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

April 8, 2013

The Business of Editing: Expectations

The clash between client and editor often is caused by unmet expectations — the client’s expectations as to what services the editor will provide within what time frame and for what price.

In the negotiations between client and editor, the client wants more for less and the editor wants more for less: The client wants more work for less money, the editor wants more money for less work. This is just like every other business negotiation, except for one thing: client and editor expectations are rarely expressed; the parties act as if the other side already knows what the other expects.

The clash arises because clients expect an editor to do whatever it takes to make the client’s manuscript near-perfect regardless of the balance between the expectation and the rate of pay/time given to do the work, and editors feel pressure to do whatever is need to make a manuscript near-perfect, even if the pay, the time given to do the work, or both are inadequate. Both parties are wrong.

The most difficult thing to impress upon colleagues, something I have repeated over the years, is that compensation (which includes the time allotted to do the work) and work must correlate. If you are being paid a copyedit wage, then you copyedit, not developmental edit. If the manuscript needs a developmental edit, alert the client, explain why it is needed, and explain for what should be at least the second time why you are not doing it. And, clearly, if you are expected to do a developmental edit within a copyedit timeframe, explain — multiple times, if necessary — why you cannot.

Recently, an editor lamented that a client had an unrealistic expectation as regards how many pages an hour the editor should churn on a particular project. (I use churn to mean move through, to edit. Although technically this is not a correct use of the word, I find that the number of pages to edit in an hour has much in common with the idea of the frequent buying and selling of securities, which is a meaning of churn. Churn out, the transitive verb form, is perhaps closer in meaning to my use as editorial churn, in that it refers to producing mechanically or copiously, to which I would add nearly robotically.) The manuscript needed a developmental edit and the client expected not only the developmental edit but a churn rate of 10 to 12 pages an hour. The editor, however, was not being paid for such an edit.

The editor’s obligation is to provide the best editing the editor can within the parameters set by the client. If the client’s parameters include churn of 10 to 12 pages an hour, then the editor should strive to meet that churn goal and do the best editing job that the editor can at that rate on that manuscript. If the editing level decreases because of the churn and the complexity of the manuscript, the editor also has an obligation to alert the client to the editing limitations that result because of the churn rate required. It is then the client’s obligation to determine what balance is desirable.

But the immutable law, as far as I am concerned, is this: An editor does not owe a client a near-perfect edit of a manuscript; the editor owes the client the best edit that balances against the fiscal and time constraints imposed by the client — nothing more, nothing less. It is unreasonable to give a Mercedes performance when you are given a Yugo to drive. It is unreasonable to provide a Yugo when you want a Mercedes performance. Give a Yugo, receive a Yugo; give a Mercedes receive a Mercedes.

I make it very clear to clients the difference between a copyedit and a developmental edit (I usually refer them to my article, Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor.) I also make it clear that the faster the churn rate, the less careful the editing will be. Some clients not only expect a high churn rate but a multipass edit. Perhaps if the churn expectation is 5 pages an hour, it is reasonable to expect at least a two-pass edit, which makes the effective churn rate 10 pages an hour, but that is certainly not true when the churn expectation is 10 pages an hour, which would make the effective rate 20 pages an hour with a second pass.

However, there are two problems that must be addressed. Both stem from how the editor is paid. If an editor is on an hourly rate, the client often sets a budget based on the expected churn rate (i.e., manuscript size ÷ churn rate = number of hours; number of hours × hourly rate = budget). However, an editor may not be aware of the budget and thus expect that every hour spent editing will be compensated. If there is an upper limit, a budget amount, the editor needs to determine the maximum number of hours for which the client will pay and scale the editorial services accordingly. If the client is not forthcoming about the compensation limitations, then the editor needs to make it clear upfront that the editor expects to be paid for the time spent regardless of whether or not it exceeds the client’s budget (subject, of course, to the ethical constraints discussed in The Business of Editing: The Ethics of Billing).

If the editor is paid on a per-page or project basis, the total fee does not change regardless of the number of hours. Consequently, if the editor spends 20 hours or 100 hours editing, the fee remains the same. As in the hourly situation, the editor needs to balance the fee the editor will receive against the client’s editorial expectations — before beginning editing or by the time the first pages are edited. Exactly what services the editor will provide for the fee to be earned needs to be spelled out so that there is no confusion on the part of either party. However, should the editor not take this step and discuss any editing limitations, then, in the circumstance of the per-page or project basis for compensation, the client is entitled to Mercedes performance even if the editor is paid a Yugo fee — as long as the client has made the Mercedes expectation clear before the compensation was agreed to.

Sometimes there can be no meeting of the minds: the client is unwilling to lower expectations or raise the fee or do both. In this instance, the editor should bail from the project, assuming that this discussion is taking place at the beginning of the project and not in the middle. If in the middle of the project, the editor should offer the client the option to either pay for work done and find another editor to complete the project or to accept a defined level of editing that meets the client’s churn expectations, even if it doesn’t meet the client’s editorial expectations, and which balances against the fee being paid.

The more clarity the editor brings to the project, by which I mean the more the editor explains the balance, the more likely it is that the editor and the client will work together amicably. It is important to remember that it is the editor who is initially dissatisfied with the lack of balance between expectations and pay; thus, it is the editor’s obligation to educate the client as to the need for the balance and as to what will meet that need. The client’s obligation is to listen, understand, and correct the misbalance in a way that is satisfactory to both the client and the editor.

But under no circumstance should the editor voluntarily (especially not while grumbling about it) accept the misbalance between expectation and compensation. Ultimately, the editor must say, “This is what I will do for this compensation — nothing more, nothing less — and I will do it expertly and professionally, but I will not provide [fill-in the blank, e.g., developmental edit] for the price of [e.g., a copyedit].” Editors must educate their clients about editing, and not assume that clients are already educated about it.

Most importantly, editors must realize that this is a business relationship and must be treated as one. I understand the need of editors to do the near-perfect edit on every job. Unfortunately, our creditors are unwilling to accept a near-perfect edit as payment. An editor who feels she cannot compromise on the edit to be delivered, such as doing a one-pass edit when she would normally do a two-pass edit, should then decline jobs that require compromised editing; happiness in what we do should be our number one motivation.

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