We all know that standards are important. It is why we use dictionaries and usage guides and we argue about whether we should or should not use serial commas. All of these things are important standards of editing — after all, if we cannot agree on how to use our language, we will have a great deal of difficulty in communicating accurately our thoughts.
Editorial decisions, however, are not where standardization either begins or ends for the freelance editor. Standards are also important in the business of editing.
Making Business Decisions
Consider how you make business decisions. For example, you need a foundation from which to springboard your decision whether to accept a project and on what terms. That foundation, which should be the same across projects, is your standard, and it needs to be articulable.
In my practice, I always start from what I call the standard editing day and standard editing workweek. From this foundation flow all of my decisions regarding a project, including whether to accept it, the schedule, the fee, the number of editors required, what tasks can/will be done, and so on. To make business decisions you must know within what parameters you will work, and the standard editing day/workweek sets those parameters.
The Importance of the Standard
Why is the standard editing day/workweek so important? Because it sets the timeframe upon which all negotiations are based. As we have discussed before, clients assume that because we are freelancers, we are available to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, and no matter what the demands of the project, that we will accept whatever the client perceives to be appropriate pay. I make it very clear to clients that our discussion begins with the standard editing day/workweek, which is defined as:
five hours of editing per day, five days per week (Monday through Friday), exclusive of holidays. The standard editing day/workweek does not include weekends (Saturday and Sunday) or extended hours (more than five editing hours per editing day) in the absence of additional compensation.
Clients often have unrealistic expectations. I have had clients who have correctly determined that the manuscript is a mess and needs extensive editing but still think an editing speed of 20 pages an hour is easily achievable. The client then calculates that the 1,000-page manuscript should take no more than 50 hours and thus a two-week schedule is more than sufficient. Not too many years ago, I had a client tell me that a 13,000-page medical manuscript should be editable in 10 weeks. Unreasonable expectations?
Yes, the expectations are unreasonable for a single editor who is not working 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and are probably unreasonable even for the editor who is working those hours. But how do you explain to a client that what the client expects is unreasonable? It has to begin with making the client recognize that there is a standard editing day/workweek, just as there is a standard workday and workweek for the client’s employees.
The 115% Rule
In discussions with colleagues, some have told me that they edit more than five hours per day and, if the project demands it, more than five days each week. But that misses the point. It is not that an editor cannot work more hours and days; the point is that it should be your decision to work more hours in a day and more days in the week — it should not be an uncompensated client expectation.
There is a rule of behavior in play: If you routinely give 110% for the same price you gave 100%, next week you will have to give 115% for the 100% price and 115% will become the new normal, the new expectation, the new standard against which you will be judged — until it becomes 120%.
Thus my standard editing day/workweek.
Assessing a Project
I assess every proffered project beginning with my standard editing day/workweek. (Actually, my very first step is determine the true page count and the true level of editing the manuscript will require. That information is the most fundamental information as it affects all subsequent decisions.) I know how many pages an hour I can edit; I know how many pages an hour I can be edit depending on whether the required level of editing is “light,” “medium,” or “heavy,” the subject matter, and the number of references and reference style.
Consequently, I know that a medium-level edit of a 2,800-page biology text with thousands of references cannot be done in four standard editing workweeks. To do so would require editing 28 manuscript pages per hour; I cannot edit at that speed and meet the editorial needs of the manuscript and the client.
When I tell the client that the schedule is unrealistic, I need to do so in terms the client can understand and (hopefully) will accept — the pages per hour I would be required to edit based on the standard editing day/workweek. Determining that rate depends on establishing my standard editing day/workweek and conveying the concept to the client.
The explanation begins with establishing the parameters the standard editing day/workweek. I always speak in terms of standard. And I always explain to a client that when I speak of a five-hour standard editing day, I mean five hours of actual editing, not a five-hour day that includes some time spent editing. My workday may be seven hours, but two hours are nonediting hours — time spent making tea, answering email, bookkeeping, etc.
After laying out why the proposed four-week schedule won’t work with a standard editing day/workweek, I provide other possibilities, such as extending the standard editing workweek to seven days without also extending the standard editing day, and extending the standard editing day from five to six hours while keeping a seven-day editing workweek, and so on. After a few examples, I provide the client with three schedules that will work: one is the schedule required using the standard editing day and standard workweek, which would be at the usual fee; the second using an extended workday and a six-day workweek, which would be at a higher fee; and the third using an extended workday and a seven-day workweek, which would be at the highest fee.
The Standard in Practice
Using a standard editing day/workweek when evaluating a project is important. It sets the foundation for bargaining about fees and schedule. I know that editors can be desperate for work. I know of editors who are willing to accept projects that require editing more pages an hour than they can read in an hour when reading a novel for pleasure. I am also aware of clients who are willing to exploit the glut of people who claim to be editors to demand impossible schedules with impossible levels of editing quality by threatening to give the work to someone else. I am also aware of the difficulty in negotiating with clients. And I am aware that some colleagues think I provide too much explanation to clients.
It seems to me that the more detailed the explanation given a client, the stronger your bargaining position. Imagine a client asking you to edit the 2,800-page manuscript in four weeks. If you say no, you lose the project. If you say you need a fee twice usual but give no supporting explanation, how likely is it you will get the job? Or the fee? If you say yes but require a 16-week schedule and give no explanation why, how likely is it you will be given the project and the 16-week schedule?
Even if after a detailed explanation I do not get the current project, I do not consider having given the detailed explanation a waste of time because the client can see that I have reasons for my positions and am willing to offer solutions. Clients are also made aware that there needs to be a balance between schedule, fee, and quality. Based on past experience, I will be asked to undertake a future project, perhaps even one where the client has already preapplied my analysis.
The standard editing day/workweek is an important part of the foundation that establishes an editor as a professional.
Richard Adin, An American Editor