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

April 27, 2016

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

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

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

Part II discusses reasons five through eight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. The lack of standard definitions for editorial services.

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

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

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

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

What do you suggest? What will you do?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 20, 2016

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

A recent discussion on another forum lamented over how underpaid (undervalued) editing is, pointing out that neither authors nor publishers appreciate and are willing to pay for the expertise editors bring to a project. Of course, this is not a new lament; it was the same 32 years ago, when I began my editing career, and it has been a constant since that day.

In the discussion I just mentioned, the lament was tied to the client command (or observation) that the manuscript requires only a “light” edit. Let’s set aside the initial problem — what a “light” edit is (for my perspective, see The Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy?) — and instead focus on some — not all — of the reasons the value of editing is viewed so poorly as to act as justification for low rates of compensation from our clients.

Part I of this essay discusses the first four reasons.

1. Few editors know their required effective hourly rate.

Like all businesses, we can set our own rates of compensation. The problem is that too many of us set them in an information vacuum. Too many of us have no idea what our Required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR) is, and as a consequence we set our rate based on what some unscientific and invalid rate survey says is the “going rate.”

(For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of rEHR, and those who need a refresher on how to calculate it, see the five-part series Business of Editing: What to Charge. Additional previous essays worth reviewing are The Business of Editing: Fundamental Business Mistakes That Editors Make, the two-part essay The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote, So, How Much Am I Worth?, and Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts. Essays written by Ruth Thaler-Carter and Louise Harnby that touch on these and related topics can be found if you look for “On the Basics” and “The Proofreader’s Corner” in the Search field on this blog.)

Your rEHR is the minimum you need to earn for each hour of paid work if you hope to meet your living requirements. A survey that is of suspect validity to begin with can’t help you determine what you should charge if you do not know whether what the survey says is the “going rate” is more or less than you require just to have shelter, clothing, and food. When editors do not know their rEHR, they undermine themselves.

How are they undermining themselves? By helping to establish the validity of a rate that has no relationship to real-world economics. Haven’t you found that no matter how low your rate, a client readily comes back with a lower rate that was quoted by an editorial colleague? How was that lower rate established? Probably by waving an uncooked strand of spaghetti through the seas of Atlantis and watching the numbers magically appear. Or by going to one of the rate surveys that are constantly mentioned but aren’t any more valid than the spaghetti waving.

By approving and accepting rates that are lower than your rEHR, you are reinforcing the idea that editorial services are of little value.

2. Our profession has failed to convince clients of editing’s value.

In the olden days, when people like Bennett Cerf ran publishing houses and publishing houses were family-owned businesses, not international conglomerates, being an editor made you part of a prestigious profession. More importantly, high-quality editing was desired and properly compensated. I can still recall the lecture I received in 1987 from a Farrar, Strauss & Giroux editor about the publisher’s low tolerance for editorial errors. However, as the original family-owned publishers were bought up and merged into international conglomerates, bean counters took over and assigned a low value to editing, a low value from which the profession has not recovered.

As a profession, we have failed to convince our clients that they are devalued by poorly edited books. We have failed to demonstrate that consumers notice and care. We have failed to equate high-quality editing with reasonable compensation. By not making a concerted effort to convince clients of the value of editing, we have shored up the notion that cheaper is better for the bottom line. Finally, we have failed to make the consumer see that poor-quality editing means a poor reading experience, and that particular publishers and authors are noted for producing poorly edited books.

3. The market views us as low-level professionals who provide an unnecessary service.

Although we call ourselves professionals and think of ourselves as part of a profession, the market reality is that we are viewed as low-level professionals who provide an unnecessary service. This is a market view we have not successfully countered. Actually, as a group we have done little to nothing to counter that perception.

This is tied to number two above. We have let others determine whether our services are necessary. Look at how many times we see comments from authors saying that the author can edit his or her own manuscript as well as or better than any editor. Delve a little into the reason for the statement and what you find is that the author has had a poor experience with an editor and tars every editor with that tainted brush.

Of course, the author looked for the lowest-cost editor who claimed the most experience, and hired that editor. The author and the editor were both racing to the bottom, with cost driving both the author and the editor, who had set a low price to attract the business. The problem for many authors is that they personally have to foot the editorial bill, and so they look for the least cost. And the publishers? They assume that no one will notice if the editing is poor — not the author and not the consumer — and, unfortunately, too often they are correct. The publishers make the gamble and usually win.

If an author cannot get an editor cheaply enough, the author will self-edit or have friends do the editing, because the author does not view editors as high-level professionals who provide a necessary service in these days of self-publishing. It is our failure as a profession that we have not convinced clients of our professionalism and of the value of editorial services.

4. It is too easy to open an editorial business.

Unlike professionals who are able to charge much higher fees (e.g., doctors, lawyers, plumbers, carpenters, masons), we have no entry requirements in our profession — no apprenticeships, no degree requirements, no code of conduct, no licensing, no nothing. All a person has to do is declare to the world that she is a professional editor. (When you think about it, even McDonald’s fry cooks get some training from someone else, and cleaning-service personnel often need to be bonded. Our profession [different for content creators] has no insurance requirements, something most, if not all, other professions have.)

Let’s face it — even a sixth-grader could hang out a shingle as a professional editor. There simply are no professional standards. Writers and painters in the United States are better organized than editors and have more professional organizations (i.e., the organizations are more professionally organized and run) to create standards and promote codes of conduct than editors have.

Such ease of claiming membership in the editorial profession does us a disservice. It helps foster the notion that we are undeserving of better pay because there is no minimum standard of quality that a client can be assured of receiving in exchange for higher compensation.

Part II addresses reasons five through eight.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 18, 2016

What One Fool Can Do

by Daniel Sosnoski

In at item titled “Against Editors” at the website Gawker, Hamilton Nolan writes:

In the writing world, there is a hierarchy. The writers are on the bottom. Above them are editors, who tell the writers what to change. This is backwards. How many good writers has Big Edit destroyed?

Nolan’s view is not entirely exceptional. You can find similar sentiments elsewhere on the web, and you’ll sooner or later find yourself working with a writer who views their relationship with you as being purely adversarial.

The two chief routes by which writers come to detest editors are either a misunderstanding of the two parties’ respective roles, or bad experiences at the hands of editors who are unprofessional or uncaring in their approach to the craft. To that end, I advise my colleagues to be kind to authors because all of us are, arguably, representing our profession and we ought to present our work in the best possible light.

If you’re dealing with the first type of writer, one who thinks you are “the enemy,” then you might have a chance to reset their perception of the relationship and get things back on an even keel. Inexperienced writers sometimes think fighting with the editor is a normal part of the job. The second type of writer, who’s had bad experiences being edited, will be bringing that history along and you might have to address it head on.

Getting back to “Against Editors,” a key passage in Nolan’s article is as follows:

Go find a story published a few years ago in The New Yorker, perhaps America’s most tightly edited magazine. Give that story to an editor, and tell him it’s a draft. I guarantee you that that editor will take that story — well-polished diamond that it presumably is — and suggest a host of changes. Rewrite the story to the specifications of the new editor. Then take it to another editor, and repeat the process… You would never find an editor who read the story, set down his pencil, and said, “Looks fine. This story is perfect.”

The gauntlet is thrown

It is a point of pride in my office that we have a tag for documents that says, simply, “Clean.” The meaning is “I have read this document and have no changes.” Admittedly, it isn’t used often, but it is used, and it reassures me that we aren’t fiddling with text merely for the sake of imprinting our own voice on it.

Still, Nolan’s words nagged at me. Could he be right? How could his proposition be tested? Could I make an educational lesson from it? When we reached the end of the workweek, I called an editorial meeting and gathered five editors (in addition to myself) and passed out to everyone a page of raw, unedited copy — 12 point, triple spaced — and red pens.

Here is a sample of that text:

The smaller the office the larger the scope of your influence and the more you will see the direct correlation between your mood and theirs or your attitude toward a patient and how they treat that person. In this sense, leadership and the impact yours has, is all about you. But, isn’t it always?

For the next 20 minutes, we worked in silence. The instruction was to edit freely, but to make no edits that could not be fully justified — “it just looks better to me this way” was off the table.

Three of the editors were fairly new, and three were trained and seasoned. At the end of the time allotted I called halt and most had gotten through two to three pages of the text. We went around the table and each editor read the first sentence (as shown above) and indicated what they marked up and why. For example: “The smaller your office, the larger the influence of your mood and that of your staff upon patient care.” (My edit.)

As we went along, sentence by sentence, a pattern began to emerge: The junior editors were unpredictable. Some rewrote heavily, others lightly, none making the same changes. The experienced editors tended to seize upon the same faults and make similar — but not identical — edits in some cases, and in others the suggested fix was nearly identical.

For example: “I deleted ‘But, isn’t it always?’ as being extraneous to the flow of the text. It was a rhetorical question.”

Most made the same edit. There was disagreement about placing a comma after “office,” but in general you could see that the problem of “theirs” having an undefined referent in the original required a fix. Exactly how that problem should be corrected differed from editor to editor.

In this, I would say that Nolan had a point worth making. In text that is seriously flawed (but correctable), two editors might make different changes, but — and this is key — they will tend to repair the same problem. Much as two mechanics might approach the diagnosis and repair of a vehicle in slightly different ways, the end result will be functional transportation.

About that title

A phrase that Richard Dawkins likes to use in his writing is, “What one fool can do, so can another.” His meaning is that if someone can accomplish something, so can you. The task of editing, however, seems to be special in that, while any competent editor can spot and correct typos, punctuation errors, and adjust copy to meet house style, with text of the sort presented by the problem I assigned my colleagues, I see a clear divergence.

Junior editors see clumsy text but aren’t always sure how to fix it or why. They tend to make changes that could not be readily explained to the author (even if sensible). Experienced editors seem to agree on the same problems and find similar solutions to them. While in my exercise we didn’t all make identical corrections, the act of verbalizing our thoughts was a step toward harmonizing our approach to editing.

Repeating this exercise is definitely in my game plan for staff development. Listening to one another explain our approaches and rationale is valuable in that it gets us thinking the same way about editing. If you work with one or more other editors, I highly recommend trying this for yourself and gauging the results.

In the event you are presented with clean copy, by all means mark it “clean” and know that you did your job properly. Some might argue that not making any changes to a text could potentially raise problems regarding what is being paid for, but that’s a subject for another column.

Daniel Sosnoski is the author of Introduction to Japanese Culture and editor-in-chief of Chiropractic Economics magazine. He has been the staff editor for numerous medical associations and is the founding editor of the PubMed-indexed Journal of Clinical Lipidology. He currently belongs to the American Copy Editors Society.

April 13, 2016

The Business of Editing: How Many Pages an Hour Do You Edit?

This question was asked, probably for the umpteenth time, on another editorial forum. I wondered then, as I wonder now, what the value is of a response like “4 to 6 pages an hour” or “10 pages an hour” — or any number.

I find surfing editorial forums interesting in so far as doing so reveals how colleagues think. Both questions and answers are revealing. Editorial colleagues want to be helpful to one another. Consequently, no matter the question, someone, if not many someones, will respond. I think that sense of community is heartening and helps make editing a great profession to be in. That surface impression of community helpfulness, however, begins to slip as the answers pile up.

A Great Question But of Little Value

“How many pages an hour do you edit?” is a great question that elicits a world of responses, the majority (possibly all) of which are valueless. While seeming to be a good way to measure one’s own efficiency and productivity, it isn’t. If my own speed is slower than the reported average and I consequently think I need to speed things up, I’ve simply elevated the responses to a status they do not deserve. If my speed is faster, must I be more efficient and productive? And if my speed is slower, must I be less efficient and productive? In reality, no.

Editing speed in itself is not indicative of anything, largely because the number leaves out myriad bits of necessary qualifying information. If I tell you that I edit, on average, 12 pages an hour, what have you learned about my editing? Nothing. Among other things you haven’t learned are what types of projects I handled; what the parameters were for those projects; what tools I use to speed up (or slow down) my editing; or, most importantly, how good an editor I am. I may be the greatest of all editors but only edit 4 pages an hour, or I could be the worst of all editors and edit 25 pages an hour. Conversely, I may be the worst of all editors but only edit 4 pages an hour, or I could be the best of all editors and edit 25 pages an hour.

The number of pages I edit each editing hour is a statistic with no meaning or value, even though colleagues and clients are intrigued by it. After all, if you can edit 20 pages an hour and I only edit 5 pages an hour, isn’t the client going to be better served economically by you than by me?

Type of Editing Matters

It matters whether my speed is reflective of my copyediting or of my developmental-editing speed. It also matters how I define the type of editing. For example, does copyediting include more than one editing pass over the manuscript? Does it include coding or styling of the manuscript? Do I include fact checking? What about references — are they APA or AMA style or some other convoluted style that requires a significant amount of work? And do I include formatting and verification of those references? The bottom line is that there are a number of variables in what we include and exclude as part of our definition. In the absence of having a uniform definition for editing type, the number of pages an hour that I can edit has no relevance in a discussion about how many pages an hour you should be editing.

What Makes a Page?

Another vital element that needs to be known is: What makes a page? Is it number of words, characters without spaces, characters with spaces, formatted pages, something else? And once the measure is chosen, how much of the measure makes a page? For example, is it 250 words, 300 words, or 350 words that make a page? Suppose there are a large number of words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Do words like that count as one word? Two words? Three words? If you count characters, how many characters make a page?

Type of Manuscript Matters

It matters greatly whether my statement that I edit 12 pages an hour refers to editing advanced physics textbooks or cookbooks or illustrated children’s books or western novels. It matters whether the book is laden with photographs or with statistical tables. Without knowing what I am editing, how can you determine whether my speed is fast, slow, or middling?

Client Instructions Matter

Also relevant to determining the value of an editing speed are client instructions. It matters greatly whether I am instructed to simply run spellcheck and look for misspelled words or if I am asked to do a comprehensive edit that includes verifying Latin names for organisms against a particular database or to convert the form of measure the author uses to a more universally used measure. It matters whether there are 50 references or 1,000 references in a chapter and whether my instructions are to check each for accuracy and then format them, or accept them as accurate but format them, or just look for missing information and provide it but not format the references. (If you think a chapter cannot have 1,000 references, let me assure you that I often edit chapters with that number of references and more; I have edited chapters with nearly 2,000 references. Of course, such chapters tend to be “book length” in and of themselves.)

How Well Written Is the Manuscript?

Experienced editors know the importance of this bit of information. A poorly written manuscript slows editing to a crawl, whereas a well-written manuscript often means faster editing. Yet using terms like light, medium, and heavy to describe the difficulty of editing is not helpful because there are no universal definitions of these terms. In addition, there are gradations within each category — one editor’s medium-level edit may be another editor’s heavy edit.

Did You Consider This?

Okay, you tell me you know the answers to all of the previous questions and therefore are in a position to assign value to my being able to edit 12 pages an hour. But did you consider this? Do you know how many errors I create or miss as I edit that at the 12-page speed? This is important information. If I introduce an average of three errors per page or miss three errors per page, perhaps I need to slow my speed down because I am making/missing too many errors. Perhaps editing at 12 pages an hour is inappropriate for the material. On the other hand, if I am not introducing any errors and I am missing, on average, one error for every 5 pages, perhaps I am editing an appropriate speed or maybe can even edit a little bit faster.

Of course, there is the problem of what an error is.

The Universe of Editors

Another problem with the numbers generated by the main question is the representativeness of the responders. Getting 20 responses out of a universe of many thousands of editors is not very representative. The 20 responders may be the 20 best editors or the 20 worst editors or the 20 most middling editors. Or they may be a mix. But unless the responders are a match for you, their numbers are of no value. And even if they are a match for you, their number is too small to be statistically meaningful or indicative of average speed of editors irrespective of any other criterion.

The Bottom Line

Some questions we ask our colleagues will provide valuable information, but asking how many pages a colleague edits is not one of them. In the absence of universally agreed-upon terms and definitions to describe what we do, comparing my editing speed with your editing speed simply produces two unhelpful numbers.

When asked why they think this information is useful, editors often reply that if the majority of responders give a number that is faster than their number, then it is an indication that they are going too slow and need to take a look at how they can improve their number. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it is false reasoning. Because others are faster (or slower) than you is not an indication that there is anything wrong with your speed. There are too many variables.

Whatever my speed is, it is my speed and it is the speed at which I can produce a high-quality edit for a particular project. I keep detailed records and I know that over my 32 years of editing, I was able to edit some projects at what I think of as grand prix speeds and others at slower-than-turtle speeds. Speed was governed by the particular project, by my editing peculiarities, and by how much I could automate certain functions. This number was/is unique to me and meaningless to colleagues.

The One Thing Never to Do!

The one thing that no editor should ever do is estimate a project based on editing speeds claimed by colleagues. Estimates should always be based on your editing speed, your editing day, and your editing workweek. What a colleague does is at best anecdotal, not anything to use as a foundation for your work and business.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 11, 2016

Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing Fiction II

by Carolyn Haley

Part I of this two-part essay described the experiment I conducted to learn more about the weight and importance of subjectivity in editing fiction, and to satisfy my personal curiosity about how different editors might handle the same material. Part I covered the experiment parameters, general results, and types of technical errors that occurred in the work of seven volunteer professional editors.

Part II continues the description of results, shifting to areas where errors are harder to define and recognize, and where individual backgrounds come more strongly into play.

Debatable errors

All the volunteers addressed the debatable items I inserted into the test samples, though no two editors addressed the same number and combination of them. This is where I expected the greatest variation between editors, and I was not disappointed.

Example debatable items were hyphenated or solid prefixes and suffixes; hyphenation of compound adjectives; one-word or two-word spellings that could vary according to dictionary; use or not of the serial comma; treatment of ellipses and dashes; treatment of dialogue tags and thoughts; words or numerals for numbers; location of paragraph breaks; casualness versus formalness of characters’ speech; spelling of common expressions (all right vs. alright, OK vs. okay); and the like.

These represent what I expect to see itemized on a style sheet. I deliberately did not request style sheets from the volunteers, because I wanted to see whether providing one with a copyediting job is a default practice, and what form the style sheet took if provided. Note that some editors, as a matter of policy, do not provide style sheets for tests but will provide them for live book-length projects. As this exercise resembled a short test, and I did not request a style sheet, I expected that not everyone would include one.

And not everyone did—just three of seven editors. Two of the submitted style sheets were organized and detailed, reflecting the editors’ long experience with traditional publishers. These greatly helped my review of those editors’ samples. The select debatable items they put on their term lists affirmed that they had spotted the variants and made decisions about them. I also knew what reference resources they were drawing from so had context to understand their choices. The thorough and professional presentation of the style sheets positively influenced my opinion of the editors’ knowledge and capability. While the editors who did not provide a style sheet might have done as good a job on the sample exercises as those editors who did provide one, I had to guess what they noticed or not, based on what I saw changed and unchanged. (Sometimes an editor removed the guessing game by deleting or rewriting a debatable item.)

Including a style sheet in an actual test for a publisher might give an editor a competitive advantage, based on the positive impression it gave in my experiment. And including a style sheet for an author is always a good idea. A style sheet shows that the editor really did examine the manuscript closely and think about fine points. It also gives organized information to the author during later revisions or expansion in a series, making the next round cleaner. At the same time it gives context and detail for any subsequent editors, as well as for the proofreader at the end of the line.

For more information about creating and using style sheets, see Amy Schneider’s four-part series starting with “Thinking Fiction: The Style Sheets Part I: General Style.

Fact checking and formatting

Whether fact checking should be included in copyediting is a scope-of-work item determined between editor and client. Commonly, copyeditors who work for publishers aren’t asked to do fact checking or don’t provide that service, whereas copyeditors who work for indie authors might include it. I did not instruct the volunteer editors on fact checking because I wanted to see if there was any pattern in who did and who didn’t provide the service. I tested it by inserting errors that could be found by simple online lookups, such as whether a mountain range’s formal name included “Hills” or “Mountains,” and the wrong manufacturing date for a vintage car. Four of the seven editors found one or more of these, although none reacted to them all, and I saw no correlation with anyone’s particular background.

At the same time, three editors queried subtle verisimilitude issues that would have embarrassed the author had the details gone through to publication. I had been aware of two of those bloopers but blind to the others; so, as the author in question, I would have been deeply grateful to those sharp editorial eyes (and as the test creator, I was duly embarrassed).

Formatting a manuscript is also considered a scope-of-work variable in copyediting. Here again I did not instruct the volunteers, wanting to see what they did on their own. The majority left the text as they found it, in terms of font, type size, and line spacing. I put one sample in 1.5 spacing instead of industry-standard double spacing; nobody changed it. I set the other one in Courier font; two editors changed it to Times New Roman, and one who let it stand apparently had trouble telling the difference between straight and “curly” apostrophes and quotation marks in that font, for that editor had the highest miss rate in those details.

I also inserted manual tab indents for paragraphs in one of the samples. Only one editor replaced them with automatic indent, as is required for production. A different editor inserted a note advising that they had spotted the tabs and other deviations from industry standard but left them in place, while another editor went for no-indent first paragraphs then auto-indented the rest without remark. Most of these changes were manually applied; only two editors used Word’s style feature on whole text.

Comments and queries

Everybody was polite, professional, and helpful in their comments. Some were so gentle and politically correct in their phrasing that, in my eyes, it undermined their authority. Somewhere there’s a happy medium between bullying and babying, and although everyone in the experiment found that middle ground, some conveyed their expertise and confidence better than others. If I were an author shopping for an editor based on these samples, it would have been easy to determine who best suited my preferences and needs.

At first the number of comments and queries for so little text seemed disproportionately high. Then I realized that some of the editors’ remarks covered subjects I ordinarily put on a style sheet. For instance, I list my grammar/style/spelling resources and operating premises together at the top of my style sheet, whereas some of the editors who did not include a style sheet used comments to explain, for example, that a change was supported by a particular style guide or dictionary.

I’m guessing that the editors made more queries than might be normal because the test was done in a vacuum. In a real job they would have more information than I provided about the story premise, client, and other parameters of the project. For example, the full novel one of the samples came from was loaded with telepathic communication between psychics, which I set in italics. To distinguish telepathy from private thoughts, I kept thoughts in roman type. But I did not give this information to the volunteer editors. One of them, when encountering the direct thought in roman text, selected it and applied italics:

“…but I can still make the autocross on Sunday.” Two hours in the other direction, I didn’t add.

This distraction led the copyeditor to miss the inverted close-quote mark immediately preceding the sentence. If editor had known that thoughts did not have to be italicized, then the editor would not have paused to change or query the sentence and likely would have noticed the punctuation error.

That example was not the only evidence of editors being distracted by adjacent problems. It appeared during highlighting text for comments, too. One editor was so focused on typing up a remark about writing style that they didn’t see this error lying inside the selected text: No more hazy envelop of pulsing bruises; instead, a bright, boundless world begging to be explored. I saw several oversights of that sort among the editors who commented heavily. The lighter-touch editors caught more mechanical errors, presumably because their eyes and minds weren’t bouncing back and forth as much between places on the screen.

Conclusion

What does the experiment teach us? Not much more than we already know. And with a sampling of only seven editors, along with the number of variables being evaluated at one time and my personal bias, we can’t call this a scientific test.

The experiment revealed little insight into the question, “How good is good enough?” Some aspects of that question will be discussed in a future essay covering editorial subjectivity from the author’s point of view.

From my editor’s point of view, the experiment affirmed my expectations. I now feel confident stating that every copyeditor has a different approach and editing style; that most copyeditors will address most elements in a manuscript while never quite attaining perfection; that their understanding of the distinctions between editing tasks varies; and that in the absence of explicit instructions, copyeditors will likely return results different from what the hiring party might expect.

The experiment also supported two beliefs I’ve long adhered to: (a) that a successful editorial job comes from a compatible fit and good communication between editor and client, and (b) that journalist William H. Whyte had it right when he said, “The great enemy of communication…is the illusion of it.”

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

March 28, 2016

Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing Fiction I

by Carolyn Haley

Earlier generations of fiction editors were mentored by old pros at august publishing houses, learning the art and craft of storytelling and producing books to high standards. Things have changed; although there are still old pros cultivating younger editors at important, high-quality houses, their numbers have declined. The editing profession now contains many independent and small-press editors who have entered the field from diverse paths; who have different training; who may have incomplete knowledge of writing, editing, and publishing practices; and who, in some cases, are too naïve or unethical to be handling other people’s work.

Because of this shift, the subjectivity that characterizes editing novels has become more complex — at least for me, who was not educated and seasoned in the traditional book publishing business. Thankfully, my arrival in the industry coincided with the Internet, so I can tap into the collective editorial mind. But that has revealed so many different approaches that I often bog down in pondering choices, reversing decisions, consulting other people, revisiting style guides, and talking more thoroughly with clients in order to make the right judgment call about myriad details. This process might make me a better editor, but it also makes me a slower and more tentative editor. The question that never seems to go away is, “How good is good enough?”

The question may be unanswerable because of subjectivity. What seems to matter, ultimately, is the fit between editor and client and between a novel and its audience.

Objectifying subjectivity

I remain curious and concerned about the weight and importance of subjectivity, and have long wanted to see how different editors would work the same material. So I devised an informal experiment. Emulating a publisher who needs to test editorial candidates’ skills, I created an exercise loaded with traps. Then I called for volunteers among my editorial colleagues. Seven responded, and I sent them the opening pages from two manuscripts (each sample approximately 1,680 words), with the instruction to copyedit either or both samples according to their own understanding of what “copyediting” means. This provided ten samples total.

The sample text came from early drafts of my own novels, now published, and for which I own the rights. I chose this material to avoid any potential problems that could arise from using disguised client text in a public forum. My goal was to see similarities and differences in individual copyeditors’ techniques and accuracy, such as how many and what types of errors were caught, and how comments and queries were handled. I hoped, too, for some single characteristic to emerge that would lead to a profound discovery or conclusion.

The volunteers’ professional editing experience ranged from five to 25 years, representing a mix of fiction and nonfiction; copyediting, line editing, and developmental editing; and working for publishers and independent authors. Although some of the volunteers specialize in copyediting fiction, others aspire to that or prefer a balance of fiction and nonfiction work.

The traps I planted in the exercises were split between technical errors (spelling, grammar, punctuation, factual accuracy, and consistency) and debatable errors (usage, punctuation, and style). By “debatable” I mean items that are open to interpretation or could result from the editors’ adherence to different dictionaries and style guides.

My instructions to the volunteers intentionally did not mention style guides, style sheets, fact checking, and software tools, because I wanted to see what turned up unprompted.

Summary of results

In three areas the editors performed identically:

  1. Everyone used Microsoft Word and its Track Changes feature. All edits were visible, save for global formatting or corrections. And each editor found reasons to use Track Changes’ Comments feature, whether as margin balloons or inline insertions.
  2. Everyone caught almost all (95+ percent) of the technical errors I inserted into the text.
  3. Everyone responded to some percentage of the debatable items.

No one caught every technical error I inserted, although five of seven found errors I hadn’t noticed when I made the tests.

The strongest overall performance came from the most specialized copyeditor who has been working in fiction the longest and for publishers only. The weakest overall performance came from an editor with more than a decade of mixed fiction/nonfiction experience for publishers and indie authors.

Interestingly, an editor with a high miss rate on one sample performed fine on the other sample. This points to state of mind, timing of work session, nature of material, and attention span as variables in the subjectivity equation.

In either test sample, there was no one section where every editor changed or commented on the same thing. Instead, individual styles and sensibilities expressed themselves in small amounts throughout the text. Some editors made minor changes without query or comment, whereas others made similar changes but included explanations and suggested alternative phrasings. Some made so many changes or suggestions it was hard to believe they were copyediting. Indeed, their copyediting resembled what I call line, substantive, or developmental editing. The majority touched the text more than I ever do for a copyediting job.

Technical Errors

The most common type of technical error involved punctuation and spaces. Some of those errors pertained to typography; for example, the editor didn’t spot straight apostrophes (′) and quotation marks (″) that should have been “curly” (i.e., typographer’s style), or attempted to fix them all and missed a few.

It’s possible that the straight/curly subject might not fall into the copyediting scope of work for editors hired by publishing houses. Often, manuscripts from publishers come to the editor mechanically groomed and styled, reducing the number of gremlins the copyeditor needs to address. Or else the copyeditor is informed that quotations marks, dashes, ellipses, and the like will be taken care of by a compositor. That usually isn’t the case for editors working with indie authors, so scope of work when working with indie authors may include more elements of mechanical editing.

The volunteers in my experiment mostly went one way or the other with the curly/straight detail — changed them all, or left them all. I considered either approach allowable. There were two editors, however, who changed straights to curlies but appeared to have done it manually instead of electronically, so some instances remained unchanged. I considered those errors. I also considered it an error to use a single open quotation mark instead of an apostrophe in truncated words. This occurred in one sample that contained the short form of until (til). Three editors revised it to til — which may or may not be correct according to what dictionary you consult — but inserted the wrong punctuation mark. The others left the word alone or replaced it with the alternate, till.

In another instance, the editor apparently was distracted from an inverted close-quote mark by attending to a style change right next to it, so that the following happened at a transition between dialogue and a character’s thought:

“…but I can still make the autocross on Sunday.” Two hours in the other direction, I didn’t add.

The original text did not contain italics. But in the process of selecting and changing the style of the character’s thought from roman to italic, the editor failed to notice the close-quote problem at the end of the previous sentence.

Similar bloopers were spread among the samples, such as an extra space before or after punctuation (e.g., “I— damn it”) and spelling inconsistencies (e.g., Atlantis vs. Atlantic). Most small, subtle oversights of this type can be caught using features available in commercial software tools designed for editors (e.g., EditTools, Editor’s ToolKit, PerfectIt) or built into Word (e.g., find/replace, wildcard find/replace, macros), so I was surprised by how many got through. When I later questioned the editors about what tools they use, I learned that six use a limited selection of tools, and one uses none at all. (One of the six added a twist I didn’t anticipate, claiming to use a few tools for live work but for the experiment thought that using them would be “cheating.”)

The second most common technical error came in the spelling of similar-sounding or similar-looking words (“confusables”): reign/rein, hoard/horde, envelop/envelope, deserts/desserts, breath/breathe. Spellcheck alone won’t catch real words of this sort, so one needs a keen eye enhanced by editorial software tools and macros to find them all in a text.

One editor made a good case for this by not catching typos in critical proper nouns—for instance, a main character’s name (Dru vs. Drew). This editor’s custom is to make only a few specific find/replace passes in Word for global mechanical details (e.g., double spaces after periods), which won’t catch names or spelling variants. For those, you need something like PerfectIt, or Paul Beverley’s ProperNounAlyse, or EditTools’ Never Spell Word, or just paying close attention to Word’s spellchecker, which will stop on “Jon” after you’ve hit Ignore All when accepting “John.”

In general, the results compiled for all seven editors showed a strong correlation between a high number of spelling, punctuation, and consistency errors and a low number of support tools used. The correlation is not absolute, however. The editor with least experience in fiction, who speaks British instead of American English, and used only one tool, performed above midpack.

Part II continues with a discussion of the experiment’s results relating to debatable errors, fact checking, formatting, style sheets, comments, and queries.

Related essays on An American Editor:

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

March 23, 2016

Editing for a Client’s Direct Competitor

Ethics are a set of principles that govern and define “right conduct.” They are the rules or standards that govern one’s conduct. And that is where the editing profession separates from many other professions — e.g., law, medicine, accounting, even securities sales — the editing profession does not have a set of standards or rules of conduct against which we are measured and for which we are held accountable. This is a major failing of the editing profession; it is a failing that if corrected — by which I mean not only is there a standard code of conduct with authoritative interpretations, but there is also a means of enforcement — would, I think eliminate many of the “ethical” problems we encounter and make us more professional and valuable in the eyes of our clients.

In the absence of such a code, there is only peer pressure and guidance when questions arise. Instead of addressing our questions to a recognizable authority whose decisions would bind us, we resort to posting our questions in numerous online forums, and accumulate answers from a variety of people whom we do not know.

And so I add to this confusion.

The questions

A colleague asked whether it is ethical to accept editing work from a direct competitor to the colleague’s primary client. The competitor publishes the same type of publication in the same field and on the same topics as the primary client. The questions my colleague had were these:

  1. Can I accept the proffered work from the competitor?
  2. If I accept the work, do I need to tell either the competitor or the client or both that I have accepted work from the other?
  3. If I work for a packager who has several of the same clients as I have, am I obligated to reject direct offers of work from those clients?

As is true of most questions of ethics, there are more questions that arise from these scenarios that can be asked. These questions, however, provide us with a fine start.

Can I accept the proffered
work from the competitor?

I begin with the supposition that the person asking the question is a freelancer. My answer would be different if the asker were employed by one of the parties.

The very essence of being a freelancer is that I work for multiple clients, many of whom have overlapping products. My clients recognize this and do not put obstacles in my path designed to limit with whom I can contract. (Some packagers are notorious for attempting to do precisely this — limiting whom a freelancer can contract with — by requiring noncompetition contracts. For a discussion of these contracts, see “The Business of Editing: Noncompetition Agreements.”) It is part of the “grand bargain” between freelance editor and publishing client.

There is also a practicality involved. If Jones and Davis have written a book for Publisher X on the history of penguins in the American Civil War, and Smith has also written a book for Publisher X on the same topic, and you have been asked to edit both, there is no obvious reason why you shouldn’t take both projects (assuming they meet your other criteria for project acceptance). It is unlikely, in the absence of plagiarism, that the two books will be the same below the surface of general subject matter. All else being equal, there is no ethical reason why you couldn’t edit both books.

Suppose the Jones and Davis book was being published by Publisher X and the Smith book was being published by Publisher Y and you have been asked to edit both books. The only thing that has changed is that instead of a single publisher there are two competing publishers. All else being equal, there is no ethical reason why you couldn’t edit both books.

The point is that in publishing, except in the case of plagiarism, no two products are identical; they may be similar, but they are not identical. Consequently, there is no reason why you cannot accept work from multiple publishers. In the same vein, every publisher competes with every other publisher in the sense that they are all publishers. But freelancers are expected by the publishers to work with multiple publishers; in fact they want that because to do otherwise raises the question of whether you are a freelancer or an employee — just ask the IRS.

If I accept the work, do I need to tell
either the competitor or the client or both
that I have accepted work from the other?

There is no ethical obligation to disclose to other clients who your clients are. Just as your clients would not disclose to you whom they are hiring to edit their books or the amount they are actually paying a particular freelancer, you are under no obligation to notify your clients of new clients.

The easiest way to think about this “obligation” is to think in terms of whether the IRS would consider required disclosure to be a sign of an employee. The more control a publisher exercises over your business dealings with others, the less of a freelancer you are. If you are truly an independent business, you have no obligation — legal or ethical — to disclose your clients.

Besides, what would be the value of disclosure to the client of accepting work from a competitor? Remember that your client has no obligation to send you a specific amount of work or any work at all. Consequently, today’s client may be tomorrow’s past client. Disclosure serves no purpose.

Just as you have no ethical obligation to disclose the competitor to your client, you have no ethical obligation to disclose the client to the competitor. Except as a statement to demonstrate experience in the field, disclosure serves no purpose for the competitor.

If I work for a packager who has several
of the same clients as I have, am I obligated
to reject direct offers of work from those clients?

Here the answer is a little trickier. If you have signed a noncompetition agreement, then the answer is “maybe.” If you have not signed such an agreement, the answer is no.

Few copyeditors sign noncompetition agreements and when they do, the agreement is usually limited to clients of the packager that are not already clients of the freelancer. (If the clients you are not supposed to solicit work from are not specifically named in the agreement, then you should absolutely refuse to sign the agreement. Importantly, you should make sure that none of your current or past clients are included as a named client.) Some less-scrupulous packagers refuse to name specific clients that you are not to solicit work from and insist the agreement covers any of the packager’s current, former, or future clients. If you have signed such a blanket agreement, then you need to reject offers that do not come through the packager.

In the absence of such an agreement, there is no reason why you should reject such proffered work. Nor is there a reason why you should only accept work that comes through the packager. Remember that you are an independent business. That you have overlapping clients is just part of being in business in the same field.

Deciding ethical questions

Ethics are moored in one’s view of what is honest and just, tempered by what is necessary and, in the case of the independent business, what is businesslike. Because we have no universal code of ethics and conduct, what is ethical is left up to each of us to determine. However, there is nothing wrong with asking: “What would [insert name] do under these circumstances?”

It is also okay to ask colleagues you know and trust, especially those who you believe exercise good ethics. I do not think that ethics is a matter of voting, which is often what asking a question on a public forum amounts to. Being ethical is doing right. It is as simple as that.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 16, 2016

The Business of Editing: The Standard Editing Workday & Workweek

We all know that standards are important. It is why we use dictionaries and usage guides and we argue about whether we should or should not use serial commas. All of these things are important standards of editing — after all, if we cannot agree on how to use our language, we will have a great deal of difficulty in communicating accurately our thoughts.

Editorial decisions, however, are not where standardization either begins or ends for the freelance editor. Standards are also important in the business of editing.

Making Business Decisions

Consider how you make business decisions. For example, you need a foundation from which to springboard your decision whether to accept a project and on what terms. That foundation, which should be the same across projects, is your standard, and it needs to be articulable.

In my practice, I always start from what I call the standard editing day and standard editing workweek. From this foundation flow all of my decisions regarding a project, including whether to accept it, the schedule, the fee, the number of editors required, what tasks can/will be done, and so on. To make business decisions you must know within what parameters you will work, and the standard editing day/workweek sets those parameters.

The Importance of the Standard

Why is the standard editing day/workweek so important? Because it sets the timeframe upon which all negotiations are based. As we have discussed before, clients assume that because we are freelancers, we are available to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, and no matter what the demands of the project, that we will accept whatever the client perceives to be appropriate pay. I make it very clear to clients that our discussion begins with the standard editing day/workweek, which is defined as:

five hours of editing per day, five days per week (Monday through Friday), exclusive of holidays. The standard editing day/workweek does not include weekends (Saturday and Sunday) or extended hours (more than five editing hours per editing day) in the absence of additional compensation.

Clients often have unrealistic expectations. I have had clients who have correctly determined that the manuscript is a mess and needs extensive editing but still think an editing speed of 20 pages an hour is easily achievable. The client then calculates that the 1,000-page manuscript should take no more than 50 hours and thus a two-week schedule is more than sufficient. Not too many years ago, I had a client tell me that a 13,000-page medical manuscript should be editable in 10 weeks. Unreasonable expectations?

Yes, the expectations are unreasonable for a single editor who is not working 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and are probably unreasonable even for the editor who is working those hours. But how do you explain to a client that what the client expects is unreasonable? It has to begin with making the client recognize that there is a standard editing day/workweek, just as there is a standard workday and workweek for the client’s employees.

The 115% Rule

In discussions with colleagues, some have told me that they edit more than five hours per day and, if the project demands it, more than five days each week. But that misses the point. It is not that an editor cannot work more hours and days; the point is that it should be your decision to work more hours in a day and more days in the week — it should not be an uncompensated client expectation.

There is a rule of behavior in play: If you routinely give 110% for the same price you gave 100%, next week you will have to give 115% for the 100% price and 115% will become the new normal, the new expectation, the new standard against which you will be judged — until it becomes 120%.

Thus my standard editing day/workweek.

Assessing a Project

I assess every proffered project beginning with my standard editing day/workweek. (Actually, my very first step is determine the true page count and the true level of editing the manuscript will require. That information is the most fundamental information as it affects all subsequent decisions.) I know how many pages an hour I can edit; I know how many pages an hour I can be edit depending on whether the required level of editing is “light,” “medium,” or “heavy,” the subject matter, and the number of references and reference style.

Consequently, I know that a medium-level edit of a 2,800-page biology text with thousands of references cannot be done in four standard editing workweeks. To do so would require editing 28 manuscript pages per hour; I cannot edit at that speed and meet the editorial needs of the manuscript and the client.

When I tell the client that the schedule is unrealistic, I need to do so in terms the client can understand and (hopefully) will accept — the pages per hour I would be required to edit based on the standard editing day/workweek. Determining that rate depends on establishing my standard editing day/workweek and conveying the concept to the client.

The Explanation

The explanation begins with establishing the parameters the standard editing day/workweek. I always speak in terms of standard. And I always explain to a client that when I speak of a five-hour standard editing day, I mean five hours of actual editing, not a five-hour day that includes some time spent editing. My workday may be seven hours, but two hours are nonediting hours — time spent making tea, answering email, bookkeeping, etc.

After laying out why the proposed four-week schedule won’t work with a standard editing day/workweek, I provide other possibilities, such as extending the standard editing workweek to seven days without also extending the standard editing day, and extending the standard editing day from five to six hours while keeping a seven-day editing workweek, and so on. After a few examples, I provide the client with three schedules that will work: one is the schedule required using the standard editing day and standard workweek, which would be at the usual fee; the second using an extended workday and a six-day workweek, which would be at a higher fee; and the third using an extended workday and a seven-day workweek, which would be at the highest fee.

The Standard in Practice

Using a standard editing day/workweek when evaluating a project is important. It sets the foundation for bargaining about fees and schedule. I know that editors can be desperate for work. I know of editors who are willing to accept projects that require editing more pages an hour than they can read in an hour when reading a novel for pleasure. I am also aware of clients who are willing to exploit the glut of people who claim to be editors to demand impossible schedules with impossible levels of editing quality by threatening to give the work to someone else. I am also aware of the difficulty in negotiating with clients. And I am aware that some colleagues think I provide too much explanation to clients.

It seems to me that the more detailed the explanation given a client, the stronger your bargaining position. Imagine a client asking you to edit the 2,800-page manuscript in four weeks. If you say no, you lose the project. If you say you need a fee twice usual but give no supporting explanation, how likely is it you will get the job? Or the fee? If you say yes but require a 16-week schedule and give no explanation why, how likely is it you will be given the project and the 16-week schedule?

Even if after a detailed explanation I do not get the current project, I do not consider having given the detailed explanation a waste of time because the client can see that I have reasons for my positions and am willing to offer solutions. Clients are also made aware that there needs to be a balance between schedule, fee, and quality. Based on past experience, I will be asked to undertake a future project, perhaps even one where the client has already preapplied my analysis.

The standard editing day/workweek is an important part of the foundation that establishes an editor as a professional.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 2, 2016

The Business of Editing: Saying Yes, Then No

This past week has been nightmare week for me. A couple of weeks ago, a long-time client asked me to take on two large projects. After dickering back-and-forth over price and schedule, we finally came to an agreement.

As we were getting ready to begin the two projects, the client wrote saying that its client wants faster schedules, essentially cutting the schedules in half. That began the downhill slide.

The only way these projects could be edited at the level requested and in the style required by my client and their client was to add additional editors to each project and for each editor to work longer than the standard editing workday and workweek.

Not only were these projects long and the writing problematic, but the one project had 6300 references and the second had 3000 references, none of which were in the correct format. And this became battle number one because the problem with the references wasn’t that they weren’t either in or very close to a standard style, but that my client’s client was insisting that they be wholly changed. For example, in the 3000-page manuscript, if the author had submitted journal names as N Engl J Med, that had to be changed to N. Engl. J. Med. I suggested to my client that its client should be persuaded to accept the author’s basic style, which is a standard style, and make sure that all references conform to that standard style rather than trying to redo all of those references.

That was complicated by how the author called out references in the text. The author used a numbering system but not of the style required. In addition, the references were not called out in order. Instead of 1, 2, 3, 4, it was 135, 17, 55, 1, which meant the references had to be reordered.

The troubles piled on.

It isn’t that each of these problems couldn’t be dealt with; they could be dealt with. The problem was that all of the problems needed to be corrected and the manuscript given a “medium” edit and everything completed in less than 4 weeks — and neither the client nor the client’s client would budge, even though this was 6 fewer weeks than agreed upon when I agreed to take on the project.

(The second project had similar, but not identical problems, and its schedule was cut from 6 weeks to 3 weeks.)

It is my policy not to accept work where the schedule and price do not relate. These projects had changed from ones where they did gel to ones where they did not gel. Consequently, I advised my client that we could not do the work under the new schedules without additional compensation and without my client doing some of the mechanical work inhouse.

I sent a proposal outlining what work needed to be shifted to my client and the new price I wanted. Negotiations ensued but in the end, neither my client nor its client were willing to pay more money. As a result, I said no to the projects.

Truthfully, I am perplexed by how clients think about freelancers. None of the people I deal with would donate their time to their companies, yet they expect freelancers to do so. How do they come to the conclusion that we will?

I guess the answer is that many freelancers are willing to do whatever is demanded in order to have some work. The result is that expectation becomes the expectation about all freelancers. This argument has gone on for decades, albeit usually in the guise of hourly or per-page rates, that when a freelancer accepts a low rate, the freelancer makes it difficult for other freelancers to earn a higher rate.

So far this year I have turned down eight projects because there was no balance between the fee and the requirements, including schedule. What bothers me is that I know that the projects I have turned down are being gobbled up by someone else, which makes me wonder how other freelancers earn enough to survive.

Over my 32 years as a freelancer, I have learned that it is not wise to undercut myself by accepting work that makes excessive demands and refuses to compensate appropriately. I realize that once I do accept such work, it is difficult to say no to that client on future projects.

In my early years, before I became wise, I once agreed to give a client a break. I thought I would demonstrate I was a “team player” and concerned about not only my own well-being but my client’s well-being. Foolish me. What I learned is that corporations have no soul, just bean counters. The one who made out was my inhouse contact. My client demanded the same break on the next project and told me that it was clear I could accept those terms because I already had.

That was a valuable lesson for me. I learned that if I didn’t watch out for myself, no one else would watch out for me. I also learned that how I deal with a client sets that client’s expectations for dealing with me. If I want my services to be viewed as valuable, then I must treat them as valuable. If I cheapen the value of my services, my clients will do the same.

When it comes to my clients, I need to be their leader and not be led by them. I know that some of my colleagues think I go into too much detail when I explain to a client why I require certain things or cost more than other editors. But I view that detail as education — education for the client who may not understand why a particular project needs to cost more than the usual fee; education for the client about why my services are valuable, perhaps much more valuable than that of my competition, to the client and to me; and education of the client as to how projects should be evaluated before offering the project to me or to any freelancer.

The bottom line is that we should not be afraid to say no to a project whose parameters have changed — we should not be afraid to say yes, then no.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

 

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