An American Editor

February 1, 2017

The Cusp of a New Book World: The Fourth Day of Creation

(The first part of this essay appears in “The Cusp of a New Book World: The First Day of Creation;” the final part appears in “The Cusp of a New Book World: The Sixth Day of Creation.”)

The world of publishing began its metamorphosis, in nearly all meanings of that word, with the advent of the IBM PS2 computer and its competitors and the creation of Computer Shopper magazine. (Let us settle immediately the Mac versus PC war. In those days, the Apple was building its reputation in the art departments of various institutions; it was not seen as, and Steve Jobs hadn’t really conceived of it as, an editorial workhorse. The world of words belonged to the PC and businesses had to maintain two IT departments: one for words [PC] and one for graphics [Mac]. For the earliest computer-based editors, the PC was the key tool, and that was the computer for which the word-processing programs were written. Nothing more need be said; alternate facts are not permitted.)

I always hated on-paper editing. I’d be reading along and remember that I had earlier read something different. Now I needed to find it and decide which might be correct and which should be queried. And when you spend all day reading, it becomes easy for the mind to “read” what should be there rather than what is there. (Some of this is touched on in my essays, “Bookmarking for Better Editing” and “The WYSIWYG Conundrum: The Solid Cloud.”) So who knew how many errors I let pass as the day wore on and I “saw” what should be present but wasn’t. The computer was, to my thinking, salvation.

And so it was. I “transitioned” nearly overnight from doing paper-based editing to refusing any editing work except computer-based. And just as I made the transition, so were the types of authors whose books I was editing. I worked then, as now, primarily in medical and business professional areas, and doctors and businesses had both the money and the desire to leave pen-and-paper behind and move into the computer world. Just as they used computers in their daily work, they used computers to write their books, and I was one of the (at the time) few professional editors skilled with online editing.

The computer was my salvation from paper-based editing, but it also changed my world, because with the rise of computers came the rise of globalization. How easy it was to slip a disk in the mail — and that disk could be sent as easily to San Francisco as to New York City as to London and Berlin or anywhere. And so I realized that my market was no longer U.S.-based publishers; my market was any publisher, anywhere in the world, who wanted an American editor.

But globalization for me also had a backswing. The backswing came with the consolidation of the U.S. publishing industry — long time clients being sold to international conglomerates. For example, Random House, a publisher with a few imprints, ultimately became today’s Random Penguin House, a megapublisher that owns 250 smaller publishers. Elsevier was not even in the U.S. market, yet today has absorbed many of the publishers that were, such as W.B. Saunders and C.V. Mosby. This consolidation led to a philosophical change as shareholder return, rather than family pride, became the dominant requirement.

To increase shareholder return, publishers sought to cut costs. Fewer employees, more work expected from employees, increased computerization, and the rise of the internet gave rise to offshoring and the rise of the Indian packaging industry. So, for years much of the work that freelancers receive comes from packagers, whether based in the United States, in Ireland, in India — it doesn’t matter where — who are competing to keep prices low so work flow is high. And, as we are aware, attempting to maintain some level of quality, although there has been a steady decline in recent years in editorial quality with the lowering of fees. (One major book publisher, for example, will not approve a budget for a book that includes a copyediting fee higher than $1.75 per page for a medical book, yet complains about the quality of the editing.)

The result was (and is) that offshoring turned out to be a temporary panacea. The offshore companies thought they could do better but are discovering that they are doing worse and their clients are slowly, but surely, becoming aware of this. One example: I was asked to edit a book in which the author used “tonne” as in “25 tonnes of grain.” The instruction was to use American spellings. The packager for whom I was editing the book, had my editing “reviewed” by in-house “professional” staff who were, according to the client, “experts in American English” (which made me wonder why they needed me at all). These “experts” told me that I was using incorrect spelling and that it should be “ton,” not “tonne.” I protested but felt that as they were “experts” there should be no need to explain that “tonne” means “metric ton” (~2205 pounds) and “ton” means either “short ton” (2000 pounds) or “long ton” (2240 pounds). After all, don’t experts use dictionaries? Or conversion software? (For excellent conversion software for Windows only, see Master Converter.) Professional editors do not willy-nilly make changes. The client (the packager) insisted that the change be made and so the change was made, with each change accompanied by a comment, “Change from ‘tonne’ to ‘ton’ at the instruction of [packager].”

This example is one of the types of errors that have occurred in editing with the globalization of editorial services and the concurrent rise of packagers and lesser pay for editors. It is also an example of the problem that existed in the paper-based days. Although there is no assigning of fault in the computer-based system, when an error of this type is made, the author complains to the publisher, who complains to the packager, who responds, “We hired the editor you requested we hire and this is their error.” And the result is the same as if it had been marked CE (copyeditor’s error) in flashing neon lights. The editor, being left out of the loop and never having contact with the publisher becomes the unknowing scapegoat.

And it is a prime reason why we are now entering the sixth day of creation — the reshoring of editorial services, which is the subject of the third part of this essay, “The Cusp of a New Book World: The Sixth Day of Creation.”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 30, 2017

The Cusp of a New Book World: The First Day of Creation

The world of business is an ever-changing world. When I began my publishing career, offshoring was not in the business vocabulary — publishers looked for local-market solutions to local-market problems. Of course, helping to maintain that local tether was that most editorial problems and solutions were paper-based — copyediting, for example, was done on a paper printout.

The general course of events went something like this:

  1. The paper manuscript was shipped by the in-house production editor to the freelance editor for copyediting;
  2. After copyediting, the copyeditor shipped the marked-up physical copy to the in-house production editor for review;
  3. After review, the in-house production editor shipped the finalized version of the marked-up manuscript to the typesetter; in some procedures, before shipping to the typesetter for setting into pages, the edited manuscript would be sent to the author for review and approval of the editorial changes. Which fork was taken depended on the publisher and on the author;
  4. The typesetter created a master copy of the final edited version and produced physical page proofs for author review;
  5. The authors received as little as the page proofs or as much as the page proofs, the original unedited manuscript, and the finalized copyedited version of the manuscript to review and make any final adjustments that were needed, especially the addressing of any queries;
  6. The author then returned the manuscript to the in-house production editor who would review the author changes, do any final accepting or rejecting, ensure that all queries had been addressed, and then send the manuscript to the typesetter for creation of a master file for printing.

Not mentioned in the foregoing are the rounds of proofreading done by freelance proofreaders, which also added to shipping costs.

Of course there was some variation in the foregoing procedure, but there were two notable things that did not change regardless of the exact procedure: (a) the process was very labor intensive and thus very expensive and (b) the process incurred a lot of shipping costs — somehow the physical manuscript had to get from person to person in each step.

For some publishers the answer was local-local; that is, if you wanted to be hired as a freelance editor, you had to be able to come to the publisher’s office to pick up the manuscript and return it the same way. In my earliest days, for example, Lippincott’s New York City office would not hire a freelancer who wasn’t a subway ride away from its offices. The problem the publishers faced was that book sales were growing and the way to earn more money was to sell more books, which meant more books had to be published, which meant more editors were needed. The solution was hire more editors but you had to have a labor pool from which to draw, so even companies like Lippincott had to broaden their geographical boundaries.

The other labor-related problem was that even the best editors had weaknesses and even the worst in-house production editors had weaknesses. These weaknesses were minor stumbling blocks in the early years of publishing, but then authors became less “wowed” by editorial expertise and publisher demands and began asserting their ownership of their words. It is important to remember that most books in the very early years were “owned” (i.e., the copyright was in the name of) the publisher. That put publishers at the top of the power chain. There were always authors who retained copyright, but for most authors, giving the publisher the copyright was an acceptable trade for getting published. The tide began changing after World War II but accelerated in the 1970s with the instant megahit authors; ultimately, what started as a gentle wave of change became a tsunami until the moment when calm returned because it became standard for authors to retain copyright.

But during this changeover, which occurred over decades, costs began rising. Where before publishers simply absorbed the costs, now the pressure to increase profits required an allocation of costs between those who caused the costs to be incurred. Thus the assigning of “fault” became more important — the assigning of something as a PE (printer error), AA (author alteration), or CE (copyeditor error) became an important tool in deciding who would be responsible for the cost of correction once the manuscript had been put into master proofs. A certain number of errors and changes were expected but once that number was exceeded, the costs were allocated and the responsible party was expected to “pay.”

The author usually had a “debt” deducted from royalties earned; the copyeditor, if the number was large enough, “paid” by not being hired again; the printer (typesetter or compositor) paid by not being able to bill for the costs incurred to make the fixes necessitated by PEs. Yet this was where the weakness of the system stood out.

We have had discussions before about grammar, copyediting, what is or isn’t error, the “authority” of the “authoritative sources,” and the like. What I consider to grievous editorial error, you may well think is so minor that it isn’t even worth mentioning. Which of us is right? The answer is that we can both be right, we can both be wrong, or one of us can be right and the other wrong — it all depends on the standards to be applied, who is to apply them, and whether the foundation of the standards is recognized universally as strong, weak, or crumbling. This is the discussion we often have as regards the authoritativeness of books like The Chicago Manual of Style and Garner’s Modern English Usage. It is the traditional argument whether prescriptivism or descriptivism should dominate.

And that was the problem of the AA versus CE assignment of fault. More importantly, it was even more so the problem of the world that had but three possibilities: AA, CE, and PE. There was no possibility that the error was an in-house (IH) error, because just as some editors today always respond with “Chicago says…” or “Garner says…” and whatever Chicago or Garner says is inalienable, unalterable, infallible, so it was true of in-house staff. At no point was there a discussion regarding why the CE was not a CE; it was marked a CE and so it was a CE — now and forever.

There was another wrinkle to this process. Quite often the initial designation of CE, AA, or PE was made by the freelance proofreader, who often was a copyeditor who was doing this particular project as a proofreading job rather than as copyediting job. This, of course, meant that what we really had was a spitting contest between copyeditors. Once again, there was no designation for proofreader error because the proofreader couldn’t make an error. By definition, the proofreader was supposed to only correct and mark objective errors such as a clear misspelling, or the failure to have sentence-ending punctuation, or other indisputable errors. And so that was true on the first day of creation, but by the third day the role had expanded and proofreaders expanded from pure proofreading to a hybrid proofreading-copyediting role. This became by creation’s fifth day the expected standard.

And so we have come full circle — it was not unusual for a strong copyeditor to find that she was being “graded” by a weak proofreader or in-house production editor. As between the proofreader and the copyeditor, both were trying to impress the client with their skills because they both were freelance and both dependant on gaining more business from the client. The in-house editor had to assign fault because accounting demanded it. In addition, the IH was becoming swamped with work and so had to increasingly rely on the proofreader’s judgment calls.

All of this worked because everything was kept local, that is onshore as opposed to offshore, because it was a never-discussed-but-well-understood system, and, most importantly, because once the book was published, there was no customer complaint system. How many readers (or reviewers, for that matter) were concerned with the finer points of editing and the production process. Rarely was a book panned because of poor editing as opposed to poor story, dull writing, factual error — none of the things that those outside the production process would ever associate with poor editing.

This world began changing not long after I became a freelance editor with the introduction of computers, word-processing programs like XyWrite, Word, and WordPerfect, and, ultimately, globalization — the material for the second part of this essay, “The Cusp of a New Book World: The Fourth Day of Creation.” (The third part of the essay is “The Cusp of a New Book World: The Sixth Day of Creation.”)

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 23, 2013

Business of Editing: Editing in Isolation

I am constantly perplexed at how people who want to be acclaimed as editors or writers can pass on material to readers that is less than clear. In the editors’ case, I hope it is because the author ignored queries or left queries unresolved — but I cannot be certain of that except in my own work.

I suspect that the problem is that the self-editing author, as well as the “professional” editor, is “editing” in isolation. What I mean is that the author is looking at each sentence in isolation rather than looking at each sentence as part of the global mix.

What brought this to mind was a sentence I recently read: “I prefer epics.”

By itself, the sentence is complete and clearly understandable by me, the reader. But placed in context, I wondered whether the author meant “epics” or “e-pics.” The problem was that the article was talking about both books and pictures, thus both or either could have been meant. This was a case of the editor and/or the author not looking beyond the sentence — any editing that was done was done in isolation.

Isolation editing is a clear sign of nonprofessional editing. Professional editors know that no sentence stands alone; every sentence must be considered in context and as part of the more global text, as well as being complete in and of itself. Increasingly, however, I read books that suffer from the narrow view. In its most blatant form, a character is 5-foot tall on page 10 and 6-foot tall on page 25; has brown eyes on page 11 and blue eyes on page 27; spells her name Marya on page 3 but Maria on page 50. We’ve all come across these types of gaffes, but they seem to be occurring with increasing frequency as traditional publishers and authors make price, rather than quality, the number one consideration.

There are many answers to the problem of changes in character descriptions, not the least of which is a comprehensive stylesheet. Yet that is another red flag as regards the quality of the editing: the skimpy, incomplete stylesheet.

I have been working on second and subsequent editions of books in the past few months. With two exceptions, none of the manuscripts were accompanied by a stylesheet that was created by the editor of the prior edition. One exception was the book that was a second edition of a book whose first edition I had edited. In this instance, the client didn’t send the stylesheet from the first edition, but I had a copy because I have stored online every stylesheet for every book my company has edited since at least 2006 and often earlier.

But it is the second exception that signaled a poor editing job was likely done by the original editor. In this instance, the client sent a copy of the stylesheet for the prior edition. However, the stylesheet was one page. I knew immediately that it was incomplete as the manuscript for the book ran more than 3,000 pages and was medical, with each chapter written by a different author or group of authors. It is not possible to do a comprehensive stylesheet of such a manuscript in one page.

As I edited the manuscript, my initial reaction was correct — the prior (existing) edition clearly had not been professionally edited (or proofread). There were numerous sentences that should have been flagged and/or corrected, sentences that were like “I prefer epics” and thus potentially misleading, in the manuscript. The more I progressed into the manuscript, the clearer it became that the editor edited in isolation: If a sentence was grammatically correct, it was accepted as is, even if a more global view would have raised queries or caused the editor to modify it.

I am sure that some of you are thinking, “but are we talking about developmental editing or copyediting?” I am talking about both. True, the primary function of the developmental editor, but not the copyeditor, is to think globally, but even the copyeditor has to think globally. We are not talking about reorganizing a manuscript, which is the realm of the developmental editor; we are talking about ensuring that the author’s message is clearly conveyed, without confusion or uncertainty, to the reader, which is the realm of both editors.

Professional copyeditors will not rewrite paragraphs, will not move paragraphs or sections of text (i.e., will not reorganize) except on rare occasion. Yet professional copyeditors do have a responsibility to at least query the author and ask whether “epics” or “e-pics” is meant, which cannot be done in the absence of a more global perspective. A sentence-centric perspective views sentences in isolation: the previous sentence could talk about women, while the current sentence talks about men. Whether that change in gender is correct depends on what was said in the prior sentence, what is said in the current sentence, and, perhaps, what will be said in the following sentence.

Isolated editing is a sign of the nonprofessional. Isolated editing is on the rise because of the rise of the nonprofessional editor, which is driven by making cost concerns and limitations, rather than quality, the primary decider of whether and whom to hire as an editor (see What is Editing Worth?). We have discussed this several times, and you know that I believe that quality should be the initial driver when hiring an editor, with cost taking a secondary role. I recognize, however, that because of publisher and author misperceptions about the value of editing, those roles are reversed and cost is the primary driver.

At one time I thought the way to combat this was to send the publisher or author a few corrected pages as examples, but I quickly learned that publishers ignore the corrected pages and authors too often reply with a “how dare you question my writing!” I also quickly learned that the problem rests mostly with professional editors who fail to educate publishers and authors on the value of editing. (The value of editing was discussed in greater depth in What is Editing Worth?)

Yet even those authors who do understand and appreciate the value of quality editing are often stymied by their budget. Authors are being asked to gamble money on a service that will have some, but not a compelling, impact on sales. Self-publishing is making it clear that even poorly edited books can sell a lot of copies and that well-edited books can sell few copies — there are just too many other variables in play, such as how the author markets the book, the quality of the story and the writing.

In the end, editors are between a rock and a hard place. Do they lower their fee to meet author budgets and to compete with nonprofessional editors? If they lower their fee, do they move closer to isolated editing? Or do they stick to their more reasonable fee schedule and the more global form of editing knowing that they will lose a significant number of clients by doing so? This is the dilemma of the professional editor. It is a dilemma that is not easily resolved because of market pressures and the ease of entry into the profession of editing.

June 19, 2013

Business of Editing: Raising Prices

It seems like there is no such thing as an easy topic when it comes to the business of editing. In reviewing past articles, it seems I have called nearly every topic a difficult topic for editors. And here I go again. The issues of whether, when, and how/how much to raise prices are three more difficult issues with which an editor has to grapple.

Whether to raise one’s prices depends on a lot of factors. Who are your clients; what types of documents you edit; what services you provide; whether quantity of work is more important to you than receiving what you consider fair or adequate compensation; what both your direct and indirect competitors charge; how easily a client can move the work to a lower-priced editor; and myriad other considerations.

Each editor is different. For example, I prefer to have every day of the year loaded with work — enough to keep myself and several other editors busy — and so am willing to accept a price that is lower than I think my work is worth. Some colleagues with whom I have discussed this topic prefer to have less work, even with not knowing how much down time they will have, but receive higher compensation. Where you fit in this scheme, only you can decide, as there is no single correct answer.

However, regardless of where your preferences fit, you must be aware of market conditions and what your competition is charging. I know that there is a school of thought that says we need to move away from thinking in terms of hourly pay (with which I agree) and instead think in terms of the value we add to a product (with which I agree philosophically but recognize the impracticability of in real-world editing). The oft-used example is web design, where the designer, when asked by the client what the price will be, replies with her own question, “Why do you want your website redesigned?” The client responds that the redesign will generate $100,000 of new business, so the designer says, “Isn’t it worth spending $20,000 to earn $100,000?” Needless to say, the client agrees, the designer charges what she values her work to be worth, and all is well. Alas, that doesn’t work for editing.

That is not how negotiations go between editors and clients. Editors cannot identify anything in their work that will increase a client’s sales by a sum certain or a definite quantity. No client says to an editor, “the value of your editing will increase my book’s sales by 50%.” Editing is more invisible than that. Additionally, editing protects the after-sale reputation of the client; it doesn’t generate the initial sales.

So whether we should raise (or lower) our prices depends on a lot of factors that are outside our control but are important to consider. Once that hurdle is overcome, the timing of a price raise must be considered.

Some editors do a general announcement at the first of the year. A new year seems like a logical time to raise prices, especially if your clientele is individual authors rather than companies. If your clients are companies, however, you need to consider timing in several ways: How much lead time is necessary between the announcement and the implementation? Is there a better (or worse) time of the year to raise prices for a company client? Should you even raise current client prices or just use the new pricing for new clients?

When raising prices, I try to keep in mind the client’s fiscal year. I recognize that my clients plan a budget far in advance and that trying to raise prices in the middle of a budget is asking the client to hire someone else. Consequently, if I raise prices, I try to give 6 to 12 months’ notice. I also make it clear that any already scheduled project will not be affected by the price rise. So, at the same time that I announce a price increase, I encourage the client to preschedule as many projects as it can to lock in the old price.

The last piece of the puzzle is the how/how much. Some editors announce a single price increase (e.g. $1 for the year); others announce an overall amount but in increments (e.g., $1 for the year in 25¢ increments every 3 months); and still other editors simply go for small but more often amounts (e.g., 25¢ every 3 months).

One thing that is important to consider in the how/how much contemplation is the percentage the increase represents. This has long been a trick of marketing. To say you will receive a $5 discount is not as effective as saying you will receive a 50% discount, even though that 50% equals $5. Similarly, it looks better and a client may more easily accept a small price increase represented in dollars than the same amount represented as a percentage if the percentage exceeds 5%. In my experience, 5% seems to be the magic percentage. However, what you need to do is make the raise look as minimal as possible; the more minimal it looks, the more palatable it will be to the client.

I am not a fan of incremental raises. Clients rapidly come to think you are nickel-and-diming them. I think it is best to do yearly increases of relatively nominal amounts.

Of course, all this assumes that you are able to raise your prices. Some editors are able to do so, but many editors, myself included in the past couple of years, have been able to only hold steady on our pricing and even have had to lower our pricing. This is a result of competition plus the lack of, in the United States, a true professional organization that separates professional from nonprofessional editors.

Ease of entry and the constant influx of people who claim to be editors has put significant downward pressure on editing prices. Combine this with the globalization of editing and trouble is brewing in raising-prices land. In addition, one’s approach to editing is important.

I, for example, have decided that I would rather be busy and keep other editors busy than raise my prices. I prefer quantity. Consequently, I consciously decided that it is preferable to compete within my sphere than to have idle time, even though I would receive a higher price. (This does not mean, however, that I will accept work at a price that is below what I have determined to be my minimum acceptable price — my pricing floor.) My ultimate earnings would be about the same, but I prefer not to have the idle time. Consequently, to meet my goal of no idle time for myself and additional editors, I had to lower my pricing.

Did I make the smart move? Again, it depends on what you want. But I also look at it like a challenge. This is one of the reasons I created EditTools and keep modifying and adding to it: I needed and wanted to maximize my effective hourly rate while lowering my price so I could keep busy. In other words, I take steps that have the same ultimate effect as raising my price — steps that make the editing go faster, although with increased accuracy, which means my effective hourly rate rises.

Raising prices depends on so many factors that no one can give you one-size-fits-all advice. The most difficult part of the equation is the whether factor. Resolving that question — whether to raise, retain, or lower your price — is the most difficult and the most important consideration; once you resolve that, the when and how/how much will fall into place.

June 5, 2013

Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”

Perhaps the toughest issue to deal with as an editor is the prospective client (or existing client) who contacts you about a project, asks for a quote, and says, “I can get it cheaper!” Dealing with such a statement should bring out the editor’s professionalism (and business savvy). I discussed the matter of cheap pricing previously in The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly. Now it’s time to discuss pricing in the face of resistance.

The most common responses are to tell the client about your experience. “I’ve been editing this type of manuscript for 30 years. Can the other editor match my experience?” Or to relate how happy your clients have been. Or any number of other general responses that don’t really highlight why you should be hired at any price.

The second most-common response seems to be an attempt to lower one’s price to bring it in line with the lower price the client says another editor quoted.

In both instances, I think the response is the wrong response.

Under no circumstance, once you have quoted a price, should you lower the price (subject to an exception discussed later). If you are not worth the price you quoted, why did you quote it? If you are worth the quoted price, why lower it to less than you are worth? And why would you start a bidding war with yourself — a war that you can only lose and even lose repeatedly, once the client learns that all it has to do is say “lower your price” and you jump to do so. I make it an absolute rule never to lower a price once given, except in the circumstance to be discussed later. You may be a great editor, but I am the greatest of all editors — and I let clients know that in many ways, not least of which is that I do not lower my price.

If the client insists, I suggest that it would be best for them to hire the other editor and call me when the editing needs fixing.

The exception is this: when I also reduce the services to be provided. In other words, I make pricing a companion to services: more service equals higher price; less service equals lower price. But even then, there is a limit to how little I am willing to do and to how low a price I am willing to quote. Which brings me to the nonfinancial response.

Years of experience is a great selling point, but it doesn’t mean anything in the face of a client’s budget. What does matter are the services to be provided. My first response to the client is, “Do you have the quote in writing?” If yes, which is the usual case in these e-mail-negotiation days, I ask for a copy of the quote. (At this juncture, I haven’t said yes or no to whether I will lower my price, so the client still has hope.) I am usually provided with a copy and then I start on my rebuttal. (When asked why I need a copy of the quote, I say I need to verify the terms and conditions of the price I am being asked to match or beat so that any quote I provide matches those terms and conditions. Although not said, I also want to verify that the person who made the quote is capable of delivering the promised quality and work.)

If I’m dealing with a prior client who should be familiar with my work and pricing, I ask why, knowing my pricing and having this quote in hand, did they contact me for a quote. What I want to do is draw the client into admitting that they like my editing and would prefer that I do the work than to hire someone else. This is important because it starts to draw the client toward my way of thinking about fees.

If this is a new or one-shot client, I have to take a different approach, so I ask what is most important to them as regards the project. Is it cost? Quality of the edit? Experience? Something else? If the answer is cost, I stop the discussion and suggest that they try someone else. I tell them that I take too much pride in the quality of my work to denigrate it by lowering my price to where I cannot justify taking on the work or would earn so little that my only concern would be getting the project done. If they ask for names of other editors, I tell them that I do not know any professional editor whose quality of work or pride in that quality is such that they would be willing to match or underbid the quote they already have and that I make it a policy not to provide names of nonprofessional editors whose work I cannot vouch for.

If they give me an answer other than cost, then I ask about what services are included in the other editor’s quote. Rarely are those services spelled out — the client doesn’t know what is included except “copyediting” or “editing,” which can mean anything. Usually the quote reads “copyedit of xyz at/for $abc.” If the quote is based on an hourly rate, I also ask if it includes a limit on the number of hours (usually not), and what happens if the editing is not done when that limit is reached (definitely never spelled out).

Once I have drawn all this information out of a client, I can begin my “defense.” This is where a professional editor can shine. Explaining what is included and what is not included in editing helps the client define precisely what work the client wants. As I go through the various options and the client says yes or no, I begin to build a quote. What I want the client to grasp is that, when the client hires me, she knows exactly what services she will get for the money. There is no gambling on what will be done or not done.

Importantly, it makes the client a part of the quoting process. If the quote is still too high for the client, I can now say, “If we eliminate this service, the price would be $xyz.” It is picking from the buffet and creating one’s own version of editing.

I also only quote a project or per-page fee, never an hourly fee. I explain to the client how this can save them money and is competitive with that lower bid they received. More importantly, I explain that it assures the client that a complete job will be done and that no additional money will be paid by the client to have the job done and done right.

What I am doing is making the client confident that the only smart decision is to hire me as a professional editor. I try to get a client to compare apples to apples, which the client cannot do with a quote that simply says “copyedit of xyz at/for $abc,” especially not if the quote is based on an hourly rate with no limit to the hours and no explanation of what happens should the limit be reached with the editing incomplete.

There are other things I do as well, but the important point is to be professional and make the client see the value of hiring a professional editor.

How do you deal with the client who says, “I can get it cheaper!”?

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