Case Study: Solving Problems in Working with Indie Clients  (part 3 of 3)

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 two are addressed here and here

Here’s the third concern, in the editor’s own words:

“The general perception regarding the market value of the work. I think it’s not highly valued, so it’s hard to make myself always charge what the work is worth. I’m careful not to severely undercharge, because that would be unfair to everyone, especially other freelancers, but it’s stressful for me to propose a fee or rate when I’m sure it’s going to be a shock to the potential client. It’s hard not to internalize that people just won’t pay that much money. And despite rate charts, which I don’t always think are great, my experience is that editors are all over the place with what they charge, so there’s no clear perspective on what is ‘reasonable.’”

I agree that there is no clear perspective on what’s reasonable to charge for an edit. I once asked several different editors what they would charge to do development on a ms and received quotes ranging from $500 to $5,000. Same ms, all apparently skilled editors (colleagues had referred them).

Here’s the thing. I threw out that $500 quote because I figured the editor couldn’t possibly do a thorough DE for that kind of (in my opinion) unprofessional fee. The $5000 fee was from someone with no experience in the genre I wanted to have edited, so I declined that one, too, and landed somewhere in the middle. But another author would have made a different choice – one might have chosen the $500 editor for budgetary reasons, and another might have chosen the $5000 because she’d worked with several bestselling authors.

I also happen to know that all of the editors were getting clients who paid what they charged. So, which one is charging the “right” or “reasonable” price?

All of them.

A long time ago, one of my colleagues said something that has stuck with me ever since:

“What your clients can afford is none of your business.”

As an editing teacher, I’ve had students that I know have to save up their pocket change over weeks and even months in order to afford my classes. I also have students for whom my registration fees are a rounding error in their checkbook, like me dropping a nickel in the street. And in no case is it any of my business which it happens to be. That’s their business.

I often find creating scenarios can help people grasp what I mean by this. Imagine if you were buying a laptop from Amazon. Imagine Amazon being worried about whether you could afford it. Do you want Amazon to worry about that? Probably not. You’re probably thinking, “I’m in charge of my budget, not Amazon.” Now, imagine Amazon saying anxiously, “Oh, dear, are you sure you can afford this?” You’d find that pretty condescending, I bet.

Now, if you’re on Amazon looking at laptops and you find out the one you really want is out of your price range, do you expect Amazon to lower their prices for you? Of course not. You find a different brand or move money from a different part of your budget or pick a lower-priced model or put off the purchase until you can save up more money. But you don’t think that it’s Amazon’s problem to solve, do you?

In this scenario, you’re Amazon. You put your offer out there. You know that not everyone can afford the laptop they want, so you have different price points and different brands and models, but you don’t think that deciding how they’re going to spend their money is up to you. That’s up to them.

When you’re setting fees, you have to set fees based on what you need to earn, not on what your potential clients can afford or what you think your potential clients can afford. If you only need to earn $500 a week because you live in a low cost-of-living area or because you’re not a primary breadwinner in your family, and you can complete an edit in one week, then, sure, charge $500 an edit.

But if you live in a higher cost-of-living area and you’re responsible for the rent and the utilities and the health insurance and the groceries and the occasional movie, you’re going to have to charge closer to the $5000.

If you can’t get clients at that fee, you will have to reconsider how you market and to whom you market, and you may have to reconsider what type of editing you offer (personally, I sell more ms evaluations, which are less costly, than I do full DEs to indie authors). But you can’t just lower your fee for the same work to be “competitive” when that means you won’t be able to pay the rent.

One thing I do to make sure I’m not wasting time (mine or theirs) with potential clients who can’t or won’t afford my fees is to be very upfront about them. On a potential client’s first contact with me, I quote a range and then ask to look at the ms before finalizing a project quote. This means people who can’t afford or don’t want to afford me will realize we’re not a good match and they’ll say, “Oh, no thanks” before I spend a lot of time talking with them about their project. Including prices ranges on your website can be a great way to reduce sticker shock.

It’s true that some (maybe even lots) of people won’t pay what we have to charge. And that’s okay. The trick is not to get stuck in thinking “lots of people” equals “all people.” Instead, focus on finding the people who will pay more because they think you’re worth it.

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