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A Tale of Two Editors
Long ago . . . or, actually, in early fall of 2016, an author (also nameless) sought out an editor for her finished novel, and her writing coach recommended someone, whom she contacted -- eager to have her work polished by a first-rate professional.
This editor quoted her a price of over a thousand dollars -- with $1,000 in advance. The author was reassured that this was merely what she should expect to pay for professional editing, especially for a project of her novel’s length (nearly 90K words). She paid the editor and submitted her novel to him.
Two months passed, and while the author tried communicating with the editor to ask him to please finish editing and send her the finished Word documents, he was either incommunicative, evasive, or rude, and when she finally decided to find another editor, he gave her only the PDFs of the eight chapters (out of 18) he’d edited so far.
Finished chapters should have been given to her as Word documents, but he was too busy nursing his wounded pride to think of what he owed her for that $1K or the two months she'd waited.
He also refused to refund any part of the money she’d paid him in advance. He later relented and paid less than $100 back to her, though he’d edited less than half her novel and still refused to send her the Word docs for those chapters.
The author sent the PDFs and the rest of her novel to her second editor, who charged a modest amount for the unedited chapters and less to clean up the edited ones, after using Adobe Acrobat Pro to convert the PDFs to Word docs. She also formatted the novel for Kindle and paperback, charging a separate low-end, agreed-upon fee for that. All in all, for editing, she charged roughly half what the first editor would have charged for the whole book, and she worked closely with the author to ensure the project was edited and formatted to her liking.
While I won’t give any names in this story, it’s based on the truth of what happened for a real author publishing her first novel -- who dared to hope, after all the first editor had put her through, that another editor would be worth spending more of her hard-earned money.
The well-paid coach who’d recommended the editor -- even after all the author told him -- refused to report him and have his name removed from the list of recommended freelancers. He gave as his excuse that the editor had been sick lately, and she should cut him some slack.
This would have been easier to do, were it not for the fact that this "sick and to be pitied" editor had basically stolen a thousand dollars (the initial down payment) and given his client nothing but some PDF files and a hefty dose of asshattery in return for that huge sum.
An assumption that deserves to die
I know many professional editors are fond of saying “you get what you pay for,” but this is clearly not always true.
In this case -- as in many others -- it was the editor who charged far less who did superior work and who treated her client according to her belief that the client's time and money were as valuable as her own. And she's not alone.
There are other editors, too, who choose not to charge rates that are considered "fairly standard for professional editing” -- because they know what it’s like not to be able to afford those rates -- who do an exemplary job, exposing the cherished assumption “you get what you pay for” as the utter crap it often is.
Editors like this choose to serve clients who want top-notch editing for their books but who honestly can’t afford to spend what the professional editors they’ve contacted tell them is “a fairly standard rate for editors who take themselves seriously.”
Editors like this recognize that even $500 is a huge chunk of money to put down for something that may, after all, amount to little more than expensive proofreading.
I’ve heard stories of editors whose attitude -- when questioned about the price they quoted -- was defensive and dismissive: “Well, this is a standard rate for professional editors, and if you’re unable (or unwilling) to pay it . . . I guess you’ll have to settle for an editor whose work isn’t as professional as mine.”
They could also find an editor who's willing and able to work for less, while still doing work of exceptional quality. Because they do exist.
And their charging less doesn't mean they value their work less; it may just mean they enjoy working for those who can't afford the higher rates -- or those who've been shafted by high-priced editors who didn't deliver.
Let's clearly state what should be obvious: If an editor charges less, it doesn't follow that his work is inferior to that of the editor who charges more.
And any editor who actually shames an author for not being able to afford to spend a thousand dollars on editing . . . doesn’t deserve the client’s business.
Please note that I'm not slamming all editors who charge higher rates; there are good reasons why an editor may decide not to work for less than a certain amount per word. If you know how much you need to earn each month to cover your expenses and meet your needs and the needs of your family, the rate you set might not have any wiggle room.
If this is your reality, I see nothing wrong with you sticking with the quote that will pay you what you need to earn from your work. As long as you do good work and treat your client well, you have nothing to be ashamed of, if he's able and willing to pay the rate you quote him.
My ire is directed toward those who respond defensively and even rudely to potential clients who ask if they could possibly negotiate a lower rate -- as if these writers have insulted them by even asking and deserve to be insulted in return. It's also directed at those who assume that those who charge less (probably) do inferior work.
I'm honestly in awe of some of the websites for some of the editors I've seen recommended on Facebook. I hold nothing against honest and professional editors who charge more than I do. I hope the respect is mutual.
All I ask is that professional editors avoid shaming clients for their budget consciousness and using the "you get what you pay for" motto to justify higher rates -- implying that those who charge less do inferior work.
And then there are those like the first editor in the story -- who charge a month's mortgage payment (or more), who are rude and dismissive to paying clients and who then refuse to either finish the work in a timely manner or return the clients' money.
Editors like that don't deserve anyone's business, no matter what they charge.
Abuse on both sides
I know that many freelancers have been burned by clients and companies that have exploited them for crappy pay (or none), and many are determined that "never again" will that happen to them.
And I don't blame them. Some companies that hire freelance writers and editors pay very little -- if they pay at all -- and I don't blame freelancers for wanting to earn more than a pittance for their work. Either side of the transaction can be guilty of cheating or abusing the other.
I've poured hours into researching and writing an article only to have the client (who was paying me through an online writing service) ask me to make revisions -- on a $30 assignment. If the company had paid five times that much, I wouldn't mind having to make revisions, but the more time I spend on it, the more depressing my hourly rate becomes.
[To put it in perspective, my 2.5 hour kitchen helper shift pays more than I earned from that article (that took well over three hours of my life). And while that kitchen shift wears me out, I don't have to go back and redo it for free! Food for thought. And now, I'm hyperventilating a little. It'll pass.]
But when it comes to helping out fellow writers with tight budgets . . . please let's not be quick to assume that if they ask for a lower rate, it's because they don't think our work is worth more than that.
They recognize and want good quality work; but their budgets (like mine) only have so much to spare for it. The rest has to go to more essential things like a roof over their heads, food, clothes for the kids, gas for the car, etc.
If you can't afford to work for less than the rate you're asking, be honest about that, and be willing to help out if the author honestly needs to find an editor whose rate he can afford. You'll make a fan -- or a friend -- even if you don't gain a client.
Summing things up
Editors who do exemplary work and who specialize in helping (fellow) authors with tight budgets to polish their work -- with editing, proofreading, and formatting -- do exist. We're not unicorns, and we're not "too good to be true."
This is just the way we prefer to do business -- not because we enjoy having too much month at the end of the money, but because we relate to our clients with tight budgets, and we want to make sure they get top-notch editing at rates they can afford.
We might also work other jobs outside the home -- quite possibly the kind that a lot of people would look at and say, "Oh, man! I would not want that job!"
They're not "soul-sucking" jobs, though, and they provide a paycheck, which is a huge help when it comes to buying food, paying the mortgage, etc.
[It's a pretty sweet deal, too, if your co-workers also happen to be friends.]
We tend to be outsiders who learn to thrive in the freelance wilderness and who know how to live in times of plenty and in times of scarcity. It's a quality we tend to respect in our clients, too.
The example given by the first editor in the story horrifies us. We identify with the client, not with self-identified professionals who seem to think their clients' time and concerns are less important than their own.
To sum up the story . . .
Editor A charged over $1K, did a terrible job, and was a total jerkwad to his client.
Editor B charged about half what Editor A charged, did a great job, and treated her client as she would have wanted to be treated.
So, in this case, at least, the higher price of Editor B did not lead to superior quality work or customer service. In fact, both were inferior to the work and service provided by the less expensive editor.
I'm not saying this is always the case, because it isn't. There are some editors out there who charge a premium, but whose clients are very happy with their work and with their customer service. And good for them!
But there are enough cases like the one in my story to justify questioning the assumption that "you get what you pay for."
So, can we please, please stop saying that? Plenty of us don't believe it, anyway. And it's not because we're insecure or angry and out to piss on every editor who charges more than we do.
If an editor needs to charge more, then fine -- he should do so. But there's no need to denigrate those who charge less.
It is possible to respect each other, no matter what we charge for our work -- as long as we do good work and treat our clients the way we'd want to be treated.
No one needs to sell their services by adding, "If you think my rates are too high, I hope we can agree that (generally speaking), you get what what you pay for."
Let's dispense with the assumption that higher cost automatically guarantees better quality work. There are terrible editors and amazing editors at pretty much every price range. Less expensive does not equal inferior.
One more tidbit:
The words "you get what you pay for" are based on inductive rather than deductive reasoning, and while there are specific editors whose examples may lend support to it, there are plenty of other editors whose examples argue the contrary.
And with that, I'm done.
Have you had a disappointing experience with an editor -- one you hired or one you contacted to ask about their rates?
Or do you take issue with something in this post and want to add something for the benefit of other readers?
Thank you for spending some of your valuable time here, and I hope to read something from you, too.