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

Why?

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

2 Comments »

  1. As always, your insights are well articulated and, in this case, widely applicable to many businesses and consulting tasks. In general, this is terrific advice (adapted slightly) for project managers, business leads, writers, etc. Thanks for sharing this. I will be passing on to a number of colleagues and employees.

    Like

    Comment by Rob Reynolds — October 15, 2014 @ 6:03 am | Reply

  2. I’m in the process of adapting my work flow and process to accommodate a huge new project that I expect to be the first of several, if not many. One step I meant to take was to wait and read An American Editor at the end of the day, but that didn’t work.🙂

    Like

    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — October 15, 2014 @ 8:56 am | Reply


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