An American Editor

September 21, 2015

The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (II)

Part I (The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (I)) discussed the required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR), the churn rate, and calculating a page. Part II discusses additional elements and how to put the quote together and present it.

The style manual

Few editors consider the style manual to be applied to the project when calculating a quote. The reason is that we tend to fall into niches and to use, and thus become facile with, a particular style manual. Many editors rarely, if ever, use any style manual but one. Consequently, few editors think about the impact of the style manual on the project.

Then there are editors like me who work with and use multiple style manuals. The projects may be similar but the clients have different style manual preferences. Even so, there may not be much difference between the style manuals or not enough difference such as which style manual is required has an impact on the project price.

But after my recent experience with The ACS Style Guide (see Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure), I realize that I do need to factor into the calculation the impact of the choice of style manual. This is especially true when the client-selected manual is so radically different from other style manuals and/or when it is accompanied by a house exceptions manual (even if not by a difficult style manual).

The choice of style manual impacts the churn and the schedule. I suspect that no other allowance for it needs to be made in the calculation.

The schedule

Another element, and a very important one, is the client’s schedule.

What usually happens is that a client contacts an editor and says something like this:

I have a 320-page manuscript on eating your vegetables that I need edited in 2 weeks. It requires a medium-level copyedit and the files will be ready to send you tomorrow. The fee is xyz. Can you take it on?

The editor responds almost instantly with “sure,” thinking that 160 pages a week is easily done. And it may be easily done — or not. (I know that many editors insist on seeing a “sample,” or even the whole manuscript, but unless you are going to read it all — word by word, beginning to end, which is an editing task being done at your expense — you can never really know for certain what problems you will face during actual editing.)

Whether it is easily done — or not — depends on many of the factors discussed earlier. Is the page count accurate? What does a “medium-level copyedit” entail? And so on. Once you have all of that information, you can then evaluate the schedule.

Over my 31 years, I have learned that my best editing is done within a 5-hour window. What I mean is that of a typical 8-hour workday, only 5 hours can be spent editing if I want to provide a high-quality edit. After 5 hours of concentrated editing, the mind tires and error creep begins.

This does not mean that I do not ever edit for longer than 5 hours in a day. Some projects are easier than others and editing can go on for longer; some are so difficult that editing for 5 hours is very difficult if not impossible.

What it means is that I have determined that an editing day is 5 editing hours and an editing week is Monday to Friday. Note that it is Monday to Friday and not 25 editing hours. This is important when calculating a project fee. It means that I work Monday to Friday and weekend or holiday work is not part of the workweek; weekend and/or holiday work, or more than 5 editing hours in a day, are premium services.

So, when I calculate the viability of a schedule, I calculate it based on an editing workweek or 5-editing-hour days, not on a 7-day workweek of unlimited hours.

The First “Rough” Calculation

Assuming that the proposed 320-page manuscript is really 320 pages, then to meet a 2-week schedule means a maximum of 9 editing days (not 10, because I cannot start a project within seconds of receipt from a client; I always figure next day), which means 45 editing hours, which translates into a required churn of approximately 8 pages an hour (actually 7.11, but I always round up to the next whole number; I don’t know how to edit 0.11 pages). I check that against my churn rate for a “medium-level copyedit” and, depending on the subject matter, may conclude that the schedule is doable.

But the calculation is based on a lot of assumptions, not least of which is that the page count is accurate.

Getting more information

At this point, I have not yet responded to the client. Now is when I make my first response, which is that I am interested but need to have the manuscript sent to me so I can do a page count. Even if the client doesn’t have the whole manuscript, I want what they do have. I also tell them it is not necessary to send me any figures except tables and all-text figures; I do not need the 30 photo images to do my count or evaluate the project.

The Second Calculation

Once I receive the manuscript, I do a page count using my preferred method. It is rare that my count and the client’s count match. It is not unusual to find that the client’s count is anywhere from 25% to 50% (and sometimes more) lower than my count.

With the page count in hand, the next thing I do is open a couple of chapters and look at the references. If the references are close to the preferred style, that is a good sign. I have found that where the references are pretty much in what is to be the end format, the author has paid attention to detail and the text generally is in decent shape. But if the references are a mess, are missing a lot of information, are not close to the desired end style, I know that I need to spot check the text of several chapters to get a flavor of the author’s writing style.

Next, after the page count and checking a few chapters, I determine how many pages a day and an hour will need to be churned to meet the client’s schedule. For example, if the page count in our hypothetical is really 500 instead of 320, instead of 8 pages an hour, I will need to edit 12. I now need to determine whether it is possible to churn that many pages during my editing workweek. If I can, then the schedule is fine; if I can’t, I need to be able to explain why I can’t and what is a more realistic schedule.

With the information in hand, it is time to put together the project quote.

The Quote

In my quote, I outline exactly what I have found: the level of edit required (and what that means), the number of pages I found, what is included and excluded from the service requested, and the difficulties, if any, presented by the requested style manual in light of the condition of the manuscript. I use all of this information to justify the price I am asking and any schedule changes. I also include a description of the services I will provide, as well as what I will not do, and I include an explanation of the editing workweek to forestall any expectations that I will work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to meet the client’s requirements.

One caveat

My price is never less than my rEHR. In fact, it is usually more than my rEHR because the rEHR really is my breakeven number, not a profit-making number. The rEHR is simply the line below which I will not go. I do not consider it my job to subsidize my clients; they do a fine job of protecting their interests without my help.

Why this quote-building process?

An editor needs to go through this quote-building process to be sure she can justify her requested fee when challenged by the client. I used to wait for the challenge before justifying my fee, but for many years I have included the justification in my quote as a means of educating the client about the project. Most clients have a fee in mind and any deviation from that fee is unacceptable to the client — unless you can explain its necessity. In addition, most clients assume that because we are freelance editors, we have no other life interests and that we can devote all our waking hours to their project.

The more professional your quote is made to appear, the fewer problems you will have with a client, the more likely you are to receive your wanted fee, the more likely you will receive the project on your terms, and the more likely you will be treated as an equal.

What do you do? Do you do things in addition to those listed here?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Selected related An American Editor essays:

1 Comment »

  1. I don’t ask for the ms. before providing a quote with the intention of reading the whole ms. in detail. I ask for the ms. so I can verify the word count, which is a lot more reliable than the author’s assertion of page numbers, and so I can get at least a sense of the author’s writing style or level. I skim through and pay more attention to the middle and the last couple of pages than to the first few pages, because the beginning is where the author probably has spent the most time and effort. That usually doesn’t take me more than an hour (I rarely work on huge documents) and I factor that time into my quote.

    I consider the style manual as a factor in timing and thus in pricing, although not a huge one as long as there’s a common standard that I’m familiar with. At the moment, I have a new client whose style is based on both Chicago and AP – which, of course, are diametrically opposed on certain elements, starting with serial commas – along with their own house guide! Getting used to how the client uses those three guides is going to add to my time in editing whatever they send me.

    I also add language to protect myself from those projects that never end, whether they’re writing, editing or proofreading assignments; something along the lines of “Tasks/Material/Requests beyond the scope of the original assignment may incur additional charges.”

    If the client asks for a rush job, there’s a rush fee.

    Like

    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — September 21, 2015 @ 5:17 pm | Reply


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