An American Editor

October 29, 2014

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part III)

Part I addressed the first three preparation steps: (1) know your required effective hourly rate (EHR); (2) know your churn rate; and (3) establish your workweek parameters. Part II took us further along the preparation path, getting us through six additional steps: (4) determining what constitutes a page; (5) calculating the project’s size; (6) knowing the schedule the client expects; (7) determining how many editing days you will have; (8) calculating the churn rate that will be required to meet the schedule; and (9) determining what difference editing on weekends and/or holidays will make. Now, in Part III, we complete the calculations and put together our negotiation package.

Step 10: Calculating the Price

With all of the information gathered in the previous nine steps, we can calculate the price for the project. Although I have been working toward a per-page rate, you can as easily determine an hourly rate. (A project rate is simply the final calculation of number of pages times the per-page rate.)

Using the dates in the example in in step 7, your client comes to you on October 9 and says it has a manuscript that is 425 pages, an easy edit, but that must be completed by October 21 and asks for a price to do the edit. The first thing to do is ask for the complete manuscript so that you can do an independent page count.

We know that the likely number of editing workdays is 6 (step 7). That means you need to churn (step 8) approximately 71 pages per day (425 ÷ 6) or (assuming your workday is 5 hours) 14+ pages an hour (71 ÷ 5). We know that your churn rate is 10 pages an hour (step 2), so that based on the client’s count you would need to work approximately 50% faster to meet the client’s schedule and adhere to your established workweek.

Of course, when you do your own page count, you might find that, as I usually do, the client has underestimated the size of the manuscript. Here you have done the count (step 5) and discovered that the true page count, using your formula (1,600 characters = 1 manuscript page), is 631. This changes the required churn rate (step 8) from 71 to 105 per day (631 ÷ 6) or (assuming your workday is 5 hours) 21 pages an hour (105 ÷ 5). This is more than double your normal churn rate of 10 (step 2).

If we add the weekends to the editing time (4 days), the number of editing workdays increases from 6 to 10. That changes the calculations as follows: the required churn rate (step 8) to 64 per day (631 ÷ 10) or (assuming your workday is 5 hours) 13 pages an hour (64 ÷ 5). This is still more than your usual churn rate. The last option is to add in the holiday, which changes the calculations as follows: the number of editing workdays increases to 11, making the required churn rate 58 per day or 12 per hour — the 1 additional day doesn’t make much difference.

We know that your required EHR is $42 (step 1). At your normal churn rate of 10 pages an hour, your standard required per-page rate would be $4.20.

The question is what should be your minimum per-page rate for this project which has an increased required churn rate. A required churn rate of 12 pages an hour is a 20% increase required speed. Consequently, your per-page rate should also increase 20% so as to compensate you for the required churn rate; that is your minimum per-page rate should be $5.04.

However, this works only if you work weekends as well as your normal workweek. So we need to know what would be the rate for your normal workweek. The required churn for your standard workweek is 21, which is 210% faster than normal. If we apply this to your required EHR, your minimum per-page rate comes to $8.82.

The question now becomes: What is giving up your weekends worth? That is, what premium needs to be charged for that sacrifice. This is subjective; we all value such time differently. For this essay, let’s say the premium should be 20%. That would make the per-page fee $10.59. This becomes the starting point for the price negotiation.

I’m sure you are asking why we had to know the required EHR; after all, we could have come to this same point without it. But we couldn’t have. Based on surveys I have done of colleagues, editors who haven’t calculated their required EHR generally charge less than that number and when they are faced with the situation here, generally just do a multiple of what they normally charge. But the required EHR has to be the basis so as to ensure that you are not losing money.

The next calculation you can do is based on your wanted EHR. It is done the same way and it can be the basis for the negotiations to come, but under no circumstance should your basis be less than your required EHR.

Putting It Together

The next step is to put all the information and your requirements in a negotiation email. Such an email might look similar to this:

I have looked at the files and completed a page count. The page count for Smith & Jones is 631 manuscript pages, which is 48% greater than your estimate of 425. (The formula used to calculate a manuscript page is 1,600 characters without spaces = 1 manuscript page.) Just to let you know, in skimming the manuscript I noted these problems, which concern me: ______________. I also noted that several of the chapters will require heavy editing.

The schedule is exceedingly tight. As I have expressed to you previously, my normal workweek is Monday to Friday, excluding holidays. A normal editing workday consists of 5 editing hours. I would have at most 6 editing workdays to edit this manuscript. That means I would have to edit 105 pages a day or 21 pages an hour. The schedule is simply too tight and the problems too many to edit at such a rate and still assure a high-quality edit.

The only reasonable way to do this project is to work weekends as well as normal editing workdays. Adding weekends adds 4 additional editing workdays. That reduces the editing rate to 64 pages a day or 13 pages per hour, a significantly more reasonable editing rate and one that, although still high, I believe would permit a high-quality edit. Because of the need to work outside my normal workweek, and because I believe in providing only high-quality editorial work to clients, the rate for this project will be $11 per manuscript page.

Although not a perfect solution (nor a perfect email) the foregoing process has proven itself, in my experience, to be a successful way to negotiate a higher rate because the request for the higher rate can be justified. It may well be that you will need to negotiate down from the initial price you demand, but at least you will have the facts at your fingertips and you can knowledgeably determine what your bottom-line price will be.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part I)
The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part II)


October 27, 2014

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part II)

In Part I, we discussed the first three preparation steps: (1) know your required effective hourly rate (EHR); (2) know your churn rate; and (3) establish your workweek parameters. In this essay (Part II), we discuss steps 4 to 9: (4) determining what constitutes a page; (5) calculating the project’s size; (6) knowing the schedule the client expects; (7) determining how many editing days you will have; (8) calculating the churn rate that will be required to meet the schedule; and (9) determining what difference editing on weekends and/or holidays will make. Finally, in Part III, we complete the calculations and put together our negotiation package.

Step 4: Have a Set Method for Determining What Constitutes a Page

What constitutes a page is debatable. Some people use the 250 words equals 1 manuscript page formula, others count characters without including spaces, using anywhere from 1,600 to 1,800 characters to equal 1 page, others use characters including spaces. And I’m sure there are other methods in use. Contrary to what some people — and clients — claim (usually about the 250-word formula), there is no established, required, must-follow formula. In addition, each of us can defend the method we have chosen. What is important is that you have established a method and that you consistently apply it. It must not only count text, it must also account for “uncountable” items, such as equations done in MathType or figures that are given to you as graphic files. Whatever method you use, you must be able to articulate it and defend it and — most importantly — use it consistently, not occasionally.

Step 5: Determine the Size of the Project Yourself

When clients approach me, they often send me their estimate of the project’s size. As I indicated in Step 4, I have an established method for calculating a page and I apply it to the project. I never accept the client’s estimate as a basis for setting a price. Every time I give a price for a project, I include my page count and a statement describing how I calculate a page. Important: You need to be both consistent and honest. Usually, the estimates my clients give me are too low, my page count is higher. But occasionally the client’s estimate is higher than my page count. When that occurs, I do not submit my price based on the client’s estimate; I submit it based on my count and point out that my count is less than their count. Client trust is very important when negotiating a fee. It is, in my view, foolish to jeopardize that trust by using my page calculation method when it benefits me but the client’s estimate when it benefits me. I always invite my clients to apply my formula and verify the page count. Under no circumstance do I vary from my established method of calculating a page. If a client insists on a different method, I decline the project. I know what my method represents and I know how it fits into my overall evaluation of a project. I cannot say the same for any other method.

Step 6: Know the Client’s Schedule

The last bit of information needed is the client’s schedule — when must the project be completed by? I also want to know if sample chapters are needed and their due date. Clients often send me a batch schedule, such as Chapters 1–10 by September 30, Chapters 11–20 by October 8, and so on. I always thank them for the schedule and tell them that I cannot agree to meet any such schedule. The best I can do is agree to submit weekly batches. It may be that I will end up meeting their schedule, but I cannot know until I edit a chapter how difficult the chapter is nor how much time it will require. All I will agree to is an end date. Editors need to manage client expectations. Editors should not agree to be pushed into unreasonable schedules and certainly not without adequate compensation.

The Calculation

With the information in steps 1 through 6 in hand, I am ready to begin (a) determining the price I will ask and (b) assembling the data to justify the price.

Step 7: The Calculation: How Many Editing Workdays?

I usually start with a calendar in hand so I can count the number of editing workdays available to complete the project. Remember that I have an established my workweek (step 3), and my workdays are only Monday to Friday. If the client contacts me on October 9, 2014, and wants the project completed by October 21, I check the calendar and discover that October 11, 12, 18, and 19 are weekend dates and October 13 is a holiday; the workdays are — at most — October 10, October 14–17, and October 20 and possibly 21; that is a maximum of 7 editing workdays but more likely 6. That calculation assumes that the client will deliver the files on the day I am contacted. The day I receive files is a bookkeeping day for the project, not an editing day, so if, in our example, the client contacts me on October 9 but won’t deliver until October 10, then the first editing day will be October 14. Knowing how many workdays you have to edit the manuscript is important in setting your price as well as for defending your price.

Step 8: The Calculation: What Will Be the Required Churn Rate?

If I have determined that the project consists of 721 manuscript pages and that at maximum I will have 7 editing workdays to complete the project, then I can determine that I need to edit 103 pages per 5-hour workday or approximately 21 pages per hour. If I am to provide a high-quality edit, that number is high. If the client has told me that in its estimation the manuscript needs a medium or heavy edit, those numbers are nigh impossible. If I only have the more realistic 6 editing workdays, the numbers are approximately 121 pages per day or 24 pages an hour, an even more improbable editing rate.

Step 9: The Calculation: What Difference Do Weekend and Holiday Days Make?

Adding in the weekend days to our example adds 4 editing days and adding in the holiday adds a fifth editing day. Adding 5 days changes the calculation to approximately 60 pages a day or 12 pages an hour for a 12-day schedule and approximately 66 pages a day or approximately 13 pages an hour for an 11-day schedule, both much more reasonable. In Part III, we’ll complete the calculations and put together our negotiation package.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part I)
The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part III)

October 24, 2014

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part I)

(Note: Although this essay is from the perspective of an editor dealing with a publisher or packager, the basic principles of negotiating remain the same regardless of what you do or with whom you are negotiating.)

A common complaint of editors is low fees. I know that the pressure is on for editors to lower their fees, and I also know that fees have been essentially stagnant since the mid-1990s. Contributing to this economic “depression” are the Internet, which has changed the marketplace from local to worldwide, and publishing industry consolidation, which has led to increased outsourcing to the lowest-priced supplier, which has further led to outsourcing to “full-service” packagers who supply production services to publishers and purchase services of freelancers to provide the editorial services.

The problem we face is twofold. First, packagers often bid an editing price without having manuscript in hand. They get a few samples, look them over, and then, expecting to outsource the editorial work, bid a price for editing services that is the maximum price the publisher-client will pay as part of the whole production package. Built into the bid price is an expected profit for the packager on the editing component. For example, to get the publisher’s work, the packager may bid $3.50 a page for editorial work expecting that the maximum it will pay a freelance editor is $3.00 a page (and it may well offer the freelancer even less). (Note that these prices are drawn from air for purposes of discussion and are not being represented as actual pricing.)

The second problem is that the packager’s bid price sets publisher expectations. Knowing that it can send editorial work to a packager and pay no more than $3.50 a page means that when the publisher contracts directly with a freelancer, it already has a ceiling established on what it will pay. Consequently, the freelancer becomes bottlenecked because of pricing established by someone else.

The question becomes: Can the freelancer negotiate a different price?

This three-part essay discusses preparing to negotiate. This essay (Part I) discusses the first three preparation steps: (1) know your required effective hourly rate (EHR); (2) know your churn rate; and (3) establish your workweek parameters. Part II discusses steps 4 to 9: (4) determining what constitutes a page; (5) calculating the project’s size; (6) knowing the schedule the client expects; (7) determining how many editing days you will have; (8) calculating the churn rate that will be required to meet the schedule; and (9) determining what difference editing on weekends and/or holidays will make. Finally, in Part III, we complete the calculations and put together our negotiation package.

Understand that we are speaking of negotiating, which is something quite different from saying to a client, “My minimum price is $4 per page,” and nothing more — basically a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. When negotiating a fee, the editor needs to be able to provide and maintain a justification for the asked for price; that is, there must be some strength to the editor’s position.

Step 1: Know Your Required Effective Hourly Rate

The beginning point always has to be the required effective hourly rate (EHR), which we have discussed numerous times (see, e.g., the essays on calculating fees that begins with Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)). Fees come in three flavors: wanted, market, and required. I want to charge a fee of $50 an hour, the market rate is $35 an hour, and I require $42 an hour. (The market rate is the rate the client offers you when the client first contacts you for the project. There is no general “market” rate for editors that can be pointed to as the rate that most editors charge and receive for their services.) If what you want to charge is less than the market rate but more than the required rate, then you should be charging the rate you want. On the other hand, if, as in the example given, what you want and what you require both exceed the market price, you need to have a strong argument as to why clients should pay you above the market.

The problem that most freelancers face is that they do not know what their required EHR is, even though this is the number that, in terms of pricing, they cannot go below, at least not if they want to remain in business and pay their bills. The rate we want should always exceed the required rate, yet I know freelancers who, when they have finally calculated their required EHR were shocked to discover that their wanted rate was below their required EHR. Thus, even if they were able to charge their wanted rate, they would still be losing money.

Step 2: Know Your Churn Rate

This, too, is a subject we have discussed before (see, e.g., Business of Editing: Workdays & Schedules). Each of us works at a different speed. Some of us can provide a high-quality edit at a rate of 10 pages an hour, whereas others can produce the same high-quality edit at a rate of 5 pages an hour. Regardless, we need to know our editing speed — our churn rate.

We also need to know the number of hours a day we can effectively edit; that is, the maximum number of hours we can work and produce a high-quality edit. In my experience, and in speaking with colleagues, the consensus is that editors generally can edit effectively for a maximum of 5 hours a day, after which quality starts to decline.

If we can churn 10 pages an hour for 5 hours a day, it means we can edit a maximum of 50 pages in a day, assuming that there is nothing in the manuscript that alters this rate, such as hundreds of references of which few are complete or correct.

Step 3: Establish Your Workweek Parameters

It is important (also as discussed before) to have an established workweek. Many editors work whatever is required to complete the work, but that is different from establishing a set workweek. For example, my established workweek is Monday to Friday excluding holidays. My established workweek does not include Saturday, Sunday, or Thanksgiving. In fact, for some holidays, like Thanksgiving, the holiday days off include the day before the holiday through the weekend.

It is important to establish a workweek and to let clients (and potential clients) know what it is. Whenever I give a quote, I make it a point to tell clients what my workweek is. I emphasize to clients that I do not work on weekends or holidays. And when a holiday is coming up, I let clients know that my office will be closed, although I might check email. If I didn’t have set hours and workdays, clients would assume that I work days, nights, weekends, and holidays and assume that no special fee is needed to get me to work those hours.

These are the first three steps in negotiation preparations — know your required effective EHR, know your churn rate, and establish workweek parameters. Part II tackles steps 4 through 9.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part II)
The Business of Editing: Fee Negotiations (Part III)

September 24, 2012

The Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy?

One of the things I have never understood about my business is the concept of a client wanting a light, medium, or heavy edit. I’ve never understood it because these are words that really have no meaning when spoken in conjunction with edit.

(It is probably worth noting that these terms are used by publishers, not by authors. In the past, a manuscript was reviewed by inhouse production editors for general problems and for anticipated difficulty of editing. The terms were then used to justify a lesser or higher fee to the copyeditor. Today, most publishers have a single fee and only skim the manuscripts inhouse. No author has ever used those terms when describing what is wanted from me when hiring me to edit his or her manuscript.)

A professional editor gives a manuscript the edit it requires within the parameters of the job for which the editor was hired. If a client says to ignore references, I may ignore references, but if a client says a manuscript needs a heavy edit, I haven’t got a clue of how my editing would — or should — differ from what I would do had the client asked for a light edit.

The three terms, instead, are signals to me as to how problematic the client believes a manuscript is. When a client asks for a light edit, I understand it to mean that the client believes the manuscript is in pretty good shape with no structural flaws and minimal grammar and spelling errors. Conversely, a heavy edit indicates to me that there are likely to be numerous structural flaws and lots of grammar and spelling errors, with medium edit falling somewhere between the two extremes.

Yet, there’s the catch. Nearly all clients make the same mistake of confusing copyediting with developmental editing (see, for a refresher on the difference between the two, Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor!). In some cases, it is a mistake made out of ignorance; in other instances, it is a deliberate mistake made in hopes (perhaps even in expectation) that the editor will provide a developmental edit at the price of a copyedit.

This comes about because for an editor, there really is no difference between light, medium, and heavy editing. A manuscript gets the edit it needs — except that edit is limited by whether the editor is hired to do a copyedit or a developmental edit. There are boundaries between the two that a professional editor will not cross in the absence of compensation.

Structural problems are a good example. The developmental edit is intended to deal with structural problems but not to focus much on grammar and spelling problems. In contrast, the copyedit is focused on grammar and spelling, and except to note that there are structural problems, ignores structural problems. This is as it should be because the skills required and the time needed vary greatly. It is not uncommon to find that a developmental edit has a speed of 1 to 2 pages an hour, whereas a copyedit runs at 6 to 10 pages an hour.

The use of the terms light, medium, and heavy is problematic because clients and copyeditors are talking past each other when the terms are used. There is no common definition of what they mean and the client’s use is usually based on a false assumption: that the copyeditor will do something different as part of the editing process based on the term chosen.

The assumption is false for many reasons, but the most fundamental reason is that no matter how a client describes the edit, the copyeditor still needs to read and evaluate every word and all punctuation with the goal of ensuring that the manuscript communicates to readers. (Note that I have changed from the broader editor to the narrower copyeditor. This is because the problem particularly arises and is particularly acute when an editor is hired as a copyeditor rather than as a developmental editor.)

In my nearly 29 years of professional editing, I have not changed a single thing that I do as a copyeditor based on whether the client asks for a light, medium, or heavy edit. Copyediting is what it is; it doesn’t change based on light, medium, or heavy.

But those terms do mean something to me as a copyeditor — or at least did in the past, perhaps not so much today. They are flags for the difficulties I can expect to encounter, which means they affect my estimation of the time it will take to edit a manuscript. In past years, I found the terms to be excellent indicators of what to expect; today, I find that they are rarely an accurate indicator. Instead, today, I find that the terms are used as substitutes for whether the manuscript is for a first edition or a revision and for whether the authors are known to be difficult or not difficult to work with.

Invariably, when a publisher hires me to work on a first edition, I am told that the manuscript requires a heavy edit. When I am hired to work on the revision that will be the eighth edition of the book, I am invariably told it requires a light or medium edit, or I am told nothing at all, with the client assuming I understand that only a light or medium edit is required. So, as relatively meaningless as the terms were in the past, they have become even more irrelevant and meaningless today.

Except that I use those terms as a guide to negotiate schedule. For example, I was recently hired to edit a manuscript that was estimated to be 380 pages and that required a heavy edit. The schedule was 2 weeks. I immediately negotiated a longer schedule based on the client’s claim that a heavy edit was required (the sample chapters the client sent didn’t show any unusual problems but there were a lot more chapters yet to come so it becomes a guessing game). I subsequently renegotiated the newly negotiated schedule because when I received the complete manuscript, the page count was 490 — the combination of a heavy edit and more pages warranted a longer, just-in-case,schedule.

I think editors need to clearly separate what tasks they will do based on the type of edit — copyedit or developmental edit — that a client asks for and ignore requests for a light, medium, or heavy edit except insofar as such terms are viewed as descriptors of the number and type of problems anticipated and how they might affect the editing schedule. After all, how would you edit any differently a manuscript that was to be lightly edited from one that was to receive a medium or heavy edit? Wouldn’t you (don’t you) do all the same things regardless of the characterization of the edit?

One last note: Some clients do, in fact, pay more for a heavy edit and less for a light or medium edit. The number of publishers doing so is rapidly declining as the squeeze on editorial costs increases. But if you do have such a client, then the characterization is also important for setting the fee. Where this is the case, a more thorough evaluation of the manuscript is necessary to ensure that it has been properly characterized — especially as copyeditors do all the same things regardless of the characterization of the edit.

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