The Business of Editing Q&A: June Dinner Report

Our June dinner meeting was a Q&A on the business of editing with two experienced editors. Peter Riches (Red Pony Communications) and Jackey Coyle (Wordy-Gurdy Publishing; President, Editors Victoria) gave us unfettered access to their knowledge and experience by answering a range of questions.

Jackey and Peter

Jackey Coyle and Peter Riches. Photo: Sophie Dougall

The Q&A session allowed for the audience to ask questions of the panel. Peter and Jackey both acknowledged that they were experts speaking to a room of experts, and encouraged people to jump in with answers or suggestions of their own to any questions. It was a lively and educational evening.

Natasha Saltmarsh faithfully reproduces the questions and answers for those who weren’t able to make it, or as a reminder for those who were there. Answers have been edited for concision and clarity.

Our Panellists

Peter Riches founded Red Pony, where he has been helping clients communicate who they are and what they do since 2006. As a writer and editor, he has produced clear and compelling text for websites, social media platforms, tenders, proposals, reports and a range of technical documentation, and is a strong advocate for the use of plain English and the creation of user-centric documentation.

Jackey Coyle is a professional writer and editor with more than two decades in publishing. Jackey’s experience spans research, writing, editing, proofreading, project management, and web and book publishing, as well as teaching writing at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Jackey also mentors writers and editors, both one-on-one and through her small-business course, 'Dance Steps for the Self-Employed'. She is also President of Editors Victoria.

The Questions

Jackey and Peter had jokingly made a bet with each other to see when quoting would come up, and the dinner attendees didn’t disappoint: it was the first question! (And the second, third and fourth.)

Q. Quoting. What are your tips to make the quoting process more time-efficient?

Peter Riches (PR): You can work out what you would like to be paid per year, estimate what this means per day, and come up with your hourly rate from there. Another factor that affects your quoting is what clients are willing to pay.

While the industry supports what experts will charge, your quote should consider your overheads and realistic estimated number of hours.

Metrics are vital – keep records for each project and you will be able to work out hours quoted against hours worked, and communicate with the client about what is realistic for your time. (This will differ for each editor.)

I use a rating system to note the quality and difficulty of each edit, and record this in my spreadsheet, using the data to provide realistic quotes against scope of a project.

Jackey Coyle (JC): Documentation is key; it’s much easier to generate a quote based on similar factors. Another important consideration is to begin to develop a good relationship with potential clients. Give a ballpark amount initially, and then develop a specific quote when you have more information and a sample of the project.

Q. How is it best to quote when trying to get experience?

JC: It’s important for editors to earn a living wage, and it’s important that their experience and expertise are honoured by clients. Inexperienced editors do tend to quote less than their more experienced colleagues. Don’t underestimate how long editing can take, and note that your billable hours have to be charged enough to allow for the extra time it takes to make up quotes and do admin, marketing, finances and professional development.

PR: Establish a relationship early on, and demonstrate through your communication that you’re a professional with sought-after expertise.

Q. How do you come up with a figure and how do you use the quality of writing to guide the creation of a quote?

PR: Work on a sample edit for 20 minutes, times it by three to determine how much of that project can be done in an hour, and quote accordingly.

There are tools that be used on the text that can automate some aspects of a review. StyleWriter gives the document a readability score.

The elements of a document that can add time to a job can include a bibliography, fixing client templates, use of jargon and dealing with inconsistent sentence length.

JC: When starting out [as an editor], a sample edit is incredibly useful [for your own metrics].

Q. Regarding book editing, how do you justify the quote?

PR: Qualify the work. Go to the client with information about the rate and the process. This filters out the ‘tyre kickers’. And let clients go away and think about it. If you quote seriously and convincingly, then it’s worth the time. Also, remember that editors should be prepared to say no. A good way to streamline the process is a good CRM [customer relationship management software program] to manage projects, contacts and opportunities [Peter recommends Daylite].

JC: Quoting can take time. Measure constantly and streamline your systems, to enable spending less time for each client and maximising the return.

Q. What do you think of sample edits for clients?

JC: Don’t do them for free.

PR: Occasionally a useful tool to assess the job. It is useful to look for ways (and software) that can automate and systematise how you read and assess documents.

Q. Is it worth having a tiered quoting system for simple > medium > complex jobs?

JC: It’s useful to have a rates schedule so you can provide a ballpark figure for quoting, then fine-tune once you’re able to assess the document. Quoting isn’t part of billable hours, so it needs to be efficient.

PR: Some sort of quality filter is good, providing a different level of service for different types of jobs could be difficult to do. It’s hard as an editor to not do certain things, or to leave a document with things not addressed.

Alarm bells ring upon being told, ‘this just needs a light edit’. [Cue lots of laughter from dinner guests.]

Q: PerfectIt – yes or no?

PR: Not on a Mac, Word on a Mac compared to Word on a PC is bad. PerfectIt is a good program though, and once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s worth using. On a PC.

[Note: Earlier in the year we heard from Daniel at Intelligent Editing that they hope to release PerfectIt for Mac sometime this year – but they have not officially committed to a release date so far.]

Q: Professional indemnity and public liability insurance for freelancers: is it a good idea?

PR: I have professional indemnity insurance because it’s needed for contracts, and other high-risk documents, such as tenders. Would like to never have to use it, but until you need it, you don’t need it. You have to do a cost–benefit analysis and weigh up the likelihood of needing it against its cost.

JC: Have never needed it. However, it’s good to know it’s in place.

Q: How do you deal with certain aspects of university boilerplate contracts and insurance clauses?

Responses from audience (A): Ask to have unnecessary clauses removed.

Q: How best should editors deal with authors who want to publish under pseudonyms?

JC: Seek legal advice if possible; it depends on the reasons for wanting to publish under a pseudonym, and one answer won’t fit all scenarios. Some jobs could potentially put editors at risk. [Jackey is] working with IPEd to get a legal Q&A on the IPEd website to assist members.

A: If a person can recognise themselves, despite name changes, then the responsibility for this can fall to the editor as well as the author.

A: Arts Law Centre of Australia can assist authors. For the price of their membership, an author can receive a limited number of consultations, as well as access to useful resources. Editors should recommend this to their authors.

JC: The onus of responsibility used to lie with publishers. However, with the rise of freelance editing and self-publishing, freelancers need to be aware of risks and how to access resources and support.

Q: Work bulges! How do you manage without losing clients?

JC: Triage – see what’s urgent, and negotiate deadlines with clients. Have a buddy system and split the work if it really can’t be moved around.

A: Answers from the audience included recommending charging a rush-rate and outsourcing. (Look at the Secret Editor’s Business Facebook group; there are often calls for help with overflow.) If you cannot accept a job, but can recommend someone good, the client will appreciate it.

PR: Clients like to see busy editors, and mark it as an indication of quality.

JC: When sending a quote, include advice about a block of time you can allocate to their job.

Q: A lot of time is taken by clients sending copious emails, requesting ongoing sample edits etc when their manuscript isn’t ready for it. Do you have a way to educate clients about the professionalism and expertise of editors?

A: [If the manuscript isn’t ready for editing] tell them you can do a manuscript assessment, and that you can work with the book when it is ready.

A: Be straightforward and clear about the level of service being provided. Ask the author what stage it is at: ‘Has someone other than your mother read it?’ [More audience laughter.]

JC: Take out the emotional component. Offer choices of edit, manuscript assessment or a substantive edit. Safeguard your time and energy.

Q: Noting the work done by PR at Red Pony, can individual editors be on government supplier lists?

PR: Yes, sole traders can be on government supplier lists. The Victorian Government has an open tender process for some panels, and application processes for others. Keep an eye out for these. Contact people in local government, find out what processes are in place for supplier lists and provide information to relevant people within departments or councils.

Q: How do you deal with scope creep?

JC: Again, this comes down to relationships. Pick up the phone and discuss the changed project parameters, and why the original quote won’t apply. It can be tricky, especially with a tight deadline.

Q: When starting out, how can ‘newbies’ find their first two clients?

JC: Draw on your existing network; this doesn’t necessarily need to be an editing network but can be your own local contacts. Your first real expense should be to get good business cards. Give information! Blog. Conduct an online audit of yourself (Google yourself), and make sure you’re happy with what you find (and change what you aren’t happy with). Get a good photo for your LinkedIn profile; tell your story.

PR: Keep doing new ways to network, share information, and find what works for you. Try, test, measure and assess.

Q: Do you do things for free?

A: The answers for this question mostly came from the other editors in the audience.

Doing work for nothing, or at very low sums, can sometimes bring about extraordinary results. It can be worthwhile to work for free to build up a portfolio, as well as building confidence.

Conversely, don’t devalue yourself, knowing when to give it away and when to charge is important. Choose for yourself when you work for free, make sure it’s for a good reason.

JC: I always block in time for some pro bono work such as writing, Editors Victoria and a radio music spot. If it’s editing, it’d only be a favour for a friend.

Q: How valuable is it to add on/value-add your editing?

JC: Very! Don’t risk weakening your core skills. However, it is worth your time to gain skills that will help you and your clients.

PR: Outsource what you don’t know; bring in other people with the skills you lack.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Both panellists laughed at this.

JC: Where do we start?

PR: Being told it ‘just needs a light edit’.

JC: Or that ‘it just needs to be proofread’. As well as bibliographies dropped in at the last minute.

Q: When starting out, how do I price myself? What are some tips about differentiating oneself?

JC: Editing is a craft, and if you focus on honing your skills first, your expertise will be recognised. Never underestimate the value of building relationships; ring your potential clients and communicate with them about what you can offer.

PR: Aim to improve your skills, and don’t compete with Upwork! If we treat and see ourselves as professionals, our clients will as well. Would prefer that work be done pro bono than underquoted. You have to charge a reasonable rate so that you can make a reasonable living.

JC: Make sure your branding is on point; be serious; get a business card. We help authors communicate, and that’s really important.

Natasha Saltmarsh
Events and communication subcommittees