An American Editor

July 17, 2013

Business of Editing: Workdays & Schedules

Every business has business hours. Some businesses are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In the Internet age, people too often assume that because they can access your website at any time, they can contact you at any time and get a response. Unfortunately, I have seen an increase in the number of clients and prospective clients who pay no attention to day or hour and calculate editing schedules as if an editor works 24/7/365.

When I am hired to edit a project, I make it a point to discuss schedule. This is important for many reasons, the most obvious one being an assessment of whether I can take on a project based on the expected starting date or does it conflict with current commitments.

A “perk” of being self-employed is that I can set my own work hours. The reality is that I am not wholly free to do as I please when it comes to setting my work hours. For example, once I accept a project I commit to meeting the deadlines that accompany it and so my freedom to determine my work hours is curtailed to the extent that I need to accommodate the project schedule. In addition, if I want to remain in business, clients have to have some idea of when they can reach me.

Yet I am a business and I want to be treated as a business. At the same time, I want to make it clear to clients that I — not they — determine my work hours. Consequently, I always have the schedule discussion.

Editors are effective for a limited number of hours a day. Some editors can effectively edit for 5 hours a day, some can do more, some can do less, but the longer the editing workday, the more likely errors will be missed or introduced. Productivity and efficiency are subject to the bell curve phenomenon.

I have set my workday hours to be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday to Friday, excluding holidays. That doesn’t mean I am not in the office at other hours or on holidays (alas, I usually am at my desk much earlier than 10 a.m.); rather, it means that a client can expect to be able to reach me during my business hours.

Having those hours is, of course, less important these days because most communication is done electronically and the expectation is that if you are available, you will respond promptly; if you are not available, you will respond as soon as you become available. But those hours are important — very important — for project scheduling. They establish a standard against which expectations can be measured.

I scrutinize schedules that I receive from clients. I make sure that clients understand that the normal workweek for an editor is 5 hours a day, Monday through Friday, exclusive of holidays. Thus the client who wants a “heavy” edit of a manuscript and wants the first 500 pages returned in one week is told that such a schedule is impractical for a single editor. It would require churn of 20 pages an hour, which is much too high for a “heavy” edit. (For a discussion of light, medium, and heavy editing, see Business of Editing: Light, Medium, Heavy?)

I also make it a point to explain clearly to the client that I cannot require editors to work on weekends in the absence of extra compensation. Too many clients just pull schedules out of the air. (For a discussion about schedules, see Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations.) I want clients to see me as an equal, as a partner, and to reinforce that view, I make sure that I act as an equal, as a partner, as a business. One way I do that is by having established business hours and by making it clear that when I consider a project’s schedule, I weigh the proposed schedule’s demands against my established standard workweek.

The standard workweek is also important when negotiating the rate of pay for a project. The worst bargaining tactics that can be employed are those that have an aura of desperation about them. A client who knows you are desperate for work is less likely to negotiate pay or schedule. But a client who wants you to do the work and knows that you are willing to say no as readily as you will say yes, is more willing to negotiate. Again, this status of negotiation with an equal is one that is gained by making it clear that you are a business, an equal, a partner, and by reinforcing that impression each and every time you speak with a client or potential client.

Even one day matters. A client recently approached me to edit a book. The end date for the project was scheduled for July 31 and the start date was to be July 8. The first chapter had to be edited and submitted by July 12. I replied to the client thanking them for asking my company to undertake this project, but that I had to decline. I would not have an editor available until July 15 and I would need until August 5 to complete the project.

The client came back the next day and after stating they wanted us to do the editing, said they could modify the schedule so that the end date would be August 5 with a July 15 start date, but that they needed the first chapter by July 16. The first chapter was 84 manuscript pages. I pointed out that it was not possible for me to guarantee to meet that deadline, and countered with my own deadline for the first chapter. In my counter, I explained, yet again, that we work a 5-hour day, Monday through Friday and that I could not assume that we would be able to edit the 16 pages an hour that would be required to meet the one-day deadline. Until we actually start on the project, we have no idea of how well or badly written the manuscript is or whether such things as references are in proper format or need to be modified to meet the style. If it is well written and if the references are in proper format, it might be possible to meet the deadline; if not, then more time will be needed. Consequently, any deadline has to accommodate the possibility of problems.

In the end, we got the project with a modified schedule that fit my needs. But we got it because the client negotiated with us as an equal. I was as willing to turn down the project as to accept it. More importantly, when I explained our workweek to the client, it was the umpteenth time they had heard the explanation. I have been consistent over time as to what constitutes our workweek and workday. Similarly, I am consistent about the cost of working weekends and holidays. Even if a client is prepared to pay for such work, I make it clear that doing so is voluntary, not something I can require an editor to do.

The reality is the editors who work for me, and myself, set our own work schedules based on the time we need to devote to a project to meet the deadlines. But those are schedules we set; they are not imposed on us. That may seem like a small difference, but it is not. It is the difference between being regarded by a client as a business and thus as an equal and a partner, or not being regarded as a business but as someone to whom the client can dictate.

The first step toward negotiation equality is to have well-established business hours that you faithfully maintain and repeatedly letting the world know what those hours are.

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