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

June 14, 2017

From the Archives: What to Charge (Part I)

(The following essay was originally published on
An American Editor on August 5, 2013.)

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 Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part II).

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 29, 2015

So, How Much Am I Worth?

I recently wrote about rate charts and how I think it is a disservice to professional editors for an organization like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) to publish such charts publicly (see “Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts“). That got me wondering: How much am I worth as an editor?

In my essay, “The Makings of an Unprofessional Editor,” I discussed inflexibility as a key sign of an unprofessional editor. That essay, combined with the rate charts essay, got me wondering: If I am inflexible about my fees, am I on the road to unprofessionalism?

Why the sudden philosophical thinking? This morning (i.e., Saturday morning my designated/scheduled time to write my AAE essay) I had planned to write on a different topic, one I was struggling with, when my e-mail box started chiming — ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! — alerting me to five incoming emails. I glanced over to my inbox and there they were: five offers for (relatively) small editing jobs (range: 700 to 1500 manuscript pages).

(Those are small jobs for me. This past week, for example, I began working on a chapter that runs nearly 500 manuscript pages and has 1,827 references — not a single one of which was in the correct format/style for this book. [The book has more than 130 chapters.] That’s 219 pages of incorrect references. EditTools came to the rescue. The Wildcard macro let me reformat the author names and the cite information [year, volume, pages] in less than 15 minutes [see “The Business of Editing: Wildcarding for Dollars“]; the Journals macro took a bit longer, a little more than 3 hours, to correct all but a handful of references [see “The Business of Editing: Journals, References, & Dollars“]. The Journals macro took so long because the dataset contains more than 78,000 entries. I guesstimate that the two macros saved me about 25 hours of drudgery of removing periods from author names, reversing author names, etc.)

Each of the five jobs had problems. One, for example, was authored by a group of scientists who are not native English speakers/writers and it required a 14-day turnaround. Another required reformatting of hundreds of references in a 10-day schedule. A third required a “light” edit but had a 23-day schedule. And so it went.

The question I needed to answer for each project was: How much am I worth as an editor? (I can make the calculation because I know what my required effective hourly rate is. Not knowing that would make any calculation nothing more than a wild guess. To calculate your required effective hourly rate, see the “What to Charge” series.) Once I answered that question, I had to decide whether there was any flexibility in my worth. In other words, if I quote the client $5 per manuscript page and the client counters with $2 per page, do I stand firm or do I negotiate down? That’s really the rub, the “down.”

If I have decided I am worth $5 per page, but am willing to negotiate down to $3, am I really worth $5? Was I ever worth $5 if I am willing to accept $3. Of course, this is project specific because for one project I may only be worth $3 whereas for another project I may well be worth $5, but that doesn’t really distract from the idea that if I ask for $5 on a particular project and negotiate down to $3, perhaps I was never worth the $5 I originally asked for.

Some would respond that you are worth whatever the market will bear and you will accept, an amount that can change daily or even hourly. But that makes me a commodity, which is the effect of bidding. Besides, how smart is it to bid against one’s self, which is the problem with websites that ask you to bid on editing work. Do I really want to be seen as a commodity?

If I remain firm on my price — telling the client this is my nonnegotiable price for editing project X — does that move me down the road toward unprofessionalism? Or is unprofessionalism limited to editing, excluding pricing? Does price firmness send a message? If it does, is it a meaningful message in the sense that it will be recognized by the recipient and affect the recipient’s behavior?

In the end, I think firm pricing is the sign of professionalism rather than unprofessionalism. Editors fool themselves when they believe that negotiating downward has any positive side for them; it certainly does have a positive side for the client, but not for the editor.

If I was worth $5 a page initially, I will never be worth less than $5. My price reflects the demands of the client, my required effective hourly rate, my experience, my expertise, my skills. None of those things change downward between the time I give my price and the time of the client’s counteroffer.

So, how much am I worth as an editor? The answer depends on who is giving the answer. To the client whose book I helped transform into a gazillion-copy bestseller, I may be worth $200 an hour. To the packager who is used to hiring local editors for 50 cents an hour, I may be worth no more than $10 an hour. But none of these valuations matter if I haven’t a sense of what I am worth as an editor and if I don’t stand firm on that worth. I am always willing to charge more; I am  never willing to charge less.

Professional editors are able to provide professional-level service because they are adequately compensated. They earn enough that they can afford to occasionally not earn enough on a project. Adequate compensation ensures that the editor has the time to think and review; there is no need to speed up the editing process so that the editor can make room for the next project in hopes that the next project will mean better compensation.

Inadequate compensation is part of the problem of unprofessionalism. No matter how you slice the earnings pie, you still need to earn the whole pie to pay your living costs. The thinner the slices, the more of them you need to create a whole pie — the lower you see your worth, the lower you are willing to negotiate, the more projects you need to squeeze into the set amount of editing time to create the “whole pie.”

Lower worth also means less ability to say no, to turn work and clients away, which means less control over your own business. People give the advice that you should have so many months of savings so that you can manage through a dry spell or have the ability to say no to a project/client you don’t want. That is good advice, but only half of the advice needed. The other half is that you need to know your worth and not bid against yourself.

If a client’s only concern is cost, then the client is not really looking for skilled editing; the client is looking for the ability to say the project was edited, regardless of editing quality. There is often a penalty to pay for approaching a skilled craft like editing with that view. Of course, the benefit to me is that my worth goes up when I have to reedit poorly edited material.

Ultimately, the keys to the answer to the question “So, how much am I worth as an editor?” are these: knowing your required effective hourly rate; ignoring rate charts that provide no link to reality (because they fail to disclose the underlying data and/or fail to define terms) and that act as a brake on your earning ability; and refusing to bid against yourself by standing firm on your price (which assumes that you have an articulable basis for your price). This is a sign of a professional and successful editor.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays:

March 30, 2015

Business of Editing: Does Market Perception Matter?

In recent discussions about pricing of services it was suggested that perception of worth was an important factor in the battle to obtain higher fees. It was suggested that by setting pricing too low, potential clients would balk at hiring the freelancer because of the perception that the freelancer cannot be very good, which perception is based solely on the low price. The advice then being that it is better to turn down low-priced work than to give the market opportunity to misperceive the worth of your services and your skill level. (See “The Real Problem with Low Freelance Rates” by Jake Poinier for the original argument.)

At first blush, the argument appears to have value, but after thinking about it for a while, I think the argument of market perception is a very minor matter.

We need to begin at the very beginning: How does a freelancer know what is too low a price to charge? No discussion regarding pricing can have any merit if this riddle is not solved first. We have had this discussion before, and the resolution begins with knowing your required effective hourly rate (rEHR). (For that discussion, see the multipart series “Business of Editing: What to Charge.”) In the absence of knowing your rEHR, it is not possible to know whether the price you are contemplating charging a client is too low.

The second prong of the answer lies in knowing what price is the general price for the services required in your market. Each market has its own pricing scheme. Editing reports that are going to be submitted to a government agency is likely to be more expensive for the client than the editing of the novel that will be self-published. And working for a packager will carry a different market price than working directly with researchers seeking to polish an article for journal publication.

The third prong is delineation of the services. Too often we use a general term, such as copyediting, and assume that everyone understands the term to mean exactly the same thing. Of course, the reality is much different and you cannot compare my copyediting with your copyediting unless we have come to a mutual agreement as to what copyediting entails. We have to compare apples with apples, and even then, we need to compare cooking apples with cooking apples rather than cooking apples with eating apples.

A fourth prong is also fundamental to the answer: Under what conditions are you working? By this I mean are you in a position to turn down low-paying work and hold out, perhaps for months, until something comes along that meets the definition of “not too low paying”? In other words, are you the sole source of income in your household? If not, does the other person in the household earn enough that you can sit idly by waiting?

This fourth prong is the most often overlooked prong when discussions about pricing occur. It is easy if you have a lot of money in the bank or a spouse who has a secure job and earns enough to pay all the bills; it is not so easy if your income is the primary (or lone) income in the household. Yet when the argument about market perception is made, it is rarely disclosed why the argument’s author believes he can take the high road.

These prongs (and others not mentioned) are key to understanding why it is easy to make the market perception argument but not so easy to abide by it. Yet there is an even more fundamental flaw with the market perception argument, which relates to how many of your clients actually view the market that way. That is almost an unanswerable. In the absence of actually getting a prospective client to tell you why you are not getting a particular project and telling you honestly, measuring market perception’s effect on your business is nigh impossible.

My experience among my market is that I lose work because my prices are too high. In 31 years of editing, I have never had a prospective client tell me my prices were too low; only that they are too high. And when you peruse the various forums, you rarely see someone say that they didn’t hire an editor because the editor’s price was too low; invariably, the reason is that the price is too high. (When I do read a comment questioning pricing that is too low, with a little investigating I discover that commenter is a colleague, not a buyer of services.)

Is this to say that there aren’t clients who do not react negatively to low pricing? No, because I have no doubt there are such people. But the key is that they are not in my market and that is the market with which I need to be concerned.

There is another fundamental flaw with the market perception argument. The argument rails against low pricing but never identifies what is correct pricing or the maximal pricing. It is always couched in low pricing terms (which also is never really identified — is $25 an hour too low? How about $35? Or $50? Or $100? Or is $50 too high and $35 both correct and maximal?), which leads us back to where we began: How can pricing be judged if we do not know our rEHR?

And equally important: How can our pricing be judged if our EHR remains unknown?

I have made this argument numerous times yet still colleagues talk in terms of too low pricing. The key is not the pricing but what you can turn that price point into. If your rEHR is $20 and your EHR is $40 and your price point is $2 per manuscript page, is your price point too low? I think not.

One other point about the market perception argument. It is always couched in terms of how clients view you but is really based on how colleagues view you and the desires of colleagues. I think we would all agree that high-quality editing is a very valuable service. I know that we could come to an agreement as what is a fair rate that every editor should minimally charge. I also know that we can all agree that some colleagues charge too little for their editorial work. But when we make these agreements they are made base on our desire to be better compensated for the work we perform.

What we want is for everyone else to adhere to a standard we impose so that we can be part of a rising compensation tide. That is, the market perception argument is not based on what is good for you, but on what is good for me. And that is the ultimate flaw of the argument: the lack of agreement as to what is good for me.

Regardless of how you come down on the validity and worth of the market perception pricing argument, in the absence of knowing your rEHR and your EHR and understanding your market, it is not possible to determine where your pricing fits in the market perception scheme.

Does the market’s perception of your pricing affect your market’s view of your skills? Do you agree or disagree with the market perception argument. Do you know your rEHR and EHR?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

December 31, 2014

Business of Editing: Getting Ready for the New Year

In a matter of hours, the new year will arrive. Are you prepared?

Preparation for the new year involves mundane tasks like getting your “books” (accounts receivable and payable) ready for the new fiscal year and esoteric tasks, such as analyzing the past year’s business and trying to predict (and prepare for) the trends of the new year.

Getting my fiscal books in order is pretty easy. I use QuickBooks Pro because of all the analytical tools it offers. Using QuickBooks means that I have nothing to do to prepare for the new year, at least as far as that program is concerned. An advantage to QuickBooks is that it is easy to compare time periods. Knowing how the ending fiscal year stacked up against the prior year gives me an idea of how accurate my predictions for the now-ending year were and how successful my efforts at self-promotion were.

I also use Excel. I have found Excel to be the best (for me) method of tracking project information that QuickBooks doesn’t in the absence of expensive customization, such as the number of hours a project took and the pages-per-hour rate. (QuickBooks will let me input the information, but there isn’t a built-in analytical tool that will make use of the information or make it readily accessible.) For me, this information is very valuable because it allows me to track my actual performance against my required Effective Hourly Rate (EHR) and my desired EHR.

Excel also lets me see at a glance the projects and the rates I have received from clients. Because Excel is intended for customization, I have been able to create data sheets that provide me with valuable business information. And because I created a master version of the forms, it is easy to set up the spreadsheets for the new year.

Those are the mundane tasks; they require little creativity or speculation to set up each year. Most of my time, however, is devoted to the esoteric tasks — trying to determine trends for the upcoming year and how I can improve my business.

The esoteric begins with an analysis of the closing year. For example, was my business up or down or neutral? Did I generate, more, less, or the same revenue as the prior fiscal year from more, fewer, or the same number of projects as the prior year? The answer to this latter question is particularly important in my year-ending analysis. What I do not want to discover is that I generated the same income but from more projects; what I do want to discover is that I generated more income from fewer projects.

I also want to know whether clients have changed over the year. I also want to know if the types of projects changed. And I want to know whether any (and how many) projects were unique and unlikely to be replicated in the new year. By this, I do not mean subject matter or title; rather, I mean, for example, was a project’s size unique and not likely to be replicated or were a larger number of projects on shorter schedules, which results in a higher fee, than usual.

With your sharp editorial eye, you will have noticed that I am a great believer in data and the data-driven business, and the planning that the data lets me do. Planning is important for lots of reasons, not least of which are taxes and investment. I have learned over my now 31 years in the business that I can fairly closely predict what my business will be like in the new year if I follow a plan. I have also learned the importance of creating a plan for the new year.

When I analyze the data of the ending fiscal year and the data of past years, I can see what steps I took that brought me new and “improved” business and what steps did nothing and what steps cost me time, money, and effort for no reward and perhaps even a loss. No plan is perfect and no plan is guaranteed to succeed, but having a plan is like having a compass in the woods.

Consider just one element: advertising. At the end of the fiscal year I carefully analyze what I spent advertising, how I spent it, and on whom I spent it. I compare that information to the same information from past years. What I learn is that dollars spent on method x generated little to no business, whereas dollars spent on y generated a significant increase in business. But I also learn whether the dollar amount spent on y is excessive for the amount of business generated — it makes little sense in my business plan to spend $1,000 to generate $1,200 worth of business: the ratio is wrong. However, it does make sense to spend $250 to generate $1,200 in business: the ratio is right.

And because I track my time carefully, I can also discover whether the time required by a particular advertising campaign is worth spending: sometimes one is better off spending the time “regenerating” oneself by reading a book than spending it on promotion efforts that bring little reward.

This analysis is particularly important when much of the “advertising” that is done to day amounts to participation on social media. Does the time spent on LinkedIn, for example, bring in sufficient business to justify the spending of the time? A common mistake that is made in making such a determination is not assigning the time spent a dollar equivalent; that is, each hour spent on social media should be “charged” at least at your required EHR (and better yet, at your desired EHR). If you spent 100 hours on social media in 2014 and your required EHR is $50, then the time should be valued at $5,000. If, as a result of your spent time you brought in $2,000 in revenue you would not otherwise have had, then social media is a losing proposition. (The value of social media is not just in new revenue, and those other values should be factored in if important to you. For some people, those other factors are more important than revenue; for others, only revenue matters.)

However, as part of that analysis, you also need to analyze the $2,000 in revenue. Was the work you did to earn that amount at, above, or below your required EHR?

The point is that with the change of years, it is time to prepare for the new year and make a plan to tackle the challenges you can expect. If your business was not where you wanted it to be in the ending fiscal year, then it is time to set it on the correct course. Analyzing the ending fiscal year and past fiscal years is the start, but it is not the end. You also need to try to analyze and predict industry trends. (See Are Boom Times Coming? for an example of trying to trend spot.) If you can identify a trend for your niche, you can try to exploit it in the upcoming year.

Get prepared for the new year now!

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 12, 2014

The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping I

Have you ever wondered why some businesses are successful and others are not? One key ingredient to being successful is knowledge — knowledge about one’s business.

Think about all the ways companies like Google and Facebook collect data on those who use their services — all the ways they “invade your privacy.” Why do they and other companies mine their users for information? Because data is important and these companies either want to sell others data about you or want the data to determine how best to reach you.

It’s true that editors don’t need the same information or even the same detail information, but we still need information about how our business is running. We need to know, for example, what our minimum effective hourly rate needs to be in order to ensure that we charge clients enough to meet our bills. (For a discussion on the effective hourly rate and what to charge, see the 5-part series Business of Editing: What to Charge. Part V includes links to the prior parts. The series should be read in order.)

Note: The following discussion centers on editing and editors. Modifications need to be made for writers and other freelancers, but the basic concepts hold true.

To determine what to charge, how to charge, and whether we are doing the best we can, we need to have data. Consequently, we need to keep records of what we do and know how to analyze those records.

Rule number 1 is to always track your work time. All analysis begins with knowing the amount of time spent on a project, how much time was spent working during a week, how many weeks of work we have over the course of a year. And we need to distinguish between billable work and nonbillable work. Every business has both, but it is the billable work that has to pay for both itself and for the nonbillable work. Nonbillable work includes the time we spend marketing and participating in online discussions and anything else that is work-related but for which we have no client to whom we can bill the time.

Rule number 2 for editing is to always convert a project to pages. It doesn’t matter what formula you use as long as whatever constitutes a page remains constant. By constant I mean that you use it for all your calculations, including how you would charge a client if you were/are charging using a per-page method.

Rule number 3 is that you collect the data for each project as a standalone as well as for projects cumulatively. That is, Project Alpha may provide data of 32 hours, 210 manuscript pages, and a fee of $800, and we need to know that information for Project Alpha. Project Beta’s data may be 21 hours, 250 manuscript pages, and a fee of $525. Project Gamma’s data may be 41 hours, 207 manuscript pages, and a fee of $1025. Cumulatively, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma’s data equals 94 hours, 667 manuscript pages, and $2350 in fees. As additional projects are completed, the cumulative numbers will grow.

Hours should be kept in quarter hours, rounded up; that is, if a project takes 5 hours and 3 minutes according to our timer, it should be calculated as 5.25 hours. There is always some unaccounted for project time and the rounding up to the nearest quarter hour accounts for at least some of it. My experience has been that over the course of time, the rounding up actually undercounts the actual time spent on work, but not by enough to matter for our purposes.

What do we do with this information?

The data used for Projects Alpha, Beta, and Gamma above assumed the billing method was $25 per hour. But we need to analyze the data to determine if this was the best billing method for us.

The very first bit of information we need to determine is what our effective hourly rate (EHR) needs to be. Is $25 an hour sufficient? It may be all that we can charge our clients for competitive reasons, but that does not mean $25 meets our required EHR. (Again, see the discussion of EHR referred to above.)

If what we can charge our clients and our required EHR do not at least match, or, better yet, exceed our EHR, then charging by the hour is not in our best interests. Even if the hourly rate we are charging meets or exceeds our EHR, charging by the hour may not be in our best interests.

Next we need to analyze each project on its own merits. Always remember that when we charge by the hour, the hourly rate we are charging is the most we can earn. Alpha was 210 pages, took 32 hours, and earned us $800. If we had charged $3.50 per page, we would have earned $735, or $22.97 an hour. In this instance, it appears that the hourly rate was advantageous.

Beta was 250 pages, took 21 hours, and earned $525. At $3.50 per page, the fee would have been $875 or $41.67 an hour. Here we took a beating charging by the hour. Gamma was 207 pages, took 41 hours, and earned $1025. At $3.50 per page, we would have earned $724.50 or $17.67 an hour. Again, on an individual basis, the hourly rate was best.

But what about cumulatively? Together the three projects were 667 pages and 94 hours for a total fee of $2350. At $3.50 per page, the fee would have been $2334.50, or $24.84 per hour — in other words, either choice was about the same. And if our required EHR is $25, the data, so far, shows that either hourly or per-page is an OK choice.

Where we have trouble is if our required EHR is higher than the $25 that competition will let us charge. We also have trouble if clients balk at paying for 41 hours for a 207-page project. Also, as we add more projects to the databank, we may find that Project Gamma was an anomaly and Project Beta was more typical, in which case we are losing significant sums by charging by the hour.

But the point is the importance of recordkeeping. Because we have the data, we can verify our choice of how to bill. In the absence of the data, we do not know if we are making the smart choice or not.

The data also gives us insight into projects. For example, I would want to know why the shortest project took the longest amount of time to complete and the largest project took the least amount of time. What was the difference? Did I do something differently? Is there something different that I could have done?

Although the data indicates that financially we chose wisely for these three projects, it also points out that there is something we are doing incorrectly. Our goal should be to do more in less, that is more pages of editing in less time editing.

The other purpose of recordkeeping is to take a long view of our work. I discovered early in my career, that as the data included more projects, I was losing significant amounts of money adhering to the hourly based system. Year after year the data demonstrated that while on some projects I lost money charging by the page, overall I did much better, which is why I have charged by the page for 28 years — the yearly and multiyear data keep reinforcing that per-page is best for me, in addition to being the only effective way to meet and exceed my required EHR.

I review my decision regularly. Should the data change, I would change. But I would not base a decision on just a few projects nor on anecdotal evidence. Consequently, I maintain records on every project. Recordkeeping is vital to business success because that is how the data needed to make business decisions is obtained.

(For the next part, see The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping II.)

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 19, 2013

Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part V)

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.

Links to the other articles in this series:

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