An American Editor

June 28, 2017

From the Archives: What to Charge (Part V)

(The following essay was originally published on
An American Editor on August 19, 2013.)

The previous four parts of this series (I, II, III, and IV) discussed the effective hourly rate, how to calculate it, and how track it. The remaining question, as several colleagues have noted to me, is: “Why bother?”

Professional editing is a business. If it were a hobby, it would not matter whether or not we made a profit because we would be pursuing editing purely for our love of editing. Yet, for most of us, editing is a business, and as a business we need to be concerned with profit and loss. Even businesses that are organized as nonprofits need to be concerned with profit and loss. The difference between a for-profit and a nonprofit business arrangement is that the former distributes any profit to its “owners” whereas the latter uses any profit to further its goals (i.e., there is no distribution to owners because there are no “owners”).

A business cannot make a profit if it does not generate income in excess of its costs of doing business. It’s a simple concept but one that seems to be just outside the grasp of many business owners.

Knowing whether we are making a profit or suffering a loss is important to editors because we, just like all other businesses, need to constantly evaluate whether what we are doing is worth continuing to do. If we are not making a profit and if we cannot adjust what we are doing so that we do make a profit, perhaps we need to pursue a different career path or conduct our business differently.

Tracking one’s effective hourly rate (EHR) is a way to determine the health of one’s business. It is also an alert system to tell us if and when we need to make adjustments in how we operate our business.

If we know, for example, that no matter what we do, our current client base will not pay a rate higher than $20 an hour (or its equivalent), and if we know that our EHR, as we are currently operating, needs to be higher than what our client base is willing to pay (the required EHR), then we know that we need to make adjustments in how we conduct our business.

This is the critical and most important reason to know and track the EHR. When we operate without knowledge of our EHR, we assume that if we bring in $1,000, it represents mostly profit. This is the allure of the hourly rate: an hourly rate makes us believe that we are earning a decent income because we are assured that for every hour we work, we earn that hourly rate. In real-world business, however, it is not so simple.

Editors, like all businesses, have a production line. I know we do not like to think in those terms, but the fact is that we do operate a production line. (A “production line” is not synonymous with “assembly line.” Production line refers to the manner and order in which we do our work.) We receive a manuscript and we take certain steps in dealing with the manuscript, steps that we repeat with each project. For example, the first thing we may do is clean up the file to remove extraneous elements like extra spaces. Then we may break out reference lists from the main text, or put figure legends in a separate file, or insert bookmarks, or whatever. Ultimately we get to the editing phase, but it is rarely the very first thing we do.

As part of our production line we may do multiple passes. We may do a rough edit, then a second edit, then a cleanup, then a final pass to search for anything we may have missed. What exactly each of us does is not as important as that we recognize we have these steps and that we can articulate them. The articulation is important because part of what we need to do if we are not making a profit is determine what steps in the production line can be omitted or modified so as to make the step more efficient.

One publisher, for example, looks for the least-expensive editor who meets certain minimal qualifications and then provides a multipage checklist of things it expects the editor to do. There are several interesting aspects to the list, one of which is the blurring of the roles of the developmental editor and the copyeditor. The publisher expects copyeditors to fulfill both functions for one very low price. In addition, the publisher has its own style. which differs from standard styles in small, subtle ways. However, failure to comply with the publisher’s house style results in requests for the editor to repeatedly go over the manuscript to fix it for no additional fee.

Faced with not earning the EHR, an editor has to determine what changes can and must be made in the editor’s production line in order to earn the EHR. Will, for example, eliminating a second or third pass over the manuscript reduce the hours sufficiently to raise the EHR? Will changing the production line to a single-pass process do the trick? What other adjustments can be made that will result in increasing the EHR? Or does the editor need to drop this particular client? Can the editor afford to drop this client (i.e., how easily can the revenue this client generates be replaced)?

The reason to bother with calculating and tracking the EHR is to create a foundation for making business decisions. Bringing in revenue of $50,000 a year is nice, but meaningless, if we do not know what our cost of doing business is or whether the procedures we follow are hampering, increasing, or having no effect on our profitability — or even how many hours we need to work to make that income. It is also meaningless if we do not know whether doing work for a particular client is profitable. If working for a particular publisher is not and cannot be profitable, should we not know this so we can decide whether or not to drop the publisher and find other clients?

Perhaps even more importantly, bothering with the EHR lets an editor determine how well the editor is doing over time. Is the editor’s speed and efficiency and productivity increasing or decreasing or remaining stable — month to month, year to year?

The EHR also spreads the earning requirements over the full work week, thus accounting for the nonbillable time we need to devote to business, such as for marketing. It also is (usually) a rate we can more realistically expect clients to accept. More importantly, unlike an hourly rate, the EHR forces us to think in terms of a business week and not just in terms of billable hours. Too many small business owners think that the only hours that are part of the business calculation are the billable hours, which is incorrect.

Finally, the EHR, unlike an hourly rate, lets us fully measure productivity and efficiency. The more productive and efficient we are, the more often we exceed our EHR. When we charge by the hour, we can never exceed that hourly rate.

The EHR is foundational information that acts as a guide to business decision making. It is something against which a business can measure what the business is doing and determine whether the business is on the correct path or needs to alter its course — making calculating the EHR worthwhile.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 26, 2017

From the Archives: What to Charge (Part IV)

(The following essay was originally published on
An American Editor on August 14, 2013.)

Originally, part IV was scheduled to be the last part of this series, and was to tackle the question, “Why bother?” However, what was part IV is now part V. The change was made because I have received several requests for clarification on how to determine what to charge. The confusion seems to stem from two things:

  1. The effective hourly rate (EHR) discussed in parts I, II, and III, is based on a 40-hour work week. The calculated EHR is what is needed to be earned each hour of that 40-hour work week. This does not mean that you must have 40 billable hours, just that this is the EHR that each hour has to earn even if the earning has to be compressed into 20 billable hours.
  2. I did not take the calculation to the final step, which is determining the actual hourly rate. I assumed that readers would be able to make that final step themselves. I have been using the EHR for so many years that what to do seems obvious to me, but in reality, it is not so obvious — as readers have pointed out — and so that is the topic of this post: How do you calculate the actual hourly charge?

For purposes of this example, let’s change the dynamic a bit. Although we’ll retain the $30 per hour charge, the 20 billable hours per week, and the 40-hour work week for purposes of calculating our current net EHR, let’s make our expense number a more realistic $4.60 per hour (based on these monthly expenses allocated to the business: rent/mortgage = $500; heat, water, and electric = $200; telephone = $40; and maintenance = $50). This changes our net EHR to $10.40 ($15 gross EHR − $4.60 expenses) based on a 40-hour work week.

(If your work week is only 30 hours, the method of calculation is the same but the numbers change. For a 30-hour work week, your gross EHR would be $20 and the same expenses would equal $6.13 per hour, giving a net EHR of $13.87. The figures change because the number of hours over which the EHR has to be earned has changed. You need to calculate the EHR using your work week, expenses, and hourly charge.)

Although some readers think we only need to pay attention to billable hours, that is not true. It is true that in a 40-hour work week we do not bill for 40 hours; we do have administrative matters and marketing, for example, that need to be addressed for which we cannot directly bill a client. But these are no different from the rent. They need to be paid for and every business calculates what it needs to charge customers by including time spent on nonbillable matters. The same is true for sick days and vacation time. These items are part of the expense of doing business; we just cannot give them precise numbers like we can give rent.

Consequently, the hourly charge that we determine accounts for the facts that we have only so many billable hours in a week and we also have hours in the week that we have to devote to nonbillable matters.

If we were to use the net EHR we calculated ($10.40), your average weekly earnings, after expenses, would be $416 or a yearly income after expenses of $21,632. But our goal is for that yearly income to be $50,000.

Here are the steps we need to take to obtain the EHR data and calculate how much we need to charge to reach our goal of $50,000 after expenses:

  1. Calculate the EHR for $50,000:
    $50,000 ÷ 52 weeks = $961.54 per week
    $961.54 ÷ 40 hours = $24.04 EHR
  2. Add the expenses to the EHR because the EHR currently only represents our net income (after expenses) goal
    $24.04 EHR + $4.60 expenses per hour = $28.64 EHR
    (or an average gross weekly income of $1,145.60 which translates to gross yearly earnings of $59,571.20)
  3. Calculate the number of billable hours in a year:
    20 billable hours per week × 52 weeks = 1,040 per year
  4. To determine the hourly rate you have to charge, divide the gross annual income by the number of billable hours:
    $59,571.20 ÷ 1,040 billable hours = $57.28 per hour

Now you know what you have to bill per hour to have a net annual income of $50,000 while having only 20 billable hours a week.

Your question is: This number can be calculated without calculating the EHR, so why go through the trouble of calculating the EHR? Why not go to the heart of the matter directly?

The answer is that few of us can directly charge the hourly rate we need to earn. How many of your clients would knowingly pay you $60 an hour for copyediting? Most of us have difficulty transparently charging and collecting that amount, especially if we work for publishers. That is why we began this series with the hourly charge of $30.

We need to calculate the net EHR to see what we are really earning under our current charging scheme. Most of us see that this week we brought in $600 and the week before we brought in $900 and last year we had a gross income of $41,628. And we also see that when it came time to pay the rent, we paid it, even if we struggled to do so — the same being true of our other bills. But few of us really know what we are really earning, and in the absence of knowing that, we have no foundation on which to evaluate the manner in which we run our business.

The hourly charge figure tells us that if we want to continue our current way of doing business, we need to double our hourly charge (from $30 to $60). In other words, our current business methods are not sustainable at the level of our economic goal.

The $28.64 EHR, which is based on your economic goal, tells you what hourly rate you need to average over the 40-hour work week in order to meet your economic goal. This number is important because it is often a more achievable number. It is also an argument for abandoning the hourly rate method for the per-page or project-fee method of billing, because, unlike the hourly method, these methods reward you for productivity and efficiency.

The result is that with these three numbers in hand, you are in a position to evaluate your current business and can align your goals with your decision regarding what and how to charge. For example, if you know you need to charge $60 an hour for 20 billable hours to meet your goal, you can either find clients willing to pay that rate, increase the number of billable hours in your work week, or lower your economic goal. If you increase your billable hours from 20 to 30, the hourly charge drops by approximately one-third, from $57.28 to $38.19 (or from $60 to $40). (Note: The EHR does not change. The EHR changes only if the work week total hours change and/or the economic goal changes.)

In my experience, it has been impossible to charge the hourly rate I would need to meet my economic goals. On the other hand, by analyzing my work habits, increasing my productivity and efficiency, and using a per-page/project-fee method of charging, I have been able to meet, and almost always exceed, my required EHR. There are weeks when I do not meet the EHR over the course of the work week hours, but those weeks are made up for by the weeks that I exceed my EHR.

The EHR also serves as the standard against which I judge my business. I evaluate clients and projects based on the EHR. Clients whose projects regularly do not meet or exceed my EHR become ex-clients, because I know they cannot be made profitable.

I am not in business to lose money or not meet my goals, which is why I rely on the EHR and review it constantly. Are you in business to lose money? Under your current setup, how do you know whether you are making or losing money, and if you are making money, how much you are really making?

Next is part V, which tackles the question: “Why bother?”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 21, 2017

From the Archives: What to Charge (Part III)

(The following essay was originally published on
An American Editor on August 12, 2013.)

In parts I and II of Business of Editing: What to Charge, we discussed the effective hourly rate (EHR), how to calculate a true EHR, why it is important to have a definition of what constitutes a manuscript page, and why I think it is smarter to charge by the page or project rather than by the hour. But knowing your required EHR is not enough; you need to track it as well.

I use two programs to track my EHR: Timeless Time & Expense (TT&E) and Microsoft Excel. In the case of TT&E, I am using an older version because it does all that I need. TT&E is not freeware and it is a bit pricey if all you want is to track time, but I like that it makes it easy to track multiple projects. In any event, what you need is a good timing program that will track how much time you spend on a project and give you a total time.

Excel is a program that most of you are familiar with. However, as with TT&E, it is not necessary to use Excel; any quality spreadsheet program will do.

Tracking time is key. I round total time up to the nearest quarter hour. For example, if the total time I spent on a project is 25 hours and 1 minute (25:01), I enter that as 25.25 hours. I know that somewhere along the line I missed timing a few minutes of work, so this is a way to compensate.

Another thing I do is track the time based on billing cycles. If a project is to be billed only upon completion, then I track the time until the project is complete and being billed and use the single total time. If the project is being billed in batches, then I track the time for each batch and enter the time in Excel batch by batch.

As you can see from the following image, I use a simple form to track important data.

In the sample, I have given a spread of per-page price ranges. The key, of course, is to maximize price and minimize hours. (I know that some of you will point out the high pages-edited-per-hour rate that this illustration uses. The pages and hours shown are taken from a real project. Remember, however, that this is an illustration and your figures will differ.)

What is important is that even at the lowest per-page price of $2 per page, the EHR exceeded the required EHR of $25 (based on editing 16 pages an hour; at a rate of 13 pages per hour, the EHR would still be exceeded but at 12 pages an hour, it would not be met. However, at $2.50 per page, where the illustration has a 19 pages-edited-per-hour rate, even at a rate of 12 pages per hour the EHR would be exceeded). This illustrates that it is possible to have a low rate and still meet and exceed the required EHR if you are efficient and productive. Do not, however, take this as an argument for a low per-page rate, nor an indication that you will always exceed the required EHR, nor an indication that one can always edit at such a high pages-per-hour rate — this is just an illustration of how to calculate and track the EHR.

If the per-page rate had been $2 for the whole project, the EHR would have been $38.45 based on the numbers. However, to achieve that EHR, the editor would have had to average, as indicated in the image, 19.23 pages an hour. Depending on the project and the parameters of the project, that may be doable.

But we stray off course.

The key to determining what to charge is determining your required EHR. But to determine that EHR, you have to have accumulated data. In the beginning, you guess, but as data accumulates, you can be more precise in your calculation. The important data are the EHR for each batch of submitted manuscript, as well as for the entire project, and your average number of pages edited per hour (shown in the image at the bottom far right).

Unfortunately, the image doesn’t show the column labels. Column A is the Date; B is Batch #; C is Number of Pages; D is Per-page Rate; E is Number of Hours; F is EHR; G is Charge; H is Total; and K is the Average Pages/Hour. You need the column information for the following Excel formulas to make sense.

Although the information is important, columns A and B are not needed to calculate any of the other data in the table.

The formula to calculate the EHR of column F is:

=IF(E11=0,””,(C11*D11)/E11)

where, for example, E11 represents the data in column E row 11. The “” is an instruction to leave the cell in column F blank if the data in E11 equals 0.

To calculate the Charge of column G, use the formula:

=SUM(C11*D11)

The Total column (H) needs two formulas. The first is only for the very first row of data, which in this example is row 11:

=SUM(G11)

The formula is that simple because in this instance, the Charge and the Total are identical. To calculate subsequent Totals by row, the formula is:

=SUM(G12+H11)

which means to add the new Charge found in this row (G12) to the Total in the row immediately above (H11) so that the Total in this row is a running total. Remember that the numbers (e.g., 12 in G12) represent the row number; the letter represents the column.

All of the data is row-centric; that is, the calculations are for the row only. The exception is the Total column, which is a running total.

The Profit/Loss Data row is where we get our overall information. The formulas for the various entries are as follows:

Total Pages: =SUM(C11:C22)
Total Hours: =SUM(E11:E22)
Ave Effect Hrly Rate: =IF(E24=0,””,G24/E24)
Total Billed: =SUM(G11:G22)
Project Gross Profit: =SUM(G24-D24)

Finally, the formula for the Ave Pg/H is:

=IF(E24=0,””,C24/E24)

Because I hire other editors to work on projects, I need the IC Fee and the Gross Profit percent (%) information. For those who never hire someone else, these items can be omitted. For those that do hire, you manually enter the amount of total fee paid to the other editor under the IC fee and use this formula to calculate what percentage of the total fee you retained:

=IF(G24=0,””,H24/G24)

Although not shown in the illustration, you can also track your EHR over the course of time by adding up the total hours from each project and the total billed for each project and dividing the grand total billed by the grand total hours.

With this data at hand, you can determine whether you are charging enough for your services. Adjustments can be made as needed. This information will tell you the state of health of your business. If you see that you are not making your required EHR, you need to analyze why not. Are there things that you can do to improve your efficiency and productivity? Or is the only solution to raise your prices and find new clients?

Part IV adds some clarification and Part V concludes the series, tackling the question: Why bother?

 

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 19, 2017

From the Archives: What to Charge (Part II)

(The following essay was originally published on
An American Editor on August 7, 2013.)

In Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I), we ended with this question: Is the $30/hour rate you charge sufficient to generate your desired annual gross income based on your EHR? The answer is “no.”

Your current charge of $30/hour is not enough to generate the desired gross annual income of $50,000 because your net EHR is $13.56 (based on 20 billable hours in a 40-hour workweek), not the required minimum EHR of $24.04. Your EHR is $10.48 too little. Based on your EHR, your gross annual earnings will be approximately $28,200, or a little bit more than half of your desired annual gross income.

There are several options for curing this problem. First, increase the number of billable hours you work each week. At the hourly rate of $30, you need to generate at least enough work to bill for 34 hours every week for 52 weeks a year (or its equivalent). That will generate a net EHR of $24.06 ($30 × 34 hours = $1020 ÷ 40-hour workweek = $24.06). That is not impossible to do, but if you haven’t averaged at least 34 hours a week of billable-at-$30-an-hour-work over the course of a year in past years, you will have to devote some time, money, and effort to bring your workload to that level.

Second, you could lower the amount of your desired gross annual income. That would certainly change the calculation, but it would raise other questions, such as: Are you earning enough to meet your bills? Are you earning enough to warrant remaining a freelance editor? Is your annual income sufficient to support the lifestyle you want?

The third option is to raise your hourly rate to $51 an hour and continue to generate an average of 20 hours of work a week for 52 weeks, which would give you a net EHR of $24.06 and meet your income goals.

The fourth — and best — option is to calculate the net EHR you need to meet, which is, in this case, $25 (it really is $24.06, but rounded numbers are easier to deal with and so we round up). Then, instead of trying to charge and collect an hourly rate of $50, charge a per-page or project fee and work to increase your efficiency so that you can generate your necessary EHR. It is more likely that clients will accept a per-page or project fee than an hourly fee that they view as too high or outside their budget.

Also very important to consider when deciding whether to charge by the hour or the page/project is this: If you charge $3 per manuscript page, you need to edit a little more than 8 pages an hour to meet the $25 EHR. If you can edit 10 pages an hour, your EHR will equal $30, which is $5 more than needed. As time passes and that extra $5 adds up, you build a cushion for those times when you have no work, a cushion that may still allow you to maintain the EHR of $25 over the course of the year.

And don’t forget this: The $25 EHR is based on your generating enough work to bill for 20 hours a week on average. Thus, to meet your goal, you need to copyedit approximately 167 pages a week. (A cautionary note: Remember that all of these example calculations are based on our net EHR but that our net EHR is incomplete. You must do your own calculations based on your own business.)

Option 4 is, in my thinking, the best option because, as many freelancers have noted, publishers generally do not offer rates above $25 an hour, and authors aren’t knocking down doors in a scramble to pay editors $50 an hour. Most publishers offer a rate between $18 and $25 an hour; some publishers, to their discredit, I think, offer rates of $12 or less an hour. In addition, we are competing worldwide with editors who do not calculate their EHR needs and will accept work at any price offered. Consequently, the best way to charge is a per-page or project-fee rate because you can compete effectively yet increase your productivity and efficiency and thus raise your EHR to a sum much higher than the offered hourly rates — in other words, by becoming more efficient and speedy, you can make a $20 hourly rate (when converted from a per-page rate) an EHR of $50.

Which brings us to the next matter: calculating a page. There are lots of ways to calculate a page. One of the most common formulas is 250 words = 1 page. But there are other formulas, such as counting characters. It really doesn’t matter what you decide equals one page; what does matter is that you have a definition, that you make it known to clients, and that you apply it before quoting a price.

Regardless of how you ultimately decide to charge — whether by the hour, the page, the word, or the project — it is important to be able to calculate the number of pages because for most people, the number of pages has meaning as a measure. In addition, editors think in terms of how many pages they can edit in an hour, not how many words they can edit in an hour.

In a recent online discussion, someone was looking for an editor to edit a 248,000-word manuscript that they said equaled 450 pages. Before bidding on such a project, you need to have a standard definition of what constitutes a page so that you can rationally determine what to bid. In this instance, the author calculated a page as 550 words, more than double the commonly used 250 words. Were I to bid on this project, I would bid as if the page count were 992 pages, not 450. One page equaling 550 words is not within my lexicon.

If I placed a bid based on the 992-page count, I would be prepared to explain what constitutes a page and how I calculated the manuscript’s true (for editing) size. This count is important to me because I have a pretty good idea of how many pages I can edit in an hour. That number is a range that covers badly written manuscripts through well-written manuscripts. Knowing the correct number of pages by my definition of what constitutes a page and knowing how many of those pages I can edit, on average, in an hour, lets me knowledgeably decide if I can undertake the project and how much I need to charge.

If the author insists that the correct page count is 450, my response would be that it doesn’t matter — this is my bid price for the manuscript as described, whether we call it 450 pages or 992 pages. What matters is that I have a definition for a page that I apply when calculating my fee.

This is important because I charge by the page, not by the hour. I have a high EHR that I want to meet and a key to knowing whether I can meet that EHR is knowing how many pages I can expect to edit in an hour. The more pages I can edit, the higher my EHR.

In contrast, if I charged by the hour, aside from the fact that my true EHR would be significantly lower than my hourly rate, it wouldn’t matter how many pages I could edit in an hour. I am being paid by time, not by productivity — and I will not be rewarded for being efficient or productive; in fact, I will be punished if I am efficient and productive because I will earn less (in gross) on the project. When I charge by the page (or by the project), I am rewarded when I am efficient and productive.

Every time I exceed my required EHR, I am given a bonus. In contrast, if I charge by the hour I can never exceed my required EHR (and usually cannot meet it), thus I can never receive a bonus.

I know the concept of EHR can be confusing, maybe even daunting, but combined with a firm definition of what constitutes one manuscript page, it is really the best way to determine what you should be charging.

In Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III), we will discuss tracking the EHR.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 2, 2015

The Business of Editing: The Profitability Difficulty

In making any decision about my editing business, my number one consideration is profitability. I do not mean to denigrate other important matters, especially not ethical matters, but once past ethical considerations, profitability is the ultimate determiner as to whether I take on a project or retain a client.

Ensuring Profitability Is Difficult

What I have noticed is that increasingly, profitability is more difficult to ensure, not only on a project basis but over the course of multiple projects. I have always adhered to the Rule of Three (see The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three for more information about the rule). The rule has served me well for decades, but even that rule is coming under attack from the types of projects I am consistently being asked to take on in recent months.

As we have discussed many times on An American Editor, the underlying key to profitability is efficiency. It is that striving for ever-increasing efficiency that lies behind my EditTools macros. Yet even though they increase efficiency, the projects I have been seeing in recent months strain attempts to be efficient. It is nearly impossible, for example, to efficiently deal with references when they need to conform to a convoluted style like that of the American Chemical Society and the author has made little attempt to conform to that style.

The problem of efficiency and working style is what led me to abandon proofreading. When I first began my freelance career, I offered both editing and proofreading services. But because of how I work, I found it increasingly difficult to make a profit from proofreading. With the advent of PDF proofreading, my workstyle was such that I went from low profitability to loss.

(For those wondering how to determine profit and loss, the place to begin is my five-part series, Business of Editing: What to Charge. If you don’t know what you need to earn, you can’t possibly know whether you are making or losing money as a freelancer.)

Schedule and Profitability

Even more deadly to profitability than efficiency is schedule. Long-time editors probably remember the guideline that editors and publishers used to follow, but publishers and packagers seem to have abandoned, that set the editing pace. For example, an editor asked to copyedit a medical or science textbook that required a “heavy” or “high-level” edit was expected to edit two to four pages an hour; a “medium” edit’s pace was five to eight pages an hour; and a “light” edit’s pace was eight to ten pages an hour. An editing “week” ran 30 to 35 editing hours.

(An editing hour is the time actually spent editing, not the time you are open for business. I calculate an editing week as 25 editing hours because I have learned that after 5 editing hours, the quality of editing begins to deteriorate — slowly but steadily. Consequently, I try to limit my daily editing time to between 5 and 6 hours. In addition, an editing week is Monday to Friday exclusive of holidays.)

Thus, clients expected that with a medium-level edit, an editor could competently edit 150 to 280 manuscript pages a week, depending on the subject matter. The range for a high-level edit was 60 to 140 manuscript pages per week. But all of that has changed with the outsourcing of editing to companies (“packagers”) that are skilled at book layout and production but which themselves outsource the editing work to freelancers like me.

The Triad

What has occurred is that these packagers have a lot of competition and they need to separate themselves from the pack. So, when they seek work, they promise quick turnaround, excellent editing, and low price — the triad that editors often tell clients that they can pick one of, but not two of, and definitely not three of. When the packagers come to the editor, they refuse to accept that they cannot have all three. Unfortunately, too many editors simply acquiesce without a “fight” although whether the editing is excellent is definitely questionable.

All of this impacts on profitability. Although a key to profitability is turnover — the idea being that the faster a project can be completed, the more projects that can be undertaken, and the higher the gross revenue — the hoped for increase in number of projects doesn’t come to fruition in the absence of the quality editing.

What made me realize this was that I have not stopped telling my clients that they cannot have more than one leg of the triad. About two months ago, I was asked to edit a book that required “heavy” editing. The subject matter was quite technical and the extensive number of references were all in the wrong format. The problems were that the fee was low and the schedule unreasonable — the client expected 400+ manuscript pages to be edited per week when a reasonable and likely schedule was 125 to 150 pages.

The reason this would not be profitable work is that by rushing the project to meet the schedule, I could not provide the editing that the project needs. When the clients see the editing, they will complain and will insist on corrections being made — I know this from past experience — which will eat up ever more time. Consequently, additional hours will be spent on the project but without additional compensation.

Meeting the Triad

The danger is, of course, that not only will I lose money on the project, but the client will be wary of sending me additional work because by not providing a quality edit according to their schedule I caused delays, which cost them points with their client. It is a vicious cycle with the ultimate loser being me, the freelance editor.

Consequently, I have not given in to the demands that I accept these types of projects and the requirements of the triad. I prefer to turn down work, which I regularly do, than try to meet unreasonable requirements. When asked to undertake a project, I always do the page count myself and I always determine, myself, what the schedule should be. I advise the client of the page count, my proposed schedule, and what options they have.

The first option is my schedule at my “usual” fee; the second option is a shorter schedule with a higher fee; the third option is the shortest schedule I am willing to accept at a yet higher fee; the final option is for the client to find another editor. Note the relationship between schedule and fee: the longer the schedule, the lower the fee; the shorter the schedule, the higher the fee.

This fee–schedule relationship revolves around two very important bits of information that I possess: the first, is the page count. The method I use allows for figures without having to actually go through each figure and trying to determine how much of a page should be allotted to the figure. The major weakness in my method, and one that I have yet to ascertain how to overcome, is how much work the references will require. On that, I have just “bitten the bullet” and let the law of averages take over. (Now that I have had the experience of dealing with the ACS style, something I hadn’t done for many years, I will, in the future, apply a multiplier to ACS style projects.) Most importantly, I do the page count and tell the client what the count is; I do not ever accept or rely on the client’s page count.

The second bit of information I possess is this: I know how many pages an hour I can edit under various scenarios. Like the page count, I determine this number, not the client.

With this information in hand, I prepare my “report” to the client. Recall that I have not yet agreed to accept the project. What I am doing is justifying to the client my decision if it is “no, I cannot accept the project” or building the foundation for the terms on which I will accept the project. This tells the client I have carefully considered the offer and that I have business reasons for turning down the project or setting acceptance conditions.

My experience has been that very often the client either ups the price or extends the schedule. If I say “no” to a project, it is not unusual for the client to try to work something out with me. I think that these situations resolve in my favor more often than not because the client knows the quality of the editing I provide and wants to avoid discussions with their clients over quality.

The Lesson

The lesson is that an editor needs to know their price point and their editing rate and resist the idea that it is better to lose money (i.e., earn less than their Required Effective Hourly Rate as discussed in Business of Editing: What to Charge) and have the work than to say “no” to such work offers. Saying “no” to unprofitable work helps you establish ground rules with your client. After all, why be in business if you are not going to make a profit?

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 6, 2015

Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts

It never fails. There is nothing more sure than that today someone will ask “What should I charge [or pay]?” and someone will reply “Take a look at the EFA rate chart.” I think the publication of this chart is a great disservice to editorial freelancers.

Even if the chart was statistically valid, which it is a very, very long way from being, the publication of a rate chart by what purports to be the national voice for editorial freelancers is a disservice. If it has to exist, then it should be accessible by members only.

What is wrong with making the chart publicly available? What is wrong with using it to set your rates? What is wrong with clients relying on it to set limits?

False Expectations

There are several reasons why making the chart publicly available is bad for freelancing. First, it sets false expectations. The expectation is that someone new to freelancing can earn the listed rates. It also sets the expectations of clients. Why should/would a client pay you $50 an hour when the top rate for “basic copyediting” is $40 according to the chart? The one thing I definitely want when speaking with a client is for the client to be wholly ignorant of this chart because it sets false expectations — it bears no relationship to the value of my services or the services that I perform under the rubric “basic copyediting.”

I fall back on what I repeatedly say both here on An American Editor and on forums when I respond to these questions: How can you, the editor, set your rate if you do not know your required effective hourly rate (rEHR)? (For discussion on how to calculate your rEHR, see the “What to Charge” series of essays.) Of what value is it to “know” that the rate chart says you should charge $25 an hour if your rEHR is $50. It is not possible to sustain a business when you earn half of what you need to earn to pay your bills. And how can you, the client, know what to pay if you do not know what services are included and excluded, the experience of the editor, the editor’s skill level, and myriad other things that can only be learned via discussion with the editor?

Who Responded to the Underlying Survey?

Charts like the EFA’s chart become the gospel for rates. Rate charts never tell you to figure out what you need to charge; instead, they tell you what some group of unknown responders charge. Which is the second problem with the chart: Who are the people who provided the underlying data — the survey responders — and how many of them did so? In the case of the EFA rate chart, the responders to the rate survey are EFA members only, many of whom are “young” (in the sense of years of experience) freelancers. And if past EFA rate surveys are any kind of guide as to the number of responders, you are talking about a very small, statistically unrepresentative number; in the past, the number has been less than 10% of the group membership, which is not a lot of responders considering the overall number of editorial freelancers in the United States.

And the Definition is …

A third problem is definition. What precisely do “basic copyediting” and “heavy copyediting” include/exclude? How do they differ from “developmental” and “substantive/line” editing? How many of the responders to the survey from which these results were drawn listed themselves as providers of only “basic copyediting”? How many claimed to be “developmental” editors? More importantly, how did the responders define these terms in relation to their own practices? For example, if they provide “basic copyediting,” did their real-world practice include more, fewer, or exactly the same services as the EFA definition? Knowing the definitions is important because if you define “basic” as including services A, B, C, D, and E, but some responders only include A, C, and D, and others include only A, B, C, and E, and yet others include A to E plus F, the rate chart will not be pertinent to your business yet might well serve to limit what you can charge.

Does Experience Matter?

Which raises a fourth problem: How many, for example, developmental editing projects over how many years have those responders who claim to be developmental editors done? A person who has done one 25-page developmental project in 5 years is not someone on whom I would rely for what-to-charge advice. Of course, the same question can be asked of those who claim to do basic copyediting because the same problem exists with them. I would also want to know what the average yearly gross income has been for these responders. To me, it makes a world of difference if I am getting the advice from someone with 3 years of editing experience who has done 10 projects in those 3 years and has earned on average $25,000 a year as opposed to getting the advice from an editor who has 10 years of experience, edited a few hundred projects over that time, and has averaged $100,000 a year in earnings.

Are Our Clients Similar?
What About Subject Matter?

Bringing me to a fifth problem, which has two aspects: First, who are the responders’ clients and second, in which subject areas do the responders work? Who one’s clients are matters a great deal. I remember one EFA rate survey from many years ago where there was one responder who at that time earned $75 an hour when most of us struggled to earn $15 an hour. The reason for the disparity became clear when it was learned that the responder only worked for pharmaceutical companies and on documents that had to be filed with the Food and Drug Administration — a true specialty. At that time, university presses paid highly experienced editors $10-$12 an hour and large medical publishers paid those same editors $12-$16; fiction editors were paid $8-$10. The point is that clients matter and subject area matters. Are the responders’ clients publishers or authors? Are we talking fiction or nonfiction? Specialty or general? None of this is disclosed so how reliable or usable is the information provided?

Experience Again

A sixth problem, which is related to earlier noted problems, addresses experience. For example, last year I edited a manuscript that ran close to 20,000 manuscript pages; I also edited several other projects that year. How much volume did the responders edit? Does it matter that a responder may have edited 50 documents ranging in size from 10 to 50 pages as opposed to the volume I edited? When discussing what to charge, should not the whole experience of the person giving the advice be considered? Yet the EFA rate chart makes no mention of the experience of the responders in each category.

Did You Make a Profit or Suffer a Loss?

The final problem I will mention is this: I have no idea whether the responders made a profit or suffered a loss by charging what they did. More importantly, I have no idea how they decided to charge whatever they charged. As I noted at the beginning, it does me no good to charge less than my rEHR because I will never have enough money to stay even with my bills. So, did a responder decide she could charge $20 an hour because her significant other was paying the household bills or because her retirement pension made up the difference or because she never calculated her rEHR but thought that $20 an hour was all the market would pay for her services? Or was there some other reason? Isn’t it important to know the basis for what the responders charge when deciding to adopt this rate chart for your own business?

What a colleague charges never enters into my consideration as to what I should charge for the same service except if it is significantly more than I charge or plan to charge. Then I add the information to the data mix. But I never consider any rate information provided by colleagues unless that rate information is greater than my rEHR. When I set my rates, I do so based on my skill level, the schedule, my market, and other data that are specific to me and my business. My experience and skills, honed over 31 years of specialty work, have a significance in my market that it may not have in other markets or in the markets of colleagues. That you and I both do “copyediting” is meaningless for determining the rate I should charge if your editing is solely for indie authors and in fiction and mine is solely with publishers in electrical engineering.

There are additional problems (e.g., how many responses were received for each category? What is the geographical distribution of the responders [e.g., do New York City-based editors receive higher pay than Sioux City, Iowa editors]?) with the EFA rate chart, but aren’t these enough?

It’s a Solution, But Not a Good One

The information the EFA rate chart provides is valuable if properly used. The problem is that it is not properly used and it is not properly displayed. Sure there are disclaimers, such as the chart should be used only as a “rough guide,” but those disclaimers cannot overcome the perception that this is what an editor should charge and a client should pay. Every time someone responds to a rate question with “Take a look at the EFA rate chart for guidance,” they do themselves and their colleagues a great disservice. The rate chart is the easy solution to a difficult problem, but the fact that it is an easy solution does not make it a good solution.

In my view, if the EFA feels it needs to have a rate chart, it should restrict access to members only and prohibit its being shared with nonmembers. By doing that it will minimize the damage the rate chart causes by setting client expectations. I think the EFA would do much better by its members and the public if it educated members on how to calculate what to charge based on a member’s individual circumstances and if it educated clients on what editors do, why what editors do is valuable, and why editors charge what they do.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 12, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III)

In parts I and II of Business of Editing: What to Charge, we discussed the effective hourly rate (EHR), how to calculate a true EHR, why it is important to have a definition of what constitutes a manuscript page, and why I think it is smarter to charge by the page or project rather than by the hour. But knowing your required EHR is not enough; you need to track it as well.

I use two programs to track my EHR: Timeless Time & Expense (TT&E) and Microsoft Excel. In the case of TT&E, I am using an older version because it does all that I need. TT&E is not freeware and it is a bit pricey if all you want is to track time, but I like that it makes it easy to track multiple projects. In any event, what you need is a good timing program that will track how much time you spend on a project and give you a total time.

Excel is a program that most of you are familiar with. However, as with TT&E, it is not necessary to use Excel; any quality spreadsheet program will do.

Tracking time is key. I round total time up to the nearest quarter hour. For example, if the total time I spent on a project is 25 hours and 1 minute (25:01), I enter that as 25.25 hours. I know that somewhere along the line I missed timing a few minutes of work, so this is a way to compensate.

Another thing I do is track the time based on billing cycles. If a project is to be billed only upon completion, then I track the time until the project is complete and being billed and use the single total time. If the project is being billed in batches, then I track the time for each batch and enter the time in Excel batch by batch.

As you can see from the following image, I use a simple form to track important data.

In the sample, I have given a spread of per-page price ranges. The key, of course, is to maximize price and minimize hours. (I know that some of you will point out the high pages-edited-per-hour rate that this illustration uses. The pages and hours shown are taken from a real project. Remember, however, that this is an illustration and your figures will differ.)

What is important is that even at the lowest per-page price of $2 per page, the EHR exceeded the required EHR of $25 (based on editing 16 pages an hour; at a rate of 13 pages per hour, the EHR would still be exceeded but at 12 pages an hour, it would not be met. However, at $2.50 per page, where the illustration has a 19 pages-edited-per-hour rate, even at a rate of 12 pages per hour the EHR would be exceeded). This illustrates that it is possible to have a low rate and still meet and exceed the required EHR if you are efficient and productive. Do not, however, take this as an argument for a low per-page rate, nor an indication that you will always exceed the required EHR, nor an indication that one can always edit at such a high pages-per-hour rate — this is just an illustration of how to calculate and track the EHR.

If the per-page rate had been $2 for the whole project, the EHR would have been $38.45 based on the numbers. However, to achieve that EHR, the editor would have had to average, as indicated in the image, 19.23 pages an hour. Depending on the project and the parameters of the project, that may be doable.

But we stray off course.

The key to determining what to charge is determining your required EHR. But to determine that EHR, you have to have accumulated data. In the beginning, you guess, but as data accumulates, you can be more precise in your calculation. The important data are the EHR for each batch of submitted manuscript, as well as for the entire project, and your average number of pages edited per hour (shown in the image at the bottom far right).

Unfortunately, the image doesn’t show the column labels. Column A is the Date; B is Batch #; C is Number of Pages; D is Per-page Rate; E is Number of Hours; F is EHR; G is Charge; H is Total; and K is the Average Pages/Hour. You need the column information for the following Excel formulas to make sense.

Although the information is important, columns A and B are not needed to calculate any of the other data in the table.

The formula to calculate the EHR of column F is:

=IF(E11=0,””,(C11*D11)/E11)

where, for example, E11 represents the data in column E row 11. The “” is an instruction to leave the cell in column F blank if the data in E11 equals 0.

To calculate the Charge of column G, use the formula:

=SUM(C11*D11)

The Total column (H) needs two formulas. The first is only for the very first row of data, which in this example is row 11:

=SUM(G11)

The formula is that simple because in this instance, the Charge and the Total are identical. To calculate subsequent Totals by row, the formula is:

=SUM(G12+H11)

which means to add the new Charge found in this row (G12) to the Total in the row immediately above (H11) so that the Total in this row is a running total. Remember that the numbers (e.g., 12 in G12) represent the row number; the letter represents the column.

All of the data is row-centric; that is, the calculations are for the row only. The exception is the Total column, which is a running total.

The Profit/Loss Data row is where we get our overall information. The formulas for the various entries are as follows:

Total Pages: =SUM(C11:C22)
Total Hours: =SUM(E11:E22)
Ave Effect Hrly Rate: =IF(E24=0,””,G24/E24)
Total Billed: =SUM(G11:G22)
Project Gross Profit: =SUM(G24-D24)

Finally, the formula for the Ave Pg/H is:

=IF(E24=0,””,C24/E24)

Because I hire other editors to work on projects, I need the IC Fee and the Gross Profit percent (%) information. For those who never hire someone else, these items can be omitted. For those that do hire, you manually enter the amount of total fee paid to the other editor under the IC fee and use this formula to calculate what percentage of the total fee you retained:

=IF(G24=0,””,H24/G24)

Although not shown in the illustration, you can also track your EHR over the course of time by adding up the total hours from each project and the total billed for each project and dividing the grand total billed by the grand total hours.

With this data at hand, you can determine whether you are charging enough for your services. Adjustments can be made as needed. This information will tell you the state of health of your business. If you see that you are not making your required EHR, you need to analyze why not. Are there things that you can do to improve your efficiency and productivity? Or is the only solution to raise your prices and find new clients?

Part IV adds some clarification and Part V concludes the series, tackling the question: Why bother?

Links to the other articles in this series:

August 5, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)

One problem with editing as a profession is that it is easy to set one’s self up as an editor. The result is that every day brings new editors into competition with existing editors. And every day the question gets asked: “What should I charge?”

The first response to that question, at least in the United States, is to take a look at the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) list of editorial rates. It does no harm to look at the rate schedule, as long as you recognize the failings of the schedule and do not rely on it for setting your rates.

The EFA schedule of rates is based on surveys of EFA members. Consequently, the survey excludes data from the many thousands of nonmembers. More importantly, the portion of the membership that responds to the survey is just a small fraction of the EFA membership, which itself is but a miniscule fraction of the universe of editorial freelancers. There are other biases in the survey as well.

The EFA schedule is also problematic because it fails to define its terms. For example, what does “basic copyediting” include/exclude that distinguishes it from “heavy copyediting?” What justifies the range difference? Suppose the copyediting were “medium.” How does that differ from “heavy” or “basic?” (For a discussion of light, medium, and heavy and their real-world relationship to editing, see The Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy?)

Bottom line is that the EFA schedule of rates is a place to begin but not to stop. It should be reviewed then discarded.

A problem with the query about what to charge is that the asker believes in a false assumption — that there is a “going rate.” There really isn’t a going rate in editing. It is true that many publishers pay similar fees for work, but if you look at what work is required, you will see that there is a great variance among publishers. In the case of authors, there is no rate similarity that is author imposed. Authors deal with editors on a one-to-one basis, and negotiate rate one-to-one. Publishers, in contrast, deal with many editors simultaneously and thus have company-established pay guidelines that they impose.

Although there is no “going rate” per se, it could be argued that there is a de facto one because Publisher A will offer pretty much the same as Publisher B by way of compensation; only the amount of work demanded (i.e., services required for that pay) varies — and should be carefully looked at and incorporated into your determination of what to charge.

Ultimately, any “going rate” has little meaning in the absence of it meeting your needs, which is the crux of the issue of what to charge.

The most important factor in setting a rate is knowing what your effective hourly rate (EHR) has to be in order for you to make the income you need. We have discussed the EHR several times. The original discussion and explanation is found in Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand. That article covered the surface of the EHR.

The EHR gives you a better picture of what you are really earning. For example, if you charge $30 an hour but are able to charge and receive payment for only 20 hours of a 40-hour workweek, your “gross” EHR is $15 not $30. You need to account for all of the hours in a workweek. The gross EHR isn’t a “true” EHR because it accounts only for hours, but it is better than blindly choosing a number that sounds good or matches the rate of some other editor whose circumstances and needs are likely to be different than yours.

The true EHR also accounts for expenses incurred by your business. For example, if you work from your home and pay $500 a month in utilities, you might attribute $250 a month to your freelance work. That works out to $57.70 a week (or $1.44/hour) in utilities expense that you “would not otherwise incur” if you were working outside the home and for someone else who supplied the utilities during the workweek. (Even if your utilities bill would not be lowered by your working outside the home, some portion of the utility cost is attributable to your working from home.)

Utilities are but one of the expenses that are attributable to your freelance business. Health insurance is another, especially if you had employer-paid health insurance before pursuing your freelance career. The point is that you need to identify all your freelance-related expenses and add them to the mix to determine what to charge.

Let’s pursue the example of a true EHR using an hourly rate of $30. If you charge $30/hour for copyediting (however you define copyediting) and have billable work for 20 hours, your gross EHR = $15 an hour, which is calculated this way:

$30 per hour × 20 billable hours in 1 week = $600
$600 ÷ 40 hours (standard workweek) = $15 EHR

Now that we know the gross EHR, we need to fine-tune it to determine the “true” EHR. Consequently, from the gross EHR subtract the cost of utilities, as follows:

$15 (gross EHR) − $1.44 (freelance portion of utilities per hour) = $13.56 (“true” EHR)

We are only using utilities as a cost here, but the deduction from the gross EHR would be the freelance portion of all expenses of maintaining your business, broken down into its hourly value, such as the appropriate portion of health insurance, other required insurance(s), telephone and Internet service, rent or mortgage, hardware and software, etc. In other words, the $13.56 in the example is still high.

Once you have figured out your EHR, you need to determine your target gross yearly income. In reality, you will pick a number that you would like to earn and see if it is feasible.

Let’s assume that your target gross income for a year is $50,000. That equates to a gross of weekly income of $961.54 (based on a 52-week year), which equates to a minimum EHR of $24.04 (based on a standard 40-hour workweek). Is the $30/hour rate you charge sufficient to generate your desired annual gross income based on your EHR?

The answer and more in Wednesday’s Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part II).

Links to the other articles in this series:

 

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