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)

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