Recently, a developmental editor colleague expressed some frustration around working with indie authors. She had three main areas of concern, all very common. The first is addressed here. I’m addressing the second today. I’ll address the third next week.
Here’s the second concern, in the editor’s own words:
“Scope creep: I do it to myself! Oh, I’m just going to take another pass, or I’ll just rewrite this for them (instead of just editing it), or I’ll just do this other thing, too, it’ll make it so much better.”
Here, the editor already recognizes that she does this to herself, and that’s the first step towards fixing the problem.
If you’re not sure what scope creep is and whether you might be experiencing it, check these links out:
But if you already know that you’re doing this to yourself, there are a couple of steps I want to suggest.
The first is to define your typical process and stick to that process. My process is: I do one read-through of the manuscript where I just note my reader reaction to the work and don’t try to edit. Then I organize my notes into some sort of coherent reaction to the ms, identifying the main developmental concerns I think the edit will cover (this sometimes changes as I continue the edit).
Those notes become the basis of my revision letter. Then I start the edit itself, writing editorial queries throughout the ms and making whatever edits I need to make (typically addressing egregious errors – in development I don’t do much line editing unless that is part of my agreement with the client). I do the edit straight through, over the course of several days.
Then I draft the revision letter. I let the edit and letter sit for a day or two. Then I make one final review of the edit, making sure all of my queries are necessary, diplomatically stated, and clear in their guidance. I revise the revision letter to ensure it supports and reinforces the ms edit/queries. Then I write a brief cover letter and send everything to the author.
That’s my process. Yours may be different. I know some people who have to write the full revision letter before they start the ms edit itself. It doesn’t matter what your process is, as long as you have one!
Once you know what your process is, it is easier to estimate how long an edit will take and therefore to ensure that you’re not undercharging. You can also consider whether you need to trim back any elements of your process to reduce the amount of time you spend on any one edit.
Then, actually create a “My Editorial Process” document that you consult before you begin each edit. This will help keep you on track.
If you’re afraid of second-guessing an edit, here’s a post on that issue.
The second thing to do is to clearly describe deliverables for the author, whether as part of the contract with the author or as a separate email that sets expectations. (See my project quote for an example.)
Identifying what exactly you’ll do—and making sure you’re being paid fairly for it—can help you keep from overdoing it. Remember that too much of anything can overwhelm the author. So, if your deliverables section states that an edit consists of a revision letter and an edited ms, it does not also need a spreadsheet listing all of the scenes and the viewpoint character for each, a video of you sharing your feedback, a handbook of personally curated resources, and a commitment to answer any question the author may have for the next twenty years.
Do what you said you were going to do and the author is going to be perfectly happy.
And the third step is time-keeping. You have to know exactly how you’re spending your time in order to charge correctly. Freelance editors frequently underestimate how long editing takes and consequently they vastly undercharge for their work.
Look at the process you’ve outlined and calculate, based on your time-keeping, how long each stage takes.
You might come up with something like, “for a 60,000 word ms, I typically take 7 hours on the first read-through and note-taking, 3 hours drafting the revision letter, 25 hours doing the main editorial pass, and 5 hours on the review.”
So, for any similar ms, it would take you about 40 hours to edit it. If you want to earn $50 an hour, then you would quote $2000 for the edit.
This is important because every time you take another pass or do additional work you haven’t accounted for, you’re costing yourself money.
Suppose I take a second editorial pass through the ms. I’ve just added 25 hours to my workload, reducing my hourly rate from $50 an hour to $30 an hour. That’s a huge hit to my income. Even if that extra pass is a quick one that just adds 7 hours, I’ve still reduced my hourly rate from $50 to $42.
If you’ve accounted for that second pass in your process and your project quote, then by all means take it! But if you haven’t you’re costing yourself money. That’s money that could be used to bolster your retirement account or buy your kid a new bicycle. It’s not some abstraction, it’s real: You are costing yourself money if you’re not following your process and are delivering things you haven’t promised (and which may not even be wanted).