hourly rate (EHR); (2) know your churn rate; and (3) establish your workweek parameters. Part II took us further along the preparation path, getting us through six additional steps: (4) determining what constitutes a page; (5) calculating the project’s size; (6) knowing the schedule the client expects; (7) determining how many editing days you will have; (8) calculating the churn rate that will be required to meet the schedule; and (9) determining what difference editing on weekends and/or holidays will make. Now, in Part III, we complete the calculations and put together our negotiation package.

Step 10: Calculating the Price

With all of the information gathered in the previous nine steps, we can calculate the price for the project. Although I have been working toward a per-page rate, you can as easily determine an hourly rate. (A project rate is simply the final calculation of number of pages times the per-page rate.)

Using the dates in the example in in step 7, your client comes to you on October 9 and says it has a manuscript that is 425 pages, an easy edit, but that must be completed by October 21 and asks for a price to do the edit. The first thing to do is ask for the complete manuscript so that you can do an independent page count.

We know that the likely number of editing workdays is 6 (step 7). That means you need to churn (step 8) approximately 71 pages per day (425 ÷ 6) or (assuming your workday is 5 hours) 14+ pages an hour (71 ÷ 5). We know that your churn rate is 10 pages an hour (step 2), so that based on the client’s count you would need to work approximately 50% faster to meet the client’s schedule and adhere to your established workweek.

Of course, when you do your own page count, you might find that, as I usually do, the client has underestimated the size of the manuscript. Here you have done the count (step 5) and discovered that the true page count, using your formula (1,600 characters = 1 manuscript page), is 631. This changes the required churn rate (step 8) from 71 to 105 per day (631 ÷ 6) or (assuming your workday is 5 hours) 21 pages an hour (105 ÷ 5). This is more than double your normal churn rate of 10 (step 2).

If we add the weekends to the editing time (4 days), the number of editing workdays increases from 6 to 10. That changes the calculations as follows: the required churn rate (step 8) to 64 per day (631 ÷ 10) or (assuming your workday is 5 hours) 13 pages an hour (64 ÷ 5). This is still more than your usual churn rate. The last option is to add in the holiday, which changes the calculations as follows: the number of editing workdays increases to 11, making the required churn rate 58 per day or 12 per hour — the 1 additional day doesn’t make much difference.

We know that your required EHR is $42 (step 1). At your normal churn rate of 10 pages an hour, your standard required per-page rate would be $4.20.

The question is what should be your minimum per-page rate for this project which has an increased required churn rate. A required churn rate of 12 pages an hour is a 20% increase required speed. Consequently, your per-page rate should also increase 20% so as to compensate you for the required churn rate; that is your minimum per-page rate should be $5.04.

However, this works only if you work weekends as well as your normal workweek. So we need to know what would be the rate for your normal workweek. The required churn for your standard workweek is 21, which is 210% faster than normal. If we apply this to your required EHR, your minimum per-page rate comes to $8.82.

The question now becomes: What is giving up your weekends worth? That is, what premium needs to be charged for that sacrifice. This is subjective; we all value such time differently. For this essay, let’s say the premium should be 20%. That would make the per-page fee $10.59. This becomes the starting point for the price negotiation.

I’m sure you are asking why we had to know the required EHR; after all, we could have come to this same point without it. But we couldn’t have. Based on surveys I have done of colleagues, editors who haven’t calculated their required EHR generally charge less than that number and when they are faced with the situation here, generally just do a multiple of what they normally charge. But the required EHR has to be the basis so as to ensure that you are not losing money.

The next calculation you can do is based on your wanted EHR. It is done the same way and it can be the basis for the negotiations to come, but under no circumstance should your basis be less than your required EHR.

Putting It Together

The next step is to put all the information and your requirements in a negotiation email. Such an email might look similar to this:

I have looked at the files and completed a page count. The page count for Smith & Jones is 631 manuscript pages, which is 48% greater than your estimate of 425. (The formula used to calculate a manuscript page is 1,600 characters without spaces = 1 manuscript page.) Just to let you know, in skimming the manuscript I noted these problems, which concern me: ______________. I also noted that several of the chapters will require heavy editing.

The schedule is exceedingly tight. As I have expressed to you previously, my normal workweek is Monday to Friday, excluding holidays. A normal editing workday consists of 5 editing hours. I would have at most 6 editing workdays to edit this manuscript. That means I would have to edit 105 pages a day or 21 pages an hour. The schedule is simply too tight and the problems too many to edit at such a rate and still assure a high-quality edit.

The only reasonable way to do this project is to work weekends as well as normal editing workdays. Adding weekends adds 4 additional editing workdays. That reduces the editing rate to 64 pages a day or 13 pages per hour, a significantly more reasonable editing rate and one that, although still high, I believe would permit a high-quality edit. Because of the need to work outside my normal workweek, and because I believe in providing only high-quality editorial work to clients, the rate for this project will be $11 per manuscript page.

Although not a perfect solution (nor a perfect email) the foregoing process has proven itself, in my experience, to be a successful way to negotiate a higher rate because the request for the higher rate can be justified. It may well be that you will need to negotiate down from the initial price you demand, but at least you will have the facts at your fingertips and you can knowledgeably determine what your bottom-line price will be.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part I)
The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part II)


October 27, 2014

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part II)

In Part I, we discussed the first three preparation steps: (1) know your required effective hourly rate (EHR); (2) know your churn rate; and (3) establish your workweek parameters. In this essay (Part II), we discuss steps 4 to 9: (4) determining what constitutes a page; (5) calculating the project’s size; (6) knowing the schedule the client expects; (7) determining how many editing days you will have; (8) calculating the churn rate that will be required to meet the schedule; and (9) determining what difference editing on weekends and/or holidays will make. Finally, in Part III, we complete the calculations and put together our negotiation package.

Step 4: Have a Set Method for Determining What Constitutes a Page

What constitutes a page is debatable. Some people use the 250 words equals 1 manuscript page formula, others count characters without including spaces, using anywhere from 1,600 to 1,800 characters to equal 1 page, others use characters including spaces. And I’m sure there are other methods in use. Contrary to what some people — and clients — claim (usually about the 250-word formula), there is no established, required, must-follow formula. In addition, each of us can defend the method we have chosen. What is important is that you have established a method and that you consistently apply it. It must not only count text, it must also account for “uncountable” items, such as equations done in MathType or figures that are given to you as graphic files. Whatever method you use, you must be able to articulate it and defend it and — most importantly — use it consistently, not occasionally.

Step 5: Determine the Size of the Project Yourself

When clients approach me, they often send me their estimate of the project’s size. As I indicated in Step 4, I have an established method for calculating a page and I apply it to the project. I never accept the client’s estimate as a basis for setting a price. Every time I give a price for a project, I include my page count and a statement describing how I calculate a page. Important: You need to be both consistent and honest. Usually, the estimates my clients give me are too low, my page count is higher. But occasionally the client’s estimate is higher than my page count. When that occurs, I do not submit my price based on the client’s estimate; I submit it based on my count and point out that my count is less than their count. Client trust is very important when negotiating a fee. It is, in my view, foolish to jeopardize that trust by using my page calculation method when it benefits me but the client’s estimate when it benefits me. I always invite my clients to apply my formula and verify the page count. Under no circumstance do I vary from my established method of calculating a page. If a client insists on a different method, I decline the project. I know what my method represents and I know how it fits into my overall evaluation of a project. I cannot say the same for any other method.

Step 6: Know the Client’s Schedule

The last bit of information needed is the client’s schedule — when must the project be completed by? I also want to know if sample chapters are needed and their due date. Clients often send me a batch schedule, such as Chapters 1–10 by September 30, Chapters 11–20 by October 8, and so on. I always thank them for the schedule and tell them that I cannot agree to meet any such schedule. The best I can do is agree to submit weekly batches. It may be that I will end up meeting their schedule, but I cannot know until I edit a chapter how difficult the chapter is nor how much time it will require. All I will agree to is an end date. Editors need to manage client expectations. Editors should not agree to be pushed into unreasonable schedules and certainly not without adequate compensation.

The Calculation

With the information in steps 1 through 6 in hand, I am ready to begin (a) determining the price I will ask and (b) assembling the data to justify the price.

Step 7: The Calculation: How Many Editing Workdays?

I usually start with a calendar in hand so I can count the number of editing workdays available to complete the project. Remember that I have an established my workweek (step 3), and my workdays are only Monday to Friday. If the client contacts me on October 9, 2014, and wants the project completed by October 21, I check the calendar and discover that October 11, 12, 18, and 19 are weekend dates and October 13 is a holiday; the workdays are — at most — October 10, October 14–17, and October 20 and possibly 21; that is a maximum of 7 editing workdays but more likely 6. That calculation assumes that the client will deliver the files on the day I am contacted. The day I receive files is a bookkeeping day for the project, not an editing day, so if, in our example, the client contacts me on October 9 but won’t deliver until October 10, then the first editing day will be October 14. Knowing how many workdays you have to edit the manuscript is important in setting your price as well as for defending your price.

Step 8: The Calculation: What Will Be the Required Churn Rate?

If I have determined that the project consists of 721 manuscript pages and that at maximum I will have 7 editing workdays to complete the project, then I can determine that I need to edit 103 pages per 5-hour workday or approximately 21 pages per hour. If I am to provide a high-quality edit, that number is high. If the client has told me that in its estimation the manuscript needs a medium or heavy edit, those numbers are nigh impossible. If I only have the more realistic 6 editing workdays, the numbers are approximately 121 pages per day or 24 pages an hour, an even more improbable editing rate.

Step 9: The Calculation: What Difference Do Weekend and Holiday Days Make?

Adding in the weekend days to our example adds 4 editing days and adding in the holiday adds a fifth editing day. Adding 5 days changes the calculation to approximately 60 pages a day or 12 pages an hour for a 12-day schedule and approximately 66 pages a day or approximately 13 pages an hour for an 11-day schedule, both much more reasonable. In Part III, we’ll complete the calculations and put together our negotiation package.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part I)
The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part III)

October 24, 2014

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part I)

(Note: Although this essay is from the perspective of an editor dealing with a publisher or packager, the basic principles of negotiating remain the same regardless of what you do or with whom you are negotiating.)

A common complaint of editors is low fees. I know that the pressure is on for editors to lower their fees, and I also know that fees have been essentially stagnant since the mid-1990s. Contributing to this economic “depression” are the Internet, which has changed the marketplace from local to worldwide, and publishing industry consolidation, which has led to increased outsourcing to the lowest-priced supplier, which has further led to outsourcing to “full-service” packagers who supply production services to publishers and purchase services of freelancers to provide the editorial services.

The problem we face is twofold. First, packagers often bid an editing price without having manuscript in hand. They get a few samples, look them over, and then, expecting to outsource the editorial work, bid a price for editing services that is the maximum price the publisher-client will pay as part of the whole production package. Built into the bid price is an expected profit for the packager on the editing component. For example, to get the publisher’s work, the packager may bid $3.50 a page for editorial work expecting that the maximum it will pay a freelance editor is $3.00 a page (and it may well offer the freelancer even less). (Note that these prices are drawn from air for purposes of discussion and are not being represented as actual pricing.)

The second problem is that the packager’s bid price sets publisher expectations. Knowing that it can send editorial work to a packager and pay no more than $3.50 a page means that when the publisher contracts directly with a freelancer, it already has a ceiling established on what it will pay. Consequently, the freelancer becomes bottlenecked because of pricing established by someone else.

The question becomes: Can the freelancer negotiate a different price?

This three-part essay discusses preparing to negotiate. This essay (Part I) discusses the first three preparation steps: (1) know your required effective hourly rate (EHR); (2) know your churn rate; and (3) establish your workweek parameters. Part II discusses steps 4 to 9: (4) determining what constitutes a page; (5) calculating the project’s size; (6) knowing the schedule the client expects; (7) determining how many editing days you will have; (8) calculating the churn rate that will be required to meet the schedule; and (9) determining what difference editing on weekends and/or holidays will make. Finally, in Part III, we complete the calculations and put together our negotiation package.

Understand that we are speaking of negotiating, which is something quite different from saying to a client, “My minimum price is $4 per page,” and nothing more — basically a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. When negotiating a fee, the editor needs to be able to provide and maintain a justification for the asked for price; that is, there must be some strength to the editor’s position.

Step 1: Know Your Required Effective Hourly Rate

The beginning point always has to be the required effective hourly rate (EHR), which we have discussed numerous times (see, e.g., the essays on calculating fees that begins with Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)). Fees come in three flavors: wanted, market, and required. I want to charge a fee of $50 an hour, the market rate is $35 an hour, and I require $42 an hour. (The market rate is the rate the client offers you when the client first contacts you for the project. There is no general “market” rate for editors that can be pointed to as the rate that most editors charge and receive for their services.) If what you want to charge is less than the market rate but more than the required rate, then you should be charging the rate you want. On the other hand, if, as in the example given, what you want and what you require both exceed the market price, you need to have a strong argument as to why clients should pay you above the market.

The problem that most freelancers face is that they do not know what their required EHR is, even though this is the number that, in terms of pricing, they cannot go below, at least not if they want to remain in business and pay their bills. The rate we want should always exceed the required rate, yet I know freelancers who, when they have finally calculated their required EHR were shocked to discover that their wanted rate was below their required EHR. Thus, even if they were able to charge their wanted rate, they would still be losing money.

Step 2: Know Your Churn Rate

This, too, is a subject we have discussed before (see, e.g., Business of Editing: Workdays & Schedules). Each of us works at a different speed. Some of us can provide a high-quality edit at a rate of 10 pages an hour, whereas others can produce the same high-quality edit at a rate of 5 pages an hour. Regardless, we need to know our editing speed — our churn rate.

We also need to know the number of hours a day we can effectively edit; that is, the maximum number of hours we can work and produce a high-quality edit. In my experience, and in speaking with colleagues, the consensus is that editors generally can edit effectively for a maximum of 5 hours a day, after which quality starts to decline.

If we can churn 10 pages an hour for 5 hours a day, it means we can edit a maximum of 50 pages in a day, assuming that there is nothing in the manuscript that alters this rate, such as hundreds of references of which few are complete or correct.

Step 3: Establish Your Workweek Parameters

It is important (also as discussed before) to have an established workweek. Many editors work whatever is required to complete the work, but that is different from establishing a set workweek. For example, my established workweek is Monday to Friday excluding holidays. My established workweek does not include Saturday, Sunday, or Thanksgiving. In fact, for some holidays, like Thanksgiving, the holiday days off include the day before the holiday through the weekend.

It is important to establish a workweek and to let clients (and potential clients) know what it is. Whenever I give a quote, I make it a point to tell clients what my workweek is. I emphasize to clients that I do not work on weekends or holidays. And when a holiday is coming up, I let clients know that my office will be closed, although I might check email. If I didn’t have set hours and workdays, clients would assume that I work days, nights, weekends, and holidays and assume that no special fee is needed to get me to work those hours.

These are the first three steps in negotiation preparations — know your required effective EHR, know your churn rate, and establish workweek parameters. Part II tackles steps 4 through 9.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part II)
The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part III)

October 22, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part II)

Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part II)

by Louise Harnby

In Part I, I discussed some of the ways in which proofreaders working for agencies or publishers on typeset page proofs find themselves worse off in real terms. I also wrote about the importance of tracking business-performance data so that the proofreader can assess the health of her business and see where the problems are.

Here in Part II, I consider three options for how to deal with problematic rates, including my preferred solution — that of introducing digital efficiencies.

1. Discuss the Issue with the In-house Project Manager (PM)

You might be able to negotiate a better fee for the job. Even if your negotiations don’t end up in the rate increase you wanted, at least you’ll have a clearer understanding of why the press’s rates have either decreased or not risen in line with the cost of living. Any decision you make thereafter will be informed by knowledge of the press’s business concerns.

One mistake inexperienced editorial professionals make when setting about negotiations is lack of preparation. The “it’s not fair” approach is unlikely to be persuasive. Your PM may be sympathetic to your plight, may even acknowledge that many of her freelancers are feeling the pinch and that the editorial fees she’s offering are making it difficult for editors and proofreaders to sustain a viable business. However, unless you can give her substantive reasons why she needs to go down the negotiation route (as opposed to simply offering the job to some other freelancer who won’t quibble about the fee), your frustrations are likely to get you nowhere.

Instead, tell your PM why the project is worth more money. Do the sums where necessary so that she understands why she should pay more. I did this for a project earlier this year. I’d accepted a flat fee for proofreading a book on the understanding that it had been professionally copy-edited. It transpired that this wasn’t the case, and the proofs needed a level of attention that meant I’d be working for an estimated £10/US$16 per hour. This was completely unacceptable to me — the hourly rate worked out well below that which I both need and want to earn.

I could have declined the work but I took the time to provide a detailed explanation of the problems. Consequently, she understood that there had to be some give and take, and I was able to negotiate a substantial increase — one that, upon completion of the project, worked out to be £24/US$39 per hour. Given how invasive I’d been (though it was neither a proper copy-edit because I was working within the restraints of page proofs, nor was it a proper proofread because I had to do some sentence rewriting), the final hourly rate was still not as high as I think it should have been but it was one that I was prepared to accept, and it was north of my required effective hourly rate.

2. Elect Not to Work for the Press

As independent business owners, proofreaders have the right to choose with whom they work. If I’m unhappy with the rates a publisher is offering, I can decline the work and seek out better-paying clients. Though I’m constantly marketing my business in a bid to make myself discoverable and interesting to new and better-paying customers, letting go of an existing client is an option I only want to employ when all others have been exhausted.

3. Introduce Efficiencies

This is my preferred option, and the preferred option of An American Editor, as indicated in numerous previous essays by Rich Adin and his contributing writers. Finding efficiencies is especially important if I’m dealing with a long-term client that provides regular proofreading work that I enjoy doing and adds value to my portfolio. Not all of my publishers provide me with an income-per-project that works out at my preferred rate (what I want to earn) or, more importantly, my required rate (what I need to earn), but I absolutely love the books they send me and I therefore want to find a way to continue the relationship with them.

Introducing Digital Efficiencies…

Recently, I chatted with a colleague about rates. We have a common client and he’d noticed that the page rate had decreased — so we’re proofreading the same number of words per page as two years ago, but for less money. In theory, we’re worse off. He certainly thought he was worse off.

However, I looked at my project data spreadsheet and it told a different story. My spreadsheet showed that my extrapolated hourly rate for this client was higher than it was two years ago, to the extent that I was better off in real terms. Importantly, it was in excess of my required effective hourly rate. Even though I was earning less per page, I was still getting a higher overall reward for the time I spent working for this client. How could this be? I didn’t think I was worse off.

Something that emerged from my discussion with my colleague was that I was utilizing digital tools, whereas he was not. I believe that this is how I’ve managed to ensure that my extrapolated hourly rate has increased to the extent that I’m better off. I’ve become more accomplished at using these tools, too, so any efficiency gains aren’t one-off — there are marginal benefits to be accrued.

PDFs, Proofreading, and Saving Time…

Not all my publisher clients want me to mark up the PDF version of a proof; some still want hardcopy annotation. But all of them send me a PDF, and that means I can still introduce efficiencies. Here are just some of the ways that I think working with a PDF saves me time:

  • Chapter headings/drops: The PDF proof usually comes with each chapter bookmarked. If it hasn’t, I do this myself. Clicking through those bookmarks enables me to check in seconds that the chapter drops, and the font and size of the chapter headings, are consistent. I don’t waste valuable time thumbing manually through, say, 350 separate bits of paper, sticking Post-it tabs to the chapter-title pages, and measuring or cross-comparing the pages, while trying to ensure the whole lot doesn’t end up on the floor (it has happened!).
  • Reference checking: Even if you don’t use something like the fabulous ReferenceChecker (one of my favorite tools — though you’ll need to dump the text from the PDF into a Word document first), it’s much quicker to search for an author’s name in the PDF, and click straight through to the references/bibliography, than manually fiddling with bits of paper.
  • Global searches: We can do superfast searches for erroneous spaces before colons, semi-colons, and full points; and for possible problematic words such as “pubic,” “manger,” and “asses.”
  • Other layout issues: Using a PDF, it takes seconds rather than minutes to search for and check the positioning and styling of figures and tables, running heads, page numbers, and word breaks at the end of recto pages. The same applies to checking that the text on facing pages is balanced, as well as spotting widows and orphans.

Other Digital Efficiencies

  • Onscreen markup: Ask your client if they’ll accept onscreen markup of PDFs. Even if they don’t like the idea of extensive use of the comment boxes, you can utilize proofreading stamps. These enable you to provide a digital version of a paper markup. For more information on PDF proofreading take a look at Roundup: “PDF Proofreading Stamps (quick-access links)” (Proofreader’s Parlour, 2012); it includes further valuable links to relevant resources (and advice) published on the websites of my colleagues Adrienne Montgomerie and Katharine O’Moore-Klopf.
  • Digital delivery: Following on from that, if your client allows you to mark up onscreen, you can simply email the marked-up proofs. Consider how much time you spend dropping projects off at the post office or waiting for couriers to arrive. If you are proofreading on a fixed-fee basis, that’s a cost to you, and it’s time you could be doing other billable work or drinking your favorite tea.
  • Utilize online dictionaries to check word-break preferences, spelling, hyphenation, and style preferences. It’s quicker than thumbing through printed reference guides.
  • Use additional digital tools such as macro suites, word-list generation tools like TextStat (“Revisiting an old favourite: TextSTAT, word lists, and the proofreader”, and consistency checkers (e.g., PerfectIt) when it’s appropriate to do so. They save you time while increasing your hit rate.

Toyota Does It, So Why Shouldn’t We?

UK readers may recall an episode of Digby Jones: The New Troubleshooter (BBC, 2014). In a bid to help a Durham-based electronics manufacturer, Ebac, British business ambassador Digby Jones took the owner to a Toyota factory to learn how staff have introduced even the smallest efficiencies to improve their productivity and profitability. Nothing in the factory was left out of the mix — from the layout of the factory floor to the use of high-tech equipment. If a change in process could help turn minutes into seconds, it was considered worthwhile. In other words, it’s about marginal gains.

If Toyota does it, why shouldn’t the proofreader? When we track and add up all our saved minutes, the total can have a significant overall impact on the time it takes us to complete the work we do. The use of digital tools isn’t the only way to introduce efficiencies, but it’s an obvious one to start with.

How do you track your data? Do you know what you need to earn vs. what you want to earn? Which variables do you record? Which complementary digital tools do you use when proofreading, and how do you think they make you more productive and improve the quality of your work?

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

The Proofreader’s Corner: Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part I)

October 20, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part I)

Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part I)

by Louise Harnby

If you’re a proofreader working for agencies or publishers on typeset page proofs, you may believe that you’re worse off financially than you used to be. This may be because:

  • Your client has increased its rates but not in line with the cost of living, so in real terms you’re still not being rewarded as well as you were in the past. You’re worse off.
  • Your client’s rates have remained the same year on year, so in real terms, again, you’re not being rewarded as well as you were in the past. You’re worse off.
  • Your client has reduced the hourly rate — real terms or not, you’re worse off.
  • Your client offers a fixed fee for the job, based on the number of pages in a set of proofs, and the page rate has been reduced. You’re proofreading the same number of words per page, but for less money. You’re worse off.
  • Your client offers a fixed fee for the job, based on the number of pages in a set of proofs, and the page rate is the same or slightly higher than in previous years, but the font size has decreased and there are, on average, more words on a page. The increased number of words per page offsets the static or increased page rate such that, overall, you’re proofreading more words for less (or the same) money. You’re worse off.

These aren’t the only scenarios but they’re the ones I’ve heard discussed often.

Tracking the Data…

If you’re not tracking your data, you can’t begin to work out whether your business is sustainable let alone whether one particular client remains a valuable asset that you wish to retain. Your data-tracking system doesn’t need to be fancy — an Excel spreadsheet might be all you need — but it should enable you to evaluate the health of your business, perhaps on a client-by-client and year-by-year basis. The reason I like Excel is because it gives me complete control over which data I collect and how I organize the information.

There are other options that are designed specifically for the job of business-performance analysis, though you’ll have to pay for them. One example, favored by Rich Adin, is QuickBooks Pro. Take advantage of free trials before you invest in expensive software, though. There will be things that you can do easily in, for example, Excel that are fiddly in paid-for programs, and vice versa. You might prefer to use different tools depending on what you want to find out.

When you’ve recorded your data over a lengthier time frame, say a year, you’ll be in a position to start assessing what works and what doesn’t, depending on your circumstances. For the specialist proofreader this could provide insight into which areas of work are most profitable (e.g., academic compared with trade publishing) or which client types (e.g. businesses compared with students or publishers). In “The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping II”, Rich Adin discusses how his data analysis taught him which parts of his business were the most valuable, “based on my experience and my data. I am not suggesting that they are true lessons for anyone else. Rather, the point is that the collection of data can help direct your business into the areas that are most lucrative for you” (An American Editor, 2014).

What Should You Keep Note Of?

Says Allena Tapia, “The variables that you track will depend on the things that are most important to you. You’ll likely play with these variables over the years, adding some and letting go of others” (“Bookkeeping for Freelancers — Exactly What Should You Track?”).

Sometimes our clients will be transparent about the changes in the fees being offered for proofreading page proofs, but sometimes changes to, for example, design (and the impact these have on rates) are only discernible if the proofreader keeps track of the data for each project — for example, number of pages, size of page, words per page, hours spent on the job, fee earned for the job. Think about what’s important to you, or what might be important to you in a year’s time, when deciding what to record.

My project data spreadsheet is Excel-based and tracks every project I’ve worked on in a particular financial year. It includes information such as: month in which the job was carried out, author, publisher, invoice number, date of invoice, payment due date, date of actual payment, pages, word count, £/1000 words, £/page, words proofed per hour, pages proofed per hour, total hours spent proofreading the project, agreed total fee, and the (sometimes extrapolated) hourly rate. I can manipulate the cells using filters so that I can see monthly and yearly totals. Or I can sort by client and compare particular variables. Previous years’ spreadsheets are similarly designed so I can cross-compare to see if there have been changes over a longer time frame.

Collecting data for many different variables is essential because I’m not always comparing like with like when looking at various projects. Some clients offer me per-page rates, some offer flat rates, some offer hourly rates, and sometimes I set the fee; page sizes and font sizes differ; and the approximate number of words on a page varies a great deal. By recording different variables, I can, over time, extrapolate information that enables me to build a picture of where the financial value lies in my client base.

I’m always particularly interested in extrapolating what I earn per hour because that’s the time I could be doing something else (e.g., working for a different client or doing my laundry). I’m also interested in what I earn overall per month and per year because those are the figures that I hold up against my monthly and yearly outgoings — this tells me whether my business is sustainable overall.

Don’t forget that by tracking the data more broadly you’ll become a better estimator, too, as Adrienne Montgomerie reminds us in “Track Your Pace to Estimate with Confidence” (, 2014). For a more thorough discussion of tracking, see Rich Adin’s “Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III)” (An American Editor, 2013). In it, Adin takes readers through the process of how he tracks the data necessary to determine his “effective hourly rate.”

Adin has addressed issues of what to charge, how to track data, and how to extrapolate an effective hourly rate extensively on his blog, and I’d recommend reading every word. There’s a great deal to absorb but it’s a wise editorial professional who’ll take the time to do so. See also Melanie Thompson’s Pricing a Project (Society for Editors and Proofreaders, 2013).

“But the Rate’s Not Fair…”

Considerations of whether your client is being fair are of little help. Publishing is a fluid industry. It’s operating in a climate where there are ways for authors to publish that bypass mainstream publishers, and in a world where what it means “to publish” is constantly being redefined by both the presses themselves (e.g., online vs. print; journal vs. article; bundle vs. single product; open-access initiatives) and the authors. This recent article, “The State of the University Press,” is a case in point (BookBusiness, 2014<;). Furthermore, publishers are businesses facing the same challenges that all businesses face — how to keep costs low and quality high in a way that means they can continue to do what they do both now and in the future.

The impact can be felt directly by the freelance proofreader because keeping editorial production costs as low as possible is one (and only one) way in which some publisher clients and agencies might seek to address the economic challenges of publishing.

More important than fairness is necessity. What I need to earn and what I want to earn are two different things. In my case, because of my particular household’s financial needs, my required effective hourly rate is £17/US$27 — that’s what my business needs to earn, given the working hours I have available, to meet my portion of what it costs my family to live the life we want to live. However, I do sometimes accept projects that fall south of this mark, because, when I evaluate my business earnings over the course of a year and from all my clients, the overall achieved effective hourly rate is well in excess of this — £27/US$44. That allows me to take a hit on the projects that I want to do.

Nevertheless, even if a client’s rates are meeting my requirements, I may still think that the fees are not in line with the value I bring to the table. In other words, the client isn’t offering me what I want to earn.

What can the proofreader do if her earnings are below that which she either needs to earn or wants to earn?

In Part II, I’ll discuss three options for dealing with problematic rates, including my preferred — that of introducing digital efficiencies.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

The Proofreader’s Corner: Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part II)

October 17, 2014

Worth Reading: The Future of the Book

As long-time readers of An American Editor know, one of my favorite and highly recommended magazines is The Economist. I find it interesting that it is a British “newspaper” whose largest subscriber circulation is in the United States. Sadly, there is no U.S. news magazine that even comes close to the quality of The Economist.

But I digress.

One of the virtues of The Economist is its high-quality, in-depth special reports and essays. The topics vary but the essay in the October 11 issue is near and dear to my heart as an editor:

The Future of the Book: From Papyrus to Pixels.

When I have spoken about the business of editing at conferences, I have said that editors, like all businesspersons, need to try to predict future trends for our business and plan for those trends. Of course, that is easier said than done, but for those of you who do try to identify trends and plan for them, this article is a must-read. It doesn’t give answers, but it certainly gives clues.

The article is the Essay in the October 11, 2014 print edition of The Economist for those who prefer the print version.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 15, 2014

The Business of Editing: Workflow

Thirty years ago, when I first started my freelance editing career, most editing work was done on paper; the personal computer was just arriving and many in-house production staff avoided them as much as possible. But it was clear to me that online editing was going to be the standard and would change the editing world I started in.

The problem with paper-based editing is that it is not really possible to make it more efficient and thus raise an editor’s earning power. No matter what task you perform, it takes time and reorganizing workflow has limited benefit. Consequently, when I started I did little workflow analysis.

Computers changed everything. Computers changed client expectations and editor responsibilities. They could be instruments of efficiency or, as they were for many longtime editors, an albatross that could not be shaken. I still remember the arguments on various early lists, including the EFA list, about paper-based vs. computer-based editing, with many established editors viewing computers as a waste of money.

I embraced computer-based editing immediately. At that time, I saw it as an opportunity to set myself apart from other editors. I wasn’t thinking in terms of workflow and efficiency — but it wasn’t all that long before I was.

Every business has a workflow. Workflow is the process you follow from the time, in the case of editors, a project is committed to you to the time it is completed and final invoice is sent. Workflow, in and of itself, is neither efficient nor inefficient — it is just the orderly (or, perhaps for some, disorderly) manner in which work flows in the front door and out the back door. Yet how it flows can mean the difference between efficiency and inefficiency (Does it flow in the front door and make a bee line for the back door or does it zigzag its way eventually arriving at the back door?).

A common mistake many entrepreneurs make is not to think about workflow, not to map it out, and not to attempt to straighten the run from door to door. We forget that every deviance costs money and reduces profitability, as well as increases time required to come and go. Consequently,

Map Your Workflow

We all face competition for work. Few of us get to dictate pricing; instead either market competition or clients dictate pricing and we grumble about how underpaid we are. Some of us have improved our efficiency so that we can make lower (not low, but lower) pricing profitable and sufficient to generate our required or desired effective hourly rate (EHR). (For the discussion of effective hourly rate, see Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I) and subsequent parts; also search An American Editor for effective hourly rate for additional essays.) Yet if we have not mapped our workflow and analyzed it for steps that can be modified, including eliminated or consolidated, then we haven’t gone far enough in our effort to be efficient and increase our profitability and EHR.

Mapping of workflow means creating what amounts to a timeline of your editing process. Each thing that you do should be identified as a step that takes you from the front door to the back door. It includes things like logging in the new project, creating a stylesheet for the project, dividing a manuscript that is sent as a single file into chapters, separating reference lists from the chapter, and so forth, down to the last steps of returning the edited manuscript to the client along with a final invoice.

In that workflow timeline, be sure to include the various steps you take while actually editing the manuscript. For example, if you use EditTools and create a Never Spell Word (NSW) dataset for each project, include that in the list. If you run macros, such as Editor’s Toolkit, to clean up manuscripts, include that step. If you run PerfectIt after editing is complete, include that step. If you run a macro you created called Zazzle, include that step. If you run Spell Check before you begin editing and again after you finish editing, include both steps.

The point is that you need to include every identifiable step you can in the workflow timeline so that you can evaluate how efficient or inefficient each step is and whether there is a better way to do it. BUT…

Also with each step you need to identify whether the step is performed preediting, during editing, or post editing; include a written explanation of the purpose of the step; what is actually accomplished by that step; what you really want that step to accomplish; and how long that step takes. For example:

Step 5 – Preedit: Create NSW dataset. Purpose is to create a dataset that includes client preferences; ensures client spelling preferences are uniformly applied across entire manuscript and that terms of art are preidentified as correct to avoid applying Spell Check incorrectly; I want to avoid spending time checking terms that Spell Check flags that are correct; creation of dataset takes 20 minutes


With that information in your workflow timeline, you can evaluate the step either based on past experience or after you complete your next project. Is this step worth the time and effort? If yes, then keep doing it; if not, then think about how to fix it or consolidate it with another step. You can also evaluate whether the step has implications for other projects.

By that I mean, using NSW as the example, if the project I am working on is for AAE Publishing and I know, hope, or expect that I will receive future projects from AAE Publishing on the same subject matter, can I take the time to create the dataset for this project and then use this dataset for future AAE Publishing projects? If yes, then the step may be efficient for this project because for future projects I will be able to skip this step and save 20 minutes.

The point is that you cannot look at steps in isolation, you must look at both today and tomorrow. Your workflow has to be efficient today and tomorrow.

The workflow timeline can help you rearrange the order in which you take steps. Reordering can increase or decrease efficiency, but you won’t know which it will do absent trying.

Just as knowing your required EHR is important to being successful as a business, so is the workflow. The more efficient your workflow, the more easily you will reach, even surpass, your required EHR.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 13, 2014

On the Basics: Overcoming the Isolation of Freelancing

Overcoming the Isolation of Freelancing

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

After helping to finalize The Business of Editing, the book compiling columns from Rich Adin’s An American Editor blog, I decided that we hadn’t done enough with the topic of how a freelance editor (or writer, proofreader, indexer, or any solopreneur who works from home) can overcome the potential isolation of working alone.

Although I understand it as a problem for others, I’ve never had a problem with isolation. That’s in large part because I’m about as extroverted as one can get — someone once said I could make friends with a lamppost. It’s also because of how and where I lived for the past many years — in apartment buildings, which provide built-in communities to interact with, and in walkable urban neighborhoods, where I could meet and interact with all kinds of people right outside my front door without much effort — neighbors, business owners and workers, beat cops, restaurateurs, dog walkers, other shoppers, and more.

For those who don’t live in such environments and have to go farther afield to feel connected with colleagues or the world in general, or who just need a little nudge to get out of an isolation rut, I have a few ideas. And I’m one of those folks now — I’m in an apartment building in a totally residential neighborhood and that lively outside world on my doorstep isn’t available any longer; it’s a world I miss. There are still neighbors to chit-chat with in the elevator or mailroom, and I can go out for a walk around the neighborhood, but there’s none of the business vitality, diversity, and community of Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, or Federal Hill in Baltimore, Maryland. It takes a little more effort to get up and out of the home-office rut.

The good thing is that, unlike when I started freelancing, nowadays you can combat isolation through the Internet, by participating in blogs, e-mail discussion lists and LinkedIn groups; on Facebook, Google+, Twitter; through Pinterest and Instagram, and whatever other new outlets pop up from one day to the next. There are new online communities every day. You can ask questions, offer insights and advice, explore new ideas, make friends, find clients and colleagues to work with — all without ever leaving your computer, much less your home.

Not that never leaving your home or computer is a good thing, but that connectivity does expand your horizons and connections with people with less effort than it takes to get out of the house, and with less trauma and more control for the introverted. The Internet makes it possible to stay connected to people you already know, find ones you thought were lost forever and meet new ones you would never otherwise have an opportunity to know. It might encourage introverts to stay put and leave the house even less often than otherwise, but it does expand your world.

That isn’t the same as, or enough, human contact, though. At least not for me. Ways I’ve gotten myself out of the office and away from the computer include:

  • Not subscribing to the daily paper, so I have to go out at least every other day, but ideally every day, because I still much prefer to read the newspaper on paper.
  • Joining a nearby pool club (for swimming, that is!) — or one for fitness, running, biking, hiking, dance — which has the potential to meet new friends, colleagues, and clients while counteracting the negative effect of all that sitting at a desk to work.
  • Joining and actively participating in local chapters of professional organizations — if there isn’t a local chapter, you can always start one.
  • Teaching and speaking, which brings in extra income while creating opportunities to meet new people.
  • Occasionally doing some work on my laptop at local coffee shops, where other people might ask what I’m working on or I might overhear and plug into conversations around me.
  • Playing mah-jongg (or bridge, euchre, etc.) — it’s good for your brain as well as your social life, probably brings in new people to meet, and could be good for your freelance business; a colleague invited me to join a regular game, and I’ve already met someone I’ll be doing some work for through that connection.

Other ways to combat isolation, both mine and a colleague’s, are:

  • Get a dog — You have to go out at least once a day (usually several times!), which creates opportunities to interact with neighbors at local dog parks.
  • Be proactive — Don’t sit around waiting for opportunities to socialize to come to you; be the one to start a writer’s or editor’s group, book club, dinner group, alumni connection, hobby club, etc.
  • Reconnect — Join a high school or college alumni association; some of those difficult old classmates may have become interesting, even likable, adults!
  • Get culture — Hang out at local galleries and museums; even if you don’t make new friends, you’ll enrich your soul (and might find new things to write about or edit).
  • Volunteer — You meet new people (some of whom might become clients), do good, and feel good.
  • Meet-ups — Considering how many freelancers there are in all professions, it is unlikely that you live where there are none, so why not start a local freelancers’ monthly meet-up? Meet for breakfast or lunch once a month and, if nothing else, discuss problems freelancers in your area are facing.
  • Marketing day — If you work directly with individuals and small businesses, why not set a marketing day — that is, a day when you will go out and meet with potential clients. For example, call your local bookstore and ask if it would be interested in your giving a presentation to writers, or call your local Chamber of Commerce and ask if they would like you to give a presentation on how members can benefit from hiring services such as you provide. The possibilities are myriad — just put on your thinking cap!
  • Silly day — The hardest thing for most people to do is to walk up to a stranger, introduce themselves, and give a marketing pitch. Why not break the ice with a Silly Day. Put your creative juices to work and do something silly (e.g., dress up like a clown and film yourself editing with humongous fingers); send it around to past, current, and potential clients and/or to colleagues with a note saying you hope this brings a smile to them; and invite them to participate in the next Silly Day with you. It will start slowly, but you will be surprised at how well this works on multiple fronts. People like to smile and smiles bring comradeship.

Thanks to the Internet, there’s really no excuse for being isolated, but the more introverted among us may need a little nudging to get out of the home office and at least see, if not interact with, the real world. Give it a try and try to make getting out a habit. You could be happily surprised at the results.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

October 10, 2014

Worth Reading: On Work

Occasionally, I read an article that I think is particularly enlightening. Today’s recommendation is such an article. It is a review of two books on the role of equity finance (or what we used to call LBO [leveraged buyout]) in the debasing of labor. It provides the first cogent explanation for the change that has occurred in the workplace from using/hiring employees to outsourcing to freelancers. More importantly, from my perspective, it provides an explanation of why I have been uncomfortable with Republican Party economic and government theories (not that the Democrat Party theories are exponentially better albeit they are better) and generally tend to vote Democrat.

The books and review also provide at least one explanation why freelance editor rates have stagnated since the mid 1990s, why offshoring became (and continues to be) the first choice among publishers, and why, for publishing, these phenomena are easily traced back to the consolidation by merger and/or acquisition of publishing houses that occurred in the late 1980s to mid 1990s.

The article is “Why Work is More and More Debased” by Robert Kuttner (alas, the article is locked and only a small portion is available for free online; if The New York Review of Books is available at your local library or bookstore, this issue — October 23, 2014 — has many articles that are is well worth reading); the books are The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad For So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It by David Weil and Private Equity at Work: When Wall Street Manages Main Street by Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 8, 2014

The Business of Editing: Thinking Holidays

In the United States, the holiday season is rapidly approaching. Soon it will be Halloween, followed not long thereafter by Thanksgiving, which will be followed in quick time by Hanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s. Of course, there are any number of other holidays in the season, depending on your religion and cultural background. Are you prepared for the holiday season? By “prepared” I mean do you have a game plan for gifting clients? In years gone by, I had carefully crafted holiday plans.

All year-round I tracked holidays and even made some up. Why? Because holidays are a good time to both thank clients (and those you want to become clients) for thinking of you and providing work for you (or considering you for work), and to remind clients that you are interested in more work from them. One issue is timing.

One colleague believes that it is better to wait until after the New Year holiday to send her clients holiday gifts. Her reasons are (a) no one else will be sending gifts at that time so this will be a welcome surprise and (b) this way she doesn’t insult someone inadvertently by sending, for example, a Christmas gift to a Jewish recipient. I disagree with her — both with her reasons and her timing. I think that the message she sends is that the gifts are an afterthought, that it would be better for her not to send anything. The flipside is that the timing is shrewd but that to pull it off, the gift needs to be more unique and expensive than it would need to be if sent at the time of the holiday.

Over my many years of marketing my editorial services, I have found that the “best” time to send clients holiday-related gifts is so that they arrive about two weeks before the office closes for the holiday (or the client plans to take off for the holiday). This particular timing applies to the standard holidays; for my self-created holidays, any time is the right time as long as the gift arrives close to but before my “holiday.” Timing is important because it sends a message and fulfills expectations.

Equally important is the gift itself. I usually send a couple of gifts, one of which is a 2+-lb bar of custom-made chocolate that is molded to display greetings from me. Colleagues have told me that they would not send chocolate because one never knows if the client is allergic or simply doesn’t like it or is on a diet or … the reasons go on.

When I am presented with that argument, I used to ask (now I just ignore it) how they know that the client likes handmade scarves, or apple-pear soap (and what message are you sending when you send soap?), or yet another coffee mug, or whatever? Unless you have a close relationship with a client, it is not possible to know.

There are some things to avoid, of course, such as sending a gift that includes bacon in it. But when it comes to items that are generally universally liked, such as chocolate, I think you are on safe grounds even if the recipient is that rare person who hates chocolate or is allergic to it. They will give it away but still be appreciative of the thought.

Which brings me to another point. You must not forget the primary reason for sending a gift, which is to promote you. Consequently, whatever you send should be something that can be (is likely to be) shared among office colleagues or shown around. In my early years, I sent a tin of popcorn to a client whenever we finished project, especially a difficult and/or lengthy project. The note would say something like “Celebrate the end of the Smith project. I look forward to working with you again.” Invariably I was told how the client and his office colleagues enjoyed the popcorn and, by the way, here’s another project — sometimes from the client, often from a colleague of the client.

In the days when I was more generous with the gifts (in my semiretirement, I’m not marketing like I once did), I would occasionally receive calls or e-mails from client colleagues asking if they could be put on my gift list. I always responded that the easiest way to be on the list was to send me some work.

Gifting requires planning. You need to plan the when, what, and why: when to send the gift; what to send as a gift; and why you are sending this particular gift at this particular time to this particular client (i.e., what you hope to accomplish). Yes, it is enough to send a gift just to say thank you, but if that is your sole reason, then do so consciously so that you are not disappointed if the client doesn’t send you work for months or years. It is better, I think, to send a purposeful gift; that is, a gift that has multiple purposes, including to say thank you for past work and to ask for future work.

Colleagues have also told me that they do not like to send items that have their name or logo as holiday gifts. Why not? Because it seems tacky. Again, I disagree. I have always sent gifts that incorporate my logo. I have no trouble remembering that my relationship with my clients is a business relationship. My clients are not bothered by gifts bearing my logo; it is expected. Holiday gifts are an ideal way to market yourself.

As I mentioned earlier, I also made up holidays. There was “In-house Staff Day” and “Copyeditor’s Day” and “Goof-off Day” and whatever else I could come up with. I tried to have a holiday at least once a month. For “Goof-off Day” I might send a yo-yo with my logo imprinted in it or a balsam wood airplane. For “Copyeditor’s Day” I have sent Post-it Notes imprinted with my logo. Remember what the purpose was: To remind clients that I am available and to send me work! Consequently, that these items were little tchotchkes was not important. Clients like being continuously recognized and these little things accomplish that.

Where editors fail when it comes to marketing is in not thinking of it as an important arm of running their business. Marketing requires planning and investment. Returns aren’t overnight (although they can be); you must think and act long-term. Colleagues who have done marketing have complained that they sent out, for example, their resume with pens but got no response and so didn’t plan to do it again. Short-term thinking and marketing will never succeed. You need to plan carefully and be in marketing for the long-term. Sometimes it took me five years before I got a response, but once I got a response, it more than made up for all the time of no response.

With the holiday season coming up, it is time to start planning to market yourself. I know I am prepared. Are you?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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