Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Costs of Editing

Good morning everyone,

I hope you've enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend. I did, though there's something to be said about the joy of climbing back into your own bed, listening to the breathing of your dog, and falling asleep with a window open. No cat hair clinging to nearly every surface. No clammy sweat from sleeping in rooms where you could easily bake pottery. Your own space, your own schedule. It feels good to be up on this early morning and writing (and oh, the thousands of words on the docket for the day after this post ...)

Today, we'll take a break from Editing Out In The Open - don't worry, there will be more - to talk about the costs of editing. And while 'cost' is often a loaded word that leads people to clutch their wallets tighter, or feel pangs of guilt about dealing with money at all, even though I am going to talk about the monetary expense, I also want to look at some other costs involved in and around editing. Maybe you've encountered them, maybe you've never thought about them - but that doesn't make any of them less true or less worthy for your consideration.

I. The Financial Cost - Like so many other things in life, there's a financial component. If you want something edited, you're going to pay for it. Yes, I know there are exceptions to this - where you've received offers of free editing, or if you've bullied someone into it, or if you're working in trade, but on the whole those offers and actions are the minority.

Some editors charge by the word, others by the page. There is no one single all-encompassing "right" way to do it. It's likely there are even more ways to price out editing, I just haven't thought of them or heard of them. Again, it doesn't matter what the method is, it only matters how good/helpful the work is. A good editor is a godsend, helping the writer improve not only the specific book in their charge, but also impacting future books by illuminating habits and problems endemic to the author as part of the larger relationship. A poor editor is a hindrance, retarding the process, impending the expression of talent and ultimately doing a disservice to both author and work, all under the guise of collecting a check that may likely have many zeroes in it.

We'll assume for this section that you've hypothetically come to me for editing, and that our schedules have worked out as to make this relationship viable. As I have discussed elsewhere, the first thing I'll do is lay out a contract, explaining the costs and the timetable for doing work together. I want there to be no mystery or confusion about the money that is going to change hands here, how that money is being delivered and when that money transfer happens. I don't do that to feed my ego, I do that so both writer and editor know that this relationship has a transaction component, that even though I may enjoy the work and enjoy the author's communication, this relationship is built on the respect of work, and that I should receive money for my efforts.

The specifics of that cost are based on the number of words in the project, and the timeline for the project going forward. Have a lot of words? Have a lot of words AND you need this done quickly? Expect a higher price than if you have plenty of time or relatively few words.

So I explain how much money you're sending and how much I'm getting, and we have come to an agreement as to when this is happening - so often that means one lump sum at the end of my work, or split up over a period of time and milestones in the project, or split simply in half. Whatever the schedule, it is followed.

You should pay your editor a reasonable amount. Yes, they might price out the work and the number might really make your eyes widen and you might liken their numbers to mortgage payments or months of rent or think about how many steak dinners and milkshakes you could buy. Yes, you might even have the thought that if editors all charge as much as this quote that we're all swimming through large pools of money, cavorting in our wealth and using tens and twenties as kindling in the winter.

We're not. We're so not. Just like you might be a hard working office employee who makes more than a retail clerk and vastly more than a sweatshop laborer, you're not driving a different car to work everyday and employing a cadre of servants to fan you with fronds, peel your grapes and dust your doilies. There are bills and expenses, and yes, there might be 'fun money' set aside for a social life, but that's no different than what you're doing. And no, just because you're paying out several hundred or thousands of dollars, you don't get to dictate what I do with that money.

When you take a price quote from an editor, you may be very tempted to haggle. You may look at the number and it may be several times larger than your expectation. Now you may have experience in stores being able to talk the clerk into knocking the cost of shoes, coffee or clothing down somewhat because it's the last one, or you've had a long day or because the little button on the end is only lashed to the material with six and not seven stitches, but so often that ability leads people to think that everything is negotiable, that there is extensive power in manipulating the costs, and that you can easily grow entitled and spoiled thinking that people aren't going to mind not receiving the paycheck they deserve.

Would you be upset if your boss came to you and said,

"You know [YOUR NAME HERE], you're doing a great job, and we're excited to have you working with us here, but we've gone over the numbers and quite frankly we've decided that for the next 40 hours of your job, we're going pay you half or less of what you're used to. Heck, we might just pay you ten percent. Oh, and there's a chance we won't even pay you at all! But, we look forward to seeing you in the office for the next 40 hours. And you'll likely have to work some overtime. Oh, and hey, I heard you wanted to pay off your mortgage, good luck with that!"

This is something I hear a lot, only without the office elements. And for some reason, because I'm not likely if ever wearing a tie when I edit, and because what I'm editing is something you wrote on weekends and late nights and before the kids got up and in your free time, that I must be doing what I do in my free time, so money's no thing.

Do you know what I do in my free time? Here's a hint: Not editing.

Pay your editors.

II. The Social Cost - An editor is going to help you write better. For me, that ideally means I've not only shown you within the manuscript where the problem areas are, but I've gone even further and explained to you why possibly you're making those mistakes time and again and how you stop doing them for the next project.

This can be frustrating. This can be humbling. You might really think I'm a jerk for pointing out your shortcomings, that I delight in saying you don't know how to use a semicolon or that your sentences are vague. You might even dislike hearing from me because it means you've done something wrong and that people are going to find out and shun you from all the cool tables and events.

I have to tell you, I don't talk much about my clients' problems. If the relationship was a difficult one, I may warily say something to a close friend of mine that I gained a few more gray hairs over it, or I might confide in my companion that she'd probably have a much happier boyfriend if he didn't have to sit down tomorrow and edit a particular section for the umpteenth time, but I don't throw my clients under the bus, and I have the expectation that they don't chuck me under there either.

Yes, you might not like hearing that you are in fact, not a perfect snowflake, that you make mistakes both large and small and that your work has errors to address. This might not jive with everything you've heard since the third grade when your parents told you in fact that your poop smells of roses and happiness and that you're the greatest princess in all the land whose flatulence spreads rainbows.

But you're not going to be ostracized for seeking help. No more than the addict who goes into treatment, or the athlete who seeks out a trainer. You want to improve, you get help. I really don't think that's as stigmatized as it used to be, nor is it a sign of weakness. It's a sign of a desire to be better than you are, which I find noble and courageous. You're to be commended, not chastised.

III. The Educational Cost - In a healthy writer-editor relationship, you're going to learn things about writing, about your own writing and about yourself. You'll learn why you can't just mash twenty words into a sentence or why you need to be more clear about how many 'he's you put into a paragraph. You might even learn about why you're afraid to finish a project, or why you always seem to get stuck when you reach a particular part of a story.

These lessons may be hard fought, these lessons may not come easily, and only after you grit you teeth and wipe away a tear and stop cursing either yourself or someone else. Learning new things can be tough, but there is little else as rewarding as overcoming something that previously held you back or gaining confidence in discovering you can accomplish something previously thought impossible.

Let me tell you a moment about the other side of that coin. Let me talk to you about how the editorial Spidey-sense doesn't shut off, not without a lot of effort or good distraction or something significant. I have been known to edit the menu at the fancy restaurant. I once commented loudly about how a sales flyer would do better if the headline wasn't passive. That's the dark side of editing, once you start knowing the mistakes, you see them. This revelation of the Matrix can be good, because you can catch yourself or maybe help someone else avoid a problem before it starts, but at the same time you can all too easily forget the joy of producing a thing because you're rather locked into looking for a thing's problems. And yes, problems are inevitable. Even after careful editing. Even after several editors. Even after years go by.

Don't forget to enjoy the work you're creating. Love the characters. Love the funny dialogue, and the way character A feels about character B. Enjoy that mechanic you developed for tracking players over time, and relish the opportunity to revisit a character in a sequel or trilogy.

Love your work, then love it enough to get it edited, and love it more when it's gone through hell and come out the other side even better.


I've outlined three costs, though I'm sure others exist. Feel free to let me know about them in the comments. Later this week we'll dive back into Editing Out In The Open, and I'll also announce some upcoming chances you have to hear me (and see me!) be interviewed.

Have a good day. Happy writing.

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