An American Editor

November 16, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Tackling Editorial Learning Anxiety (or Embracing Change Rather Than Resisting It) — Part I

by Louise Harnby

In this two-part series, I consider how resistance to change can stop us from learning new skills or testing new methods to make our editorial businesses more successful.

Part I looks at “learning anxiety” and how it can stop us from embracing change. It introduces three ideas for how to tackle our anxiety: planning the change so that it’s considered and systematic; redefining “failure” as “lessons learned”; and doing a cost-to-benefit analysis.

Part II presents a personal case study of how I dealt with anxiety about offering a new customer-engagement service with regard to quoting. I explain how I used a cost-to-benefit analysis to identify my concerns and come up with a solution that enabled me to move forward rather than rejecting change.

“I’m not trying that!”

Editors, like any other professionals, can fall into the trap of resisting change – for example, not trying out a new marketing strategy; claiming they have no need for business tools such as macros; or refusing to take on work that requires using a new platform, software package, or format. All of us have either said, or heard one of our colleagues say, “I don’t work in that way,” “That’s a bad idea,” “I don’t like the idea of that,” “That’s not the way I do things,” or “I just couldn’t bring myself to do that” at some point in our careers.

We work in a highly competitive, crowded, and international marketplace. We’re business owners, not hobbyists. That means our businesses have to earn us a living. Our market isn’t static – it’s always shifting. New software and digital tools are developed; new platforms on which we can make ourselves visible emerge and expand in terms of their importance; our clients ask us to work in ways that colleagues in the editorial field 40 years ago likely never anticipated; the types of clients for whom we are discoverable, and the ways in which they find us, are more varied than I expected when I set up my proofreading business only a decade ago.

All of that means that resisting change and failing to learn the new skills or to try new methods (whether technical, promotional, or practical) simply doesn’t make sense for today’s editorial business owner. If we refuse to change, we refuse to compete – and that’s a path to business failure.

So why do we resist change? According to psychologist Edgar H. Schein, Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, it can be a result of “learning anxiety” (Diane Coutu, “The Anxiety of Learning,” Harvard Business Review, March 2002). Says Schein:

“Learning anxiety comes from being afraid to try something new for fear that it will be too difficult, that we will look stupid in the attempt, or that we will have to part from old habits that have worked for us in the past. Learning something new can cast us as the deviant in the groups we belong to. It can threaten our self-esteem and, in extreme cases, even our identity.”

Back in 2002, Schein discussed the issue in relation to the challenges of organizational change and transformation, corporate culture, and leadership. But that quotation can apply just as well to the editorial solopreneur in 2015. We may be anxious about making a change for fear of not doing it well; equally, we might have heard or read negative opinions from our colleagues about using a particular technical tool, testing a new marketing effort, or changing to a new way of working — and that makes us wary of being seen publicly to be trying such things, lest they draw negative attention.

So how might we go about tackling learning anxiety so that we can embrace change rather than resisting it? There are several options:

  • Plan the change so that it’s considered and systematic
  • Redefine “failure” as “lessons learned”
  • Do a cost-to-benefit analysis

Plan the change so that it’s considered and systematic

If you think there are changes that should be made, or new skills learned, approach them as you would a business plan. By breaking the changes down into components, they will seem more manageable and less anxiety-inducing.

  • Write down the proposed changes (e.g., learning how to use macros; working with a new editorial tool; working in a new format, such as PDF using digital markup; studying a new editorial skill such as proofreading or localization; testing a new marketing technique or pricing model; making yourself visible to a new type of customer group such as self-publishers, students, or publishers).
  • Make a list of the objectives (e.g., increased productivity, new work stream, more diverse skill base to offer potential customers, enhanced customer engagement).
  • Make a note of how difficult you think the task(s) will be to learn and implement.
  • Make a note of how making the process of bringing in these changes makes you feel (e.g., reluctant, anxious).
  • Record the financial outlay required to make the changes to your business.
  • Consider the time frame in which you think you could make the changes. If there are several, you can stagger them so as not to overload yourself in terms of action and pressure.
  • Ask yourself whether you will need assistance to make the changes (e.g., a trainer or mentor) or whether you can implement them on your own.

Redefine “failure” as “lessons learned”

We must accept that change always brings risk. However well we plan change, however well it appears to meet our business objectives, the outcomes aren’t always what we hoped for or expected. The key here is to redefine those results in a positive light whereby “failure” becomes “lessons learned.” What if that cold-calling session to local businesses doesn’t bring in any immediate new clients? What if that training course in a particular software program won’t pay for itself because no clients will ask you for that skill? What if some people in your social media network think that the directory you’ve chosen to advertise in is disreputable and encourages a race to the bottom, rates-wise?

All those outcomes could occur; but it’s also possible – particularly if you’ve made thoughtful, informed decisions about what changes to test – that you might acquire a new lead, take on a piece of work using your software skills, or generate interest from your online colleagues about your marketing efforts. And even if you do end up in the worst-case scenario, who’s to say that the changes you’ve made won’t reap rewards farther down the line? Who’s to say that those colleagues who were disparaging about your efforts are correct in their assumptions?

Being prepared to try new things is how we learn. When the outcomes are not as expected, that’s not failure; that’s information on which we can make future decisions about what not to do, what needs tweaking, and what needs retrying. Not being prepared to learn and change in a competitive market is more likely to lead to failure that trying something new. If you don’t try, you don’t know.

There’s nothing wrong with trying something new, only to find that it didn’t work. Any normal human being trying to be creative when running their business is not going to get it right every time. And if things don’t go to plan, you’ll be in great company. Here’s Woody Allen: “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” And here’s Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Do a cost-to-benefit analysis

If you’re nervous about making a particular change, do a cost-to-benefit analysis by considering the following questions:

  • What will I gain from the change?
  • What will I lose if I change the way I do things?
  • What will stay the same, even though I’ve changed things?
  • How will the changes make me feel once I’ve completed them?

Working through these questions can highlight benefits and challenges, and help you to think through ways to maximize the former and minimize the stress of the latter.

In Part II, I’ll discuss how I used a cost-to-benefit analysis to help me introduce a change to the way in which I invited customers to engage with me over pricing. I wanted to make things as easy and as quick as possible for my customers to ask me for a price, but in a way that wouldn’t ignore value. Up until this point, I’d let my anxiety stop me from testing a new method. However, by thinking about what I might gain, what I might lose, what would stay the same, and how any changes would make me feel, I was able to come up with a solution to test.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

November 11, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Fifth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make

Profit & Business Model

A business has to either be profitable so that its owners can earn a living or it has to have investors who are willing to fund the business for years and let the business lose money during those years because of greater future profit expectations or the business has to go out of business.

The first option is usually the option of the freelance editor. We rarely can convince people to invest in our business and let us generate losses for years (the Amazon model), because of the type of business editing is — personal and hands on. Amazon sells goods; the goods are not unique and buyers of the goods do not care whether Jeff Bezos has ever touched the goods. Amazon sells to us based on customer service and price.

Editing, as we know, is different. We are usually hired because of our skills (there are semi-exceptions as in my business model in which clients hire me because of my skills and because of the skills of the editors who work for me) and those skills are hands-on skills. We are hired to read each and every word and pass judgment on the words, the sentence structure, the grammar, and so on. Editors are hired to exercise judgment and improve a product; we do not expect Amazon to edit the book we buy from it.

As a result of this difference, Amazon can go years without making a profit, but freelance editors cannot. And Amazon can get people to invest money in it based on a not-written-in-stone promise of future rewards; outside editors themselves and immediate family, it is the rare person who will invest in an editor’s business with the expectation of a future profit.

Yet there is something in our business model and in Amazon’s business model that is identical (aside from the need for stellar customer service): We both need data to determine how we are doing and what we should be doing. The types of data we need are different, but we both need data.

Why Collect Data?

And this is where editors make a fundamental business mistake. Many editors simply do not collect data or if they do collect data, they make no business use of it. Yet data can tell us lots of things about our business. For example, data can tell us whether

  • a client should be kept or fired
  • certain types of projects should be avoided or sought
  • we are charging too little or too much
  • our focus is wrong or right
  • we need to start a marketing campaign now or can wait
  • our marketing campaign is a success or failure
  • making an investment is likely to increase or decrease our profitability
  • subcontracting would be a smart or dumb direction to go
  • and myriad other things

— all we need to do is gather and explore the data.

We’ve discussed several times how to calculate what to charge (see the five-part series, Business of Editing: What to Charge), but knowing what you need to earn and charge does not necessarily equate to profitability. It is not difficult to have calculated the rate you need to charge, charge that rate, yet be unprofitable. That’s because knowing what to charge is only part of the necessary information.

Consider the type of editing you do. I focus on long manuscripts, the longer the better, preferably 1,000 manuscript pages or longer. Offer me a manuscript that runs 15,000 pages and you will make me happy. Over the years I have been professionally editing, I have collected data on hundreds of projects — in fact, on every project that has passed through my office. Among the information I collected was project subject matter; whether single author or multiauthor; number of manuscript pages (which was calculated using my own formula); the time it took to complete the project; the number of projects I was offered, indicating the number I accepted and the number I turned down; the reason for acceptance or rejection; and the fee I was paid. (I gathered other data, too, but for our discussion, this list is sufficient.)

Analyzing Data

From this data, I learned what manuscripts were likely to be profitable for me. It is important to remember that we are not all alike; that is, what is profitable for me may be highly unprofitable for you. What is important, however, is to know whether what you are doing is, in fact, profitable for you.

Editors focus on editing — it is what they know best and what they feel most comfortable doing. But freelancers wear multiple hats. Not only do they wear an editing hat, but they wear the business owner’s hat. When wearing the business owner’s hat, editors need to assess their business objectively. It does not matter whether they love or hate editing; what matters is whether they are running a profitable business. To make that determination, editors must objectively collect and analyze data about their business.

One of the most important bits of data is time. How long a project takes to edit — not approximately, but exactly — is key information. It is information that is used to determine your effective hourly rate as well as the number of pages you can edit in an hour. It also is information that is needed when giving a client a quote. An editor needs to know whether, as a general rule, a heavy edit means 2 pages an hour or 6 pages an hour, because that helps you determine the likelihood of profitability at different price points.

The Excuses

I have heard editors say that data collection isn’t all that important for them because they bill by the hour, not by the page or project. Contrary to such sentiment, it is equally important to collect data regardless of how you charge, unless your clients have unlimited budgets (and I have yet to meet a client who does). It is also important because in the absence of data, it is not possible to determine whether you are making a sufficient profit.

Editors have told me that they know they are making a sufficient profit because they are able to pay their bills, put a little bit away in savings, and have money for entertainment, and that they are doing this without collecting and analyzing data about their business. Accepting that as true, data collection is still necessary because you may well discover, for example, that you can earn the same but in less time and with less effort. Or you might discover after analyzing the data that although you are making a profit, you are spending more time and effort to do so than is warranted and that making some changes in your business would increase your profit but require less effort.

The Reason

Data collection is key to business growth and profitability. Data inform decisions; data provide a foundation for action. It is a fundamental business error to not collect as much data as you can about your business.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

November 9, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Fourth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make

Flexibility and Accessibility

When someone is asked why they chose to be a freelance editor, quite often the response centers on flexibility — the idea that freelance editors can set their own schedule. Need time to watch a child’s soccer game? No problem. Need to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Again, not a problem.

Flexible scheduling is nice in concept but the schedules of freelancers aren’t really all that flexible. Sure we can do our work in the wee hours so we can attend that soccer game, but we still have deadlines to meet and it is those deadlines that dictate how flexible our schedule truly is.

When we focus on the flexibility of scheduling, we tend to forget that we are a business and that there are certain expectations that those who would make use of our services have about our schedule. The mistake is not the flexible schedule but the failure to make ourselves accessible as expected by clients. Flexibility and accessibility are not synonymous. Ideally, we can combine flexibility with accessibility.

One hallmark of a business is hours of operation. We know, for example, that the brick-and-mortar repair shop where we take our automobile opens at 7 am and closes at 5 pm. There are posted hours of operation and we know from experience that an 11 pm call to the business finds it closed — and often gives us the message that the business opens at 7 am. We get these same types of messages from online stores — you can make purchases 24/7 but customer service is open only during posted hours.

Granted that our business is not like an auto repair shop or an online retailer, but client expectations are similar: Clients expect to be able to reach us during “normal” business hours. Our flexibility is in what constitutes our business hours, not in our accessibility during those hours.

Accessibility Is…

This does not mean that we need to be accessible 24/7; it does mean that we need to be accessible during set, established times with occasional exceptions. It also means that, depending on who our clientele are and who our target audience is — that is, what our target market expects — when a client contacts us when we are not accessible, the client should receive a message saying when we will be accessible. For example, in response to an email inquiry we might autoreply, “I am sorry to have missed your email. My office is currently closed but will reopen at 9 am local time tomorrow, at which time I will respond. However, if you believe it is vital to contact me before that time, please.…”

Clients have problems that they want us to solve. They do not want to wait to know that they can entrust the problem to us or that they need to look elsewhere — our client’s goal is simple: assign the problem to a problem-solver as quickly as possible so that it is off the client’s list and on someone else’s list. Consequently, clients want to be able to reach us during known times; that is, they want to feel assured that if they wait to contact you during what they expect your business hours to be, that they will, in fact, reach you at that time — without that feeling of assurance, clients simply move to someone else, to someone who is accessible as expected.

Accessible today — at least in my business — usually means by email; I rarely receive a telephone call anymore. In olden days, clients wanted to be polite and chat for 60 seconds before getting to the point of the call; today, they want to avoid “wasting” those 60 seconds, just as we do. (I admit that I have a certain nostalgia for those olden days when chatting with my clients let me learn how their children are doing or learn about the wonderful time they had in Paris. It “humanized” what was otherwise an isolated experience by providing a watercooler moment.) The advantage of email is that it is a 24/7 nondisturbing way to contact a client or an editor.


But there is also an expectation that when the client sends an email to me during my business hours, I will respond quickly — not in hours, not tomorrow, not when the client is not available, but nearly immediately. If I am accessible, I do make it a policy to quickly respond, even if it is to say something like, “I received your email and will give you a detailed response within the next 2 hours. If you need my detailed response more quickly, please let me know and I will address your email immediately.”

The issue of accessibility does go hand-in-hand with contact information, which we previously discussed (see The Business of Editing: A Second Fundamental Mistake that Editors Make). A reason to provide contact information is to make yourself accessible to clients. But it does no good to provide that information if the client cannot actually reach you. The counterargument is that clients who email do not expect a prompt response; clients know that the editor may not be accessible. Of course, we don’t know that as fact; we assume it is true because it fits within our needs and what we would expect.

I think that counterargument had more merit in past years. Increasingly, I receive client emails for “routine” jobs that have been sent to several editors and include the statement that the first to respond positively to the job offer (by which the client means the first who says he can meet the schedule at the offered price) will be awarded the job. If I wish to compete for those jobs, then a quick response, which means I am accessible, is required. (Fortunately, most of my work is “nonroutine” and clients seek me specifically for my editorial services.)

Clients with questions related to a job I am in the midst of editing also want their questions answered today and quickly, not tomorrow. (The Internet has altered greatly the concept of patience. Just as people wonder why they have to enter multiple clicks to buy an item instead of a single click, so they wonder why I can’t answer their email within a few minutes. Patience — meaning patience of hours rather than seconds — has become a lost virtue.)

Successful businesses are accessible to their clients and meet their clients’ expectations of accessibility. Freelance editors are as subject to those accessibility expectations as any other business. We have so much competition that clients do not need to be patient; clients can make multiple simultaneous requests and deal with the first responder, or they can internally decide to wait an hour for your response and if one is not forthcoming, seek another editor.

The Key

Consequently, we need to act like a business and set hours of operation that we mostly adhere to — and we need to let clients know what those hours are. Notice can be by posting on a website or by mentioning in correspondence; it doesn’t really matter, but it does depend on who you want to be your client — that is, who is your target audience. If I were seeking indie authors as clients, I would post that information along with my contact information at my website. With corporate clients, I try to have my accessible hours overlap my clients’ office hours and I let my clients know via email.

The key is being accessible when and how clients expect. Remember that we need our clients more than our clients need us. It is harder for us to find new clients than it is for our clients to find new editors. We need to approach this like Amazon does — by meeting our clients’ needs and expectations.

We need to avoid sending the message that we do not care or are not interested in our clients. We need to provide client-centric, not editor-centric, service. Failure to be accessible and to make known our accessibility as part of client-centric service is a fundamental mistake that editors often make.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

November 4, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Third Fundamental Mistake That Editors Make


It’s time to buy a gift for your niece. You know what you want so you go to one of the price comparison websites and search for the item. Within seconds the results appear and you find three online stores have the item:

Macy’s $79.99
Big Joe’s Discount $59.99
Rita’s Marketplace $69.99

Although you are familiar with Macy’s, you like a bargain and so decide to check out Big Joe and Rita.

Big Joe’s website is plain-vanilla, spartan. There is an image of the product and a short description. Because you are not sure whether your niece will really like the gift, you look at Big Joe’s return policy and find it to be pretty liberal. The only requirement is that you contact Big Joe for a return authorization before making the return. So far, so good, you think, and now you look for contact information. Under Contact Us, you discover that the only way to contact customer service is via email — there is no telephone number, no physical address, just an email address.

So you decide to also take a look at Rita’s website. This is a more substantial website than Big Joe’s. The product description has more details and there are customer reviews. As with Big Joe, you check out Rita’s return policy and discover that it is similar to Big Joe’s and that a return authorization is required. You check how to contact Rita’s customer service and find that contact can be by email or by telephone with a telephone number and available hours listed. There is also a physical address listed.


Now you face the question of from whom to buy the gift. Who would you buy from? When you buy something over the Internet from a company with whom you have not previously done business, do you buy if the only way to contact them is via email or a contact form on their website? Do you look for a physical address or a customer service telephone number? Does seeing a telephone number, a physical address, hours of operation, and the like make you feel more confident about the business?

Since the advent of email, I rarely get phone calls from clients or prospective clients — almost all contact is via email. Similarly, when I buy from an online business, most of my contact with the business is via email or the site’s contact form. But when deciding whether to buy from a business with which I have no personal experience, I look for things that give me a sense of confidence.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter: What is the purpose of our website?

Why a Website

I suspect that for most editors, the primary purpose of the website is to attract new clients who don’t know us and who aren’t being referred by their friends and family. If we are banking on referrals, then we really don’t need a website at all. Someone who has been referred will contact us — usually — regardless of whether or not we have a website. Instead, our website is intended to attract and capture the client who has used one of the search engines to look for editorial help, which is why there is so much concern and discussion about how best to design our website.

To snare that new business, we want to be sure to appeal to the customer. We know what our preferences are, but we do not know the preferences of the visitor to our site. Consequently, we generally try to make our website as appealing as possible. What we want to do is make it as simple as possible for clients to contact and interact with us.

Yet when we set up our websites, many of us do not list complete contact information. We have all sorts of reasons for doing so — we want to avoid spam, we want to avoid telemarketing phone calls, we don’t want people to know where we live in case they are criminals, etc. — even though we will provide that same information to other businesses and social media.

Sharing Information

Going back to our example, Big Joe doesn’t provide any contact information other than an email address. Yet if we placed our order with Big Joe, we would have to supply our name, address, telephone number, email, and, more importantly, our credit card information. We would have to trust that Big Joe is legitimate and will not use any information we provide for nefarious purposes. And we would do so because we have come to expect to give that information when we place an order.

Why are we comfortable giving that information to Big Joe and others who want to be paid by us, but are not comfortable giving that information (less the credit card information, of course) to people who want to pay us? A fundamental reason for being in business is to encourage others to buy our services and products, to pay us.

Fundamental Rule

A fundamental rule of business is this: You can always turn down or accept an opportunity that is offered, but you cannot turn down or accept an opportunity that is not offered. Consequently, the businessperson is focused on ensuring that opportunity comes knocking by removing potential barriers to opportunity. Yet editors find reasons to erect barriers.

In our three-business example, from whom would you buy? I know I would not buy from Big Joe. No one I know has recommended Big Joe and I don’t trust businesses that I can’t locate, can’t telephone, and was not referred to by several people I trust. I would consider buying from Rita because the contact information and design of the website give me confidence that this was a real business. Importantly, Rita is trying to meet my preferences, not forcing me to meet its preferences. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy from Macy’s because I am familiar with the company and it provides complete contact information.

Editors need to remember that we need the client more than the client needs us. As such, we should strive to make it as easy as possible for clients to engage us in a manner that makes the client comfortable. That we may currently have more business than we can handle doesn’t mean we will tomorrow.

Fundamental Error

It is a fundamental error when we make our business editor centric rather than customer centric. When we make decisions such as what contact information to include, we should strive to do so from the client perspective:

What information will a client want available as a prelude to doing business with us?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

November 2, 2015

On the Basics: Approaching Holiday Season Brings Recurring Question: To “Gift” or Not to Gift Clients?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

As the end of the year creeps up (or rushes at) us, it’s time to think about whether and how to show appreciation to our clients for keeping us in work and in — I hope — good shape financially.

I’m a firm believer in doing something around the holiday season to let clients know that I appreciate their business. This isn’t bribery; it’s a thank-you gesture and, to me, a genuine one. I know that my clients could go elsewhere and hire someone else — a freelancer who is cheaper, better known to them, or more persuasive than I am — and I’m glad they don’t. I enjoy working with them and want them to know that I don’t take their business for granted. I do my best to convey that throughout the year, but a holiday thank-you gift is a formal way of doing so, and a classic gesture of appreciation.

There’s another advantage to giving clients thank-you gifts: Sending a gift, no matter how modest, is a great way to remind someone that you exist and are available for new projects. Every time this topic comes up in discussions among colleagues, at least one person says that sending a thank-you gift (or vacation alert!) results in at least one client getting in touch to say something like, “What great timing — your gift reminded me that we could use you for such-and-such a project” or “Thank you so much for the gift and, by the way, this made me realize that we have a project for you.”

I don’t send thank-you gifts to past clients who haven’t sent me any work in the current year — but a holiday card certainly doesn’t go amiss, and often generates a similar positive response.

I keep my client gifts simple and inexpensive; something practical that won’t spoil, but isn’t extravagant. That’s for a couple of reasons. For one, some clients aren’t allowed to accept gifts at all, or gifts above a given value. For another, extravagance doesn’t feel appropriate or comfortable — and isn’t affordable.

Some colleagues send food — Rich Adin often gets his logo made into chocolate bars! — but I stay away from edible gifts because they don’t last and I don’t know if clients have allergies, although I do sometimes include packets of coffee or tea with mugs. In earlier years, I’d scour craft fairs throughout the year for purple mugs and use those for client gifts; in recent years, I’ve aimed for something more professional while being equally “me.” I’ve worked with a local colleague who has a promotions business to find items that can be imprinted with my name, logo, and website URL, as well as my phone number and/or e-mail address if they’ll fit. The only disadvantage of that approach is that the minimum number for an order might be far more than you need, but you can always use the extras the following year, or — especially if you purchased wisely and not holiday-centrically — in other ways throughout the new year — to new or prospective clients, to valued colleagues, even to friends and family (after all, they can be good sources of referrals for new business).

I’ve sent ceramic coffee mugs (purple, of course), travel mugs for hot and cold beverages, calendars, candles with holders, and similar items as holiday thank-you gifts. I’ve also done certificates for “Valued Client” and “Client of the Year.” With every gift, I enclose a personalized note, a pen with my name and contact information on it, and my business card.

Timing for client gifts can be a challenge. Many of us are especially busy with both work and family obligations from November through December, and fitting client gifts into your time and budget isn’t always easy — it isn’t just choosing and ordering the gift(s), but signing the cards, and doing the packaging and shipping. I always start with great intentions of getting mine in the mail by mid-December (or even around Thanksgiving, for the fit with thankfulness), but don’t always manage to fulfill those intentions. Instead, I often send my client gifts in early January as new year’s greetings and wishes. No one seems to find that off-putting, and some clients have said it’s a welcome way to start the new year.

Clients aren’t the only ones who might be on your gift list. You might be thinking about gifts for friends and colleagues — or even yourself — as the holiday season approaches. If so, here are a few suggestions, some of which are, admittedly, self-serving.

  • Copies of “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer,” a booklet I’ve written and produced to help colleagues get a better start on freelance success. While it’s primarily aimed at writers, much of the information is useful to anyone in the publishing or editorial field, from editors and proofreaders to indexers, photographers, website developers, graphic artists/designers, desktop publishers, and more.
  • A gift certificate for registration for the 11th annual Communication Central conference, coming up in the fall of 2016. The cost of registration should be the same as for 2015 ($225–$350 for both days, depending on whether you are a subscriber to this blog, member of a collegial professional organization, or previous attendee, and when you register), and hotel rates are usually around $125/night.
  • Fun and/or practical gifts for editorial professionals, such as:

• mugs with grammar and punctuation rules from the BBC (, among others;

• the newest versions of various style manuals;

• my “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” booklet and other useful publications from the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)

• subscriptions to Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers magazines, or Copyediting newsletter;

• the new edition of Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace;

• subscriptions to online style manuals and updates;

• memberships in or registration for events hosted by professional associations, such as the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), EFA, Society for Technical Communication (STC), National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), etc.;

• work-related jewelry, such as earrings or necklaces made using Scrabble keys and miniature versions of style manuals;

• a pair of so-called editor’s pants;

• grammar books or refresher courses; and

• gift access to EditTools, PerfectIt, and Editor’s ToolKit PLUS 2014 for greater editing efficiency and productivity.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

October 28, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Second Fundamental Mistake That Editors Make

If you read your mortgage agreement, or the agreement you “accept” when you get a credit card, or the terms and conditions of any other contract you sign or agree to, you will note that all of the important terms are carefully, even if not intelligibly, defined. The bank, for example, wants no dispute over what default means.

Defining terms is a fundamental business practice. If you and the client do not define what is meant by copyediting, you may mean what editors generally define as a “light edit” and the client may mean an in-depth, detailed, developmental edit. You’ll quote your fee based on your definition and the client will expect its definition for the quoted price.

Let “error” rain (reign?): What constitutes “error”?

As part of our standard business practices, we need to include a definition of “error” in our discussion about whether we will accept a particular job. Just as failing to treat editing as a business is a fundamental error that editors make (see The Business of Editing: Fundamental Business Mistakes That Editors Make), so is failing to define “error” a fundamental mistake that editors make.

It is true that using “there” in place of “their” is an error, a “typo” if you will, that needs to be caught and corrected. And it is equally true that it is part of an editor’s (and proofreader’s) job to find and correct such errors. But if homophones formed the beginning and end of the definition of error, there would be little need for professional editors; computers can be “taught” to flag homophones (and homonyms) and, presumably, just about any educated person could correct the erroneous ones.

A fundamental mistake

There are at least four reasons why failing to define “error” is a fundamental mistake. First, in the absence of the definition, the editor sets no boundaries on her work. Second, clients are quick to note that an editor failed to catch an “error,” which does not boost an editor’s reputation, without either client or editor having first agreed on what makes something an error. Third, in the absence of a definition, it is difficult to set an appropriate fee — and get the client to agree to that fee — because the editor thinks oranges while the client thinks apples. Fourth, is the question of responsibility — who is responsible? —  and its companion, compensation — who pays?

An example

Not so long ago I copyedited a poorly written book. The client did not want to pay for the level of editing that the book truly needed, plus saddled the project with a very tight deadline. As a practical matter, I do not do fact checking unless specifically hired and paid to do so; consequently, it is the responsibility of the author to, for example, correctly spell names, with my job limited to checking for consistency in spelling and querying any inconsistencies.

In this project, the author twice, in a 200+-page manuscript, referred to a well-known person in the book’s subject area. Both times the name was spelled the same. From my perspective, there was no error. Alas, the book was published to scathing reviews. One of the errors the reviewers noted was the misspelling of the well-known person’s name. The author blamed the publisher, which blamed my client, which blamed me. I was asked to defend myself for this and a few other specific “errors” that the reviewers noted.

My first step was to point my client to our original correspondence in which I defined what the level of editing the client asked for meant — that is, its parameters — and, addressing the name situation more directly, the definition of “error” that was incorporated into that correspondence. I pointed out that there is a difference between what is commonly known (i.e., broadly known to general populations) and what is specially know within a specific discipline (i.e., known to subject-matter experts). There is also a difference between being hired for subject-matter knowledge and expertise and being hired for language–grammar expertise. I had been hired for language–grammar expertise, not subject-matter expertise. My definition of “error” was limited to well-recognized errors of language and grammar, not to subject-matter errors; in my definition, the author is responsible for the accuracy of all subject-matter “facts,” including the correct spelling of names of recognized-within-the-discipline experts.

I also pointed out to my client that “language–grammar errors” does not mean arguable choices. As an example I usually point to the debate regarding using “since” to mean “because” (for a short discussion of the temporal–causal distinction, see Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 748 “since,” but be sure to also read the discussion of “because” on p. 91, and compare it to Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2015, p. 98 “because”). My definition of error does not say that because a dictionary or a usage guide permits substitution of one word for another, the use of an alternate constitutes error. In other words, my replacing “since” (viewing it to be restricted to time-related uses/senses) with “because” (or other appropriate word) in non–time-related uses/senses (e.g., “Since 1975 it has been customary to classify…” but “Because it has been customary to classify…”) is not an error just because a dictionary or usage guide views the words as interchangeable. My change has to either make meaning less clear or be inarguably wrong; in all circumstances, it is not error for me to not have corrected a fact that would not be known as incorrect in the absence of subject-matter–specific knowledge.

(In this particular case, I also noted that the author had several opportunities to correct the misspelled name but had, instead, continued to approve the misspelled version. As a technical book, the author presents herself as the expert and thus has to accept responsibility for technical errors.)

The publisher was demanding that the packager pay the costs for correcting the errors, buying back and destroying the initial print run, and reprinting a corrected version. The packager was looking for me to shoulder those costs. (I also pointed out to my client that it had chosen the proofreader for the project — as well as deciding whether there would be proofreading — and that these “errors” were not deemed errors by its chosen proofreader.)

Without having defined “error” and the parameters of the level of editing the client requested before accepting the job, my client would have been able to assign the responsibility to me. In addition, the fee I had quoted the client would not have considered the value of my accepting such responsibility.

Value and fee

I know that many of you are asking, “What value?” In the usual case, there is little to no value under discussion because it is rare for a client to expect an editor to accept financial responsibility for editorial decisions; this was that rare case in which my client expected me to accept financial and nonfinancial responsibility for its client’s dissatisfaction. In the more usual case, the client asks the editor to reedit at the editor’s expense, to “fix these errors.” Without having defined what constitutes an error and what the requested level of editing includes and excludes beforehand, the editor is at the client’s mercy — and what may have been a profitable project can suddenly become highly unprofitable.

The questions

The questions are really these: In the absence of defining “error” and the parameters of the work to be done, am I implicitly promising the client an error-free job as defined after-the-fact by the client? Do I owe the client any compensation for not providing an error-free — as defined after-the-fact by the client — document? If I do owe the client any compensation, how is that compensation calculated?

The answers to these questions are for another day.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays:

October 26, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Editors, What Hat Do You Wear?

by Carolyn Haley

This essay springs from a recent evaluation I did of my marketing and proposal materials. I noticed that my website, public profiles, and bio blurbs had become stale and mismatching, and my pitch letters varied widely. Going forward I want to make my presence and approach more consistent across all business channels — especially since I claim consistency as an editorial asset.

The tricky part is, I wear multiple hats and serve fiction, nonfiction, and corporate clients. I need to pin the right words on the right hats to best communicate with my clientele.

This led to careful examination of words I take for granted, such as editor. I’d never looked up the definition before, so I turned to my trusty Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (online edition) and found this entry: “a person whose job is to edit something.” As I scrolled down, it expanded to “someone who edits, especially as an occupation.”

Hmmm. That’s so unhelpful, I almost laughed. Then I checked American Heritage Dictionary, whose online version offers the equivalent: “one who edits, especially as an occupation.”

Double-hmmm. I sensed a trend, and confirmed it by checking the online versions of three other esteemed dictionaries:

Cambridge [American English]: “a person who corrects and make [sic] changes to texts or films before they are printed or shown, or a person who is in charge of a newspaper, magazine, etc., and is responsible for all of its reports”

Oxford [U.S. English]: “1. A person who is in charge of and determines the final content of a text, particularly a newspaper or magazine; 2. a person who works for a publishing company, commissioning or preparing material for publication”

Macmillan: “1. someone whose job is to be in charge of a newspaper or magazine…[or] a particular section of a newspaper, magazine, or news organization…2. someone whose job is to edit books, documents, or movies…2.a. someone who produces a book by choosing, arranging, and explaining things that other people have written…2.b. someone whose job is to produce books for a publisher by finding writers and working with them”

From this sampling I deduced that most people don’t share the same definition of editor. That’s quite the paradox, given that an editor’s job is to improve the clarity and consistency of other people’s work!

Isn’t it?

Well, that depends on what kind of editor you are.

An editor is an editor is an editor…

Some editorial jobs are mainly business positions, such as editor-in-chief of a newspaper or managing editor of a publishing imprint. Other editorial jobs involve handling the content of manuscripts prior to publication. I belong to that cadre; specifically, the self-employed subset, with fiction my primary realm.

So I looked up specific titles that fiction editors use to describe themselves: copy editor, line editor, developmental editor. None of these were listed in the dictionaries and general publishing-vocabulary websites I checked. Of the few editing titles that did appear, most were associated with periodicals (e.g., night editor, sports editor, fashion editor).

When I focused on book-publishing websites, however, familiar titles emerged: acquisitions editor, production editor, project editor, content editor, developmental editor, substantive editor, line editor, and copy editor. Still, none shared the same definition; and in the real world, some titles are used interchangeably, such as copy/line editor, line/substantive editor, substantive/developmental editor, developmental/content editor.

Compounding the confusion, editor is used in multiple industries: publishing, journalism, film, computer technology. On top of that, professional editorial organizations in publishing name themselves ambiguously. For example, the American Copy Editors Society’s website claims membership is open to “editors from all backgrounds and skill levels,” but what in their name would move a developmental editor to consider joining?

The Editorial Freelancers Association is named clearly — “any full- or part-time freelancer may join” — but it excludes the staff editors freelancers often work with, even though when filling out the form to join, they must choose from check boxes covering their experience, which may include salaried positions. Does their membership expire if they go back to an in-house job?

The Editors’ Association of Canada, meanwhile, welcomes all (“salaried and freelance, work with individuals and organizations in the corporate, technical, government, not-for-profit, academic and publishing sectors across the country and around the world in English and French”), though their name invites the assumption it’s for Canadians only.

Based on the above, I no longer wonder why people don’t understand our profession, or why editorial pay rates differ wildly, or why writers seeking editorial help struggle to connect with us.

Labeling one’s hats

In the absence of universal editorial definitions and job titles, it’s up to editors and publishers to communicate who we are and what we do. For me, as an independent contractor, the first step is simple and obvious: When contacted by publishers to edit manuscripts, I must ask exactly what they mean so our expectations are mutually understood. The second step takes more initiative: When presenting my services to the world in general (via website, public profiles, bio blurbs) and potential clients (via proposals to independent authors), I must provide precise definitions of each task.

I’ve been working on that for a while, and have settled on boilerplate service definitions to submit to prospective clients and post on my websites. The definitions show editing as a three-stage process — macro, middle, micro — with my preferred labels for each task. But because these tasks build on each other in complexity and cost, and my indie clients are often concerned with simplicity and inexpensiveness, I stack them in micro-to-macro order in my presentations:

Copyediting (Polishing)

A nuts-and-bolts exercise done when the work is complete and ready for submission or production. Copyediting involves minimal touching of text by the editor, and focuses on clarity, consistency, and comprehension while preserving author voice. It includes checking spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation, also light fact checking and sometimes formatting. Queries may flag the author’s pet words or patterns, or phrasing that creates unintentional effects or reader distraction. The editor generally performs the edit in one round then returns the manuscript to the author, who accepts/rejects the changes and moves on.

Substantive/line editing (Refining)

Line-by-line attention to language and flow of a manuscript that is essentially complete but still in process. Substantive editing includes the basic t-crossing and i-dotting of copyediting but expands to embrace content, analyzing and revising text at the sentence and paragraph levels while still preserving author voice. Queries may address narrative arc, viewpoint, pacing, theme, genre conventions, scene logistics, and character development. No editorial rewriting is done beyond minor cutting or consolidating, transition smoothing, or paragraph resequencing for clarity. The editor generally performs the edit in one round and returns the manuscript to the author, who either accepts/rejects the changes and moves on, or further revises based on the editorial feedback. Follow-up revision checking or copyediting are separate transactions.

Developmental editing (Building)

The roll-up-your-sleeves-and-dig-in process that embraces a work’s overall concept, flow, and structure early in the writing (or midway if it’s stuck). Developmental editing is the most hands-on work by the editor, and the most interactive collaboration between editor and author; it takes the most time, costs the most money, and has the most profound impact on an author’s work. Developmental editing generally requires at least two rounds of backing and forthing, with the author expected to rewrite sections, sometimes even recast the whole work. Subsequent refinement and polish editing are separate transactions, usually done by different people.

For very-low-budget folks, I also offer a nonediting manuscript evaluation in lieu of developmental editing. This gives authors some professional guidance in revising their work without a heavy outlay, and gives me a nice analytical project without heavy labor. Usually I get the improved manuscript back months later for a substantive or copy edit. Clients who skip the evaluation usually choose substantive editing.

Moving forward

Once these definitions were sorted out, several good things happened. I not only improved the balance between my fees and services (formerly charging too much for copyediting, not enough for substantive editing, and all over the map for developmental editing), which makes me more competitive, but also gave prospects better information to work with. The combination eliminated time-wasting inquiries for them and fruitless pitches for me; thus, my landing rate for new projects doubled for half the investment of time. And these new projects have been free of the mismatched expectations that can befoul a job. So far, all have come to happy conclusions.

It’s funny how the most basic editorial resource — the dictionary — with its inconsistency of editorial definitions helped resolve my personal business inconsistencies. Can that simple exercise work on a broader scale? In this new era of publishing, editors come toward authors from a bewildering variety of directions, using different vocabularies and offering different expectations. Would standardizing our job titles and services change the perception of editing as a profession? Could this lay the groundwork for the much-discussed idea of creating a U.S. certification program? Is it possible to label our hats uniformly, or is the profession too broad to ever share a common definition in the public eye?

For now, we’re all mavericks. Leading me to wonder: What editorial hat(s) do you wear?

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

October 21, 2015

The Business of Editing: Fundamental Business Mistakes That Editors Make

Editors are often connoisseurs of language first and of business last. People become editors for many reasons; few become editors because they have evaluated editing as a business and decided that they can make their fortune as an editor. People become freelance editors for a variety of reasons, often including as a reason the desire to be their own boss — but without fully understanding what it means to run a business.

Ask your colleagues to show you their business plan — the one they used to decide to setup Gonzo’s Editorial Services and storm the editorial barricades. Both of us will be surprised if they have one to show you.

This is not anything unusual in the business world. Many, if not most, small businesses are established without a business plan and without fully understanding what is involved in running and maintaining a business. But editors seem to be especially neglectful of acquiring the skills to run a business successfully before starting the business — they often look for courses on editing, but not on business, and most editing programs offer little by way of business skill development. And in the United States, there is no national organization that offers a comprehensive editorial business skill-building course.

When I started as an editor (in January it will be 32 years ago), I had a leg up on nearly all my competition when it came to business skills — I had already been involved in and had run several successful small businesses. Having those business skills, combined with the editorial skills I had developed working for a publisher in-house, I was able to rapidly grow my editing business.

Not having those basic business skills is a fundamental mistake that editors make. Perhaps an even more fundamental mistake is the refusal to recognize that they are running a business and need to learn and develop basic business skills. Too many times have I been told by colleagues that they are editorial artisans, not tradespersons or businesspersons. Such thinking limits an editor to earning a basic living (maybe; too many do not even earn at that level) but not much more.

If editors were more businesslike, the first thing they would do is evaluate whether editing was the business for them. Knowing how to do something, even knowing how to do it well, is usually not enough to ensure success. You can be the world’s greatest editor yet have no clients and no income or too few clients or too little income, all because you haven’t the necessary business skills to succeed. Perhaps, then, being a freelance editor is not the correct business for you.

What I often hear is that “I am satisfied with what I earn” or “I am satisfied with the number of clients (projects) I have.” But delve a bit deeper and what one discovers is that the person has come to terms with their situation; they have become satisfied out of necessity, not from choice.

A sure sign of weak business skills is charging a fee that is not enough to raise the editor above the poverty line (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Why $10 Can’t Make It). When a colleague tells me that they do not need more, it is sometimes because they have supplemental income, such as a pension or a significant other who is paying the bills. But in that case, they are not treating editing as a business; it is more of a hobby — a business needs to stand or fall financially on its own. When they tell me that their clients cannot afford more, I wonder why they aren’t seeking clients who can pay more. I also wonder how they know their clients cannot afford more. For most of us, our clients are from all over the country and world — we do not know them except via impersonal contact. At what point have we crossed that line that divides our interests from our client’s interests to say that our clients are always honest and are more important than ourselves? As far as I know, editing is not a path to sainthood.

Not objectively evaluating what we need to charge is a fundamental business mistake editors make. When you buy groceries, the prices you pay are not arrived at via crystal ball gazing or tossing dice in the air and seeing how they land. A lot of calculation goes into determining the price to charge for a container of yogurt. The grocery wants to charge enough to be sure that it can meet its expenses and open its doors tomorrow, but not so much that you will shop elsewhere. There is also a psychology to pricing: charge too little and clients do not respect you or your skills; charge too much and clients will go elsewhere.

Why do editors think editing is any different a business than, say, a grocery? Probably because editors do not view editing as a business and do not think we have a product to sell. Consider how you set your rate (see, e.g., On the Basics: Dealing with the Perennial Question of Setting Rates for Our Work). Many editors will say they looked at what other editors were charging for similar services. (How do they know the other editors’ services are similar? All that we really know is that they are doing “copyediting,” not how they define “copyediting” nor how good they are at copyediting.) Or they checked out some “national rate chart” (needless to say, without checking out how valid that rate chart is; see, e.g., Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts). And when they found that their colleagues were charging $20 an hour, they charged $20 an hour — even though to meet their expenses they need $30 an hour (see Business of Editing: What to Charge).

It is not that editors do not survive at these rates; they do. But one needs to look at how “well” they are surviving at such rates. In some cases, they are able to survive because someone else in the household is bringing in sufficient money to make up the difference. Or because they are retired and have a supplemental income. What happens to the editor when that other income is lost? It is a question not posed and not answered.

What editors miss is that they are a business and they need to evaluate what they are doing as a business, which means as if they had no other income source. How successful are they if they cannot stand on their own?

Once we begin to view our editorial services as a business, we can apply all of the business fundamentals to our service — not just fees, but also invoicing, marketing, defining our services, deciding which projects we will accept and which we will reject, and determining what constitutes our business day and week, and more. When we get a handle on these things, we will see that our path has changed — for the better.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays:

October 14, 2015

A Question of Ethics: The Delayed Project Further Delayed

Over the years, one of the things that has concerned editors is the “problem” of overbooking that results in project schedules overlapping. In comments to my essay, A Question of Ethics: If the Editing Is Running Behind Schedule…, the following question scenario was posed:

Where it becomes more complex ethically is if the responsibility for the overrun is shared. For example, a client doesn’t send critical papers on time, so the editor takes another job to avoid being idle but misjudges their schedule. Part of the overrun is due to the editor taking too much work, but wouldn’t have happened at all if the client hadn’t delayed. As with you, I think ethically the editor owes some discount but working out how much is another issue. (Dave Higgins, October 5, 2015)

Missing from the scenario are several important pieces of information:

  • Did the editor advise the client that because of the anticipated delay in the client’s producing the required material, the editor was going to accept other work that might cause a schedule conflict?
  • Did the editor inquire as to how much of a delay the client anticipated?
  • When the editor contracted for the project, was the editor aware of the potential for delay? If yes, did the editor advise the client at that time that if there was a delay, the editor would take on other editing work rather than sit idle?
  • How well did the editor evaluate the new waiting-period project in terms of schedule and difficulty?
  • How much of a delay will result to the original client’s project?

There may be additional bits of information that would be useful in analyzing the scenario, but the outlined ones are sufficient for our purposes.

A good habit to have

I know I have said and written this so many times that you are probably tired of hearing/reading it, but here it comes again: I am a business. I run a professional business. I am not an editorial hobbyist. Remembering this is important. Using it as a guide to my conduct is also important.

When I speak with clients or potential clients, I make it clear that providing editorial services is my full-time occupation; that I am a professional, not amateur or hobbyist, editor; and that I am running a business. I repeat this often because it is the foundation for my responses to myriad situations that arise in my editorial business.

It is an important foundation for resolving the scenario presented. When I agree to take on a project and a schedule is mutually agreed upon, I emphasize to my client that should there be a delay in the client’s delivery of needed and requested information or material, the schedule will be extended appropriately. Furthermore, and this is the critical part for the scenario under discussion, if the anticipated delay is longer than a few days, I will move on to my next scheduled project whose deadline I need to meet and will return to the delaying client’s project as I can. I make it very clear that I have work scheduled to start immediately after I complete the current client’s project as originally scheduled — there is no “free” time available to accommodate client-side delays.

Advising clients that your editing schedule has little flexibility is a good habit to get into. First, it signals your expectation that just as the client will expect you to meet the agreed-upon deadline, so, too, will you expect the client to timely fulfill its agreed-to obligations. Second, it signals that your services are in demand, that you are a professional whose time is valuable both to you and to clients. Third, it provides you with the means to justify taking on additional work while waiting for the client to fulfill its obligations. Fourth, the client has had fair warning of the effects of client delay and thus you are not obligated — neither ethically nor from a customer relations point of view — to provide a discount on my services.

But what if I don’t have the habit?

If I were an editor who didn’t habitually advise clients that I cannot sit idly by waiting for material that may never appear, then I need to consider additional pieces of information.

What (and when) did the editor advise the client?

When an editor learns from a client that there will be a delay, the editor should try to ascertain the expected length of the delay. It matters whether we are talking a day or two or weeks. In the case of a short delay (and what constitutes a “short” delay we each need to define for ourselves), I am of the opinion that the editor should not take on another project; instead, the editor should give a reasonable deadline (another length of time that we each need to define for our own business) by which the editor must receive the material or the editor will start another project. In this case, the editor needs to also explicitly state to the client that schedules are likely to overlap and that the new project will take precedence over the delayed project. The editor needs to do this immediately upon learning of the delay; the editor should not wait in the hope that the delay will be minimal. If the editor does this, then I do not think any discount is owed the client for not meeting the client’s schedule.

Could delays have been anticipated when the editor agreed to the project?

Experienced editors know that some projects are ripe for schedule delays, especially multiauthor projects. If the potential for delay existed at the time of contracting, then it was the editor’s responsibility to advise the client at that point in time of what the editor will do when the delay is encountered. It is also the time to come to an agreement as to what will constitute a “lengthy” delay that would free the editor to move to another project and make that project the primary project.

Where the editor has tackled the problem at the time of contracting, I think no discount is owed to the client as a result of the editor having taken on another project. Unfortunately, many editors do not have sufficient experience or insight to see the potential for delay and address it upfront; they tackle the problem when it arises. In this case, the editor may owe the client a discount; whether the editor does or does not depends on additional information, such as what was discussed above under “What (and when) did the editor advise the client?”

The new project & the overlapping schedules

When the editor decides to take on the second project while waiting for the delayed materials to appear, how well the editor evaluated the new project is important, I think, in determining whether the editor owes the delay client a discount.

When I tell a delay client I have to move on to another project, I also tell the client when I will be able to return to their project. I also indicate whether I think I will be able to do any work at all on their project while I am working on the new project. The date I give is a semifirm date; that is, I tell the client I can return to their project on X date, give or take a day or two.

I also reexplain to the client what constitutes an editing workweek. I do this because I have found that delay clients — like all clients — assume that because I am a freelance editor I work 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year when I have work. (That’s really two assumptions, the second being that there are days or weeks when I do not have work. Unless educated otherwise, clients tend not to think of freelance editing as a “full-time real job” like their jobs.) I reinforce the editing workweek idea to nip in the bud the expectation that I will work extralong days and weekends so as not to disrupt the client’s schedule. I also want to reinforce the notion that those hours and days can be worked but for a premium price, not at the regular price.

I am able to give the semifirm date because after 31 years of evaluating manuscripts, I have a pretty good idea of how long a project will take. If I have made the commitment but miscalculated, I entertain giving the delay client a discount. The discount amount varies and is based on whether I think I can make up the miscalculated time.

The snowball effect

The problem with schedules is that failing to meet them usually has a snowball effect. If editing is not done on time, then authors don’t finish their review on time, which means typesetting is delayed, which means printing is delayed, and so on. The question then becomes: Who should bear responsibility?

I think a sense of professional ethics and responsibility resolves as follows:

  • When the client fails to deliver on time, the snowball effects, which affect the client and not the editor, are chargeable to the client — no editor’s discount is warranted.
  • When the editor takes on a wait-time project and has properly prepared and notified the delay client, the snowball effects are chargeable to the client — no editor’s discount is warranted.
  • When the editor hasn’t properly prepared and notified the client, the snowball effects are chargeable to the editor — a small editor’s discount is warranted.
  • When the editor has miscalculated the time needed to complete the wait-time project, the snowball effects are chargeable to the editor — a larger editor’s discount is warranted.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Some related An American Editor essays that may be of interest:

October 5, 2015

A Question of Ethics: If the Editing Is Running Behind Schedule…

The Background

A project I recently completed was originally scheduled to be done by August 31 — a 4-week schedule; it ended, instead, 3 weeks later. The price I quoted was based on the short schedule that the August 31 must-meet date represented. (For this particular project, a 4-week schedule was quite tight.)

The delay in completing the project was caused by delays in the client delivering the manuscript to me. The delays were such that it seemed as if nothing was going right with the project. For example, references were called out in the text using the author-date system, with all of the references appearing in a bibliography at the end of the manuscript, not in each chapter. Although I requested the references early in the process, I didn’t receive them until a few days before the absolute final extended due date. Consequently, the editor had no opportunity to check whether the bibliography actually contained all of the cites called out in the text or if there were references cited in the bibliography that were not called out in the text.

A fundamental part of editing is to check the references to make sure that all that are called out are cited in the bibliography/reference list and to identify any that are cited in the bibliography/reference list but not called out in the text. When the client insisted that I return the edited references on a particular date, I pointed out that to do so meant the editor could not check callouts against cites; all the editor could do was look for missing information in the cites, try to locate that missing information, and style the cites.

Because callout–cite checking is fundamental to editing, I required the client to explicitly direct us to not do the checking, which the client did. As the client noted, it was not our fault that there was no time left to do the job. I replied to the client, “It is not a problem from our end. We do the job you want as best we can within the limits you impose.”

The Questions

At least three questions arise out of these circumstances, each raising ethical issues:

  1. In the case where the client instructs you to not perform a service that is normally included because the client is late delivering the files, should the fee be reduced by the value of the service not provided?
  2. In the case where the client instructs you to not perform a service that is normally included because the you misjudged the time needed to edit the manuscript and so are now late in delivering the manuscript to the client, should the fee be reduced by the value of the service not provided at the client’s instruction?
  3. Does the answer to either of the previous questions depend on whether the editor is charging by the page, by the project, or by the hour?

The client delivers late

In the first scenario (client is late deliverer), I think the editor has no ethical duty to reduce the fee. The editor is willing to perform the service if given the necessary time to do so. That the client has schedule constraints that do not permit the editor to perform the service is outside the control of the editor. The decision for the editor to not cross-check the cites was made by the same party that was late in providing the material, which is outside the editor’s control.

However, the basis for the billing does affect the amount to be charged. If the editor is billing by the page or the project, the invoiced amount should be the same regardless of whether or not the cite cross-checking was performed. But if the editor is charging by the hour, the invoice should not include a sum for time that would have been spent doing the cross-checking but for the client stopping the cross-checking. It would be unethical for the editor to bill for time that was not actually spent because the basis of the hourly charge is that the editor gets paid for hours worked.

Some commentators would argue that the billing method is irrelevant because all billing methods are based on time; that when an editor sets a per-page rate or a project-fee rate, part of the editor’s calculation is based on an estimate of the time it is expected the work will require. This is one of the elements of creating a quote (see The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote).

I agree that every price calculation method contains a time-expected-to-spend-editing component, but there is a significant difference between hourly-based and per-page– and project-fee–based projects. With per-page– and project-fee–based projects, the expectation of the amount the editor is to be paid is set based on a factor other than time; that is, it does not matter whether the editor completes the project in 20 hours but took 50 hours nor does it matter what the editor’s or client’s time expectation was — the fee is not time dependent, it changes only if there is a change in some other factor other than time (e.g., if the page count changes). In contrast, with an hourly-based fee the amount to be paid rises and falls based solely on the number of hours the editor spends editing; that is, unlike with per-page and project-based fees, the final hourly-based fee is not calculable until the project is complete.

The editor miscalculated the time needed

In the case of the second scenario (the editor is taking longer than expected to edit), I think the client is entitled to a reduction in the fee, even though it is the client who instructs the editor to not perform the service. In this instance, the editor knows the schedule that binds the client and that must be met. It is the editor who is late as a result of matters that are within the editor’s control. It is the editor who miscalculated and now jeopardizes the client’s schedule.

The reason for the fee reduction is that the agreed-upon price included the service that is now not to be performed and the reason it is not to be performed is because of the editor’s miscalculation, not because of anything the client has done. It is, in my view, unethical for an editor to be paid for work not performed at the fault of the editor. If there were no reduction in fee, the editor would be rewarded for not adhering to the bargain the editor’s made.

Here, also, the manner of calculating the fee affects the reduction. If the editor is charging by the hour, then no specific fee reduction is required because the client will not be billed for work not performed (i.e., hours spent editing). Only when the billing is per-page or project-fee based does there need to be a reduction in the set fee. How much of a reduction depends on the value of the service and whether the client will need to secure the service elsewhere. This is a matter of negotiation. But it is the to the editor’s advantage to initiate the reduction rather than wait for the client to raise the question or, perhaps more troublesome for the editor, for the client to not say anything but decide not to use the editor in the future.

A Question of Ethics

It is not unusual for an editor to ask on a forum whether a fee should be reduced or partially refunded. I do not consider the sense of ethics that governs my business to be a question of group ethics or group decision making; rather, I see it as a sense of my personal moral code, a sense of what I view as right and wrong. What does it matter whether 99 out of 100 editors would not issue a refund if I think one is warranted? That I would even ask the question is, to me, an indication that I think the client is entitled to some refund.

Ethics is a matter of taking the moral high road, of trying to seek a fairness balance, a balance of right and wrong.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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