An American Editor

February 6, 2017

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

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

Donald Trump is late to the game. Reshoring of industry has been happening, albeit quietly, for the past several years. Also late to the game are publishers, but increasingly reshoring is happening in the publishing industry. The problem is that publishing-industry reshoring is not bringing with it either a rise in editorial fees or relief from the packaging industry. If anything, it is making a bad situation worse. It is bringing the low-fee mentality that accompanied offshoring to the home country.

Reshoring in the United States has meant that instead of dealing with packagers located, for example, in India, editors are dealing with packagers in their home countries. Yet professional editors continue to face the same problems as before: low pay, high expectations, being an unwitting scapegoat. Perhaps more importantly, the onshore packagers are not doing a better job of “editing” — the publishers are offering onshore packagers the same editing fee that they were offering the offshore packagers, and the onshore packagers having to pay onshore wages have the same or lower level of editorial quality control as the offshore packagers.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the packager system; there is something inherently wrong with the thinking of publishers as regards the value of editing, with the system of freelance editing, and with packager editorial quality control. These problems are not solvable by simply moving from offshore to onshore; other measures are needed, not least of which is discarding the assumption that high-quality copyediting is available for slave wages.

Publishing is in a simultaneous boom–bust economic cycle. Profit at Penguin Random House in 2015, for example, jumped by more than 50% from its 2014 level to $601 million. Interestingly, print revenue in the publishing industry overall is rising (+4.8%) while ebook revenue is declining (−20%). Gross revenue from print is expected to remain steady through 2020 at $46 billion per year while ebook revenue continues to decline.

The key question (for publishers) is, how do publishers increase profits when revenues remain flat in print and decline in ebooks? This is the question that the Trumpian economic view ignores when it pushes for reshoring. Trumpian economics also ignores the collateral issues that such a question raises, such as, whether it does any good to reshore work that does not pay a living wage. The fallacy of Trumpian economics is in assuming that reshoring is a panacea to all ills, that it is the goal regardless of any collateral issues left unresolved; unfortunately, that flawed view has been presaged by the publishing industry’s reshoring efforts.

My discussions with several publishers indicates that a primary motive for reshoring is the poor quality of the less-visible work (i.e., the editing) as performed offshore — even when the offshore packager has been instructed to use an onshore editor. Consider my example of “tonne” in the second part of this essay and multiply that single problem. According to one publisher I spoke with, the way management insists that a book’s budget be created exacerbates the problems. The budgeting process requires setting the editing budget as if the editor were an offshore editor living in a low-wage country and without consideration of any time or expense required to fix editorial problems as a result of underbudgeting. After setting that editorial budget, the publisher requires the packager to hire an onshore editor but at no more than the budgeted price, which means that the packager has to seek out low-cost editors who are often inexperienced or not well-qualified.

Packagers — both onshore and offshore — try to solve this “problem” by having inhouse “experts” review the editing and make “suggestions” (that are really commands and not suggestions) based on their understanding of the intricacies of the language. This effort occasionally works, but more often it fails because there are subtleties with which a nonnative editor is rarely familiar. So the problem is compounded, everyone is unhappy, and the budget line remains intact because the expense to fix the problems comes from a different budget line. Thus when it comes time to budget for the next book’s editing, the publisher sees that the limited budget worked last time and so repeats the error. An endless loop of error is entered — it becomes the merry-go-round from which there is no getting off.

Although publishers and packagers are the creators of the problem — low pay with high expectations — they have handy partners in editors. No matter how many times I and other editorial bloggers discuss the need for each editor to know what her individual required effective hourly rate (rEHR) is and to be prepared to say no to projects that do not meet that threshold, still few editors have calculated their individual rEHR and they still ask, “What is the going rate?”

In discussions, editors have lamented the offshoring of editorial work and talked about how reshoring would solve so many of the editorial problems that have arisen since the wave of consolidation and offshoring began in the 1990s. Whereas editors were able to make the financial case for using freelancers, they seem unable to make the case for a living wage from offshoring. The underlying premise of offshoring has not changed since the first Indian company made the case for it: Offshoring editorial services is less costly than onshoring because the publisher’s fee expectations are based on the wage scale in place at the packager’s location, not at the location of the person hired to do the job. In the 1990s it was true that offshoring was less costly; in 2017, it is not true — and editors need to demonstrate that it is not true. The place to begin is with knowing your own economic numbers.

Knowing your own numbers is the start but far from the finish. What is needed is an economic study. There are all sorts of data that can be used to help convince publishers of the worth of quality editing. Consider this: According to The Economist, 79% of college-educated U.S. adults read only one print book in 2016. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many editors were part of that group and how many books, on average, editors bought and read? Such a statistic by itself wouldn’t change anything but if properly packaged could be suasive.

When I first made a pitch to a publisher for a pay increase in the 1980s, I included in the pitch some information about my book reading and purchasing habits. I pointed out that on average I bought three of this particular publisher’s hardcover titles every month. I also included a list of titles that I had yet to buy and read, but which were on my wish list. I explained that my cost of living had risen x%, which meant that I had to allocate more of my budget to necessities and less to pleasures like books. And I demonstrated how the modest increase I sought would enable me to at least maintain my then current book buying and likely enable me to actually increase purchases. In other words, by paying me more the publisher was empowering me to buy more of the publisher’s product.

(For what it is worth, some publishers responded positively to such a pitch and others completely ignored it. When offshoring took hold and assignments no longer came directly from the publisher, the pitch was no longer viable. Packagers didn’t have a consumer product and insulated the publisher from such arguments.)

With reshoring, imagine the power of such a pitch if it is made on behalf of a group. Reshoring in publishing is occurring not primarily because costs can now be lower with onshoring rather than offshoring, but because of editorial quality problems. And while it would be difficult to gain the attention of a specific empowered executive at an international company like Elsevier or Penguin Random House, it is easier to establish a single message and get it out to multiple publishers.

The biggest obstacle to making reshoring be advantageous for freelance editors is the reluctance of freelance editors to abandon the solo, isolated, individual entrepreneurial call that supposedly drove the individual to become a freelance editor. That used to be the way of accountants and doctors and lawyers, among other professionals, but members of those professions are increasingly banding together. In my view, the time has come for editors to begin banding together and for editors to have full knowledge of what is required to make a successful editorial career.

This sixth day of creation can be the first day of a new dawning — or it can be just more of the same. That reshoring has come to publishing is an opportunity not to be missed. Whether editors will grab for that opportunity or let it slip by remains to be seen. But the first step remains the most difficult step: calculating your rEHR, setting that as your baseline, and rejecting work that does not at least meet your baseline.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 16, 2015

The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (I)

One of the most difficult things for an editor to do is to calculate an appropriate quote for a project. Clients usually use a formula approach that doesn’t waver from project to project. Most editors who work for publishers simply accept what is offered.

Accepting what a client offers without doing your own calculation is bad business! And if you work directly with authors, you need to correctly calculate your quote.

I begin with a reminder: You are a business. You are an independent business of the same stature as the client. Too often editors view themselves as unequal to their clients; too often they forget the value and importance of simply saying “no.”

I always remember that my clients have come to me to ask for my services as an editor. They come because of my reputation for quality and/or because they have firsthand knowledge of the value of my editing. The result is that I view the relationship as one between equals — and I act as if we are equals in all aspects of the business relationship.

What that means is that I calculate the price for a project. I consider the client’s offer, but I make sure that the offer is one that represents profit to me. I also recognize that pricing editing is a guessing game. Until I have actually done the editing, it is not possible to truly know how difficult or time-consuming the project truly is.

Elements of the Calculation

The rEHR

There are lots of things that need to be considered when creating a quote. The absolute must-have information that an editor needs is her required Effective Hourly Rate — the rEHR. This has been discussed several times on An American Editor and is discussed in depth in The Business of Editing: What to Charge series of essays.

The rEHR is the bottom line. The rEHR is the foundation from which your quote will rise. If you are not meeting your rEHR, then you need to rethink your approach to your business.

The churn rate

The next bit of information you need to know is how fast you can accurately edit at different editing levels. For example, if a project calls for a “light” edit, can you expect to edit 5 manuscript pages an hour? Or 10? Or 20? Suppose the project calls for a “heavy” edit? How does that impact your churn rate?

Which brings us to several other items about which you need to have a firm grasp for multiple reasons, not least of which is that they affect the churn rate:

  • The definition of the service you are being asked to perform
  • The definition of the level of service you are being asked to perform
  • How the variations in service and level of service definitions affect your churn rate
  • Your effective number of net editing hours per day (“net” here means actual time spent editing, not the length of your “work” day)

For example, if a client asks you to copyedit a manuscript (the “service”) at a “medium to heavy level” (the “level of service”), what precisely does that mean? What tasks are included and what tasks are excluded? Do you understand what the client means by medium to heavy level copyediting? Does the client understand what you mean by copyediting? Is what the client expects copyediting or is it more akin to developmental editing or something between or even something else?

The churn rate is also affected by both the style to be applied and the type of manuscript involved. As we recently discussed, some styles are significantly more cumbersome than others (see, e.g., Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure).  In addition, the requested style may be one with which the editor has less (or greater) facility. If you have edited 100 books and applied the Chicago style and are now asked to apply a different style with which you have little to no familiarity, your churn rate will be slower as you need to spend time determining the requirements of the new style. Similarly, the churn rate will be slower if there is a comprehensive exceptions style manual provided by the client.

Of course, it also matters whether the project is fiction or nonfiction, has a handful of references or thousands of them. Here, again, the style to be applied matters. Depending on how diligently the author adhered to the desired style, the editor may have to look up and modify every reference. A complex style like that of the American Chemical Society can be, as I discovered to my personal chagrin, exceedingly time-consuming and tiresome to apply.

The page

Once your rEHR and your churn is determined, the next step is to establish your method for calculating a page. Some editors have varying formulas they apply depending on the type of project they are asked to edit. And many editors, without giving it much thought, simply accept that 250 words equals one page. Some clients use 300 words equal one page, some use 250 words, some use a typeset page. Some, I have discovered, simply open the file as provided by the author and accept whatever page count is shown (and are oblivious to the fact that the author set the text to 8 point type and single spacing).

Many, if not most, editors and clients count words; some count characters without spaces and some count characters with spaces.

It both matters and doesn’t matter how you calculate a page. It matters because if you use the wrong method, you cheat yourself; it matters because the method the client uses may make for a larger page and so a shorter project page count and, thus, a lower per-page rate. What really matters is that you have a method that you are satisfied with and that you enforce.

Also key is that you count the pages using your method. You should never accept a client’s page count. And if the client insists on using its page count as the compensation basis, you need to insist that the client share with you how a page is calculated.

This is critical in nonfiction because of figures. Over the years, I have had clients refuse to count figures yet expect me to edit them. It may be that the figures are text-free images, but if I have to open a file to look at a figure and to determine if it looks like a match to the figure legend, then I need to be paid for the work.

Figures are tricky. How do you know how many figures equal one page? I once had a client tell me that because the images were small, they calculated 24 images equaled one page; the client ignored the fact that each image was in its own file and required specialized software to view and adjust. Needless to say, that was unacceptable. But it prompted me to devise a method that accounts for figures in the page calculation to my satisfaction. Again, it doesn’t matter whether I am actually counting each figure; it matters that I am willing to accept the number I get as including the figures.

Part II discusses additional elements and the putting together of the quote.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essay:

October 15, 2014

The Business of Editing: Workflow

Thirty years ago, when I first started my freelance editing career, most editing work was done on paper; the personal computer was just arriving and many in-house production staff avoided them as much as possible. But it was clear to me that online editing was going to be the standard and would change the editing world I started in.

The problem with paper-based editing is that it is not really possible to make it more efficient and thus raise an editor’s earning power. No matter what task you perform, it takes time and reorganizing workflow has limited benefit. Consequently, when I started I did little workflow analysis.

Computers changed everything. Computers changed client expectations and editor responsibilities. They could be instruments of efficiency or, as they were for many longtime editors, an albatross that could not be shaken. I still remember the arguments on various early lists, including the EFA list, about paper-based vs. computer-based editing, with many established editors viewing computers as a waste of money.

I embraced computer-based editing immediately. At that time, I saw it as an opportunity to set myself apart from other editors. I wasn’t thinking in terms of workflow and efficiency — but it wasn’t all that long before I was.

Every business has a workflow. Workflow is the process you follow from the time, in the case of editors, a project is committed to you to the time it is completed and final invoice is sent. Workflow, in and of itself, is neither efficient nor inefficient — it is just the orderly (or, perhaps for some, disorderly) manner in which work flows in the front door and out the back door. Yet how it flows can mean the difference between efficiency and inefficiency (Does it flow in the front door and make a bee line for the back door or does it zigzag its way eventually arriving at the back door?).

A common mistake many entrepreneurs make is not to think about workflow, not to map it out, and not to attempt to straighten the run from door to door. We forget that every deviance costs money and reduces profitability, as well as increases time required to come and go. Consequently,

Map Your Workflow

We all face competition for work. Few of us get to dictate pricing; instead either market competition or clients dictate pricing and we grumble about how underpaid we are. Some of us have improved our efficiency so that we can make lower (not low, but lower) pricing profitable and sufficient to generate our required or desired effective hourly rate (EHR). (For the discussion of effective hourly rate, see Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I) and subsequent parts; also search An American Editor for effective hourly rate for additional essays.) Yet if we have not mapped our workflow and analyzed it for steps that can be modified, including eliminated or consolidated, then we haven’t gone far enough in our effort to be efficient and increase our profitability and EHR.

Mapping of workflow means creating what amounts to a timeline of your editing process. Each thing that you do should be identified as a step that takes you from the front door to the back door. It includes things like logging in the new project, creating a stylesheet for the project, dividing a manuscript that is sent as a single file into chapters, separating reference lists from the chapter, and so forth, down to the last steps of returning the edited manuscript to the client along with a final invoice.

In that workflow timeline, be sure to include the various steps you take while actually editing the manuscript. For example, if you use EditTools and create a Never Spell Word (NSW) dataset for each project, include that in the list. If you run macros, such as Editor’s Toolkit, to clean up manuscripts, include that step. If you run PerfectIt after editing is complete, include that step. If you run a macro you created called Zazzle, include that step. If you run Spell Check before you begin editing and again after you finish editing, include both steps.

The point is that you need to include every identifiable step you can in the workflow timeline so that you can evaluate how efficient or inefficient each step is and whether there is a better way to do it. BUT…

Also with each step you need to identify whether the step is performed preediting, during editing, or post editing; include a written explanation of the purpose of the step; what is actually accomplished by that step; what you really want that step to accomplish; and how long that step takes. For example:

Step 5 – Preedit: Create NSW dataset. Purpose is to create a dataset that includes client preferences; ensures client spelling preferences are uniformly applied across entire manuscript and that terms of art are preidentified as correct to avoid applying Spell Check incorrectly; I want to avoid spending time checking terms that Spell Check flags that are correct; creation of dataset takes 20 minutes


With that information in your workflow timeline, you can evaluate the step either based on past experience or after you complete your next project. Is this step worth the time and effort? If yes, then keep doing it; if not, then think about how to fix it or consolidate it with another step. You can also evaluate whether the step has implications for other projects.

By that I mean, using NSW as the example, if the project I am working on is for AAE Publishing and I know, hope, or expect that I will receive future projects from AAE Publishing on the same subject matter, can I take the time to create the dataset for this project and then use this dataset for future AAE Publishing projects? If yes, then the step may be efficient for this project because for future projects I will be able to skip this step and save 20 minutes.

The point is that you cannot look at steps in isolation, you must look at both today and tomorrow. Your workflow has to be efficient today and tomorrow.

The workflow timeline can help you rearrange the order in which you take steps. Reordering can increase or decrease efficiency, but you won’t know which it will do absent trying.

Just as knowing your required EHR is important to being successful as a business, so is the workflow. The more efficient your workflow, the more easily you will reach, even surpass, your required EHR.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 28, 2014

The Practical Editor: Define Your Terms, Then Negotiate

The Practical Editor:
Define Your Terms, Then Negotiate

by Erin Brenner

Recently, I saw a job ad that advertised for a copyeditor for a 5,500-word academic article. The article had already been accepted for publication, according to the ad, and the author was looking for a light copyedit, most likely to make a good impression on the assigning editor.

Even if the article will be edited in-house, this is a good call. The cleaner the copy, the more likely the assigning editor will hire this writer again.

I have an occasional client for whom I do such work, and she is thrilled with the results. The copyediting not only produces cleaner copy, it helps her to be more confident. The editing has led to her receiving more assignments. And why not? Assigning editors are busy folks, too, and the easier you make it to publish your article, the more likely they’ll call you again for another.

What’s a Page?

Back to the ad. The author is willing to pay $9 a page for the project. Does this sound good to you? Before you say yes, ask yourself this very important question:

What does the author mean by page?

Many folks in the publishing industry define a manuscript page as 250 words, and the Editorial Freelancers Association encourages that definition.

However, you can define a page in whatever way makes the most sense to you. As Ruth Thaler-Carter notes in a previous blog post (see The Commandments: Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement Before Beginning a Project), Rich Adin uses a character count.

The key is to ensure you and your client are using the same definition of a page.

Let’s say the author from the ad is using the 250-word definition. That’s a 22-page document, resulting in a $198 payday:

5,500 words/250 words per page = 22 pages
22 pages × $9 per page = $198

If you can edit seven pages an hour, you’ll complete the project in 3.14 hours. Even if you round up your total to 4 hours to account for administration work on the project, you’ll earn $49.50 an hour. That’s a good rate in my book.

Even if the editing take longer, say four pages an hour, you’ll spend 5.5 hours on it. Round it up to 6.25 hours, and you’ll earn $31.68 an hour. Depending on your circumstances, this could still be a good rate. (However, it’s always a good idea to calculate your required effective hourly rate [see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand] ahead of time.)

But let’s say the author means one page is equal to a page in the Word file, not an uncommon occurrence. How many pages is this according to our 250-word definition? The total will vary greatly depending on several variables, including font, font size, leading, length of paragraphs, and margins. If you haven’t seen the document or been given a page count, you’re taking a risk on being able to make a decent hourly rate on the project.

How much of a risk?

In Ariel 12-point type, with a couple of boldfaced headers per page and a 1-inch margin all around, 5,500 equals about 10 pages. At $9 a page, I’d earn $90 on this job. If I edit at seven pages an hour, I’m earning just $22.50 an hour. If I edit at four pages an hour, $14.40 an hour. Ouch!

And let’s not forget that this is an academic article; it’s very likely the article includes citations. Are these footnotes or endnotes, which aren’t automatically included in Word’s word count? If you’ll be responsible for editing those citations, your editing pace and subsequent hourly rate dropped again.

Define and Negotiate

It’s crucial, then, that you’re using the same definitions as your client. This could be a good, quick job or a miserable money loser. Ask your author the following:

  • How do you define a page? Offer your own definition and see if they’ll accept it.
  • What do you mean by “light copyedit”? Try to discover what the author specifically wants done to the article.
  • What are my responsibilities regarding citations? Are they included in the word count?
  • Can I see the entire manuscript first? Determine for yourself whether you can edit it to the client’s satisfaction in a timeframe that earns you a decent paycheck.

At this point, you should have enough information to determine whether that $9 per page is acceptable. If the answer is no, it’s time to negotiate:

  • Tell the author how much you would charge to do what’s needed or wanted. Emphasize what the eventual outcome of such an edit would be. Sure the manuscript will be cleaner, but so what? Your job is to explain the “so what”: higher quality leads to better reception by the assigning editor, a greater chance for more work, a more positive reception by readers, and a rise in the author’s reputation.
  • Tell the author what you would do for the offered rate. If the author is truly cash-strapped but wants your services—and you want to work with this author—you could do less editing for less money.

Define your terms with the client. Negotiate for what you want. And if you and the author can’t agree, gracefully let them go on their way.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

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