An American Editor

January 31, 2018

The Business of Editing: The Line in the Sand

Richard Adin, An American Editor

As I have gotten older, I have found that things in life have reversed, by which I mean that things that once irritated me no longer irritate me and things that didn’t irritate me now do irritate me. Yet there are a couple of things that irritated me when I began my editing career that continue to irritate me today, although today’s irritation level is more strident.

One example of a continuing irritation we have already discussed on An American Editor — the question that both inexperienced and experienced editors never seem to get tired of asking, even though they have been told hundreds, if not thousands, of times that there is no such thing: What is the going rate? (For that discussion, see A Continuing Frustration — The “Going Rate”.) Today’s irritant is the fast-schedule-but-low-pay project offer, which also has been previously discussed on AAE in, for example, Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations, Business of Editing: Workdays & Schedules, and The Business of Editing: The Standard Editing Workday & Workweek.

What brings this back to the forefront is that this month I have already declined four offered projects that combined amounted to 11,000 manuscript pages (which, of course, raises another issue, what constitutes a manuscript page, a topic previously visited on AAE; see, e.g., The Business of Editing: A Page Is a Page — Or Is It? and The Business of Editing: How Many Pages an Hour Do You Edit?). I declined the projects because I am already under contract to edit two books by the end of April that combined run a bit more than 19,000 manuscript pages.

I would have declined the four offered projects even if I were twiddling my thumbs and staring at an empty work basket because the pay rates were abysmal and the schedules Orwellian.

Consider just one of the projects. The client’s estimate was that the number of manuscript pages was 2,500. Based on past experience with this client, I know that the true number of pages (by “true,” I mean as calculated using my formula, not their formula) would raise that number by at least 25% and more likely closer to 35%. The size is fine; in fact, it is my preferred project size — bigger is better — since I do not like to tackle small projects (less than 1,000 manuscript pages), even though I occasionally will (most of the projects I take on run 1,500+ manuscript pages and many run 7,500 to 15,000 manuscript pages).

The client’s schedule was Orwellian: two weeks to complete copyediting. The schedule was matched by the abysmal rate offered: $2.60 per manuscript page. And, according to the client, the manuscript required heavy editing, which in the client’s parlance meant none of the authors’ primary language was English. (The subject matter was medical.)

Unlike some editors who have imaginary lines that they draw and claim they will not (but always do) cross, my lines are like those of the Great Wall — in stone, permanent, immovable, and I will not cross them. I told the client that I was declining the project because the schedule was Orwellian and the pay abysmal. For me to take on the project, the shortest possible schedule would be based on editing 400 manuscript pages per week with the count done using my formula and a rate of $15 per page. The more reasonable the schedule, the lower my per-page rate would become until we hit my absolute minimum, which was still higher than their offered rate.

My two uncrossable lines are these:

  1. The schedule must be doable in the real world, not a fantasy world.
  2. The compensation rate must correlate with both the schedule and the expected editing difficulties (i.e., does the client rate this as a light, medium, or heavy edit and what do those terms mean in the client’s parlance).

I know how fast I can edit because for 34 years, I have mostly edited manuscripts from the same subject area and I have kept careful records. In addition, I have created tools, like my EditTools macros, and use tools created by others, like Jack Lyon’s Editor’s Toolkit Plus, that are specially designed to make my work more accurate, efficient, and speedy.

I know how much I need to charge for my editing work because I have calculated my required effective hourly rate (also discussed in prior AAE essays in detail; see the series Business of Editing: What to Charge) and I know how much I want to charge for my work so  I make a profit, not just break even. And I know how much of a premium I require to be willing to work longer hours than my standard workday and workweek (see The Business of Editing: The Standard Editing Workday & Workweek for a discussion of work time).

The point is that if I cross those lines I have drawn, I hurt myself. Why would I ever want to hurt myself? In the olden days, before I knew better and before anyone with experience set me on the correct path, I thought if I accepted a project that was on a tight schedule with low pay, it would get me an in at the company, get me more work, and give me a chance to show how good an editor I am, with the result being that the company would offer me better-paying projects to keep me as part of their editorial stable. It didn’t take long for me to learn that the only fool in that scenario was me.

Sure, I got more work offers, but never at a better rate nor on a better schedule. As one project manager told me, I had already demonstrated I could handle the schedule and was willing to work for the offered rate, so that is all I would ever get.

I drew my lines and I never cross them.

I know that some of you are shaking your head and saying that you can’t afford to do that. I did the same until I realized I was always behind and never moving ahead — I was enriching my “clients” at my expense. Once I took my stand, I found that I was getting better projects and better pay — not starting the next day, but starting in the not very distant future.

Successful editors are successful businesspersons, too. Successful businesspersons do not do things that benefit others at their expense. They draw lines that they do not ever cross. I have drawn mine; are you ready to draw yours?

October 22, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part II)

Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part II)

by Louise Harnby

In Part I, I discussed some of the ways in which proofreaders working for agencies or publishers on typeset page proofs find themselves worse off in real terms. I also wrote about the importance of tracking business-performance data so that the proofreader can assess the health of her business and see where the problems are.

Here in Part II, I consider three options for how to deal with problematic rates, including my preferred solution — that of introducing digital efficiencies.

1. Discuss the Issue with the In-house Project Manager (PM)

You might be able to negotiate a better fee for the job. Even if your negotiations don’t end up in the rate increase you wanted, at least you’ll have a clearer understanding of why the press’s rates have either decreased or not risen in line with the cost of living. Any decision you make thereafter will be informed by knowledge of the press’s business concerns.

One mistake inexperienced editorial professionals make when setting about negotiations is lack of preparation. The “it’s not fair” approach is unlikely to be persuasive. Your PM may be sympathetic to your plight, may even acknowledge that many of her freelancers are feeling the pinch and that the editorial fees she’s offering are making it difficult for editors and proofreaders to sustain a viable business. However, unless you can give her substantive reasons why she needs to go down the negotiation route (as opposed to simply offering the job to some other freelancer who won’t quibble about the fee), your frustrations are likely to get you nowhere.

Instead, tell your PM why the project is worth more money. Do the sums where necessary so that she understands why she should pay more. I did this for a project earlier this year. I’d accepted a flat fee for proofreading a book on the understanding that it had been professionally copy-edited. It transpired that this wasn’t the case, and the proofs needed a level of attention that meant I’d be working for an estimated £10/US$16 per hour. This was completely unacceptable to me — the hourly rate worked out well below that which I both need and want to earn.

I could have declined the work but I took the time to provide a detailed explanation of the problems. Consequently, she understood that there had to be some give and take, and I was able to negotiate a substantial increase — one that, upon completion of the project, worked out to be £24/US$39 per hour. Given how invasive I’d been (though it was neither a proper copy-edit because I was working within the restraints of page proofs, nor was it a proper proofread because I had to do some sentence rewriting), the final hourly rate was still not as high as I think it should have been but it was one that I was prepared to accept, and it was north of my required effective hourly rate.

2. Elect Not to Work for the Press

As independent business owners, proofreaders have the right to choose with whom they work. If I’m unhappy with the rates a publisher is offering, I can decline the work and seek out better-paying clients. Though I’m constantly marketing my business in a bid to make myself discoverable and interesting to new and better-paying customers, letting go of an existing client is an option I only want to employ when all others have been exhausted.

3. Introduce Efficiencies

This is my preferred option, and the preferred option of An American Editor, as indicated in numerous previous essays by Rich Adin and his contributing writers. Finding efficiencies is especially important if I’m dealing with a long-term client that provides regular proofreading work that I enjoy doing and adds value to my portfolio. Not all of my publishers provide me with an income-per-project that works out at my preferred rate (what I want to earn) or, more importantly, my required rate (what I need to earn), but I absolutely love the books they send me and I therefore want to find a way to continue the relationship with them.

Introducing Digital Efficiencies…

Recently, I chatted with a colleague about rates. We have a common client and he’d noticed that the page rate had decreased — so we’re proofreading the same number of words per page as two years ago, but for less money. In theory, we’re worse off. He certainly thought he was worse off.

However, I looked at my project data spreadsheet and it told a different story. My spreadsheet showed that my extrapolated hourly rate for this client was higher than it was two years ago, to the extent that I was better off in real terms. Importantly, it was in excess of my required effective hourly rate. Even though I was earning less per page, I was still getting a higher overall reward for the time I spent working for this client. How could this be? I didn’t think I was worse off.

Something that emerged from my discussion with my colleague was that I was utilizing digital tools, whereas he was not. I believe that this is how I’ve managed to ensure that my extrapolated hourly rate has increased to the extent that I’m better off. I’ve become more accomplished at using these tools, too, so any efficiency gains aren’t one-off — there are marginal benefits to be accrued.

PDFs, Proofreading, and Saving Time…

Not all my publisher clients want me to mark up the PDF version of a proof; some still want hardcopy annotation. But all of them send me a PDF, and that means I can still introduce efficiencies. Here are just some of the ways that I think working with a PDF saves me time:

  • Chapter headings/drops: The PDF proof usually comes with each chapter bookmarked. If it hasn’t, I do this myself. Clicking through those bookmarks enables me to check in seconds that the chapter drops, and the font and size of the chapter headings, are consistent. I don’t waste valuable time thumbing manually through, say, 350 separate bits of paper, sticking Post-it tabs to the chapter-title pages, and measuring or cross-comparing the pages, while trying to ensure the whole lot doesn’t end up on the floor (it has happened!).
  • Reference checking: Even if you don’t use something like the fabulous ReferenceChecker (one of my favorite tools — though you’ll need to dump the text from the PDF into a Word document first), it’s much quicker to search for an author’s name in the PDF, and click straight through to the references/bibliography, than manually fiddling with bits of paper.
  • Global searches: We can do superfast searches for erroneous spaces before colons, semi-colons, and full points; and for possible problematic words such as “pubic,” “manger,” and “asses.”
  • Other layout issues: Using a PDF, it takes seconds rather than minutes to search for and check the positioning and styling of figures and tables, running heads, page numbers, and word breaks at the end of recto pages. The same applies to checking that the text on facing pages is balanced, as well as spotting widows and orphans.

Other Digital Efficiencies

  • Onscreen markup: Ask your client if they’ll accept onscreen markup of PDFs. Even if they don’t like the idea of extensive use of the comment boxes, you can utilize proofreading stamps. These enable you to provide a digital version of a paper markup. For more information on PDF proofreading take a look at Roundup: “PDF Proofreading Stamps (quick-access links)” (Proofreader’s Parlour, 2012); it includes further valuable links to relevant resources (and advice) published on the websites of my colleagues Adrienne Montgomerie and Katharine O’Moore-Klopf.
  • Digital delivery: Following on from that, if your client allows you to mark up onscreen, you can simply email the marked-up proofs. Consider how much time you spend dropping projects off at the post office or waiting for couriers to arrive. If you are proofreading on a fixed-fee basis, that’s a cost to you, and it’s time you could be doing other billable work or drinking your favorite tea.
  • Utilize online dictionaries to check word-break preferences, spelling, hyphenation, and style preferences. It’s quicker than thumbing through printed reference guides.
  • Use additional digital tools such as macro suites, word-list generation tools like TextStat (“Revisiting an old favourite: TextSTAT, word lists, and the proofreader”, and consistency checkers (e.g., PerfectIt) when it’s appropriate to do so. They save you time while increasing your hit rate.

Toyota Does It, So Why Shouldn’t We?

UK readers may recall an episode of Digby Jones: The New Troubleshooter (BBC, 2014). In a bid to help a Durham-based electronics manufacturer, Ebac, British business ambassador Digby Jones took the owner to a Toyota factory to learn how staff have introduced even the smallest efficiencies to improve their productivity and profitability. Nothing in the factory was left out of the mix — from the layout of the factory floor to the use of high-tech equipment. If a change in process could help turn minutes into seconds, it was considered worthwhile. In other words, it’s about marginal gains.

If Toyota does it, why shouldn’t the proofreader? When we track and add up all our saved minutes, the total can have a significant overall impact on the time it takes us to complete the work we do. The use of digital tools isn’t the only way to introduce efficiencies, but it’s an obvious one to start with.

How do you track your data? Do you know what you need to earn vs. what you want to earn? Which variables do you record? Which complementary digital tools do you use when proofreading, and how do you think they make you more productive and improve the quality of your work?

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

The Proofreader’s Corner: Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part I)

July 1, 2013

Business of Editing: Lower Your Rate?

I recently wrote about raising one’s rates (see Business of Editing: Raising Prices). Although the article focused on raising rates, I did, somewhat off-handedly, mention lowering rates. No one commented on that possibility, and I suspect that very few readers even contemplated the wisdom of lowering one’s rates.

I’m here to tell you that sometimes it is a smarter business move to lower one’s rate than it is to either maintain or raise one’s rate. I’m sure the resistance barriers are already rising.

Let’s begin with the obvious. The decision whether to lower or raise rates rests on many of the same factors regardless of which way you lean. It makes no sense to charge $100 an hour when all your direct competition is charging $25 an hour. Similarly, it makes no sense to do the reverse, at least not with such a great spread; perhaps a smaller spread will work.

But what is not obvious is the reason why lowering one’s rate can be a smart business move. Consider why businesses generally lower prices or charge membership fees or issue loyalty cards with rewards. Now recall that you, too, are a business. You want exactly what your credit card company or your grocery store wants: repeat and loyal business. It costs much less to work with repeat clients than to find new client.

When I think about my rates, I consider the types of clients I deal with and what I want from those clients. I want to “lock them in” to me; I want them to ask me first to undertake an assignment and I want them to be reluctant to hire another editor. When those projects that are worth $20,000 in fees come around, I want the very first reaction to be to call me.

I understand that quality of editing is important. I also understand that many, if not most, editors rely on the quality of their work to bring in repeat business. I know I certainly do not skimp on quality. Yet that is what all of my competition does as well.

As I have written previously, I want to keep myself and those editors who work for me busy all year-round, not just a few weeks or months a year. Thus quantity of work is important to me. The question becomes: How do I get the quantity at the least cost and effort? One important answer is that I offer a discounted price to clients who are willing to offer me assurances that I will be called first.

Does this always work? No, it doesn’t. Some clients have corporate policies that prohibit such negotiations; others take the position that they cannot accurately forecast when and how much manuscript will arrive and thus cannot agree to “guarantee” an amount of work. Some clients have other reasons why such a proposition wouldn’t work with them.

But there are clients for whom this does work and it works to both our benefits: I am assured a steady supply of work and they are assured some money saving, along with a high-quality edit. Not only does it not hurt anything to try to work out some arrangement for repeat business with a client, but even if it doesn’t work out, the client recognizes you for what you are: a businessperson.

Of course, all of the above fits my business model and works with publishers. Such an approach is difficult to take with authors because most authors cannot generate enough work in the course of a year to make such negotiations worthwhile. An editor needs to evaluate his business and his wants and needs before considering fee reduction. But every editor should think about whether this is a concept that can be made to work for you in your business.

In a way, this hearkens back to the concept of effective hourly rate (see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand for a discussion on EHRs). What good does it do you as an editor to have an hourly rate of $50 if your EHR is really $20? High EHRs depend on not only the rate and expenses, but the number of hours you are actually editing. If you charge $50 an hour but only edit 20 hours a week, your EHR is $25, not $50 — and that’s before considering expenses. To my mind, I would rather work 40 hours a week at an hourly rate of $40. (And, no, I’m not advocating hourly rates; it is just that using an hourly rate makes the examples easier, less complex, more pointed, and much shorter.)

Lowering one’s rate can have several advantages. Such a move can increase the quantity of work. It can also “lock-in” a client. And, it can make a wholly new-to-you client willing to talk seriously to you about adding you to their list of editors.

Something else to keep in mind. Lowering your rate for client A does not mean you have to lower your rate for client B. Each client should be considered individually. I think an editor should have standardized base rates for certain types of work but then the rate should be adjusted based on the client and even on experience with a client. Editing services are unique to each client and sometimes to each project and one’s rate should reflect that. However, some clients offer the possibility of a quantity of work over years, which work is of a similar nature and thus requires a set rate.

Also necessary to keep in mind when thinking about rates is whether it is possible to make use of economies of scale, which is something every business has to consider. In manufacturing, the concept is illustrated by the idea that the larger the quantity you buy, the lower the individual piece price. Although editors do not work like a manufacturer, the basic concept can still apply.

I know that I can edit certain types of books more quickly than other types without loss of quality because I know that I have tools available to make the work go faster. (See, e.g., Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects, wherein I discuss using my Journals macro. Also see, e.g., The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient.) Knowing that I have certain efficiencies in my business allows me to be flexible with rates for clients whose books are ones to which I can apply those efficiencies. Lacking the ability to apply those efficiencies would prevent me from lowering my rate and would induce me to raise it.

The bottom line is that for the right client and for the right return, editors should consider whether to lower their rate and not reflexively dismiss the possibility. As with raising rates, lowering rates should not be approached willy-nilly. Doing either must be the result of careful evaluation of what benefit (and harm) will accrue to you. What editors must overcome is the reflexive response that one should never consider lowering one’s rate, let alone actually do it.

Whether to lower or raise one’s rate for a client is a business decision and must be approached like one — objectively, not emotionally.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: