An American Editor

August 19, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part V)

The previous four parts of this series (I, II, III, and IV) discussed the effective hourly rate, how to calculate it, and how track it. The remaining question, as several colleagues have noted to me, is: “Why bother?”

Professional editing is a business. If it were a hobby, it would not matter whether or not we made a profit because we would be pursuing editing purely for our love of editing. Yet, for most of us, editing is a business, and as a business we need to be concerned with profit and loss. Even businesses that are organized as nonprofits need to be concerned with profit and loss. The difference between a for-profit and a nonprofit business arrangement is that the former distributes any profit to its “owners” whereas the latter uses any profit to further its goals (i.e., there is no distribution to owners because there are no “owners”).

A business cannot make a profit if it does not generate income in excess of its costs of doing business. It’s a simple concept but one that seems to be just outside the grasp of many business owners.

Knowing whether we are making a profit or suffering a loss is important to editors because we, just like all other businesses, need to constantly evaluate whether what we are doing is worth continuing to do. If we are not making a profit and if we cannot adjust what we are doing so that we do make a profit, perhaps we need to pursue a different career path or conduct our business differently.

Tracking one’s effective hourly rate (EHR) is a way to determine the health of one’s business. It is also an alert system to tell us if and when we need to make adjustments in how we operate our business.

If we know, for example, that no matter what we do, our current client base will not pay a rate higher than $20 an hour (or its equivalent), and if we know that our EHR, as we are currently operating, needs to be higher than what our client base is willing to pay (the required EHR), then we know that we need to make adjustments in how we conduct our business.

This is the critical and most important reason to know and track the EHR. When we operate without knowledge of our EHR, we assume that if we bring in $1,000, it represents mostly profit. This is the allure of the hourly rate: an hourly rate makes us believe that we are earning a decent income because we are assured that for every hour we work, we earn that hourly rate. In real-world business, however, it is not so simple.

Editors, like all businesses, have a production line. I know we do not like to think in those terms, but the fact is that we do operate a production line. (A “production line” is not synonymous with “assembly line.” Production line refers to the manner and order in which we do our work.) We receive a manuscript and we take certain steps in dealing with the manuscript, steps that we repeat with each project. For example, the first thing we may do is clean up the file to remove extraneous elements like extra spaces. Then we may break out reference lists from the main text, or put figure legends in a separate file, or insert bookmarks, or whatever. Ultimately we get to the editing phase, but it is rarely the very first thing we do.

As part of our production line we may do multiple passes. We may do a rough edit, then a second edit, then a cleanup, then a final pass to search for anything we may have missed. What exactly each of us does is not as important as that we recognize we have these steps and that we can articulate them. The articulation is important because part of what we need to do if we are not making a profit is determine what steps in the production line can be omitted or modified so as to make the step more efficient.

One publisher, for example, looks for the least-expensive editor who meets certain minimal qualifications and then provides a multipage checklist of things it expects the editor to do. There are several interesting aspects to the list, one of which is the blurring of the roles of the developmental editor and the copyeditor. The publisher expects copyeditors to fulfill both functions for one very low price. In addition, the publisher has its own style. which differs from standard styles in small, subtle ways. However, failure to comply with the publisher’s house style results in requests for the editor to repeatedly go over the manuscript to fix it for no additional fee.

Faced with not earning the EHR, an editor has to determine what changes can and must be made in the editor’s production line in order to earn the EHR. Will, for example, eliminating a second or third pass over the manuscript reduce the hours sufficiently to raise the EHR? Will changing the production line to a single-pass process do the trick? What other adjustments can be made that will result in increasing the EHR? Or does the editor need to drop this particular client? Can the editor afford to drop this client (i.e., how easily can the revenue this client generates be replaced)?

The reason to bother with calculating and tracking the EHR is to create a foundation for making business decisions. Bringing in revenue of $50,000 a year is nice, but meaningless, if we do not know what our cost of doing business is or whether the procedures we follow are hampering, increasing, or having no effect on our profitability — or even how many hours we need to work to make that income. It is also meaningless if we do not know whether doing work for a particular client is profitable. If working for a particular publisher is not and cannot be profitable, should we not know this so we can decide whether or not to drop the publisher and find other clients?

Perhaps even more importantly, bothering with the EHR lets an editor determine how well the editor is doing over time. Is the editor’s speed and efficiency and productivity increasing or decreasing or remaining stable — month to month, year to year?

The EHR also spreads the earning requirements over the full work week, thus accounting for the nonbillable time we need to devote to business, such as for marketing. It also is (usually) a rate we can more realistically expect clients to accept. More importantly, unlike an hourly rate, the EHR forces us to think in terms of a business week and not just in terms of billable hours. Too many small business owners think that the only hours that are part of the business calculation are the billable hours, which is incorrect.

Finally, the EHR, unlike an hourly rate, lets us fully measure productivity and efficiency. The more productive and efficient we are, the more often we exceed our EHR. When we charge by the hour, we can never exceed that hourly rate.

The EHR is foundational information that acts as a guide to business decision making. It is something against which a business can measure what the business is doing and determine whether the business is on the correct path or needs to alter its course — making calculating the EHR worthwhile.

Links to the other articles in this series:

August 14, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (IV)

Originally, part IV was scheduled to be the last part of this series, and was to tackle the question, “Why bother?” However, what was part IV is now part V. The change was made because I have received several requests for clarification on how to determine what to charge. The confusion seems to stem from two things:

  1. The effective hourly rate (EHR) discussed in parts I, II, and III, is based on a 40-hour work week. The calculated EHR is what is needed to be earned each hour of that 40-hour work week. This does not mean that you must have 40 billable hours, just that this is the EHR that each hour has to earn even if the earning has to be compressed into 20 billable hours.
  2. I did not take the calculation to the final step, which is determining the actual hourly rate. I assumed that readers would be able to make that final step themselves. I have been using the EHR for so many years that what to do seems obvious to me, but in reality, it is not so obvious — as readers have pointed out — and so that is the topic of this post: How do you calculate the actual hourly charge?

For purposes of this example, let’s change the dynamic a bit. Although we’ll retain the $30 per hour charge, the 20 billable hours per week, and the 40-hour work week for purposes of calculating our current net EHR, let’s make our expense number a more realistic $4.60 per hour (based on these monthly expenses allocated to the business: rent/mortgage = $500; heat, water, and electric = $200; telephone = $40; and maintenance = $50). This changes our net EHR to $10.40 ($15 gross EHR − $4.60 expenses) based on a 40-hour work week.

(If your work week is only 30 hours, the method of calculation is the same but the numbers change. For a 30-hour work week, your gross EHR would be $20 and the same expenses would equal $6.13 per hour, giving a net EHR of $13.87. The figures change because the number of hours over which the EHR has to be earned has changed. You need to calculate the EHR using your work week, expenses, and hourly charge.)

Although some readers think we only need to pay attention to billable hours, that is not true. It is true that in a 40-hour work week we do not bill for 40 hours; we do have administrative matters and marketing, for example, that need to be addressed for which we cannot directly bill a client. But these are no different from the rent. They need to be paid for and every business calculates what it needs to charge customers by including time spent on nonbillable matters. The same is true for sick days and vacation time. These items are part of the expense of doing business; we just cannot give them precise numbers like we can give rent.

Consequently, the hourly charge that we determine accounts for the facts that we have only so many billable hours in a week and we also have hours in the week that we have to devote to nonbillable matters.

If we were to use the net EHR we calculated ($10.40), your average weekly earnings, after expenses, would be $416 or a yearly income after expenses of $21,632. But our goal is for that yearly income to be $50,000.

Here are the steps we need to take to obtain the EHR data and calculate how much we need to charge to reach our goal of $50,000 after expenses:

  1. Calculate the EHR for $50,000:
    $50,000 ÷ 52 weeks = $961.54 per week
    $961.54 ÷ 40 hours = $24.04 EHR
  2. Add the expenses to the EHR because the EHR currently only represents our net income (after expenses) goal
    $24.04 EHR + $4.60 expenses per hour = $28.64 EHR
    (or an average gross weekly income of $1,145.60 which translates to gross yearly earnings of $59,571.20)
  3. Calculate the number of billable hours in a year:
    20 billable hours per week × 52 weeks = 1,040 per year
  4. To determine the hourly rate you have to charge, divide the gross annual income by the number of billable hours:
    $59,571.20 ÷ 1,040 billable hours = $57.28 per hour

Now you know what you have to bill per hour to have a net annual income of $50,000 while having only 20 billable hours a week.

Your question is: This number can be calculated without calculating the EHR, so why go through the trouble of calculating the EHR? Why not go to the heart of the matter directly?

The answer is that few of us can directly charge the hourly rate we need to earn. How many of your clients would knowingly pay you $60 an hour for copyediting? Most of us have difficulty transparently charging and collecting that amount, especially if we work for publishers. That is why we began this series with the hourly charge of $30.

We need to calculate the net EHR to see what we are really earning under our current charging scheme. Most of us see that this week we brought in $600 and the week before we brought in $900 and last year we had a gross income of $41,628. And we also see that when it came time to pay the rent, we paid it, even if we struggled to do so — the same being true of our other bills. But few of us really know what we are really earning, and in the absence of knowing that, we have no foundation on which to evaluate the manner in which we run our business.

The hourly charge figure tells us that if we want to continue our current way of doing business, we need to double our hourly charge (from $30 to $60). In other words, our current business methods are not sustainable at the level of our economic goal.

The $28.64 EHR, which is based on your economic goal, tells you what hourly rate you need to average over the 40-hour work week in order to meet your economic goal. This number is important because it is often a more achievable number. It is also an argument for abandoning the hourly rate method for the per-page or project-fee method of billing, because, unlike the hourly method, these methods reward you for productivity and efficiency.

The result is that with these three numbers in hand, you are in a position to evaluate your current business and can align your goals with your decision regarding what and how to charge. For example, if you know you need to charge $60 an hour for 20 billable hours to meet your goal, you can either find clients willing to pay that rate, increase the number of billable hours in your work week, or lower your economic goal. If you increase your billable hours from 20 to 30, the hourly charge drops by approximately one-third, from $57.28 to $38.19 (or from $60 to $40). (Note: The EHR does not change. The EHR changes only if the work week total hours change and/or the economic goal changes.)

In my experience, it has been impossible to charge the hourly rate I would need to meet my economic goals. On the other hand, by analyzing my work habits, increasing my productivity and efficiency, and using a per-page/project-fee method of charging, I have been able to meet, and almost always exceed, my required EHR. There are weeks when I do not meet the EHR over the course of the work week hours, but those weeks are made up for by the weeks that I exceed my EHR.

The EHR also serves as the standard against which I judge my business. I evaluate clients and projects based on the EHR. Clients whose projects regularly do not meet or exceed my EHR become ex-clients, because I know they cannot be made profitable.

I am not in business to lose money or not meet my goals, which is why I rely on the EHR and review it constantly. Are you in business to lose money? Under your current setup, how do you know whether you are making or losing money, and if you are making money, how much you are really making?

Next is part V, which tackles the question: “Why bother?”

Links to the other articles in this series:

August 12, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III)

In parts I and II of Business of Editing: What to Charge, we discussed the effective hourly rate (EHR), how to calculate a true EHR, why it is important to have a definition of what constitutes a manuscript page, and why I think it is smarter to charge by the page or project rather than by the hour. But knowing your required EHR is not enough; you need to track it as well.

I use two programs to track my EHR: Timeless Time & Expense (TT&E) and Microsoft Excel. In the case of TT&E, I am using an older version because it does all that I need. TT&E is not freeware and it is a bit pricey if all you want is to track time, but I like that it makes it easy to track multiple projects. In any event, what you need is a good timing program that will track how much time you spend on a project and give you a total time.

Excel is a program that most of you are familiar with. However, as with TT&E, it is not necessary to use Excel; any quality spreadsheet program will do.

Tracking time is key. I round total time up to the nearest quarter hour. For example, if the total time I spent on a project is 25 hours and 1 minute (25:01), I enter that as 25.25 hours. I know that somewhere along the line I missed timing a few minutes of work, so this is a way to compensate.

Another thing I do is track the time based on billing cycles. If a project is to be billed only upon completion, then I track the time until the project is complete and being billed and use the single total time. If the project is being billed in batches, then I track the time for each batch and enter the time in Excel batch by batch.

As you can see from the following image, I use a simple form to track important data.

In the sample, I have given a spread of per-page price ranges. The key, of course, is to maximize price and minimize hours. (I know that some of you will point out the high pages-edited-per-hour rate that this illustration uses. The pages and hours shown are taken from a real project. Remember, however, that this is an illustration and your figures will differ.)

What is important is that even at the lowest per-page price of $2 per page, the EHR exceeded the required EHR of $25 (based on editing 16 pages an hour; at a rate of 13 pages per hour, the EHR would still be exceeded but at 12 pages an hour, it would not be met. However, at $2.50 per page, where the illustration has a 19 pages-edited-per-hour rate, even at a rate of 12 pages per hour the EHR would be exceeded). This illustrates that it is possible to have a low rate and still meet and exceed the required EHR if you are efficient and productive. Do not, however, take this as an argument for a low per-page rate, nor an indication that you will always exceed the required EHR, nor an indication that one can always edit at such a high pages-per-hour rate — this is just an illustration of how to calculate and track the EHR.

If the per-page rate had been $2 for the whole project, the EHR would have been $38.45 based on the numbers. However, to achieve that EHR, the editor would have had to average, as indicated in the image, 19.23 pages an hour. Depending on the project and the parameters of the project, that may be doable.

But we stray off course.

The key to determining what to charge is determining your required EHR. But to determine that EHR, you have to have accumulated data. In the beginning, you guess, but as data accumulates, you can be more precise in your calculation. The important data are the EHR for each batch of submitted manuscript, as well as for the entire project, and your average number of pages edited per hour (shown in the image at the bottom far right).

Unfortunately, the image doesn’t show the column labels. Column A is the Date; B is Batch #; C is Number of Pages; D is Per-page Rate; E is Number of Hours; F is EHR; G is Charge; H is Total; and K is the Average Pages/Hour. You need the column information for the following Excel formulas to make sense.

Although the information is important, columns A and B are not needed to calculate any of the other data in the table.

The formula to calculate the EHR of column F is:


where, for example, E11 represents the data in column E row 11. The “” is an instruction to leave the cell in column F blank if the data in E11 equals 0.

To calculate the Charge of column G, use the formula:


The Total column (H) needs two formulas. The first is only for the very first row of data, which in this example is row 11:


The formula is that simple because in this instance, the Charge and the Total are identical. To calculate subsequent Totals by row, the formula is:


which means to add the new Charge found in this row (G12) to the Total in the row immediately above (H11) so that the Total in this row is a running total. Remember that the numbers (e.g., 12 in G12) represent the row number; the letter represents the column.

All of the data is row-centric; that is, the calculations are for the row only. The exception is the Total column, which is a running total.

The Profit/Loss Data row is where we get our overall information. The formulas for the various entries are as follows:

Total Pages: =SUM(C11:C22)
Total Hours: =SUM(E11:E22)
Ave Effect Hrly Rate: =IF(E24=0,””,G24/E24)
Total Billed: =SUM(G11:G22)
Project Gross Profit: =SUM(G24-D24)

Finally, the formula for the Ave Pg/H is:


Because I hire other editors to work on projects, I need the IC Fee and the Gross Profit percent (%) information. For those who never hire someone else, these items can be omitted. For those that do hire, you manually enter the amount of total fee paid to the other editor under the IC fee and use this formula to calculate what percentage of the total fee you retained:


Although not shown in the illustration, you can also track your EHR over the course of time by adding up the total hours from each project and the total billed for each project and dividing the grand total billed by the grand total hours.

With this data at hand, you can determine whether you are charging enough for your services. Adjustments can be made as needed. This information will tell you the state of health of your business. If you see that you are not making your required EHR, you need to analyze why not. Are there things that you can do to improve your efficiency and productivity? Or is the only solution to raise your prices and find new clients?

Part IV adds some clarification and Part V concludes the series, tackling the question: Why bother?

Links to the other articles in this series:

August 7, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part II)

In Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I), we ended with this question: Is the $30/hour rate you charge sufficient to generate your desired annual gross income based on your EHR? The answer is “no.”

Your current charge of $30/hour is not enough to generate the desired gross annual income of $50,000 because your net EHR is $13.56 (based on 20 billable hours in a 40-hour workweek), not the required minimum EHR of $24.04. Your EHR is $10.48 too little. Based on your EHR, your gross annual earnings will be approximately $28,200, or a little bit more than half of your desired annual gross income.

There are several options for curing this problem. First, increase the number of billable hours you work each week. At the hourly rate of $30, you need to generate at least enough work to bill for 34 hours every week for 52 weeks a year (or its equivalent). That will generate a net EHR of $24.06 ($30 × 34 hours = $1020 ÷ 40-hour workweek = $24.06). That is not impossible to do, but if you haven’t averaged at least 34 hours a week of billable-at-$30-an-hour-work over the course of a year in past years, you will have to devote some time, money, and effort to bring your workload to that level.

Second, you could lower the amount of your desired gross annual income. That would certainly change the calculation, but it would raise other questions, such as: Are you earning enough to meet your bills? Are you earning enough to warrant remaining a freelance editor? Is your annual income sufficient to support the lifestyle you want?

The third option is to raise your hourly rate to $51 an hour and continue to generate an average of 20 hours of work a week for 52 weeks, which would give you a net EHR of $24.06 and meet your income goals.

The fourth — and best — option is to calculate the net EHR you need to meet, which is, in this case, $25 (it really is $24.06, but rounded numbers are easier to deal with and so we round up). Then, instead of trying to charge and collect an hourly rate of $50, charge a per-page or project fee and work to increase your efficiency so that you can generate your necessary EHR. It is more likely that clients will accept a per-page or project fee than an hourly fee that they view as too high or outside their budget.

Also very important to consider when deciding whether to charge by the hour or the page/project is this: If you charge $3 per manuscript page, you need to edit a little more than 8 pages an hour to meet the $25 EHR. If you can edit 10 pages an hour, your EHR will equal $30, which is $5 more than needed. As time passes and that extra $5 adds up, you build a cushion for those times when you have no work, a cushion that may still allow you to maintain the EHR of $25 over the course of the year.

And don’t forget this: The $25 EHR is based on your generating enough work to bill for 20 hours a week on average. Thus, to meet your goal, you need to copyedit approximately 167 pages a week. (A cautionary note: Remember that all of these example calculations are based on our net EHR but that our net EHR is incomplete. You must do your own calculations based on your own business.)

Option 4 is, in my thinking, the best option because, as many freelancers have noted, publishers generally do not offer rates above $25 an hour, and authors aren’t knocking down doors in a scramble to pay editors $50 an hour. Most publishers offer a rate between $18 and $25 an hour; some publishers, to their discredit, I think, offer rates of $12 or less an hour. In addition, we are competing worldwide with editors who do not calculate their EHR needs and will accept work at any price offered. Consequently, the best way to charge is a per-page or project-fee rate because you can compete effectively yet increase your productivity and efficiency and thus raise your EHR to a sum much higher than the offered hourly rates — in other words, by becoming more efficient and speedy, you can make a $20 hourly rate (when converted from a per-page rate) an EHR of $50.

Which brings us to the next matter: calculating a page. There are lots of ways to calculate a page. One of the most common formulas is 250 words = 1 page. But there are other formulas, such as counting characters. It really doesn’t matter what you decide equals one page; what does matter is that you have a definition, that you make it known to clients, and that you apply it before quoting a price.

Regardless of how you ultimately decide to charge — whether by the hour, the page, the word, or the project — it is important to be able to calculate the number of pages because for most people, the number of pages has meaning as a measure. In addition, editors think in terms of how many pages they can edit in an hour, not how many words they can edit in an hour.

In a recent online discussion, someone was looking for an editor to edit a 248,000-word manuscript that they said equaled 450 pages. Before bidding on such a project, you need to have a standard definition of what constitutes a page so that you can rationally determine what to bid. In this instance, the author calculated a page as 550 words, more than double the commonly used 250 words. Were I to bid on this project, I would bid as if the page count were 992 pages, not 450. One page equaling 550 words is not within my lexicon.

If I placed a bid based on the 992-page count, I would be prepared to explain what constitutes a page and how I calculated the manuscript’s true (for editing) size. This count is important to me because I have a pretty good idea of how many pages I can edit in an hour. That number is a range that covers badly written manuscripts through well-written manuscripts. Knowing the correct number of pages by my definition of what constitutes a page and knowing how many of those pages I can edit, on average, in an hour, lets me knowledgeably decide if I can undertake the project and how much I need to charge.

If the author insists that the correct page count is 450, my response would be that it doesn’t matter — this is my bid price for the manuscript as described, whether we call it 450 pages or 992 pages. What matters is that I have a definition for a page that I apply when calculating my fee.

This is important because I charge by the page, not by the hour. I have a high EHR that I want to meet and a key to knowing whether I can meet that EHR is knowing how many pages I can expect to edit in an hour. The more pages I can edit, the higher my EHR.

In contrast, if I charged by the hour, aside from the fact that my true EHR would be significantly lower than my hourly rate, it wouldn’t matter how many pages I could edit in an hour. I am being paid by time, not by productivity — and I will not be rewarded for being efficient or productive; in fact, I will be punished if I am efficient and productive because I will earn less (in gross) on the project. When I charge by the page (or by the project), I am rewarded when I am efficient and productive.

Every time I exceed my required EHR, I am given a bonus. In contrast, if I charge by the hour I can never exceed my required EHR (and usually cannot meet it), thus I can never receive a bonus.

I know the concept of EHR can be confusing, maybe even daunting, but combined with a firm definition of what constitutes one manuscript page, it is really the best way to determine what you should be charging.

In Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III), we will discuss tracking the EHR.

Links to the other articles in this series:

August 5, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)

One problem with editing as a profession is that it is easy to set one’s self up as an editor. The result is that every day brings new editors into competition with existing editors. And every day the question gets asked: “What should I charge?”

The first response to that question, at least in the United States, is to take a look at the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) list of editorial rates. It does no harm to look at the rate schedule, as long as you recognize the failings of the schedule and do not rely on it for setting your rates.

The EFA schedule of rates is based on surveys of EFA members. Consequently, the survey excludes data from the many thousands of nonmembers. More importantly, the portion of the membership that responds to the survey is just a small fraction of the EFA membership, which itself is but a miniscule fraction of the universe of editorial freelancers. There are other biases in the survey as well.

The EFA schedule is also problematic because it fails to define its terms. For example, what does “basic copyediting” include/exclude that distinguishes it from “heavy copyediting?” What justifies the range difference? Suppose the copyediting were “medium.” How does that differ from “heavy” or “basic?” (For a discussion of light, medium, and heavy and their real-world relationship to editing, see The Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy?)

Bottom line is that the EFA schedule of rates is a place to begin but not to stop. It should be reviewed then discarded.

A problem with the query about what to charge is that the asker believes in a false assumption — that there is a “going rate.” There really isn’t a going rate in editing. It is true that many publishers pay similar fees for work, but if you look at what work is required, you will see that there is a great variance among publishers. In the case of authors, there is no rate similarity that is author imposed. Authors deal with editors on a one-to-one basis, and negotiate rate one-to-one. Publishers, in contrast, deal with many editors simultaneously and thus have company-established pay guidelines that they impose.

Although there is no “going rate” per se, it could be argued that there is a de facto one because Publisher A will offer pretty much the same as Publisher B by way of compensation; only the amount of work demanded (i.e., services required for that pay) varies — and should be carefully looked at and incorporated into your determination of what to charge.

Ultimately, any “going rate” has little meaning in the absence of it meeting your needs, which is the crux of the issue of what to charge.

The most important factor in setting a rate is knowing what your effective hourly rate (EHR) has to be in order for you to make the income you need. We have discussed the EHR several times. The original discussion and explanation is found in Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand. That article covered the surface of the EHR.

The EHR gives you a better picture of what you are really earning. For example, if you charge $30 an hour but are able to charge and receive payment for only 20 hours of a 40-hour workweek, your “gross” EHR is $15 not $30. You need to account for all of the hours in a workweek. The gross EHR isn’t a “true” EHR because it accounts only for hours, but it is better than blindly choosing a number that sounds good or matches the rate of some other editor whose circumstances and needs are likely to be different than yours.

The true EHR also accounts for expenses incurred by your business. For example, if you work from your home and pay $500 a month in utilities, you might attribute $250 a month to your freelance work. That works out to $57.70 a week (or $1.44/hour) in utilities expense that you “would not otherwise incur” if you were working outside the home and for someone else who supplied the utilities during the workweek. (Even if your utilities bill would not be lowered by your working outside the home, some portion of the utility cost is attributable to your working from home.)

Utilities are but one of the expenses that are attributable to your freelance business. Health insurance is another, especially if you had employer-paid health insurance before pursuing your freelance career. The point is that you need to identify all your freelance-related expenses and add them to the mix to determine what to charge.

Let’s pursue the example of a true EHR using an hourly rate of $30. If you charge $30/hour for copyediting (however you define copyediting) and have billable work for 20 hours, your gross EHR = $15 an hour, which is calculated this way:

$30 per hour × 20 billable hours in 1 week = $600
$600 ÷ 40 hours (standard workweek) = $15 EHR

Now that we know the gross EHR, we need to fine-tune it to determine the “true” EHR. Consequently, from the gross EHR subtract the cost of utilities, as follows:

$15 (gross EHR) − $1.44 (freelance portion of utilities per hour) = $13.56 (“true” EHR)

We are only using utilities as a cost here, but the deduction from the gross EHR would be the freelance portion of all expenses of maintaining your business, broken down into its hourly value, such as the appropriate portion of health insurance, other required insurance(s), telephone and Internet service, rent or mortgage, hardware and software, etc. In other words, the $13.56 in the example is still high.

Once you have figured out your EHR, you need to determine your target gross yearly income. In reality, you will pick a number that you would like to earn and see if it is feasible.

Let’s assume that your target gross income for a year is $50,000. That equates to a gross of weekly income of $961.54 (based on a 52-week year), which equates to a minimum EHR of $24.04 (based on a standard 40-hour workweek). Is the $30/hour rate you charge sufficient to generate your desired annual gross income based on your EHR?

The answer and more in Wednesday’s Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part II).

Links to the other articles in this series:


March 15, 2017

The Business of Editing: A Page Is a Page — Or Is It?

When editors speak of how to charge for a project, they are referring to one of these three methods: by the page, by the project, or by the hour. Although editors speak in these terms (page, project, hour), the truth is that every calculation comes down to the page.

Editing is based on the page

Regardless of an editor’s method of calculating a fee, a fundamental question that every one of them must answer — consciously or subconsciously — is this: How many pages can I edit per hour in a project like the one proffered? The number of pages you can edit in an hour sets the basis for your rate and establishes your profitability. (I am guessing that your client does not have an unlimited editing budget; in 33 years of editing I have yet to be told, “My editing budget is unlimited, so take as long as you need.”) Thus the question: What is a page?

Even if you charge by the hour, you are assuming that you can edit a certain number of pages per hour. You might assume, when estimating a project, that you can edit 10 pages an hour and price the project accordingly, but if you soon discover you can only edit two pages an hour, you are likely to find that you are losing your shirt on the project. (It is to “prevent” this scenario from happening that editors claim they charge by the hour. It is the rare client, however, who will pay you for an unlimited number of hours, even if you explain the project’s difficulties. Charging by the hour often does not prevent the described scenario. In my experience, it is smarter to charge by the page or project, and when you are enmeshed in a money-losing project, you should figure out how to make it and subsequent similar projects profitable.)

Pages are the basis not only for the fee but also for the schedule. Editors want to know a “page count,” even if they are charging by the hour, so that they can calculate how much time a project will take — a critical consideration for scheduling purposes. That brings us full circle to the assumption that the editor can edit x pages per hour.

Pages are the foundation of editing.

What is a page?

Defining a page is critical to editor–client communication. Experienced editors know that; less-experienced editors soon learn it. Yet rarely is there a true discussion of what constitutes a page. Defining a page is also critical to an editor’s profitability. The defined page forms the foundation on which many further decisions, such as what to charge, are based.

When people in the editing business ask how a page is defined, they usually ask the question obliquely — What should I charge? How should I calculate what to charge? — instead of directly: What constitutes a page and why? A common response to the charge question is to ask how long the manuscript is, with the expectation that the response will be x words. No one questions whether counting words is the best method for calculating length. (The most common response is simply to toss out a number such as $25/hour, citing some survey as authority — without anyone ever wondering about or questioning the legitimacy of the survey — or $1/page, without any discussion of what constitutes a page or of the legitimacy or basis of the stated per-page price. The most financially successful editors have calculated their required effective hourly rate and have based their pricing on that, not on what colleagues claim is “standard” pricing, or on what some very unscientific survey claims is “standard.” [For information on calculating your required effective hourly rate, see the series Business of Editing: What to Charge. Some other essays on pricing are So, How Much Am I Worth?, The Business of Editing: Why $10 Can’t Make It, and Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts.])

When the discussion does get to the question of calculating a page, the most common response is 250 words = 1 page.

This equivalency has been around for decades, and its continued legitimacy is based on that longevity. The equivalency came about in the days of typewriters. Editing was done on paper, and manuscripts were required (unless, of course, the author ignored the requirements, as authors so often do today) to be single-sided, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. The typewriter font was universally Courier 12-point, a monospaced font that ensured that all spacing between words and characters was uniform. Unlike today’s word-processing programs, authors couldn’t create all the little variations that currently haunt manuscripts and editors (such as adjusting kerning to squeeze more words on a line, or using multiple font sizes to “format” the manuscript). Most manuscripts were straight text as far as the editor was concerned. (There was often a separate editor who dealt with figures and tables.) So, for decades 250 words = 1 page was a good equivalency.

Personal computers and word-processing software began taking over in the 1980s, and things likewise began to change for editors. A job that was once divided among specialists became a unitary job to be done by one editor. Where previously a typesetter would clean up files, that task became the editor’s job. Everything changed except the equivalency. Authors tried “typesetting” their manuscripts so that editors and publishers would “know” what the author wanted the text to look like. And editorial headaches became more frequent and more enduring.

Even as the workload increased and the pay stagnated, the equivalency carried on. It is still a living, breathing thing — just ask on any editors’ forum what constitutes a page and their answers will predominantly be 250 words = 1 page.

It does and it doesn’t

Let’s begin with this: Regardless of what the formula is, the equivalency is arbitrary. It isn’t, today, scientifically based. It is, however, a method to increase or decrease the amount a client pays an editor.

Consider this example: According to Word, the chapter before you, as submitted by the author, is 118 manuscript pages, has 26,967 words, 161,167 characters without spaces, and 187,327 characters with spaces. Few clients or editors will accept the 118 manuscript pages as the chapter size. After all, who knows, for example, what spacing and font sizes are used throughout the chapter? And either (and both) of those can affect true count. Using the standard equivalency, this chapter is 108 manuscript pages. Most editors would go no further. But suppose the page count were based on 1600 characters with spaces? The page count is now 118 (rounding fractional page results [117.08] up); and if it were based on 1600 characters without spaces, it would be 101 manuscript pages.

The key

Note that the number (250 words, 1600 characters) used is, today, somewhat arbitrary. The 250 words formula has historical precedent, but not necessarily modern-day relevancy. It is not unusual to find publisher and packager clients, for example, who define 1 page as 300 words or 1800 characters without spaces. There is no magical method for determining the number. The key to this discussion and to the equivalency is to determine the factors, including profitability, that you consider in deciding what should constitute a page for your particular type of work. And then you should select a number — and method of counting — that will represent those factors and that you can articulate and defend to the client as best corresponding to the intricacies of the manuscript.

There are two noteworthy points. First, how a page is defined affects the page count. Second, the method used counts only the text items that Microsoft Word can count; for example, it does not include the 22 graphic images that accompany the chapter, nor does it take into account the difficulty of the edit (the light vs. medium vs. heavy concept), and it doesn’t include in the count all the formatting and unformatting tasks the editor is expected to perform.

And another problem is…

Another problem with the word count method — and a major problem for me because of the type of books I generally edit — is that Microsoft Word counts words such as N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide as being the same as pain; that is, Word counts N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide as one word, just as it counts pain as one word. But the two are not, wordwise, equivalent — at least not to my thinking. A character count, however, treats N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (29 characters) and pain (4 characters) equivalently — that is, 1 character = 1 character.

If I were editing a text-only novel, the 250 words = 1 page equivalency might work fine. From my perspective, everything would balance out; the fact that the average English word is five characters would probably offer a fair equivalency. But when a manuscript is more complex and the tasks are more involved (e.g., the chapter has 600 references that need to be formatted and checked; reference callouts need to be changed from inline to superscript; dozens of compounds have to be checked against The Merck Index), then the equivalency falters in its purpose and a different formulation of the equivalent of one manuscript page has to be devised.

(It is worth noting that many editors will respond that these factors and problems should be, and are, addressed by the rate rather than the count. That works well is your clients are amenable to paying a high rate; my experience has been that it is significantly more difficult to get a client to pay a higher rate than to get the client to accept a method of counting pages that differs from the standard equivalency. It is also important to understand that not all factors are equal and that the weight to be given a particular factor can vary from manuscript to manuscript. Finally, it is easier to set a variety of rates when an editor’s clientele are individual authors rather than publishers and packagers. Publishers and packagers expect a long-term many-project relationship and a single rate and method of calculating a page for all projects without regard for complexity or other factors.)

Don’t get me wrong. If you are editing chemistry textbooks, have investigated page equivalencies, and are satisfied with the “standard” equivalency formulation, use it. The key is that you have considered whether the “standard” equivalency sufficiently accounts for the types of problems you encounter.

There is no single, set equivalency that works well in all situations. In my editing, I deal with words of the N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide type and with lots of references and figures. Consequently, a character-based formula works best for me. This I have documented many times over the years. I have also learned that I can ignore graphic images when doing my count because the formula I use is sufficient to account for them; no additional assessment or count is needed. I also know, from experience, that using a character count gives me a more accurate idea of how many pages I can edit in an hour than a word count does.

The bottom line is…

Editors need to act like good businesspeople. They must evaluate how best to calculate a page equivalency for their type of work. Editors should not automatically assume that the “standard” equivalency is the fairest option for them. When determining the equivalency they’ll use, they need to keep in mind all the variables that are missing from Word’s count, and also all the tasks they will be expected to perform in addition to content editing.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 8, 2016

The Business of Editing: Ballpark Quoting for Copyediting

In a recent essay found on “The Proofreader’s Parlour” (see Quoting for the Customer — Ballpark Prices and the Editorial Freelancer: Part 1 and Part 2), Louise Harnby discussed giving prospective clients ballpark quotes via her website (Get a Proofreading Quote). Although the essay was intended to be broadly applicable, I think it is most applicable to proofreading.

The underlying premise is that with her years of experience, Louise can give a fairly accurate, albeit ballpark, quote without any information other than the type of project (“suspense thriller, self-help psychotherapy book, or children’s book,” etc.), the deadline, and the word count. I admit I haven’t done proofreading in many years, so I will concede that Louise, who is a very experienced proofreader, can give an accurate ballpark quote for proofreading with just that basic information. In my view, this system does not work as well for copyediting. (However, see my essay The Business of Editing: To Post or Not to Post Your Fee Schedule?)

Copyediting is less mechanistic than proofreading. (I am not implying that proofreading is wholly mechanistic; I’m just saying that it is more mechanistic than copyediting.) The copyeditor has to decide whether OK or okay is the correct form; the proofreader has to make sure that, whatever the decision, it is consistently applied. The copyeditor has to decide whether Canal Street runs north–south or east–west; the proofreader needs to make sure that whichever direction it runs, it does so consistently.

I do not wish to be seen as trivializing the role of the proofreader, because the proofreader does play a very important role in the editorial process. But I want to emphasize that the decisions that the copyeditor makes are not remade by the proofreader; the proofreader is the enforcer of those decisions and catches the copyeditor’s mistakes when applying those decisions. (The proofreader does much more, but this essay is not intended to exhaustively describe the differences between copyediting and proofreading.)

Consequently, in determining a price for a project, a copyeditor needs to consider how well written the manuscript is; the proofreader expects to receive a decently written manuscript because it has already been copyedited. But how can the copyeditor determine the manuscript’s quality of writing from the minimal information outlined above and then give a reasonable ballpark quote?

Complicating the quote process are the subject area, the length, and the schedule for the project. Granted, these complications would be relatively easy to take into account if it were not for the question of how well written the manuscript is. A professional editor might be aware that, very broadly speaking, she can copyedit six pages an hour of biographical text that is reasonably well written, and she therefore knows that if a manuscript is 240 pages, it will take roughly 40 hours to copyedit. Thus, if the deadline is 2 weeks, the editor can surely say (1) I can meet the deadline and (2) because I charge $35 an hour, the price will be $1,400. Except that the editor does not know whether there are any footnotes, any references that need verification, any facts that need correction or questioning, or any of myriad other things that will affect the time required. Consider this: What is the effect on pricing of having to look up hundreds of acronyms because the author hasn’t defined them? Or ask yourself what the effect on pricing is of having 300 references that need to be in APA style but aren’t. For example, they should be in text this way: (Anderson, 2007); in the reference list alphabetically; and in the following form:

Anderson, A. (2007). Finding werewolves in prehistoric literature. Journal of Integrity & Nonintegrity, 35, 201–207.

Unfortunately, these references have been submitted to you in AMA style — in text as a superscripted number in number order and in the reference list as

Anderson A: Finding werewolves in prehistoric literature. J Integ Noninteg. 2007;35:201–207.

And what if the references have to be renumbered or alphabetized? (For additional discussion, see The Business of Editing: Journals, References, & Dollars, Business of Editing: Dealing with Reference Renumbering, and The Business of Editing: Uniqueness & Being Valuable to Clients.)

Ballpark quoting, as we can see, hits the copyeditor with a serious problem: it doesn’t permit or provide for sufficient information before the editor offers up the quote. The resulting number is likely to be far from even ballpark status — way past the left field bleachers.

The editor needs to get more information, but the more information you gather about the project, the less ballparkish the quote will be. And where do you draw the line? Is it sufficient to know that there are references? Or do you need to know how many? Does it matter whether there are both references and footnotes?

Of course, much depends on the subject areas of the books you copyedit. If you work on only romance fiction, it may be possible to define a small number of parameters to produce a fairly accurate ballpark quote, whereas it might be nearly impossible to do so if you only copyedit biographies.

There is, moreover, another problem with ballpark quoting: the way clients often focus on the number — the ballpark quote.

The way ballpark quoting works is that a client asks for a quote to copyedit an 80,000-word spy novel that needs to be completed in 2 weeks, and the editor nearly instantaneously replies with a price (recall that the price is quoted with manuscript unseen). This number becomes a fixation point. It is the number against which quotes from other editors will be compared; more importantly, it becomes the price that you are expected to not exceed.

Ballpark quoting is often the first step in the client–editor relationship and the first contact of the editor by the client. Editors think that once a client has retained them, they can discuss what the client wants and what they as editors will do in step 2, and then they’ll be able to adjust the price accordingly. Sometimes this happens, but often it does not. The editor often finds the client unwilling to budge, unwilling to go higher than the ballpark quote. The problem arises because the editor and the client aren’t speaking the same language. That is, neither defines copyediting in the same way.

Once the editor encounters resistance, she has lost the opportunity to educate the client about why she should be hired and at what price. Ballpark pricing puts quoting to the forefront. Yet what editors need is for our clients to understand what we will and will not do within a certain time frame for a particular price. (For further discussion, see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Saying Yes, Then No, Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations, and The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (II).)

The question then becomes, Is it ethical for copyeditors to ever do ballpark pricing as a way to induce clients to hire them? The follow-up questions that need to be asked and answered are these: (1) Does the editor have an ethical obligation to not give ballpark quotes because they can mislead a client about the real cost; and (2) if the editor gives a ballpark quote, is there an ethical limit to how much the real cost can deviate upward from the ballpark price? The discussion of these ethical questions must be reserved for another essay.

There is an important difference between ballpark quoting and having a set fee that is applicable no matter what the complexities of the manuscript are. For example, I have a contract with a major publisher to provide copyediting for a set per-page price. That price does not change; nor does how it is calculated change. I do, however, reserve the right to decline particular projects. If I accept the project, the client knows the fee that will be charged. This is different from ballpark quoting — there are no contingent factors that can affect the final price.

Do you give ballpark quotes for copyediting? How do you deal with the unknowns? Do you limit the amount that the quote can rise?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 18, 2016

The Business of Editing: Uniqueness & Being Valuable to Clients

Editors gain work by being skilled. But with all of the competition for editorial work, being skilled is not enough both to gain business and to charge (and be paid) higher rates. Recently, Louise Harnby wrote about generalization versus specialization and its effect on a freelancer’s job prospects (see The Proofreader’s Corner: The Generalist–Specialist Dichotomy and the Editorial Freelancer). Another facet to being valuable to clients and to getting them to pay higher rates willingly is providing unique skills and services that those clients see as valuable.

I have been negotiating a contract with a major client. The negotiations have been ongoing since December and are about to conclude to my (and presumably also to the client’s) satisfaction. Although it has taken nearly 6 months, both sides were willing to stick with the negotiations because each side views the other as valuable.

What makes me valuable are the usual editorial things, such as highly skilled editing that evokes praise from my client’s authors. For example, last week a client wrote, “The authors have started reviewing pages, and they have been pleased, so thanks for the quality work!” What also makes me valuable are some of the unique services I provide. (Unique is being used relatively, to say that I am providing services that few editors provide, not that I am the only editor who provides the services.)

An example of a unique and valuable service I provide to clients concerns the renumbering of references. One of the more difficult tasks an editor may undertake is renumbering references in both the reference list and in-text callouts. It isn’t too difficult or confusing when a chapter has 20 references and three need to be renumbered, but the situation changes when the chapter has 258 references in the reference list with more than 300 in-text reference callouts and they all need to be renumbered. The renumbering becomes even more complex when it is scattered: for example, instead of 0 becoming 1, 0a becoming 2, and 1 becoming 3, 0 becomes 21, 0a becomes 76, and 1 becomes 5.

Not only does this become difficult for the editor to follow, but it is also a significant problem for authors during their review of the editing and for proofreaders, one that can lead to expressed dissatisfaction and complaints about the editor’s work if the authors discover a renumbering error.

A vast majority of editors simply go slowly, renumber, check it twice, and make a note to the client or authors that references were renumbered and the renumbering should be checked. To track the renumbering, the editors use pencil and paper, which further slows the process, especially when there are a lot of references requiring renumbering, as is often the case for me.

I offer my clients something unique — a “report” that details the renumbering. It is a separate file that accompanies the edited chapter and bears a title that references the chapter. For example, if the edited chapter file is Jones Synthetic Fibers 19e chapter 13 edited.doc, the renumbering file is 13 Jones Synthetic Fibers 19e Ref Num ReOrder Checklist.rno.txt. The renumbering file is a comma-separated list, with the all the original reference numbers listed to the left of the comma, including a, b, and c references (e.g., 1, 1a, 1b, 2), and the the new number, if any, listed to the right of the comma. For example,

Original Ref Number,Renumbered to

Because I use EditTools’ Reference # Order Check macro, creating the renumbering file is easy — I just export the list I use to track the renumbering as I edit.

It is worth noting that using the Reference # Order Check macro to track references called out in the text — even when no renumbering is needed — makes it easy to catch skipped in-text callouts. Another chapter in the recent project of mine that I mentioned earlier has 199 references. Most of the references are called out in order, so no minimal renumbering was required (in fact, only eight references required renumbering). However, five reference callouts were skipped — 54, 99, 107, 125, and 161 — which I easily found using the macro. Here is a portion of the report that will accompany this chapter:

Original Ref Number,Renumbered to
161,text callout missing

(If a reference number is called out only once and only in number order, I can easily find the missing callouts, too. But in the texts I edit it is not unusual for callouts to be repeated even though initially called out in order — for example, 90, 91, 92, 93–96, 92, 94, 97 — which can make order tracking more difficult.) In instances where a text callout is missing, I usually insert an Author Query as follows:

AQ: Reference 106 is cited above, but there is no callout in the text for reference 107. Please either (1) insert a text callout for reference 107 between the callout for 106 above and the callout for 108 here, or (2) delete the current reference 107 from the reference list and renumber all references from this point forward.

If there are a lot of skipped numbers, in addition to the AQ at the location of the skipped callout, I compile a mini-report and insert it as a comment at the beginning of the document. Where references have been renumbered, I insert a comment similar to this at the beginning of the document:

AQ: Please note that some [or ALL capitalized if all rather than some is appropriate] references in this chapter have been renumbered. In addition, several references do not have in-text callouts. Please see the file “13 Jones Synthetic Fibers 19e Ref Num ReOrder Checklist.rno.txt” for details on the renumbering and the missing text callouts.

This is one example of additional value that I provide clients. Clients have remarked on this, especially noting that the authors and proofreaders are appreciative. One client told me to be particularly careful about renumbering references because the authors were very unhappy with the poor renumbering another editor had done on the prior edition. I received the large project because the client knew I would provide a high-quality edit along with a report with each chapter that required renumbering, both of which would please the authors. More importantly, it also helped ensure that I had done the renumbering accurately.

Okay, we have determined that this is a valuable service, but what is its benefit to me? Here it is: clients seek me out because I make their life easier. They want to send me the types of projects I want to edit. And they are more willing to negotiate with me, whether about schedule or money or both or something else. Clients seek out my services because what I can offer is unique and of value to them. My clients are packagers and publishers. Both have tight schedules they want or need to meet, and both want work done that requires minimal redoing or fixing. Over the years I have heard many publishers and packagers complain about not meeting schedules because of mistakes made in such tasks as reference renumbering. And when they do not meet schedules, they lose money.

These clients — at least the ones who give it some thought — consider it better to pay me a little more and take advantage of the unique services I can provide than to save a little on the editing expense but then have to pay even more to fix avoidable errors later. It is also valuable to them to have happy authors.

Do you offer unique services to your clients? Do you find that doing so makes you more valuable to your clients? Does being valuable to your clients result in long-term benefits to you?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 4, 2016

The Business of Editing: The Agony & the Ecstasy of “No”

Contract negotiations and project negotiations are difficult to begin with. Rarely do we come to the bargaining table from a position of strength. But occasionally we do, when our client’s client has insisted we be hired. If we deal directly with authors, it is the authors who have the upper hand because so many editors are available. If we deal with a packager or a publisher, they, too, come to the table with the upper hand because there are a lot of editors to choose among.

Regardless of our negotiating strength or weakness, negotiation is something we need to learn to do and to do well. After all, editing is a business.

Negotiation does not come naturally to many people. In the United States, we are conditioned to not negotiate. We go into a store, see a price for an item, and either pay that price to buy the item or move on. Only in rare situations do we expect to be able to bargain.

What I find interesting is that unlike in many other service businesses, we professional editors often do not set our own price for our services. If we work for a packager or a publisher, the client offers us work at its price, and we either accept or reject the work and the proffered price. Yet, when we need to see a lawyer or doctor or to call a plumber, we do not offer them the job at a certain price — instead, they tell us what the price will be. As consumers of the service, we either hire or don’t hire the doctor, lawyer, or plumber at the price they dictated.

Editing is different. Even when we set our own price, as when we work directly with authors, we aren’t actually setting our own price. As previously discussed in other essays, most of us set our price based on unscientific rate surveys and what we think our competitors will/do charge.

Editing has become a service that is beholden to others to set a price. One reason for this shift of power away from editors is the unwillingness and inability of too many editors to negotiate contract terms with publishers and packagers. (That we may do so more often with individual authors is unhelpful to editing as a profession because the influence of such negotiations is too limited; they do not help establish an editing profession norm. In contrast, multiple successful negotiations with a packager or a publisher can help raise — or lower — standards for more than just the one editor or project.)

The key to negotiation is simple: It is being willing to say “no” and to walk away from a client or a project.

Over the years I have had many discussions with colleagues about negotiating terms with clients. Usually the response is that there is no negotiation — projects are offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis and the colleagues need the work, so they take it. I admit that even with my negotiating experience from preediting days, I, too, sometimes succumbed to the take-it side in my earlier years.

Consequently, we need a cushion that acts as a support for our negotiating efforts. That cushion — being an in-demand editor — is not easy to come by, but it can be gotten with concentrated marketing efforts. As some colleagues are aware, I used to set aside a significant amount of money each year for marketing. The only way to create the cushion I needed was to acquire a sufficient number of clients to ensure that if negotiations with one failed, someone else could fill the potential gap. So, an editor’s first nonediting duty is marketing, to build the cushion that will provide the sustenance the editor needs to be willing to say “no.”

“No” is the most powerful word in the negotiation lexicon. It sets the impenetrable and immutable line in the sand beyond which you will not move. For example, I recently was offered a contract (whose terms I carefully read) that wanted me to agree to background checks, including fingerprinting and drug and/or alcohol testing, at the client’s request but at my expense. As a practical matter, I understand the desire for a background check and have no problem with it. It is a common condition of employment today, unlike when I first entered the job market decades ago.

I also have no problem agreeing to a credit check or a check of public records for a criminal record. Have at it. But fingerprinting and drug and alcohol testing are going too far, as is expecting me to pay for them. I am a copyeditor who never sets foot in a client’s offices. If the client doesn’t like the way I am copyediting a manuscript, the client’s option always has been to fire me and give the manuscript to someone else. I am not an employee; I am, as the client wants me to be, an independent business.

It happens to be the case that I don’t drink alcohol and that the only drugs I take are doctor prescribed, but that has nothing to do with whether I am willing to agree to testing — I am not. Fingerprinting is also unacceptable. If my work required me to be on the client’s premises, to care for the client’s infant children, to write the accounting or server software to run the client’s business, or any of myriad other tasks, fingerprinting might be acceptable and appropriate. But copyediting puts me in touch with no trade secrets, no intellectual property, and no final decision-making; thus, fingerprinting is an unwarranted privacy intrusion and unacceptable as a condition.

For me this line in the sand cannot be crossed. I am willing to say “no” if the clause is not modified to my satisfaction. That “no” is a powerful tool for me. My willingness to say “no” and my conveying that willingness to the client change the dynamic of the negotiation. If the client wants my services, it has to engage in give-and-take with me.

In the end, the question will come down to “How much am I willing to give to work with this client?” Some changes to the contract are what I view as indisputable, by which I mean the client can’t really object to striking or modifying the clause if what the clause demands has no relevance to the services for which I am to be engaged. The background check does have some relevance, which is why I am willing to agree to such a check; it is the fingerprinting and drug/alcohol testing that has no relevance, and so I only ask for that portion to be struck.

An example of a clause that has no relevance is one that requires that I carry a $1 million automobile liability insurance policy. There is no logical connection that I can see between copyediting and an automobile liability policy. This is one of those clauses that a legal department inserts into a form contract that the human resources department uses for everything. The problem is that if I sign a contract with this clause in it, I will have to buy such a policy — whether I really need it or not — and at my expense. Clauses like this are indisputable clauses and indisputably need to be struck from the contract.

More difficult are the clauses that are pro-client and antieditor but which do have a basis for inclusion, at least from the client’s perspective. An example of such a clause is an arbitration clause. I don’t mind such clauses — too much — except if they also cover fee payment. Most editor invoices are too small to resolve by arbitration because of the cost of arbitration. (Let’s not forget that statistically, even if the plaintiff is right, arbitrators will find for the company. The reason is that arbitrators earn their living by being selected to arbitrate and companies won’t pick arbitrators who rule against them. The likelihood of an editor having regular arbitration cases is exceedingly minuscule, unlike the likelihood for the company. In arbitration, the game is stacked ahead of time.)

But even in these instances, I am more likely to obtain a modification of particularly onerous clauses because I am willing to say “no.” If the client is unwilling to negotiate changes, I need to weigh the benefit of working for the client against the risks imposed by the contract terms. Often, but not always and in less than a majority of times, saying “no” with an explanation results in further negotiations. But there are times when only the “no” is heard by the client.

How prepared are you to say “no”?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 27, 2016

The Business of Editing: 8 Reasons Why Editors Are Underpaid II

Part I discussed the first four reasons why editing is undervalued by clients. Those reasons were as follows:

  1. Few editors know their required effective hourly rate.
  2. Our profession has failed to convince “clients” of editing’s value.
  3. The market views us as low-level professionals who provide an unnecessary service.
  4. It is too easy to open an editorial business.

Part II discusses reasons five through eight.

5. For too many editors, the income is a second income.

For many entrants to the profession, editing is a second income, not the primary source of household income. Consequently, they offer absurdly low rates (I have seen as low as 50 cents a page) with promises of high quality and speedy return. Those offers get published all over the Internet — just look at LinkedIn — and thus form the “standard” that clients expect. As a group, we have done nothing successful to combat those low rates and to keep them from becoming the standard.

As a second income, this is usually money for vacations or to buy a better car, not usually money needed for survival. The result is that there is no need to justify a rate other than that the rate brings in business. If your basic necessities of life are already covered by a primary income, then your primary (and often only) concern is getting business. Consequently, too many second-income editors set their rates low and that low level is seen repeatedly. It soon becomes the “standard” that clients expect.

6. We refer clients to “rate charts” to justify our fee.

In my view, we make the problem worse by referring to fee schedules that are published but are clearly not statistically sound, such as the EFA rate schedule.

The EFA chart, which is the fee schedule commonly referred to in the United States, is 100% statistically invalid. The history of the chart is that a small percentage of EFA members respond to the survey, not all of whom are editors or proofreaders, but all of whom are EFA members. In addition, not all the responders define what they do the same, and not all are freelancers. It is one of the least-meaningful guides available for setting rates.

One problem with past EFA rate surveys was that there was no uniform basis for how responders calculated (i.e., originally determined) their fee, or of the rationale for the amount charged, or of what services were included in the charge. One editor who participated in a past EFA survey told me she was retired and had cut her fee in half because she didn’t really need the money but wanted the occasional project to work on.

My point is this: Experienced editors should know better than to consider the EFA survey as having any value whatsoever as a guide for setting or justifying a fee, and they should not be telling clients (or colleagues) to look to it for guidance. The usual reply is that it is better than nothing, or that it is the only thing out there, or at least that it gives the range. But even to the casual observer it is clear that the EFA rate survey is so riddled with holes that it is an unreliable guide. Consequently, instead of helping us convince the world that editors are worth more than a pittance, we are reinforcing the client’s beliefs by being unable to point to something objectively valid that supports our view.

7. We fail to give a client a cogent explanation of why we can’t accept a job.

We compound the problem of inadequate compensation by failing to provide a detailed explanation of why we cannot accept a particular job at the price offered, and by failing to explain what services are included and excluded at various price points. When we buy an automobile, we are told how much the basic car costs and then how much each add-on package costs and what is included in each package. Why aren’t we doing the same for editing?

How many of us take the time to explain our editing workday and workweek? Clients assume that because we are freelancers working from home (usually), we are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Few editors I know ever say otherwise. When I respond to a client’s project offer, I carefully delineate the editing workday and workweek, explain what services are included and excluded, and I offer various options at different prices. I let the client choose the editing package and price. In my early years I didn’t do this; today I almost always offer choices. This reinforces to the client that I am a professional and that the client can have certain expectations at certain price points.

The failure to give a cogent explanation and to offer choices reinforces the perception of low-level professionalism and justifies, in the client’s mind, the low compensation.

8. The lack of standard definitions for editorial services.

As professionals we have failed to establish standard definitions of various editorial tasks that all professionals adopt. Each of us defines copyediting, for example, differently — sometimes the difference is small, and sometimes it is great — but we all call it copyediting. Consequently, when a client sees that A will do copyediting for $7.50 an hour and B will do it for $35 an hour, the client has no reason to think of the services as other than identical, and will often choose A because of price.

The lack of standard definitions means that we need to diligently explain to a client what is included and excluded for the price we are charging. Yet most of us do not provide that detailed explanation. Consequently, if editor B includes the kitchen sink as part of her copyediting services, the client hiring editor A expects the kitchen sink to be included by editor A regardless of the disparity between what editor B and editor A charge for copyediting. And if editor A explains that it is not included, the editor may well lose the client. To save the job, editor A will include the kitchen sink, thereby setting a standard to which all editors will be held — a low price that includes the kitchen sink.

Our failure as group to establish uniform standards results in our hurting our own cause and in our (generally) not being well paid. If we tackled these eight reasons using a national organization with accrediting authority, we could greatly improve how professional editing and editors are perceived, valued, and paid.

The eight reasons discussed are not all of the reasons for the low pay–high expectations syndrome in editing; I am confident you can add additional reasons. Ultimately, the question we need to face and solve is this: We know the problem and the reasons. What as a group are we going to do to solve the problem?

What do you suggest? What will you do?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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