An American Editor

August 24, 2016

The Business of Editing: Is It Smart to Give Clients Freebies?

Back in the day, when I began my editing career, editors were viewed much differently than they are now. We weren’t gods, no matter how much we wished we were, but we were respected and both editors and clients debated whether editing was an art or a business. The idea was that if it was an art, then pay and work conditions were secondary considerations; the primary consideration was how to improve editing by increasing accuracy and decreasing errors in an endeavor for editorial perfection even at the editor’s expense. In contrast, if it was a business, then the editor needed to approach it like a business, including advertising and striving to produce what the client asked for, rather than to achieve perfection — basically, doing what you were paid for and not seeking perfection at your own expense.

Even publisher clients were in that game. The rate of pay was decent; editors could earn high middle-class incomes, and publishers actually gave raises to freelancers. (I can recall one publishing company was so pleased with my work that it insisted I accept a 20% increase. Those days are long gone.) More importantly, publishers promoted the artisanal approach to editing by being willing to go above the original budget if the striving for perfection required doing so. Publishers did two other things in those days, things that are very rarely seen now — altering schedules so that a manuscript could be edited by a particular editor and offering on their own a higher pay rate to get a particular editor to take on a manuscript. Both those things occurred often in my early editing years; they still occasionally occur, but with far less frequency.

The point is that the relationship between the editor and the client was once governed by the view that striving for editorial perfection was desirable and the primary focus of both editor and client. Which also meant that in exchange, editors would go beyond what the agreement with the client called for and throw in “freebies.” But the winds were changing.

Not long after I began my editing career, the publishing industry began consolidating. Previously family-owned publishing houses were being sold to larger rivals who were themselves being bought by even larger international rivals. Offices were being closed and consolidated; in-house staff were losing their jobs; and, most importantly, the publisher’s view of editing as artisanal was rapidly being displaced by business-centric views. The view that began its striking ascendancy, and which is now the dominant view, was that editing is invisible to the reader, so a less-perfect product at a lower price is all that is needed.

But, as very longtime editors know, although publishers decreased or simply maintained freelancer pay, they also began requiring freelancers to do more tasks in exchange for that pay. For example, things that in-house production staff did became the job of the freelancer.

The profession of editing evolved from an artisanal profession into a business. Many editors struggled with this evolution; for others it was an easy — even welcome — change. Which leads me to the question at hand: Is it smart to give clients freebies today?

In the early years of the evolution, I thought providing freebies, which simply means bonus services not paid for by the client, was a good marketing strategy that might entice the client to call again and do so quickly. The strategy had value then because the freebie reduced the workload of the in-house editor with whom the freelancer had a relationship. The practice seemed mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, not only did it change the expectation level of the in-house editor with whom the freelancer had an ongoing relationship, but it also changed what the rest of the in-house staff expected. What was once a freebie turned into a virtual requirement of the job.

Observing that change in expectation and seeing how much more business-centric my clients were becoming, I began reevaluating the freebie as a marketing tool. My approach has changed greatly. I no longer think it is smart business to offer a freebie per se. Instead, the freebies I now offer are natural products of my constant effort to make my editing business more efficient and profitable.

A good example is my reference renumbering report (see, e.g., “The Business of Editing: Keeping Reference Callouts in Number Order” and “Business of Editing: Dealing with Reference Renumbering”). The Reference Number Order macro in EditTools was created to help me keep easy track of renumbering. The report I can generate for a client takes the information I have already entered for my own use and exports it to a file that I can send as a freebie. The cost to me is virtually zero (to create the file takes a click of a button) but, as clients have remarked, the report is very valuable to their authors and proofreaders, and thus to them.

I steadfastly avoid giving something that costs me time or money or is something that the client should be paying for. I also am careful to not provide anything that will increase my workload and that the client will soon expect me to include at no additional cost.

Another example of a freebie I provide all my clients is my online stylesheet. My stylesheet offers three things to my clients — at no cost to me:

  1. As I am editing, an interested client can check the stylesheet and see whether I have made any decisions that this client would like altered. Perhaps I decided to spell out only numbers one to nine before learning that the client would prefer having numbers one to ninety-nine spelled out; or I used the first spelling of traveler in MW 11, but the client turns out to want the equal variant, traveller. The client can see whatever information I put on the stylesheet (but, no, the client cannot make any direct changes to the stylesheet; the client must tell me what changes I should make. This ensures that I know exactly what the client wants).
  2. Because the stylesheet is current to the minute (i.e., what the client can see is no more than one minute older than what I can see) and because the stylesheet is accessible by the client 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round and is downloadable at the client’s convenience and as often as the client wishes, the client can provide proofreaders with up-to-the-minute copies of the stylesheet.
  3. Five years from now, when the client plans to work up a new edition of the book, the client can access my website and again download the stylesheet for the edition I edited. No more lost stylesheets or even not getting a stylesheet — the client only needs to log in, locate the project, and download the stylesheet. Today, for example, clients can retrieve stylesheets from books I edited for them in 2006 — and doing so is not conditional on my editing the new edition.

The stylesheet is a valuable freebie that costs me nothing. I have to provide a stylesheet with nearly all my projects anyway, so why not take advantage of it? Clients like that they can check on how things are progressing without having to contact me. They also like that they can do so at their convenience. Most importantly, they like that they can give their proofreaders these up-to-the-minute stylesheets without waiting for me to send them one.

The ability to retrieve a stylesheet when preparing to do a subsequent edition is also something clients like, as it helps maintain consistency between editions. I, too, like it because it reminds them that I am already familiar with the book, have the stylesheet readily available, and would thus be a good choice to hire for editing the new edition — it’s a good way to market passively. This, too, costs me nothing because I am already maintaining a website for my business and the stylesheets take up very little server space. Plus the clients do the actual “work” of retrieving and printing the stylesheet; I am just making it easy for them to do.

Basically, the freebies of today need to be passive freebies. They need to cost the freelancer virtually nothing but still have value to the client. What those freebies are will differ for each of us, but the bottom-line principle remains the same: the cost must be almost nil to us so that if it becomes an expectation of the client, it does not result in a reduction of our profits. Freebies should arise out of things we are doing for our own benefit, things that we do or would do to make our own work flow better.

If giving a freebie does not meet those criteria, then the answer to the question is no, it is not smart to give clients freebies nowadays.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 20, 2016

Thinking About Retirement

I am at the age when I can say “Enough — it’s time to retire.” I don’t plan to do so anytime soon, but I have actively reduced my workload from what it used to be.

One of the most difficult things I’ve done over the years has been to set aside money for retirement. My income was the primary family income, and the trappings of a middle-class life are not cheap. Mortgage, college, automobiles, house maintenance, health insurance, braces, and other everyday expenses really can cut into an income. In addition, being self-employed increased the taxes I paid.

When I first began setting aside money for retirement, I followed the standard advice of putting the money into tax-deferred accounts. The theory behind that advice is that when I finally do retire, my income will be less and so I will pay less in taxes, and deferring taxes seemed like a cash-back savings plan.

But a few years ago, I took another look at the tax-deferred savings in light of my reaching the traditional retirement age, and I considered what my real plans for retirement were — that is, not to fully retire, ever. The truth was that I wasn’t going to save any (or very little) tax money, and I would probably have to keep on working just so I could afford to pay the deferred taxes and the rising living expenses. Which made me rethink how I was investing my retirement money.

To take advantage of tax-deferred savings, investments pretty much had to be in mutual funds. The wonderful thing about mutual funds is that they spread risk. In contrast, buying individual stocks not only didn’t defer taxes but also focused risk: If the stock went up, I became richer; if it went down, I became poorer. The mutual fund might also have its ups and downs, but they tended to be more controlled — until 2009, when down was all there was.

After reviewing my retirement funding in light of my real plans, not the imaginary plans I had earlier in my career, I’ve put less emphasis on tax-deferred savings and more emphasis on investing with after-tax dollars. By using after-tax dollars, I do and will pay tax based on dividends and long-term capital gains. If I don’t sell any of the stocks, then I just pay tax on the dividends, a much lower tax burden than will be imposed when I am forced to start drawing down the tax-deferred accounts.

Of course, this raises another issue. Most of the mutual funds that are the base for tax-deferred accounts charge management fees. In some cases, a fee is assessed annually; in other cases, no fee is incurred until you start drawing from the account. Each fund needs to be looked at individually for the answers to “when” and “how much.” But regardless of when and how much, there is still another charge against the tax-deferred savings. Not only do you pay taxes on an ordinary income basis as you withdraw from the accounts, you also pay the management fees.

Usually, when you invest through a stockbroker, you have to pay buy and sell fees. That was always a downside to direct investing with after-tax dollars. Another downside was the minimum purchase amounts; brokers avoided fractional shares, or if they did allow fractional-share purchasing, the fees made the purchase unwise. Some brokers also charged minimum service fees when the accounts had fewer than a certain number of shares or less than a fixed value. In recent years, this has changed as competition among brokerages has increased and investing options have changed. The original impetus for the change was the rise of the Charles Schwab discount brokerage.

A while ago I read a newspaper article about an online brokerage called Loyal3. It is one of a newer type of brokerage that offers no-fee or fixed-fee options. (Three examples are Motif, Folio Investing, and Betterment.) With no-fee brokerages, if I invest $100, I receive $100 in shares; if I sell $100 worth of shares, I receive $100; if the shares earn a $10 dividend, I receive $10.

(Note: I am a client of Loyal3, and I am referring to it only because of my personal experience dealing with it; I haven’t dealt with any similar brokerages. I am not affiliated with Loyal3 and I receive no compensation for my mention of it here.)

What attracted me to Loyal3 were these features: no fees, IPOs (initial public offerings), fractional shares, and low purchase requirements for scheduled monthly purchases. I saw the brokerage as a good way to advance my financial interests without having to incur any undue expense.

Again, I want to state that while I am talking about my personal experience, there are similar brokerages available and the services they offer may differ. Loyal3 has certain limitations, some of which are important. The first limitation is the number of stocks available — currently, 70. Why only 70? Companies have to agree to both sell fractional shares and pay the brokerage fees. But there are high-quality investments available, such as Amazon, Coca-Cola, Twitter, Facebook, Tesla, Alphabet, Apple, Netflix, and Berkshire Hathaway.

A second limitation is that Loyal3 doesn’t have joint accounts, at least right now. A third limitation is that it doesn’t have TOD (transfer on death) accounts, which makes the process of transferring stock ownership after death a little bit more cumbersome but not difficult.

A fourth limitation is that transactions are not instantaneous. This can be a serious limitation if you are looking for short-term investments. A regular brokerage will receive your buy or sell order and execute the transaction within minutes, if not more quickly. Loyal3 works, instead, on daily batch buying and selling. Once a day it batches together all of the orders to buy and sell it has received and executes them. Consequently, if you see your stock take a dramatic rise at 10 a.m. and send the instruction to sell, you may get a different dollar amount from the sale than you expected, because the execution occurs only once a day.

But there are plus sides to investing via Loyal3 or other similar brokerage. First, no fees that reduce the value of your investment. Second, an opportunity to participate in IPOs at the same price and time as Wall Street.

I have always wanted to have a chance to invest in IPOs. I realize they are a gamble because they can drop like a cement block, but they can also be rewarding. How many of us could participate in, for example, Facebook’s IPO. The Facebook IPO price was $42.05 per share; at the time of this writing it is $116.42 a share. Amazon’s IPO price was $18; at this writing it is $734.75. Small investors like me couldn’t participate in these IPOs in the absence of a service like Loyal3 for a variety of reason, not least of which was the minimum number of shares that had to be bought.

Granted, I came too late to Loyal3 for those IPOs, but I have been able to participate in others and have experienced a significant increase in share value. (For information on how IPO investing works at Loyal3, click here.) Unfortunately, IPO investing is limited and infrequent, but some opportunity is better than no opportunity.

The third plus is the ability to buy fractional shares, as I’ve said before. I am not as wealthy as I wish I were. I cannot afford to buy 100 shares of Amazon at $734.75 a share or even Microsoft at $53.70 a share. And I want to gamble on Tesla because I love its cars and its dreams for the electric automobile, but $220.40 a share is a bit steep for me. Loyal3 gives me an opportunity, however, to become a shareholder by allowing me to buy fractional shares in those companies. I can choose to invest any amount from $10 to $2500 — either once or monthly — in any of the stocks, and whatever that amount will buy is what I get.

Loyal3 has a fourth plus: I can invest in stocks and amounts of my choosing either one time or on a monthly schedule that I can alter at any time. It is easy. I’ve set up my account to take a certain sum from my checking account each month on a particular day (you pick the day, such as the first, the seventh, the fifteenth, or the twenty-first of each month) and divide that sum among stocks of my choosing. There is no limitation except the $10 minimum and $2500 maximum. Consequently, you could tell Loyal3 to take $250 from your checking account on the first of each month and invest it as follows: $25 in Disney, $25 in Pepsi, $100 in Amazon, $50 in Apple, and $50 in Tesla. If Disney shares are selling for $100, your $25 will buy one-quarter share. That would remain your standing order until you change it. You can change the amount, the date, the stocks — anything, including canceling the investments altogether.

When a company declares a stock dividend, it appears in your Loyal3 account and you can either leave it and have it applied to your next scheduled investments or have it electronically transmitted to you.

I’ve spent a lot of time explaining how Loyal3 and similar brokerages work, and for a good reason. These brokerages offer the small investor — like many of us freelancers — an opportunity to prepare for our future. This is an opportunity that many colleagues are unaware of. This type of investment should not be your sole investment. Mutual funds offer stability and greater security, but the penalty is often lower return and fees. For example, my tax-deferred funds are currently returning less than 5%, whereas my Loyal3 investments, in the aggregate, are returning over 15%. That imbalance is unlikely to last, but I’ll enjoy it while I can.

Because we are responsible for our own retirement preparation, we need to learn about and explore multiple ways of increasing our net worth. Firms that offer no minimum required account balances and low minimum investment opportunities via fractional shares can be important parts of our future. It is never too late to start.

If you know of firms like Loyal3, Motif, Folio, or Betterment, whether in the United States or another country, please mention them in the comments.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 22, 2016

On Ethics: The Ballpark Quote in the Macrocosm

We’ve been discussing the ethics of ballpark quoting here on An American Editor. My two previous essays offer up my views on the subject. In her rebuttal (see On Ethics: The Ethics of Ballpark Quoting — A Rebuttal) to my second essay (see On Ethics: The Ethics of Ballpark Quoting), Louise Harnby defends ballpark quoting. And she is convincing — as long as one accepts the micro view of ethics.

The micro view of ethics essentially boils down to this: Because I can do something ethically, what I am doing must be ethical. If we were discussing a morality topic like killing, the defense would be: Because killing in my circumstances is justifiable, then killing must be justifiable.

We all know that this is incorrect.

The moral principle is “Thou shalt not kill.” But as with every moral (and ethical) principle, there are micro and macro perspectives. In the macro perspective, killing is unethical; in the micro perspective, it may be ethical, depending on the circumstances. This is the weakness of the micro view of ethics and of ballpark quoting.

Louise’s argument is that because she has experience and years of data, knows her required effective hourly rate (rEHR; for a discussion of EHR, see Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)), doesn’t underquote to show her competitiveness, and uses ballpark quoting to start a conversation about proof-editing with a client, her version of ballpark quoting is ethical and therefore ballpark quoting is ethical. But ethics are (or if not, should be) viewed in macro, not micro, terms.

Consider this: How many times have you seen the following question (or a variation of it) asked and discussed on editorial forums? “How much should I charge?” If the asker and the respondents had calculated their rEHR, they would not be bothering with the question, because they would know the minimal answer (which is “not less than your rEHR”). Yet this is a frequent topic among editors. More importantly, the reason that even editors who do know their rEHR keep asking this question or following the discussion is that they want to be sure that whatever they are charging is close to what their competitors are charging.

What is the purpose of a rate survey if not to establish a baseline that clients can rely on as a guide and that editors can use to justify their rates? That the rate surveys are invalid and misleading doesn’t stop editors from using them to support what they charge. And if competitiveness were not an issue, there would be no rationale for asking, “What should I charge to edit an 80,000-word romance novel?”

When answers such as $1 per page or $25 an hour are given, the readers of these answers are getting an informal survey of what their competition charges, and if they adopt such rates for themselves and incorporate them into their ballpark quote calculation, rather than using a number based on their rEHR, we might reasonably conclude that they’re trying to appear price competitive so that clients will consider hiring them. Look at it another way. If the purpose is not to be competitive, or to appear competitive, why ask others what they charge? What others charge is irrelevant if competitiveness does not matter or is not part of the decision behind ballpark quotes.

Thus, in the macro view, the purpose of ballpark quoting is simply to make a client consider engaging your services.

Louise does require that a message be sent to her personally before she submits a ballpark quote. Her rationale is that this gives her an opportunity to initiate a conversation with the client. But what about those editors or proofreaders who use a software application to generate an instant ballpark quote (i.e., the potential client will enter the requested information into various fields, click a button to generate a quote, and instantly see the quote)? How does that method of quoting generate a conversation with the client?

Yet there is an even more fundamental flaw — in my opinion — with the micro view. If one of ballpark quoting’s purposes is to have a conversation with the client about what the manuscript truly needs and what the real price will be, why have an intermediate step? Why not ask for all of the information you need to give a firm quote upfront? Why not say to the client, “I will edit your manuscript for $X”? Or, perhaps, say this: “Your manuscript requires these services. Based on my past experience, I believe it will take me Y hours to edit your manuscript. I charge $X per hour. To allow for the possibility that I have underestimated how long it will take to edit your manuscript but to limit the cost to you, the maximum it will cost you for my editing services is $Z. The reasons I anticipate it will take Y hours are as follows: [insert reasons].”

If the purpose is to have a conversation with the client, why not have the conversation from the get-go by asking for all the information needed to provide a firm quote?

The answer from those who use ballpark quoting tends to be that to provide a firm quote requires more work and that ballpark quoting weeds out those who want to pay less. My problem with this is that the client is making a decision that the editor is too expensive without having been given all the facts necessary to create an informed opinion. For example, if your ballpark quote is $500 and your competitor’s ballpark quote is $300, even though you both charge the same hourly rate, what justifies the gap? Why is it that you think it will take 10 hours to edit the manuscript — not having seen it yet — but your competitor thinks it will only take 6 hours?

The client facing these two numbers sees only that she gave both of you the same information and that you are significantly more expensive than your competitor. There are lots of possible explanations for the disparity, ranging from deception to the extent of the services included, but the psychology of comparison shopping indicates that the client will focus on the $300 quote while assuming that your editing services and those of your competitor are identical.

The micro viewers assume that the client will either go to the next step and have a conversation or decide that the quote is too high — outside the client’s budget. But the reality is that there is no assurance that the client will go to the next step when there is such a gap. Nor can you know that the reason the client didn’t engage in a conversation is because your quote is outside the client’s budget and not because the client incorrectly assumed that the quotes were for identical services.

The macro view recognizes that ballpark quoting is based on inadequate information, both received from the client and given to her. Yes, clients ask for ballpark quotes, but does the client understand that when an editor or proofreader provides these quotes, the client might well be unwittingly comparing apples to oranges, not apples to apples? Just as clients rarely understand what copyediting means, and just as editors define the term differently — no single set of services is universally understood as copyediting — so a ballpark quote from one editor is not truly comparable to a ballpark quote from another editor. On the other hand, firm quotes with a detailed explanation of what is included and what is excluded can be properly and usefully compared.

By its very nature, a ballpark quote, unlike a firm quote, is not comparable across editors. If you accept a micro view of ethics, then ballpark quoting is ethical even though it is an information-challenged process. If you accept a macro view of ethics, ballpark quoting is unethical because it doesn’t provide enough information to the client to make the quote meaningful or to enable the client to comparison shop. The micro view looks to the singular experience, whereas the macro view looks to the broader experience and purpose.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 20, 2016

On Ethics: The Ethics of Ballpark Quoting — A Rebuttal

by Louise Harnby

In On Ethics: The Ethics of Ballpark Quoting, Rich Adin posed the following questions:

  1. Is it ethical for copyeditors to ever do ballpark pricing as a way to induce clients to hire them?
  2. Does the editor have an ethical obligation to not give ballpark quotes, because they can mislead a client about the real cost?
  3. If the editor gives a ballpark quote, is there an ethical limit to how much the final bill can exceed the ballpark price?

1. The ethics of inducement

Rich states: “The ballpark quote has two purposes: (1) to enable the client to comparison shop and (2) to let the editor demonstrate her price competitiveness, which means the editor — consciously or subconsciously — wants the price to look as low as possible.” Rich’s concern is that ballpark quoters use an unrealistic (low) price, based on limited information, to induce the client to hire them.

He concludes that “to give a ballpark quote for copyediting a manuscript is unethical unless the editor is willing to stick to that price — that is, the quoted price is the maximum the client will have to pay. It is unethical for an editor to angle to be hired by using ballpark quoting to demonstrate the editor’s price competitiveness.”

I think Rich is missing the point regarding how the ballpark price works.

The ballpark price is just that — a ballpark, an approximation. It’s a rough guide, a preliminary quick quote that enables my potential client to decide whether they’d like to continue the discussion during the comparison-shopping stage.

It certainly is not binding — and it can’t be precisely because it’s a ballpark price based on limited information. It cannot be the maximum price a client will have to pay at billing stage because I haven’t seen the files. In order to provide the client with a price that will appear on the invoice, I must acquire this information. And that’s exactly what ballpark quoters like me do. We start with the ballpark price, then move onto a conversation, and then evaluate the project and firm up the parameters of the project; finally, we provide a confirmed quotation. That confirmed quotation, not the initial ballpark quote, is the price to which, ethically, we must be willing to be held.

In my view, the ballpark quote has three purposes: (1) to enable the client to comparison-shop; (2) to save me time by eliminating lengthy discussions with potential clients whose budgets are below my fee scale; and (3) to enable me to start a conversation with a potential client (whose budget is in accordance with my fee scale) about what the project looks like, what’s required, and what the true cost will be.

Rich states: “I am aware of very few editors who will quote a price to which they are willing to be held without having the manuscript in hand.” I agree. And if the editor supplied a ballpark quotation and, after that, failed to take the opportunity to evaluate the project before agreeing to be hired, completed the project, and submitted an invoice that was higher than the ballpark quote, justifying that higher fee on the grounds that more work had been required than anticipated, yes, that would be an unethical scenario. But it’s also an absurd scenario. That’s not how ballparking works.

Ballparking isn’t an alternative to confirmed true-price quoting — it’s an additional preliminary stage that occurs beforehand. It’s an invitation to a conversation that may end up in a confirmed booking or may end up with either party deciding to walk away before hiring takes place. It’s not unethical to invite a conversation.

2. The ethics of realistic quoting

In the second part of his analysis, Rich says: “The truth is that ballpark quotes for copyediting are deceptive and are structured to mislead the client as to the ultimate cost. Editors will not deliberately overquote (i.e., quote a price the editor knows will be higher than the real price), because the competition does not overquote.”

I reject this statement that ballpark quotes are designed to mislead. As I said above, the ballpark quote is designed to provide an approximate price that will enable the potential client to ascertain whether it’s worth spending additional time having a more detailed conversation about what’s required.

Editors (I use the term broadly) who have tracked their project data carefully will have a bank of rich data on which to base their ballpark quotes so that the prices are realistic (particularly if they’ve followed Rich’s invaluable advice about determining their effective hourly rates).

The proofreading I carry out for publishers (usually on copy-edited page proofs) is rather different from the so-called proof-editing I provide for independent fiction authors. The proof-editing I do for independent fiction authors is rather different from the proofreading I do for students whose second language is English. I have 5 years’ worth of Excel spreadsheets containing nearly 500 projects. With only a little filtering and formula-creation, I can tell you how long it takes me on average to proofread a 20,000-word politics dissertation, proof-edit a 40,000-word fantasy novella written by a self-publishing author, and mark up a 90,000-word PDF of economics page proofs supplied by a publisher. Since I know what I want to earn, working out the price isn’t that difficult. I’ve developed a little phone-based Excel tool with an array-based formula that can work out a price that takes into account the type of client, the type of project, and the economies of scale for larger projects. One of my Canadian editor colleagues has a website-based widget that works in a similar way.

Here’s the thing. My ballpark prices are pretty darn accurate. So when I provide a ballpark price (based on very little information) for proof-editing a novel for an indie author, and that author decides to get in touch to continue the conversation, and ends up sending me the project file for review, I’m almost always able to say, “Yup, the price I gave you will stand as a confirmed price. Let me know if you want to make a booking.”

What if the project needs a different level of intervention than anticipated and therefore requires a price that is higher than the one I ballpark quoted? Well, remember, the client still hasn’t hired me. So I can tell the client that, having now reviewed the project in detail, I feel that the service I was asked to ballpark quote for (e.g., proofreading) is not appropriate. If I supply the service that I think is required (e.g., copyediting), I can explain why, and provide a revised realistic quotation, or I can guide the client toward alternative suppliers. Either way, we’re still having a conversation — both parties can still walk away.

Here’s another thing. I don’t underquote. I don’t overquote. I just quote. I know what I want to earn. Either the client’s budget is within the range of my fee scale or it’s not. If it is, the ballpark quote might turn into a conversation that in turn becomes a confirmed booking further down the line. If it isn’t, the client and I won’t get beyond the ballpark quote — she asked for a price. I gave her a price. She considered it too high and she never contacted me again. Or she thanked me, told me it was too high, and said she was going elsewhere. Or she thanked me, said it was too high, and asked me to lower my price (and I said no).

I think that it’s unethical for an editor to provide a quotation that she knows is unrelated to the ultimate cost and then accepts a commission on the basis of that misleading quote. I also agree that it would be a public relations disaster. But the notion as applied to a ballpark quote is unrealistic precisely because it’s premised on the assumption that the ballpark quote is given instead of a review-based confirmed quote, rather than in addition to it.

I have a price. The client has a price. Either we fit or we don’t. The ballpark isn’t about misleading the client into hiring me for work that I’ll later charge a higher price for. It’s about enabling the two of us to start talking or start walking. That’s not unethical; it’s sensible.

3. The ethics of the final price

The final section of Rich’s essay asks: “Is there an ethical limit to how much the final bill can exceed the ballpark quote?” His answer is, “Yes, there is. That limit is zero; clients should not be asked to reward editors for their unwillingness to bear the burden of underquoting.”

I disagree. Again, Rich’s view is based on a misunderstanding of how editors like me use, and justify using, a ballpark-quoting mechanism. My final bill is not based on a ballpark quote, and I suspect that’s the case for most ballparking editors. Rather, my final bill is based on a confirmed quote that I provided after the ballpark quote.

Just so we’re clear — the process works as follows. The client contacts me to ask for a ballpark quote. I provide one. If we’re on the same page financially, the client and I then begin talking. As part of our more detailed conversation about what’s required, I ask for a substantial sample of the work (perhaps even the whole project). If all goes well, we firm up a price (mine usually stays the same as the ballpark, but it could change). The price that’s signed off — one that’s realistic and based on work that both parties agree is required ­— is not the ballpark price, but the follow-on confirmed price.

Is there an ethical limit to how much the final bill can exceed the ballpark quote? No, there is no limit because the final bill is on a different price, one that was agreed after the ballpark quote. Of course, if the editor agreed to be hired for a project without asking for any detail about the project and without asking to see what the project entails, and offered only a ballpark price, and the client accepted this ballpark price but didn’t realize that it was still approximate, and then the editor billed a higher fee on the basis that the price was only a ballpark, then that would be unethical!

The scenario is surely unrealistic, though. It’s unfathomable that I (or any other ballparking editor) would end up in such a situation. I’ve never had a client say, “Hey, Louise, I’d like to confirm a booking. Take your time. Do what you need to do. Money’s no object. Whatever it costs is good with me!” They always want a confirmed top-line price. (I have previously tested offering a confirmed ranged price — one that came with a guarantee that the invoice would be between £X and £Y — but I’ve abandoned that now).

Even if the client was prepared to agree to such approximate pricing terms, I wouldn’t agree to them! It’s a recipe for disaster (as Rich pointed out). I don’t want to waste a minute of my working day arguing with a client over the invoice I’ve submitted because it’s higher than the one-and-only approximate price I’d provided. Such an invoice may as well have “Don’t rehire me” emblazoned on it! I don’t confirm a booking from any client without knowing the clear parameters of a project, and without having discussed and agreed to those parameters (including price) beforehand.

Summing up

The ballpark price is an approximate price. It’s a conversation starter, another (initial) stage to the quoting process. It’s a way of increasing customer-engagement by enabling the client to comparison-shop quickly and efficiently. And for those of us with plenty of work offers, and a determination to reduce the amount of time we spend engaging with people whose pockets don’t fit our fee scales, it’s a time saver. The ballpark price is an effective tool that can, and I believe should, be tested by those editorial freelancers who have the necessary data to do so with accuracy. Those that don’t have that data should start collecting it.

Rich is right that behaving unethically is a PR disaster — that applies to pricing as much as to any other aspect of business practice. But there is no reason why the ballpark price has to be unethical as long as it’s used appropriately — as the starting point of the pricing discussion, which is exactly how I use it, and how every other ballparking editor I know uses it.

Can ballpark pricing ever be used unethically? Of course it can, just as confirmed quotations can be handled unethically. It can be handled honestly but badly, too, in the same way that other elements of editorial business practice can be handled honestly but badly. It would be wrong of me to deny that there are unethical and poor practices in our industry. But there is much good practice too. And where there is bad practice, I’m inclined to blame the individuals, not the mechanisms.

The discussion reminds me of scissors. In the hands of a tailor, they’re a superb tool; in the hands of a toddler, care and supervision are required; in the hands of a torturer, they’re a dangerous weapon.

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.

June 15, 2016

On Ethics: The Ethics of Ballpark Quoting

In The Business of Editing: Ballpark Quoting for Copyediting, I discussed the logistics of giving a ballpark quote. The essay raised these questions, but left the answers to another essay:

  • Is it ethical for copyeditors to ever do ballpark pricing as a way to induce clients to hire them?
  • Does the editor have an ethical obligation to not give ballpark quotes because they can mislead a client about the real cost?
  • If the editor gives a ballpark quote, is there an ethical limit to how much the final bill can exceed the ballpark price?

This essay discusses these questions.

Is it ethical for copyeditors to ever do ballpark pricing as a way to induce clients to hire them?

What is the purpose of ballpark quoting if not to induce a client to hire you for a project by demonstrating to the client your price competitiveness? No other purpose is served by quoting. The client wants to compare your price to the prices of other editors. Recall that the information a client needs to give is limited in this situation. (If you ask to see the manuscript before providing a quote, you are not giving a ballpark quote. A ballpark quote, by definition, is a very rough guess as to the expected cost based on very limited data.) The provided information is generally the word count, the subject matter/type (e.g., children’s nonfiction), plus the hoped-for schedule.

The ballpark quote has two purposes: (1) to enable the client to comparison shop and (2) to let the editor demonstrate her price competitiveness, which means the editor — consciously or subconsciously — wants the price to look as low as possible. And there’s the rub. The ballpark price may well have no close relationship to the ultimate, true price, and that gap between the ballpark quote and the real price will be a result of multiple factors, not the least of which is the editor’s desire to be hired.

It is certainly ethical to quote a price for a project; editors do that every day. But there is a great difference between quoting a price when the editor has all the necessary information to form a solid quote and making a quote when the editor has such minimal information that she knows beforehand that the ballpark quote will not withstand the test of editing.

I am aware of very few editors who will quote a price to which they are willing to be held without having the manuscript in hand (or at least a satisfactory portion of the manuscript). Yes, editors do have agreements with clients that act as a limit, but even then whether they accept or reject the project requires seeing the manuscript. The key to ethicality, I think, is to quote a price to which we are willing to be held. We are all willing to quote a price to which we will not be held.

In my view, to give a ballpark quote for copyediting a manuscript is unethical unless the editor is willing to stick to that price — that is, the quoted price is the maximum the client will have to pay. It is unethical for an editor to angle to be hired by using ballpark quoting to demonstrate the editor’s price competitiveness.

Does the editor have an ethical obligation to not give ballpark quotes, because they can mislead a client about the real cost?

As noted, the purpose of ballpark pricing is to show that you’re not overpriced in the editing marketplace, not to place a ceiling on what the client will ultimately be billed. The lack of a clearly stated ceiling can mislead a client, even if the quote is accompanied by disclaimers (caveats, if you prefer).

The disclaimers are a problem in and of themselves because they both delegitimize the ballpark quote and fail to stand out in the same way as the price number does.

Of what value is a quote of $500 accompanied by a disclaimer such as the following?

Price subject to change once the manuscript is received and reviewed for clarity of writing style and amount of editing work actually required. Price also subject to change based on what editorial tasks client requires as part of the copyediting; the extent and number of references, tables, and figures; the style to be applied; …

The disclaimer’s list can go on and on to cover all contingencies, and it needs to go on and on to avoid locking the editor into the ballpark price. (It is worth remembering that if a disclaimer is left unstated, the client will, justifiably, assume that it is inapplicable.)

But think about how we act as consumers. When we ask for a quote for repair work or a product we want to buy, our minds focus laser-like on the number we are given, not on all of the caveats that accompany the number. Should the work be done and the number then go up, we argue that we were quoted $X and shouldn’t have to pay more. (Of course, if the final number is less than $X, we think we are getting a bargain and do not argue to pay the higher quote price.) Studies show that the conditions get lost and the consumer only hears — and remembers — the quote number. The consumer loses the idea that the quote number was intended to be ballparkish and thus subject to upward revision as more foundational data is accumulated.

The editor who insists that the quote was only ballparkish is fighting a losing public relations battle. The client will tell everyone that the editor uses deceptive practices. The truth is that ballpark quotes for copyediting are deceptive and are structured to mislead the client as to the ultimate cost. Editors will not deliberately overquote (i.e., quote a price the editor knows will be higher than the real price), because the competition does not overquote; the competition often underquotes in hopes of getting hired. Editors know that in many cases the ballpark quote for copyediting is an underquote, which is why they attach disclaimers.

If the editor expects the ballpark quote to be accurate within, say, 10%, then the only disclaimer needed is to say that “the final price might be as much as, but no more than, 10% higher than the quote, based on the actual time and effort required to copyedit” or “the final price will not exceed the quote.” But editors rarely attach one of these disclaimers to the ballpark quote.

Because editors know, or should know, that ballpark quotes are misleading, how can it be ethical to provide such a quote?

If the editor gives a ballpark quote, is there an ethical limit to how much the final bill can exceed the ballpark price?

We all know that editors will disagree about ballpark pricing; their opinions on its ethicality are largely based on their own practice. The editors who think it isn’t unethical give ballpark quotes (or approve of giving ballpark quotes). Each of us is smart enough to rationalize that the ballpark quote we give clients is ethical even if we believe that the quotes given by our competitors are not.

Which brings us to the question of limits to underquoting, or the limit to how much the final price can exceed the ballpark quote. Copyediting has so many variables, it is, in my view, impossible to give an accurate or nearly accurate ballpark quote.

When I am asked to provide a quote, I always provide a “firm” quote, never a ballpark quote. But if I were to stray outside my subject matter areas and types of clients — for example, were I to wander into fiction editing and dealing directly with authors — my quotes would be “softer” than the firm quotes I currently give. Because my experience dealing directly with authors and copyediting fiction is limited, it is likely that any quote I would give would be an underquote. Who should bear the burden of that underquoting?

I am of the conviction that the editor who makes the quote should bear that burden. If editors have sufficient experience to give a firm quote, they should stand by the quote and use it as a learning tool for future quotes. If they have the experience but deliberately choose to underquote, then they should be held to the quote, as there is no legitimate reason to have underquoted.

If the client has provided all the information asked for, then it is the editor who should bear the burden of an underquote, not the client. If the editor failed to ask for vital information, that is not the client’s fault. If the editor failed to define what she meant by copyediting, that is not the client’s fault. The bottom line is that when an editor is asked for a quote, it is the editor’s responsibility to ask for all the needed information to calculate that quote; it is not the client’s responsibility to guess what information the editor needs. It is also the editor’s responsibility to not give a quote in the absence of essential information. And it is the editor’s responsibility to take the information and create an accurate quote. The only responsibility the client has is to provide the information that the editor asked for.

Note the balance of responsibilities: All but one falls on the editor’s shoulders. Consequently, if a quote is an underquote, it is the editor’s fault. The editor should bear the burden of the underquote, and the quote price should be the maximum price that the client pays.

Is there an ethical limit to how much the final bill can exceed the ballpark quote? Yes, there is. That limit is zero; clients should not be asked to reward editors for their unwillingness to bear the burden of underquoting. The client who asks for a quote is asking the editor to set a price; a professional editor does so and tacitly agrees that the quote price is the maximum price the client will pay. To do otherwise shifts the burden of underquoting from the editor to the client, which is both unethical and, in my view, impermissible. The one exception is when the quote has a disclaimer like that discussed earlier (“the final price might be as much as, but no more than, 10% higher than the quote, based on the actual time and effort required to copyedit”).

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

June 6, 2016

The Business of Editing: Keeping Records

Information is the most powerful tool any businessperson — including the freelancer — has in her armory. Inadequate information can lead to poor decisions. Information makes smarter decision-making possible.

Businesses keep track of all kinds of information. For some businesses, tracking the political climate is important because they may see sales increases and decreases that depend on what is happening in the local city council or in another country’s energy market.

To be successful as a business, an editor needs to keep records of all kinds. To determine what our baseline price for our services should be, we must keep records that are sufficiently detailed that we can calculate our required effective hourly rate (rEHR). To determine if we are earning at least our rEHR, we need to keep careful records for each project and for all our projects in aggregate; that is, we need both a micro and a macro view.

The information we need is more than just our costs of doing business or of running our homes. We also need to be politically aware. For example, how would Donald Trump’s isolationist positions, should he be elected president, affect the business of editors who have clients outside the United States? If Trump were, for example, to anger China with his protectionist policies, what is the likelihood that China would retaliate in a way that could limit American editors’ work with Chinese authors?

That type of political information, although important, is difficult (if not impossible) both to obtain and to evaluate, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As the election season proceeds, the gathering of such information might lead us to change our marketing strategy — for example, to do less targeting of foreign clients and more targeting of domestic clients.

The thoughtful gathering of information can be the difference between a struggling business and a successful business. I found it very worthwhile in my early years as a freelance editor to track the types of editing I was being hired to do (e.g., copyediting, developmental editing), the types of manuscript (e.g., book, journal, business document, white paper, thesis), the subject matter of the manuscript (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, medical, legal, thriller), the type of service I was providing (e.g., editing, proofreading, desktop publishing), and who was doing the hiring (e.g., large publisher, boutique publisher, author, agent). I also kept track of earnings for each.

As a result of the information I gathered, I discovered early in my career that I needed to focus on book-length nonfiction manuscripts from medium to large publishers. I also narrowed the subject-matter fields.

I reconstructed my business to appeal to the potential clients who fit the profile I had determined was best for my business. (A lot of factors went into the decision of what was to be my business profile, and many of those factors were personal to me. You should not view my business profile as being the one you should emulate; what you should do is recognize the need for extensive data gathering about yourself and your business so that you can determine the correct business profile for you.) I stopped taking on small projects; I stopped accepting developmental-editing work outside certain subject areas; I stopped accepting occasional work from local clients; I stopped accepting manuscripts directly from authors; and so on.

I also redesigned my marketing approach so that I focused on those potential clients who I thought could best use my services. I redesigned my business procedures so that I could efficiently handle large volumes of work. And I also established a network of other editors who were willing to subcontract with me but under set conditions.

The information I gathered about my business over the first few years of my freelancing also led me to establish certain business policies. These policies concerned such things as my editing day and week, which we have discussed before (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: The Standard Editing Workday & Workweek), payment terms, and even, back in the 1980s and early 1990s, before the switch to online editing by the vast majority of publishers, that I did online editing only — no hardcopy editing, which was still the primary method.

The information I gathered also let me evaluate whether I was earning enough money to consider remaining a freelance editor. It was from this information that I realized it was wrong to evaluate a client based on a single project, and I created my Rule of Three (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three). I recognize that my Rule of Three is not readily usable when you do not have repeat clients, which is another reason why I changed my potential client focus. To reach the goals I had set for myself, I needed repeat clients, not one-time clients. With one-time clients, each project needs to stand on its own, which can be difficult. No matter how carefully we evaluate a manuscript before agreeing to edit it, we do not know its difficulty until we actually edit it. With repeat clients and limited subject areas, the risk of financial loss on a client (not a particular project) is greatly reduced, so much so that I have rarely had to “fire” a client for lack of profitability during my 32 years of editing.

It is clear that we need information to guide us. The ultimate question comes down to how much detail do we need to track and keep. The answer is that the more detailed the information, the more useful the information. Consider this: When a client approaches you to undertake a project, do you track the time you spend evaluating whether to take on the project? Very few editors track that time; most begin tracking time from the moment they begin editing. Yet the amount of time spent evaluating a project and negotiating on it affects your editing day and week and your profitability. Even if you reject the project, the time spent coming to that conclusion is time you spent and cannot recover.

We tend to think of ourselves as editors first and businesspeople second. That is the opposite of how we should think about what we do. You can be the greatest editor in the world and still starve, be homeless, have no health insurance because you avoid the business aspects. Conversely, you can be one of the worst editors but still eat well, own a home, have health insurance because you paid attention to business.

The key is to balance the requirements of business and editing so that you are both the best businessperson and the best editor you can be. To meet this balance, you need to view yourself as a businessperson first and editor second. Doing so will force you to pay attention to the nitty-gritty details without which you won’t attain the financial success necessary if you want to devote yourself to perfecting your editing, which is what drives us as editors. With business as the first focus, the need for data becomes clear. The next natural steps are to gather the data, interpret the data, and apply the data to your circumstances, but to do so honestly and objectively.

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
1,8
1a,2
1b,3
2,9
3,10
4,11

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
160,
161,text callout missing
162,169
163,162
164,163
165,164
166,165
167,166
168,167
169,168
170,
171,

(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 9, 2016

The Proofreader’s Corner: The Generalist–Specialist Dichotomy and the Editorial Freelancer

by Louise Harnby

Is it better to be a specialist or a generalist? This question often arises in editorial freelancing circles. Actually, answering it isn’t straightforward because it depends on how one defines those terms.

One of my colleagues considers herself a specialist. She’s an editor who works solely with independent fiction authors, particularly in the field of speculative fiction. She doesn’t proofread. She doesn’t work for publishers, businesses, students, charities, project management companies, marketing communications agencies, or schools.

I’m a proofreader who works with publishers, independent authors, businesses, project management companies, and students. My focus is on the social sciences, commercial nonfiction, and fiction.

My colleague could be forgiven for thinking I’m a generalist because when you compare her range of clients (and the type of material she works on) with my range of clients (and the type(s) of material I work on), we’re worlds apart.

However, I still think I’m a specialist because I don’t provide developmental editing or copy-editing services, and I don’t work on, for example, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) material. When I promote myself to potential clients, I present myself as a specialist.

It’s not about me

In fact, it doesn’t matter whether my colleague, you, or I think I’m a specialist or a generalist. All that matters is that potential clients who are searching for someone to solve their editorial problems can find me and recognize my ability to help them.

The question I therefore need to ask myself is: “What does the client want to know?”

Imagine the following scenario. Gandalf is looking for someone to proofread an article he’s submitting to the Journal of Ethical Wizardry. His paper compares ten different countries’ legal instruments for controlling spell-making and spell-casting. It’s already been peer-reviewed by some other eminent wizards. Now he needs to get it checked to ensure that the grammar, spelling, punctuation, and consistency are in order. The references also need checking to ensure that they comply with The Sorcerer’s Bluebook, which is the definitive international style guide for magico-legal citation. He searches an online directory for proofreaders and takes a look at the first three profiles in the list. Who will he pick?

  • The proofreader who tells him she “proofreads anything”?
  • The proofreader who tells him she has a politics degree and specializes in working with academics, publishers, project management agencies, and students working in the social sciences, with a particular focus on economics, politics, philosophy, international relations, development studies, and magic?
  • The proofreader and editor whose website tells him she is a former practicing lawyer who now specializes in working with academics, publishers, project management agencies, and students working in the social sciences, with a particular focus on economics, politics, philosophy, international relations, law and criminology, development studies, and magic?

Let’s assume that all three of the above proofreaders are experienced, well qualified, and members of national industry-recognized editorial associations.

If I were Gandalf, my first choice would be the third person in the above list because she has specialist legal experience (though I would also bookmark the entry for the second person as a fallback). It doesn’t matter that she offers two different types of editorial service, or that she works on many different subjects, or that her client base is wide ranging. Sure, some might consider her a generalist. However, even if you do consider her to be a generalist, the fact is this – she’s more likely to spot a citation that isn’t formatted in the style recommended by The Sorcerer’s Bluebook, and Gandalf knows this.

Clearly communicating what you do

When we market ourselves as generalists, we run the risk of saying nothing. When we market ourselves as specialists – even if those specialisms are many and cover a wide range of subjects/genres – we can say a lot.

Saying you do “everything” or “anything” is problematic for several reasons:

  • It’s not believable: Specializing is about being believable. If you don’t inspire trust in a potential client at the first point of contact, you’re unlikely to be hired by anyone with even a grain of an idea in their head about what their chosen proofreader or editor might look like. Think about it – who really can proofread anything? I’m comfortable tackling a lot of subjects, but veterinary medicine isn’t one of them. Nor is electrical engineering. Nor is cardiopulmonary medicine. And if you’re an editor who does feel comfortable working in any of those fields, how do you feel about tackling the third draft of a self-publisher’s YA fiction thriller that needs a substantive edit? I suspect that editorial professionals who can truly proofread or edit absolutely anything are few and far between.
  • SEO fail: Specializing is about being discoverable. If you don’t take the time to tell your potential clients what you specialize in, whether it’s one subject or twenty, your website will be less about SEO (search engine optimization) and more about SEI (search engine invisibility). When the search engines crawl over your website looking for keywords by which to rank you, they won’t find much and they’ll move on. Does that matter? After all, you proofread anything. That’s fine if your clients are searching for someone who does “anything.” In reality, many clients are more specific. Looking at my Google Analytics data, I can see that keyword searches include “academic editing,” “fiction proofreader,” “dissertation proofreading services,” “proofreading thesis Norwich,” “student proofreading,” “novel proofreading,” “PhD proofreading UK,” “medical proofreader England,” “academic copy editor,” “medical proofreading,” “scientific paper editing,” “CV proofreading,” “legal proofreading,” “self-publisher proof-reading,” “proof read my thriller,” and “proofread journal paper politics.” Given that I do provide services that match many of those keyword searches, I want Google to know that and rank me accordingly.
  • Customer disengagement: Specializing is about being interesting. Saying you do “anything” is far less interesting than saying you do “X, Y, and Z.” When we tell a client about our specialist areas, we are demonstrating competence, experience, and knowledge. Imagine I send a letter to a scientific publisher. I’m one of five proofreaders who, that week, have contacted the book production manager with a request to be added to the publisher’s bank of proofreaders. In their cover letters, two of my colleagues have explained that they are specialists in academic proofreading; the other two have stated that they specialize in working with scientific academic material. In my cover letter, I tell the production manager that I’m a generalist and will proofread anything. Who makes the deepest impression on the production manager? I suspect that I’m bottom of the pile in terms of client engagement. I’ve not presented myself in a way that shows I’m interested in what the press publishes. Nor have I presented myself in a way that shows I’m interesting.

Again, whether you work on one subject, with one type of client type, on one type of file, or you work on numerous subjects, with several different client types, in multiple media, present your narrow focus or your breadth of service in a way that marks you as a specialist.

Specialization and the new starter

I always recommend specialization before diversification to new starters. Especially at the beginning of your career, thinking like a specialist helps you to plan your client-building strategy in a targeted manner and focus your marketing efforts on the type of clients who are most likely to give you valuable first gigs that enable you to build your portfolio and gather testimonials.

For example, if you have a degree in electrical engineering, and you identify yourself as a specialist technical copyeditor, you’re more likely to be successful in securing your first paying job if you contact publishers with technical and engineering lists. Engineering students are more likely to be interested in asking you to check their Master’s dissertations and doctoral theses. Engineering businesses are more likely to ask you to edit their annual reports. Your specialist knowledge will count for a great deal, even though your editorial portfolio will be scant.

When I entered the field of editorial freelancing, I deliberately targeted social science presses because of my politics degree and previous career with an academic publisher, marketing social science journals. I was able to present myself as a specialist proofreader who understood the language of the social sciences. Those factors made me interesting to those presses and gave them confidence in my ability to work with the subject matter.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t expand your specialist areas, or that you have to decline work that comes your way if it falls outside them (as long as you are comfortable with what you are being asked to do). My current portfolio is far more diverse than it was back in 2006. Specializing, however, made it much easier to get my foot in the door and build my business.

Marketing that focuses on your business preferences

Some of us choose to specialize in very narrow terms. Some of us choose breadth. One isn’t “better” than the other. Rather, it’s a business decision. If you prefer to offer a range of services to a range of clients over a range of media, and you can do this in a way that makes your business profitable, then breadth is better for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer to focus on one or two services to one client type over one medium, and you can do this in a way that makes your business profitable, then a narrow focus is “better” for you.

Effective marketing will be key to whichever path you choose. If your preferred clients can’t find you, it matters little whether your client focus is narrow or broad – if you’re not discoverable, you’ll be unemployed either way.

Conclusion

When it comes to marketing communications, there’s no such thing as a generalist. Rather, there are two types of specialist – the specialist-specialist and the generalist-specialist. Either way, both are specialists and talk like specialists.

Even if you are, for all intents and purposes, quite the generalist – that is, you’ll edit and/or proofread a wide range of subjects for a wide range of clients – market yourself as a specialist.

You can present yourself as a specialist in a variety of ways:

  • Relevant training (e.g., as a proofreader), related career experience (e.g., you used to be a social worker), and educational qualifications in pertinent a subject (e.g., you have a degree in public policy and administration).
  • Industry-specific knowledge – you might be familiar with particular citation systems (e.g., OSCOLA for legal works), style guides (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style or New Hart’s Rules), markup language (e.g., the British Standards Institution’s BS:5261C).
  • Subject matter (e.g., sciences, social sciences, medicine, fiction).
  • Client base (e.g., students, businesses, publishers, independent authors, academics).
  • Editorial service (e.g., proofreading, copyediting, indexing, consultancy).
  • Clear statements of interest: for example, “…I specialize in providing proofreading solutions for clients working in the social sciences, humanities, fiction and commercial non-fiction…” (Louise Harnby | Proofreader, England); “…We are a group of highly skilled and experienced editors who specialize in editing nonfiction…” (Freelance Editorial Services, USA); “…I specialise in fiction editing, especially for independent/self-publishing writers…” (Averill Buchanan | Editor & Publishing Consultant, Ireland); “…I offer specialist legal editing services for publishers, law firms, businesses, academics, and students…” (Janet MacMillan | Wordsmith | Editor | Proofreader | Researcher, Canada).

Being a specialist is certainly about the choices you make as an editorial business owner in terms of the kind of work you choose to do. But it’s just as much about communicating with potential clients in a way that demonstrates enthusiasm, knowledge, skills and experience — even if you are a bit of a generalist!

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.

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

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