An American Editor

January 22, 2018

The Business of Editing: Explaining the Price of Editing

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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