An American Editor

January 31, 2018

The Business of Editing: The Line in the Sand

Richard Adin, An American Editor

As I have gotten older, I have found that things in life have reversed, by which I mean that things that once irritated me no longer irritate me and things that didn’t irritate me now do irritate me. Yet there are a couple of things that irritated me when I began my editing career that continue to irritate me today, although today’s irritation level is more strident.

One example of a continuing irritation we have already discussed on An American Editor — the question that both inexperienced and experienced editors never seem to get tired of asking, even though they have been told hundreds, if not thousands, of times that there is no such thing: What is the going rate? (For that discussion, see A Continuing Frustration — The “Going Rate”.) Today’s irritant is the fast-schedule-but-low-pay project offer, which also has been previously discussed on AAE in, for example, Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations, Business of Editing: Workdays & Schedules, and The Business of Editing: The Standard Editing Workday & Workweek.

What brings this back to the forefront is that this month I have already declined four offered projects that combined amounted to 11,000 manuscript pages (which, of course, raises another issue, what constitutes a manuscript page, a topic previously visited on AAE; see, e.g., The Business of Editing: A Page Is a Page — Or Is It? and The Business of Editing: How Many Pages an Hour Do You Edit?). I declined the projects because I am already under contract to edit two books by the end of April that combined run a bit more than 19,000 manuscript pages.

I would have declined the four offered projects even if I were twiddling my thumbs and staring at an empty work basket because the pay rates were abysmal and the schedules Orwellian.

Consider just one of the projects. The client’s estimate was that the number of manuscript pages was 2,500. Based on past experience with this client, I know that the true number of pages (by “true,” I mean as calculated using my formula, not their formula) would raise that number by at least 25% and more likely closer to 35%. The size is fine; in fact, it is my preferred project size — bigger is better — since I do not like to tackle small projects (less than 1,000 manuscript pages), even though I occasionally will (most of the projects I take on run 1,500+ manuscript pages and many run 7,500 to 15,000 manuscript pages).

The client’s schedule was Orwellian: two weeks to complete copyediting. The schedule was matched by the abysmal rate offered: $2.60 per manuscript page. And, according to the client, the manuscript required heavy editing, which in the client’s parlance meant none of the authors’ primary language was English. (The subject matter was medical.)

Unlike some editors who have imaginary lines that they draw and claim they will not (but always do) cross, my lines are like those of the Great Wall — in stone, permanent, immovable, and I will not cross them. I told the client that I was declining the project because the schedule was Orwellian and the pay abysmal. For me to take on the project, the shortest possible schedule would be based on editing 400 manuscript pages per week with the count done using my formula and a rate of $15 per page. The more reasonable the schedule, the lower my per-page rate would become until we hit my absolute minimum, which was still higher than their offered rate.

My two uncrossable lines are these:

  1. The schedule must be doable in the real world, not a fantasy world.
  2. The compensation rate must correlate with both the schedule and the expected editing difficulties (i.e., does the client rate this as a light, medium, or heavy edit and what do those terms mean in the client’s parlance).

I know how fast I can edit because for 34 years, I have mostly edited manuscripts from the same subject area and I have kept careful records. In addition, I have created tools, like my EditTools macros, and use tools created by others, like Jack Lyon’s Editor’s Toolkit Plus, that are specially designed to make my work more accurate, efficient, and speedy.

I know how much I need to charge for my editing work because I have calculated my required effective hourly rate (also discussed in prior AAE essays in detail; see the series Business of Editing: What to Charge) and I know how much I want to charge for my work so  I make a profit, not just break even. And I know how much of a premium I require to be willing to work longer hours than my standard workday and workweek (see The Business of Editing: The Standard Editing Workday & Workweek for a discussion of work time).

The point is that if I cross those lines I have drawn, I hurt myself. Why would I ever want to hurt myself? In the olden days, before I knew better and before anyone with experience set me on the correct path, I thought if I accepted a project that was on a tight schedule with low pay, it would get me an in at the company, get me more work, and give me a chance to show how good an editor I am, with the result being that the company would offer me better-paying projects to keep me as part of their editorial stable. It didn’t take long for me to learn that the only fool in that scenario was me.

Sure, I got more work offers, but never at a better rate nor on a better schedule. As one project manager told me, I had already demonstrated I could handle the schedule and was willing to work for the offered rate, so that is all I would ever get.

I drew my lines and I never cross them.

I know that some of you are shaking your head and saying that you can’t afford to do that. I did the same until I realized I was always behind and never moving ahead — I was enriching my “clients” at my expense. Once I took my stand, I found that I was getting better projects and better pay — not starting the next day, but starting in the not very distant future.

Successful editors are successful businesspersons, too. Successful businesspersons do not do things that benefit others at their expense. They draw lines that they do not ever cross. I have drawn mine; are you ready to draw yours?

January 22, 2018

The Business of Editing: Explaining the Price of Editing

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The hardest thing to do is to explain to a client why she should be willing to pay the price you are asking for the work she wants done. It is even harder to explain to a publisher/packager client why their offer is too low and why they should pay you more.

Ultimately, the reason for the difficulty is that we have no concrete way to demonstrate the value of quality editing. Based on conversations I’ve had with colleagues, I’m not convinced that most colleagues truly understand the value of their work.

Sure we all know that editing can improve a manuscript, and some clients not only know that but believe it. Too many colleagues and far too many clients (which includes potential clients), however, are of the mindset that only price matters because anybody who can spot the typo is a “great” editor.

There is at least a partial solution to the explanation problem, and it is something that every author and editor, regardless of where in the world they are from, is likely familiar with — Star Wars: A New Hope, the original Star Wars movie. The video that follows tells how this iconic story was headed for disaster but was saved by great editing, which resulted in a multibillion dollar empire:

(A special thanks to Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader for bringing this video to my attention.)

The video should be watched from beginning to end by editors and authors alike because it shows the value of high-quality editing. More importantly, it illustrates why making price more important than editing quality is putting the cart before the horse.

Carefully consider what the editor did to bring logical flow and interest to a story that was understood by the author but was garbled in the transformation from author’s imagination to movie. Exactly what occurred in the editing of Star Wars: A New Hope is what occurs when a well-qualified editor applies his skills to a manuscript.

Imagine if George Lucas had limited his editor search criteria to least-expensive editor, rather than setting his criteria to find the editor best-suited for the task and price demoted to a secondary consideration. The Star Wars franchise likely would never have been and Star Wars would have remained a fantasy in his imagination rather than a fantasy shared by millions across the globe.

Complicating the problem for editors is that every person who has identified a typo on a printed page thinks she is a skilled editor, thereby creating an endless supply of “editors” from which a client can choose. Compounding the oversupply problem is that few editors have any understanding of how to value their work and set a price. Too many editors charge too low a price for high-quality editing, largely because they either have no clue as to what they truly need to charge or what they should charge so that clients view editing as a desirable, needed, skilled service. The consequence is that the editing profession as a whole suffers from oversupply and underpayment.

Editors need to rethink how they approach their profession. They need to show clients that there is a measurable difference between an editor of low skills and and an editor of high skills and that high-skilled editors both deserve and require fees commensurate with their skill level. In addition, highly skilled editors need to refuse work from clients who refuse to recognize that they are highly skilled and thus worthy of higher pay. It strikes me as wholly unacceptable for a client to insist on paying an editor with decades of experience editing hundreds of manuscripts in the subject area the client seeks the same amount as the editor with a year or two of experience with little to no subject matter expertise or experience. It also strikes me as wrong for the experienced editor to grumble about the low pay yet accept the job.

I recognize that few editors are willing to turn away low-paying work, preferring some work to no work. In that case, however, the editor needs to adjust the level of editing quality to match the level of pay. An editor being paid a Yugo fee should not give Rolls Royce quality editing in return.

I encourage colleagues to prepare a “pitch” for the value of high-quality editing, including an explanation as to why smart clients will pay for that level of editing. The “pitch” could (perhaps should) include a video, similar to the Star Wars one above, that illustrates how high-quality editing can be the difference between disaster and hit, and include an explanation of not only how you can provide that high-quality editing but why you are worth the higher price you are asking. Creating a marketing pitch can be a key step on the path to better pay, better job offers, and better clients.

Do you have a pitch to share? Or a video that you use to explain the value of editing?

December 4, 2017

On the Basics: Wrapping up the Old Year and Preparing for the New One

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The end of the year is nigh, which means it’s time to think about wrapping up the old year and clearing the decks for the new one, including gifts for clients or colleagues, among other aspects of freelancing as an editorial professional.

To Gift or Not to Gift

A perennial question for editorial freelancers as the end of the year approaches is whether to give gifts to clients. The answer is easy if you work with government clients: Most government workers, including “privatized” agency workers like postal workers, are forbidden from accepting gifts of high value — in many cases, of any value — as well as any gifts from contractors or freelancers.

For private-sector clients and individuals, the decision is trickier. Some companies have policies about gifts from contractors. The good thing about that is it takes care of any decision-making for us. The bad thing is we might not know what the policy is, and asking is a little awkward. I lean toward sending something and hoping that doing so doesn’t violate any client policies or guidelines, rather than asking and spoiling the surprise if gift-giving is acceptable.

The gifts themselves can be challenging. You want to express appreciation for business from the client, but not look as if you’re trying to bribe the client into providing new work in the new year. There’s also the issue of who celebrates what. Rather than say anything that someone might find insensitive or intrusive, I couch my holiday gifts as thank-you gestures rather than recognition of any particular holiday.

When this topic comes up, as it does every year, some colleagues say they send gifts like chocolates — our own Rich Adin orders chocolate bars with his company logo impressed in them. Others order from companies that create gift baskets with fruit, chocolates or other candies, cookies, and similar goodies. I enjoy putting together my own gift boxes. I know there’s a risk in giving candy — people might be allergic or (horrors!) just not like them, but colleagues who know me will understand when I say that I get a kick out of finding candies that are either purple or wrapped in purple paper.

I’ve also sent seed packets, small stuffed bears, and other trinkets with appropriate messages on personalized cards. One thing I haven’t done, but probably should do, is order professionally printed cards. I have a stash of (purple, of course) thank-you cards that I personalize and I think my clients enjoy receiving, but something more formal might make a better impression.

Because chocolate, fruit, and other edibles tend to disappear fairly quickly, I include at least one nonperishable item in my client gifts — for example, a pen or a mug —something that will last and provide an ongoing reminder of my existence and services. For a few years, I would find ceramic purple mugs at local arts fairs, but now I use ones that have my logo, website URL, and e-mail address or phone number on them.

The Recordkeeping Routine

Gift-giving is fun. Recordkeeping is a dreaded chore. If the end of the year is near, it’s time for checking, organizing, and updating your business records to prepare for filing taxes in the new year. Whether you do your own taxes or consult an accountant, having the information organized now will make the process go much faster and feel like less of a hassle.

Take a few minutes to review various sources for information about any changes in taxes for the year — mileage rates, new deductions, and the like.

I’m pretty good about recording information in a spreadsheet or at least a list for each category of expense, but sometimes I have to set aside an hour or two a week in November or December to move receipts and other records from a pile on my desk to folders for each category of business record. Like many colleagues, I don’t enjoy filing, even though I realize it’s essential good business practice to stay on top of it.

Rich Adin suggests investing in a program like QuickBooks Pro. Although expensive (and tech support is far from the greatest), QuickBooks Pro does several things for you. First, it provides an easy way to track both business and personal income and outgo. Rich has multiple “accounts,” including one for his freelance business and one for his personal accounts. He creates invoices, tracks payments, and tracks and pays business expenses through the business account. He ”pays” himself by “writing” a business check to himself that is “deposited” into his personal account (all of this is done electronically). He pays business expenses, such as purchases of software, by writing a business check (or by making an electronic payment) to a vendor. He uses checks that have the business name imprinted and that he can run through his printer using QuickBooks Pro.

Having a separate bank account for business and using QuickBooks Pro helps confirm in client eyes that you are a business. Using QuickBooks Pro makes it easy to pay quarterly taxes and to create reports for your accountant to prepare your taxes. Because you can create and assign accounts, you can have as detailed a view of your business as you want. Most importantly, in Rich’s view, is that there are no pieces of paper to lose — QuickBooks Pro is his check register, so every time he spends money, it gets recorded. And unlike other methods, multiple backups (Rich backs up daily with Backup4All and continuously with Carbonite), both local and remote, mean that accurate financial records are always available.

Polishing Promotions

The end of the year is also a good time to review your website (or plan to launch one) to see if it needs refreshing. Rewriting content, adding new images or sections, and deleting old information all contribute to a more-effective site — and higher rankings. Do what you can now to enhance your site’s quality and impact for the new year.

Some people are saying we no longer need business cards, but I disagree. Take the end of the year to either consider revamping yours for a new look in the new year, or create one to use in the new year. You might not need it to promote your editorial business electronically, but it will come in handy in the real world. You never know when you might meet someone who could become a client or colleague, and who will remember you better with that little piece of cardboard in hand. If nothing else you can use it to qualify for giveaways at the Communication Central conference!

This is also a good time to do some research, perhaps with Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace, on potential new clients for the new year. Identify potential new clients/outlets to contact now and plunge into the promotional effort in January.

Basics to Tackle

Now that you have the old year’s wrap-up under control, here are some reminders of things to consider in preparing for the new one. Do these either now or in early January, and your new year is likely to be an improvement over your old one. (For details, see my January 2017 essay, On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year.)

  • Change your passwords.
  • Update your account contacts.
  • Update copyright dates on your website, blog, and newsletter, and remind your clients to do the same for their websites or publications.
  • Budget/start saving for professional development activities, such as conferences and courses.
  • Plan your promotions and marketing projects.
  • Update your résumé.
  • Review your expenses and income to see where you can reduce the former and increase the latter (Rich does this every six months by creating detailed reports in QuickBooks Pro). (A reminder: If you spend a dollar on a business expense, you can deduct that dollar on your taxes, but the value of the deduction is only equal to your tax rate. In other words, if your tax rate is 28%, your actual tax value as a result of spending the $1 is 28¢ — not $1. Consequently, lowering expenses is always a good idea. On the other hand, if you have to spend the money anyway, you might as well get some tax relief, even if it won’t be 100%.)
  • Improve your health — and be sure to review and compare health insurance plans.
  • Think about service — the new year might be a good time to give back to a worthy cause. Remember that charitable contributions of money and items are tax–deductible, although volunteer work is not.
  • Look ahead.
  • Start something new — learn a new skill or develop a new hobby.
  • Become active in online discussions or new groups.
  • Budget to invest in tools for your business, such as new equipment or software.
  • Budget/start saving for retirement. Think about (and implement) a firm percentage of income that you will put toward retirement from every client payment.
  • Start mapping out your marketing campaign for the new year.
  • Budget/start saving for marketing. Think about (and implement) a firm percentage of income for marketing from every client payment.

However you use these last few weeks of this year, here’s wishing all of our readers good health, fulfilling work, high incomes, and happy home lives.

Feel free to share your plans for making wrapping up the old and preparing for the new year. How are you approaching the end of the year?

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

November 27, 2017

A Continuing Frustration — The “Going Rate”

Sadly for me, I still read editing-related blogs and posts on forums like LinkedIn. I say sadly because there is little more frustrating to me than to read the repetitive, advice-seeking posts and the repetitive, well-meaning, but usually incorrect and nearly always factually incomplete responses.

How many times does it have to be said that what I charge a client and what Betsy charges a client is wholly irrelevant to what you should charge a client? Apparently, it is something that cannot be said either frequently or emphatically enough because rarely does a day pass without someone (or multiple someones) asking something similar to “What is the going rate?”

If I say I charge $50 an hour and Betsy says she charges $20 an hour and Phil says he also charges $20 an hour, what is the answer to the going rate question? Add Susan ($10), Robert ($15), and Jeremy ($25) to the mix. Does the answer change? Have you really gotten an answer? Even if the universe of editors is small (say, 1,000 editors in total), which we know is not the case (there are more than 100,000 editors in the United States alone), how representative of the whole universe of editors are the responses from me, Betsy, Phil, Susan, Robert, and Jeremy?

After getting a bunch of responses, the asker usually decides she now has an answer, say $20/hour. But she has such incomplete information that the number she has decided is the “going rate” is useless — too much necessary information is missing, information that qualifies (explains) each response.

For example, I didn’t tell you that I have been in the editing business for more than 30 years, bill at least 1,800 hours each year and have done so for at least the past 25 years, only work with tier 1 publishers, and only do copyediting of manuscripts that exceed 1,500 manuscript pages. Betsy didn’t mention that she does editing part-time (after her day job as a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company) for relaxation, has been editing for 3 years, and bills no more than 200 hours in a good year. Phil didn’t mention that he is struggling to find enough work to edit full-time and is slowly building his business, which is focused on working with university students to improve their research papers and resumes. Fortunately for Phil, his spouse is the primary household income provider and they live in a low-cost area where a household income of $35,000 lets one live decently. Phil also didn’t mention that he started his business only 3 weeks ago and has edited only two 5-page papers.

Susan, the low-baller, didn’t mention that she is a retired software engineer (retired 8 years ago) who took up editing to stave off boredom. She was a database specialist and now edits only technical articles intended for publication in specific database journals. She doesn’t need the income but feels she has to charge something for her work. And because she is retired, she limits the number of hours she is willing to work as an editor each month to 15 or fewer.

And so it goes.

Is this information important? Surely it is if you want someone else to tell you what to charge your clients. Why? Because you are a new fiction editor working with your first indie author on the author’s first novel and when you ask what the going rate is, shouldn’t you compare apples with apples, not apples with oranges? Doesn’t (shouldn’t) the response of the fiction editor who has edited 200 novels over the past 5 years carry more weight than someone like me or Betsy or Phil or Susan?

The usual response is that having an idea of what others charge is important so that the asker doesn’t price herself out of the market. Really!?

Suppose every responder to your question said exactly the same number — $15/hour. Now you feel confident that you, too, can (should) charge $15/hour. But you are still ignoring significant missing information and its impact on what you should (need to) charge. If you can only get enough work to enable you to bill for 20 hours a week, your gross earnings will be $300 per week. What if you can’t get enough work to bill for 52 weeks? Your gross yearly income will be less than $15,600 (the 52-week amount). Will that be enough to pay rent, utilities, and food, let alone anything else? Is the 52-week total ($15,600) enough?

My point is that not only do you need more information from responders to be able to make any use of their responses, but you need to have already analyzed your own economic needs. If you have analyzed your economic needs, then why do you need to ask the question? You already know what you have to charge in order to survive, so what difference does it make what the rest of the world charges? Either you can earn what you need to earn or you need to find a job (or a combination of jobs) that enables you to meet your financial needs.

The answer usually given is that if the going rate is $20 an hour, then that is all I can expect to charge, so it doesn’t matter that I need $50 an hour. And this is where the businessperson in you needs to come front and center.

Few editors can charge more than the “going rate” and actually get work. The confusion is in the terminology: for the businessperson, “I need to charge $50/hour” = “my effective hourly rate (EHR) needs to equal $50.”

The businessperson calculates what she needs to charge to make a profit and then figures out how to charge so that she makes that profit. It may mean using a different charging method; for example, charging by the page rather than by the hour, or defining a page by character count rather than by words, or something else. It may mean changing niches; for example, going from working with packagers to working directly with authors or changing from fiction to academic treatises.

The businessperson also plans what steps she needs to take to meet that EHR. As I have stated many times on An American Editor and elsewhere, I realized that to meet my financial goals I needed to streamline editing processes without sacrificing quality. My answer was macroizing as many tasks as I could and figuring out how to make Microsoft Word work for me. That process was what led to my creating and expanding EditTools. The process also led to my buying other software, like Editor’s Toolkit Plus, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Editors need to rethink their approach to the business side of editing. I know a lot of editors who are excellent editors but not-so-good businesspersons and who prefer to downplay, if not outright ignore, the business side of being an independent editor, that is, all the things that were done by someone else when you were an employee instead of a business owner. The balance needs to be changed so that editing skills and business skills are more in balance. It is one thing to have the scales tip in favor of editing, and quite another to have the scales heavily weighted toward editing. Perfect balance is not needed, just closer to balance.

One step in that direction is to get sufficient information about a responder’s business when a responder tells you what the “going rate” is. In addition, you might inquire how the responder decided to charge what she charges. Is she charging $20/hour because her client offered that amount, or because she calculated what she needs to earn an hour, or because someone else told her that was the “going rate”? I would give the least amount of credence to an answer that was based on someone else having told the responder that was the going rate, and the most credence to the number she actually calculated.

Regardless, it is time for editors to wise up to the fact that there is no such thing as a “going rate” — there is only what rate someone else is earning/charging and usually that rate is an arbitrary one, essentially grabbed from air and not supported by a solid informational foundation. With a new year arriving soon, it is time to become more of a businessperson and focus more on the business aspects of being independent editors.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 13, 2017

The Business of Editing: Tax “Reform” & Editors

Dominating the news is the Republican “plan” for tax “reform.” If you are not closely following the proposals, you should be. You need to keep in mind that you are both a business and an employee, so whatever changes are made to tax laws will affect you.

With nothing finalized, it is hard to determine exactly what the proposed changes will do to my tax bill, but based on what has been leaked so far, I will be paying more, not less, federal tax. More worrisome, however, is what effect “reform” will have on my state and local taxes.

In speaking with one colleague, he told me he didn’t care if they eliminated or capped the mortgage interest deduction because he rents. On the surface, that sounds right, but it isn’t — he forgets that his landlord likely makes use of the mortgage interest deduction and if losing it causes the landlord’s taxes to rise, the loser will be him, not the landlord, because his rent will rise to cover the additional tax burden. He also was dismissive of the limits proposed for deduction of real estate taxes, yet the same scenario plays out for real estate taxes as for mortgage interest deduction.

Do you work for nonprofits? Nonprofits are concerned that charitable contributions will decrease under the proposed “reform.” If that occurs, might that affect your business? Early reviews indicate that most middle class taxpayers will see little to no lowering of taxes actually paid and that many will see an increase.

If you are a corporation that generates more than $5 to $10 million in annual revenue (as a professional editor, wouldn’t you like to see such a balance in your bank account?), the proposed reforms will be beneficial (the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can’t praise the “reforms” enough). In contrast, smaller businesses are expected to either remain the same or do worse (which is why the National Association of Small Businesses is opposed to the proposed “reforms”).

Similarly, if your personal income (after business expenses) places you in the top 1% (possibly even the top 5%), you tax bill will be lowered by an average of $133,000. Alas, those whose after-business-deduction income brings them down to a more earth-like number of around $60,000 (or less), will either see a very little relief (averaging less than $300) if they have the right additional personal expenses or no relief (because they do not have the right additional expenses) or even a small increase in taxes.

Are you deducting medical expenses or student loan expenses? Those will be passé under the “reform.” And so it goes. Of course, nothing is yet settled but things could be settled without your input if you aren’t paying attention. (It is worth noting that taxpayers residing in high tax states like California, New Jersey, and New York, are likely to see increases in their tax bill, but residents of no-income-tax states like Nevada and New Hampshire have no reason to gloat. Apparently many in those states will see a rise — it will be indirect, e.g., increased rent or local tax, rather than direct.)

We also need to think about the “drip” effect of the proposed “reforms.” Republicans are betting that by lowering corporate taxes, corporations will move more of their money onshore and take their tax savings and hire more American workers and/or give their current non–senior-level American workers pay raises averaging more than $4,000 a year, rather than hold on to the money or pass it out to senior-level management and shareholders. Unfortunately, there is no precedent to support this expectation of pay raises for lower-level employees. (It also ignores a fundamental of business: it is cheaper to give a bonus than a pay raise. A bonus is a one-shot deal that may never happen again and leaves the worker’s pay amount the same, whereas a pay raise is forever.)

What I find most interesting is that no one is talking about Sam Brownback’s Kansas, the first true real-life experiment in trickle-down economics. Brownback and the Republican legislature were firm believers in trickle-down economics: companies will flock to Kansas and create jobs, wealthy folk will move to Kansas and spend their money in Kansas, state coffers will overflow. Unfortunately for Kansans, reality is not the same as fantasy. All of trickle-down’s promises — more jobs and revenues, higher incomes for everyone, more money for education, and so on — failed to materialize, so much so that Kansas was on the cusp of bankruptcy and the Republican legislature had to raise taxes.

The point is that when discussing taxes, there is much more that needs examination than the surface promises. Additionally, that examination needs to be made from both the business side and the personal side. We cannot take a politician’s word that benefits will accrue to us. We need to dissect each proposal and determine what effect it will have on us. We also need to think about what effect each proposal might have on our clients. For example, if you edit for the real estate industry, what is the likelihood that a change in the mortgage interest deduction will impact your clients and cause them to consider not using your services as a way to save money? Or that it will cause clients to lower what they are willing to pay for your services?

Once you have examined the tax proposals, you need to participate in the process. As independent contractors, we need to be proactive, not reactive. We need to let our legislators know how we will be affected — whether positively or negatively — and what we want our legislators to do. But we need to do this from a position of knowledge, not from sound bites.

I know what I will be telling my legislators. Do you know what you will be telling your legislators?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 30, 2017

“Net 15” or “Net 30”? — Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

by Elaine R. Firestone, ELS

Part of being a good (and profitable) freelance professional is understanding the business side of business — both yours and your clients’. Even though I’ve been an editor for more than 30 years, I’m also a businessperson who understands the vagaries of accounting departments (I come from a long line of accountants and bookkeepers).

Unfortunately, what most freelancers lack is basic knowledge of bookkeeping and accounting systems in Corporate America. I’m not talking about what software your clients use for their accounting. I’m talking about what happens on the other side, that is, what happens to an invoice once you submit it and how it gets processed, which ends in you getting paid. You need to have verbiage in your contracts that spells out the payment terms and the schedule for payment(s), and the client has to agree to your terms. There’s more about contract terms later.

First let’s talk about corporate accounting departments. Most firms have an accounting cycle that is made up partly of their particular business practices and partly by when certain filings are due for local, state, and federal reporting and taxes. Large firms have separate Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivables departments, whereas in smaller firms these accounting functions are often in the same department or even the same person doing all of the bookkeeping work. Checks are “cut” (made out) on a given date every month; entries may be put into ledgers on a given date; various reports are run on certain days; various taxes are paid on certain days; and a whole host of other things go on in between.

That’s all well and good and nice information to have, but how does this affect you and your business? As an example, let’s say you have “net 15” in your contract with a client. You finish a project on June 4, and send the invoice to them on June 5. According to the net 15 terms in your contract with them, you expect to have a check in hand on June 20 because June 20 is 15 days after June 5, that is, the “net 15” in your contract. But…you don’t get the check until July 20. You are frustrated, annoyed, ticked off, etc., because in your mind it’s a month overdue. To the company, however, this is acceptable. Why? What are you missing? You are missing two vital pieces of information: knowledge about (a) the review process for your invoice — and every firm has a review process in place, even if it is nothing more than the person who ordered the services writing “OK” on the invoice, and (b) when the company actually cuts checks.

Let’s talk about the review process first. Sometimes the review process is to see whether your work is up to the client’s standards. On occasion, someone other than your immediate point of contact may insert his opinion into the review process; and sometimes the review process is to make sure everything is there and complete.

Sometimes, having your work go through a review process before you can get paid greatly slows the timing of your payment. Two examples of this are:

  1. When the customer thinks it knows what good English is when it doesn’t (or its related problem of when the customer insists an element of style is a grammatical “rule”); and
  2. When the customer (or someone higher in the approval cycle) decides something should be added or deleted in the text and refuses to OK your invoice until everything is as they think it should be — regardless what it said in your original scope of work and/or your contract with the company.

It is, however, the customer’s right to see if your work is OK. The review alone could take a week or two depending on how big the project is and what else your contact has on her plate to do.

Once your client says the work is fine and approves the invoice, your invoice is sent up the chain for further OKs through however many approval levels it has to go before it gets to Accounts Payable (AP). Now, let’s say (using the example above) it finally gets to AP on June 18, but AP only cuts checks on the 10th of each month. Because AP has already cut the checks for June, it won’t cut any more until July 10. The check is cut on July 10, and then the check may or may not go to a junior person to put into an envelope, seal, and mail. However, because of the distance between where you are and the company, and mail delivery service what it is, you don’t get it until July 20. See?

Most firms are not going to drop everything to cut a check just for you if it’s out of their regular cycle, even if payment is to be made electronically, directly to your bank.

Some of the payment problems you might face may be contractual, especially if you didn’t specify payment terms in your contract. If you just put “Net 15” on your invoice, the client might not be capable of meeting a 15-day payment schedule. This needs to be kept in mind when negotiating your fee. Actually, during contract negotiations is the time to learn your client’s payment procedures and to account for —in your fee —any payment delays that are likely to occur.

Other problems might be because of the client’s internal logistics. For example, your contact OKs your invoice right away, but the next person in line to OK it is on vacation for a week and didn’t appoint someone to approve payment during their absence. (Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen too many times to count, although, thankfully, not in my freelancing career.)

The two primary methods for dealing with a client’s failure to pay on time are:

  1. Don’t work for them — which would be a shame if you value them, and they value you; and
  2. Grin and bear it and work in the time the client takes to pay into your personal budgeting and, as noted earlier, in your fee.

If you didn’t find out ahead of time and put it in your contract, ask what the AP schedule is so you can submit your work and invoices in time for you to get paid at the earliest possible date. That said, you should always try to have a financial cushion to draw from if the need arises, such as the case here with late payers, or if you lose a customer (or your health). You should never depend on just one or two clients for the bulk of your livelihood.

Elaine R. Firestone, ELS, is an award-winning — and board certified — scientific and technical editor and compositor specializing in the physical and agricultural sciences. After a 25+-year career editing for NASA, Elaine started ERF Editorial Consulting, where her motto is “ERF” aren’t just my initials — it’s what you get: Edits. Results. Final product.©

October 2, 2017

The Business of Editing: Do You Know Your Business’ Health?

Discussions in online forums are fascinating. Pick an editorial forum and you are bound to find that sometime in the forum’s recent history, at least one, and even more than one, editor has asked “What should I charge?” or “What’s the going rate?” Both persons new to editing and experienced editors ask that question.

There are a lot of things wrong with the answers that are usually given, and we have discussed any number of times how to calculate what you, individually, should charge for your services. Yet there is another aspect to why the answers are generally wrong and why the question should not be asked of colleagues — your business’ health.

Let us assume that you ask “What should I charge?” and that the consensus responses are $25/hour. That is the extent of the online exchange. No analysis of the response is made that goes beyond “This is what I charge” or “The XYZ survey says” or “This is what seems to be what most responders to such questions give.” It is the lack of analysis that will hurt your business the most.

When someone responds $25/hour, what do you know about the responder’s business? For example, do you know

  • how many hours of editing they do a year
  • how many clients they have
  • how many years of experience they have
  • what types of manuscripts they edit (e.g., fiction or nonfiction, romance or biography, academic or nonacademic, STEM or medical)
  • who their clients are (e.g., independent authors, bestselling novelists or barely selling novelists, doctoral students, well-known publishers, small presses, academic presses, packagers, law firms, pharmaceutical companies, journals, English-as-a-second-language authors)
  • among their client types, the percentages of each type
  • their annual gross income solely from editing for the past year; the past 5 years
  • whether editing is their full-time occupation
  • whether they have another, primary source of income so that the household is not dependent on their earnings or if they are the sole income source for their household
  • whether their editorial business is profitable year after year
  • what their local cost of living is in comparison to yours
  • what debts, if any, they have that would affect the amount they charge

The list can go on but you get the picture. You are taking advice for your business from someone whose circumstances you do not know.

General advice about how to calculate what you should charge doesn’t require in-depth knowledge of the person offering the advice — but advice on precisely what to charge does. It matters greatly whether the person offering the advice runs a business that loses money year after year or turns a large profit. It matters greatly whether they work 25 hours a week for 40 weeks a year or 35 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. And it matters greatly whether what they earn is supplemental income on which the household is not dependent for survival or their income is the only household income and its absence would jeopardize survival.

In other words, you need to know your business’ health and their business’ health.

A healthy business is one that is satisfactorily profitable. The profit may be $1 or $100,000 — the number that satisfies you is personal to you. But profitable it must be; it cannot be costing you money to be in business.

So we come back to the fundamentals of the required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR) and the desired Effective Hourly Rate (dEHR). You need to know your rEHR before you can accept advice to charge $x/hour or that $x/hour is the “going rate.” Even if $x is truly the going rate, what does it matter if by charging $x/hour you do not earn enough to be profitable?

When assessing your business’ health, you need to have all your data at hand. You need to know, for example:

  • how many hours and weeks of work have you averaged over the past few years
  • the likelihood of your being able to maintain that amount of work over the coming year
  • how much you owe others
  • your living expenses
  • how much you need for a rainy day fund
  • your costs of doing business (e.g., marketing, internet access, computer hardware and software)

With this information, you can calculate your rEHR, which represents the minimum amount you can earn per hour to support your lifestyle. This number is fundamental to many business decisions you need to make, starting with whether you can afford to continue editing space opera novels for independent authors and ending with figuring out how to expand your business through marketing.

If your rEHR is high, that is, higher than you think or know the market will bear, then it will also act as an impetus for you to devise ways to make your workflow more efficient. I’ve told the story before about the origins of my EditTools macros, but I’ll repeat it here. I found that to earn my dEHR (not my rEHR) I had to either work longer hours every day or become more efficient in my workflow. The smarter way for me was to become increasingly efficient. As my efficiency grew, my work hours became fewer but my EHR grew. Eventually, I found that I could reduce my working hours by 25% yet raise my EHR so that it approached my dEHR. I was able to do this by creating EditTools macros. I invested upfront time, money, and effort so that I could repeatedly, over the long term, increase efficiency.

The dEHR is the hourly rate I would like to earn. It is not an hourly rate I can charge my clients, few would be willing to pay it. It is an EHR that is greater than my rEHR, which represents the minimum EHR I can earn to meet the costs of lifestyle. When I earn more than my rEHR, my business is healthy and profitable; when I earn just my rEHR, my business is healthy but not profitable; and when I earn less than my rEHR, my business is unhealthy and unprofitable — it is losing money and thus costing me money.

When someone online tells you that the going rate for copyediting is $25/hour and you do not know your rEHR, you do not know whether your business will be healthy, healthy and profitable, or unhealthy and losing if you charge that $25/hour. If you know your rEHR, then there is no need to ask others what to charge because you will know what you need to earn. Instead, you will need to focus on determining how to calculate your fee — hourly, page, project, word, character — to meet your rEHR and to work toward your dEHR.

It is important to think in terms of efficiency and EHR. And it is important to remember that if you charge your client by the hour, whatever you charge as your hourly rate does not change — $25/hour remains $25/hour — whereas if you charge by the page, project, word, or character, your EHR can fluctuate up and down so that the more efficient you are the higher your EHR can be.

Regardless of how you calculate your fee, the bottom line is that your business being healthy relies on your knowing your rEHR, not on what someone responds in response to “What should I charge?” or “What is the going rate?”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 13, 2017

The Business of Editing: Undercharging?

Recently, Jake Poinier wrote an essay titled “Stop Worrying About Freelancers Who Undercharge.” It is an interesting essay and one certainly worth reading, especially as the advice he gives, which is summed up in the article title, is sound — as far as it goes.

Overall, I agree with Mr. Poinier’s advice. However, two things particularly struck me about the essay. First, “undercharging” is never really defined. The implication is that people who charge on the low end of the fee scale are undercharging, or if your competitors charge less than you think is the correct rate, your competitors are undercharging. The second item that struck me is that the essay fails to give guidance as to what is a proper amount to charge. After all, undercharging only has meaning if there is a universally accepted amount against which to measure.

(Okay. Actually there is a third thing that I find bothersome: the use of “undercharge” to describe the issue. Undercharging and its opposite, overcharging, are generally associated with a seller–buyer relationship, not with a competitor–competitor relationship. Competitors underbid and undercut. The reason is that there has to be a universally definable and applicable sum against which under- and overcharging can be measured for everyone. That can occur with a readily defined product in a seller–buyer relationship, a good example being price shopping a specific model of automobile. In contrast, with undercutting [or underbidding] there is rarely [if ever] a standard sum; there are too many variables that are unique to each competitor so no standard price exists. Undercutting is relative to the competitor’s pricing strategy, not to identical goods and services. But for this essay, I’ll accept that “undercharging” is the correct term.)

These issues are not only intertwined but need to be tackled in reverse order. So I begin with the measure.

What is the proper amount to charge?

In the world of editing, there isn’t a readily definable, measurable, or acceptable “going rate.” When someone asks the question, “What is the going rate for copyediting?,” no single, universal rate is ever quoted. Just as importantly, there is no universal definition of what constitutes copyediting. True, there are some commonalities that nearly every editor will name but then there are the variations that appear when defining their own services.

If the service does not have a universally definition and if editors cannot state a “going rate” that every editor recognizes as the “going rate,” then how can anyone determine “what is the proper amount to charge?”

More importantly, this is a question that cannot result in universally accepted answer because for each of us the point at which loss becomes profit differs. As importantly, this number changes as circumstances in our life change. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer to the question. It means that the answer is personal and cannot be found by asking in online forums.

The proper place to begin is — as I have stated numerous times — with determining your required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR). (For details on how to determine your rEHR, see the five-part series, The Business of Editing: What to Charge.) If you do not know what you need to charge in order to be profitable, you cannot know whether you are undercharging — you need something to measure against.

This raises another point, which is implicit in saying that the answer is personal: each editor’s rEHR is personal and different from that of another editor. For example, in my case, my rEHR 25 years ago was significantly higher than my rEHR of today. Twenty-five years ago I had to plan on paying for college for my children, I had to support two automobiles, I had a mortgage to pay, I needed to fund my retirement. Today, my children are years out of college, my mortgage is paid, I only need one automobile, I no longer need to fund my retirement. My circumstances have changed and so has my rEHR. If 25 years ago my rEHR was $50 an hour, then I needed to earn the equivalent of at least $50 an hour to meet my expenses. If I earned $49 an hour, I wasn’t earning enough to break even — I was losing money.

It made no difference if my colleagues were charging the equivalent of $20 per hour — I couldn’t charge that and put food on the table if my rEHR was $50. Were colleagues who were charging $20 undercharging? Or was I overcharging?

Colleagues charging $20 were undercharging if their personal rEHR was higher than $20; if they had calculated their rEHR and it was $15, then they were not undercharging for themselves. That they were able to charge less than me and still be profitable has nothing to do with undercharging — instead, it is a reflection of their business status (and, perhaps, acumen).

That today my rEHR is significantly less than it was 25 years ago and thus permits me to charge significantly less than what a colleague can charge for copyediting (assuming my colleague knows her rEHR and doesn’t charge less than her rEHR) does not mean I am undercharging — underbidding, perhaps, but not undercharging.

What is undercharging?

Editors do not define the services they provide under the rubric “copyediting” identically. Each of us defines what we will do in exchange for a quoted fee. That is the basis for the adage “quality, speed, cost — pick any two.” The idea is that something must be sacrificed and we often define “copyediting” based on this adage.

If, for example, “copyediting” usually includes basic fact checking but the client wants the 500-page manuscript edited in 2 weeks and is willing to pay $500 for our efforts, our definition of copyediting might change to exclude any fact checking. The point is that the definition of the services we each provide is both fluid and not universal.

Yes, some professional organizations and some editors do post online a definition of copyediting, but those are not universally accepted definitions and, at least in the United States, not mandated. So, in the absence of a universally accepted and applied definition of what constitutes copyediting, how can it be determined that someone is “undercharging” for copyediting services? If you include fact checking and I exclude fact checking, our services are not comparable and my lower price may reflect my exclusion of fact checking.

In the end…

What all of this amounts to is this: Ignore what colleagues are charging unless you can determine that everything about your and your colleagues’ services (both as defined and as provided) are identical in every possible way and that everyone’s rEHR is identical. Absent that you should focus your energy on determining what your rEHR is and making sure that you can meet (or better, exceed) that number.

Asking what a colleague charges is a waste of time except for satisfying curiosity. Your fee should be based on your needs (your rEHR). There will always be someone who charges less and the reasons are many, including they are less skilled, they offer a lower-quality end product, their rEHR is very low, or, most likely, they have no clue what their rEHR actually is and have picked a number out of the air because it seems in line with what others charge or has been mentioned online somewhere.

If you haven’t read it recently (or at all), in addition to reading The Business of Editing: What to Charge, take the time to read The Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!” A client can always get it cheaper because there is always someone who is willing to work for less. Fighting back by lowering your price is a losing proposition. Instead, learn how to set a correct price, stick with it, and convince clients you are worth it.

Remember this: If you do not think you are worth at least your rEHR, you probably aren’t, and clients will think the same. Clients almost always believe the same about you as you believe about yourself.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 30, 2017

From the Archives: The Editor’s Interest: Copyright or Not

(The following essay was originally published on
An American Editor on March 1, 2011. The addendum
was added and published on August 30, 2017.)

A question that sometimes arises, usually when an editor has difficulty getting paid for his or her work, is: What can the editor do to collect payment? I’ve been a long-time advocate of the position that the editor has a copyright interest in the edited version of the manuscript, a card that the editor should play in payment disputes.

We need to step back a little. First, if you are an editor and have a written contract governing the relationship between you and the client, unless the contract specifically provides for your copyright interest, you don’t have one — your relationship is governed by the four corners of the written contract.

Second, the law is unsettled, not clear, or whatever other description you want (muddy, perhaps?) as regards an editor’s interest in the edited manuscript.

Third, the editor’s interest I advocate extends only to the edited version. The author and/or publisher have an unencumbered copyright interest in the original manuscript the editor received; it is only the editor’s edited version in which the editor has an interest — and that interest is wholly extinguished upon being paid in full (i.e., the check has cleared, not the check has been received).

As you can see, I am talking about a narrow interest, not the broader interest that an author has in the manuscript. This narrower interest can readily be extinguished in two ways: (1) payment for service in full or (2) wholesale rejection of the edited manuscript. Acceptance of even a single comma, or corrected spelling — that is, of any single edit — is, in my view sufficient to retain the editor’s interest.

Here is where opinions begin to scatter. I have been told by lawyers for one major publisher that I do not have such an interest. It was a great thrust to the heart by the publisher but, alas, it missed. If lawyers scare you, then this isn’t the position to take. But if you have some titanium backbone, the response is (and the one I made)

I am willing to find out in a court of law. Are you willing to take the chance that the court sides with me, because if you are and if you lose, you will make life exceedingly difficult for your publisher client. Isn’t it smarter to simply pay my bill?

The reality is that it is smarter to pay my bill and not hire me again. It is unlikely that what is owed me is such a large amount of money that the risk of losing in court is worth taking.

Of course, there are steps that should be taken when using this collection method. You should send both an e-mail and a certified-mail return-receipt letter to the client notifying the client of your interest and demanding that they either pay your invoice in full immediately (be sure to give a specific payment date) or

  • not publish the edited manuscript;
  • if they publish the manuscript, that they not sell any copies or distribute any copies;
  • if they sell or distribute any copies, that they place 100% of all receipts in a trust fund pending outcome of litigation;
  • and that they notify the author(s) in writing that you are claiming a copyright interest in the edited version of the manuscript because of the client’s failure to pay for your services, which payment would extinguish your copyright interest.

You’d be surprised at how much influence a screaming author can have, especially if the author liked your work! If you know how to contact the author, you should send a copy of the e-mail and letter directly to the author as well as to the publisher.

Alright, I admit we haven’t yet determined how valid the editor’s claimed copyright interest is, but I’m not sure it is possible to determine its validity in the absence of a major court’s definitive decision (lower court decisions have little precedential value, just witness the 5 decisions on Obamacare). Because it is an open question, I see no problem in making the claim. Personally, I see no problem in defending the claim, either.

A court decision adverse to a publisher and in favor of an editor on this could have significant ramifications for publishers. It would add pressure to pay on time because an editor could prevent release of the manuscript in its edited form. Of course, it could also encourage publishers to add editing to the list of items to be bypassed in the book production process, but doing so would remove one of the few remaining justifications for traditional publishing.

The most likely result would be the influx of contracts. Today, most publishers still work on the handshake basis; that is, they contact an editor and ask if the editor is available, tell the editor what is wanted, and send the manuscript for editing. Sometimes a purchase order is included. In return, the editor edits the manuscript, returns it with an invoice, and receives timely payment. Welcome to the world of 99% of publishers and editors.

The problem is the 1% with whom a handshake is like striking a bargain with the devil who has its fingers crossed behind its back. They promise payment in 30 days and then when the work is done tell you it will be 6 months. Or they tell you how much they love your work until the invoice arrives, at which point they tell you how bad your work is and want you to reduce the invoice. Or they tell you the manuscript is 250 pages and only requires a very light edit when the reality is it is a 400-page manuscript that requires a very heavy edit because the author’s English language skills are virtually nonexistent.

With the 99% of clients a contract or a handshake means the same thing and either will work. With these clients the issue of the editor’s copyright interest never arises. Even if they hate your work, they will pay your invoice on time and just not call again. Paying your invoice costs less than 2 hours of attorney time, so business sense dictates payment.

With the 1% of clients neither a contract nor a handshake has any meaning. It is with these clients that one must be prepared to use the complete arsenal available to collect for work done. Unfortunately, we often don’t discover that a client is part of the 1% until the work is done (perhaps a particularly good reason to bill and get paid in instalments), at which time the 1-percenter thinks we are over the barrel. It is with these clients that the copyright claim is most effective and should be invoked.

Do editors have a copyright interest in the edited version of the manuscript? Maybe, maybe not, but it is a weapon in the editor’s collection arsenal that should not be ignored.

[Addendum added August 30, 2017: If you have a contract with a client that specifically states that you retain a copyright interest until paid in full, that clause is enforceable under contract law — it is no longer a copyright question. Copyrights are transferable and saleable property. Recall that in olden days, by contract, authors assigned copyright to publishers or movie studios or record companies and it was the publisher, the movie studio, the record company that enforced copyright. The change — that is, the author keeping copyright — began in the late 1960s and became standard in the 1990s. However, authors are still free to assign copyright as they wish via contract.

The main essay above focuses on those instances where there is no contractual provision assigning copyright pending payment to the editor. Best practice is to include a clause in your written contract as there is no question about the enforceability of such a clause.]

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 28, 2017

From the Archives: The Business of Editing: Noncompetition Agreements

(The following essay was originally published on
 An American Editor on January 29, 2014.)

As I have discussed in the past, I rarely am asked to sign a contract. Yet lately it seems that an increasing number of packagers are asking for contracts. The terms are one-sided and onerous, and in some cases want me to agree to be bound by the law of a country to which I have never been and with which I have no legal or cultural connection.

But there is one particular clause that I find to be especially irritating, and unlike sand in an oyster, does not produce a pearl. I am referring to noncompetition clauses.

I am a freelance editor. By definition it means that I have more than one client. If I have only one client, the IRS is likely to look askance at my claim to being a freelancer and call me an employee, something neither I nor my clients want. Consequently, I sometimes wonder if my clients are confusing noncompetition clauses with nondisclosure clauses, although they assure me they are not.

The illogic of the noncompetition agreement is that clients are unwilling to divulge their client list. How can I possibly know who I should not solicit as a client because of such an agreement if I do not know who the packager wants me to not solicit? The answer is, all too often, that the packager basically wants me to stay away from everyone who could possibly provide me with work except them — even though they are unwilling to commit to giving me more work than the current project.

More importantly, from their perspective, I would think, is the possibility that the IRS would ask why a freelance book editor, someone who is supposedly not an employee of the packager, be required to sign a noncompetition agreement when by the very nature of being a freelancer, I am in competition with the packager, at least to the limited extent of the limited number of services I provide. The normal situation is that an employee who is leaving the packager’s employ would be asked to sign a limited noncompetition agreement because it would be expected that the leaving employee is leaving with knowledge about the employer’s clients and business.

I have raised this issue several times with those who ask me to sign a noncompetition agreement. I have even suggested that we submit it to the IRS for an advisory opinion, because if I am going to be made an employee, I want to bargain for all the benefits. Not only has there been a general refusal to discuss the matter, there has been universal refusal to get that IRS opinion. I am not surprised.

For the purpose of the noncompetition agreement, it is editing that is the subject matter. These agreements need to spell out exactly what areas I cannot compete in (which they do not), and it basically has to be limited to the services I actually provide the packager (again, which it is not), that is, limited to editing.

But then the packager would need to attest that my editing services are unique and particularly valuable. If they are run-of-the-mill, they cannot be restrained by a noncompetition agreement. When I raise this point, I ask if the packager intends to pay me a premium for my services, so that it would be clear that they value my editing skills much more than the skills of any other editor, which might make my editing skills unique, not run-of-the-mill. Alas, that has not yet occurred — but I keep trying.

Part of the problem is that some lawyer somewhere has given the packager a bunch of papers for freelancers to sign without stressing that the forms are appropriate for certain types of work but not for others. The people who do the freelance hiring at the packagers are told to have the freelancer sign the forms and so they become insistent, and impervious to any suggestion that the forms (or clauses) are inappropriate for the work I am being hired to perform.

So that puts us at a stalemate: the packager won’t hire me without my signing and I won’t sign.

I know that some of you are saying “just sign, get the work, and move on.” The problem is that there may be nowhere to move to. If I sign a noncompetition agreement without knowing who I am to avoid and without narrowing down the services involved, I could be putting myself out of business. The usual case is that the packager and I both often do work for the same client. Think about a publisher the size of McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Wiley, or Elsevier. They produce thousands of books and journals every year and have numerous divisions. How unusual do you think it is for both a packager and an editor to work with one of them? But if the packager’s agreement is signed as presented, you may be precluding yourself from working with such companies.

Besides, why should such a limiting agreement be signed without appropriate compensation? If you give up valuable rights, in this instance, the right to work with clients you may have worked with for years, should you not be compensated?

I am constantly amazed by editors whose job it is to deal with words, language, and meaning, yet who will blithely sign contracts without considering the ramifications of signing. Just as I give the manuscripts I work on a careful read and think about what message is being communicated, so I do the same on my own behalf when it comes to signing contracts for editing work.

Would you agree not to edit a spy novel in the future because you are being hired to edit one today? Sign a noncompetition agreement and you might be saying exactly that. Would you agree not to edit a book on pediatric medicine for McGraw-Hill because you edited one for Elsevier three years ago? You might be agreeing to that.

The point is that you need to read noncompetition agreements very carefully. You need to be sure that its scope is very narrow and that all of the entities you are not to approach are identified. Even more importantly, you need to negotiate compensation for the rights you are giving up. Finally, I would think about whether signing the agreement would change your status from freelancer to employee in the eyes of the IRS. Because I am averse to signing such agreements, I make it clear that I plan to send the agreement to the IRS for review. So far, that has been enough to have the agreement disappear without my signature.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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