A professional editor’s hourly rate

On his blog, An American Editor, Rich Adin, the owner of Freelance Editorial Services, first puts the matter of earnings into perspective with an array of statistics related to the cost of living in various parts of the United States. Then he argues that a freelance editor in the U.S. can’t stay in business in 2014 by charging only $10 an hour, and he goes on to calculate for his blog’s readers the costs of an editor’s minimal living and business expenses, concluding:

The $10/hour wage has multiple effects in addition to not being a “living” wage. The more often editors say they will work for that amount, the more difficult it is to rise from it. If a goodly number of editors are willing to work for that price, then the market price is being set.

critiqueAdin’s post teaches a crucial lesson. In fact, if you’re a freelance editor, you should hang it on your wall.

Adin realizes there are hordes of people willing to perform editorial work for only $10 an hour in a competitive market that puts a hellish amount of torque on talented and experienced freelance editors. I think we all realize the free market has come to be revered in an almost spiritual way that somehow prevents many consumers, customers, clients—whatever you want to term those who hire editors and other freelancers—from admitting to themselves that they’re doing business directly with other human beings.

Thank heavens not everyone is so willing to take every last, little economic advantage, ethical or otherwise, to get ahead. Today, someone said to me, “Because I don’t like to work for free, I don’t like to ask people to work for free.” Right. Wow. Someone who has internalized the Golden Rule. Such people still exist. Thank you.

Actually, I work on commission, not for free, but my labor does look like some sort of magical chaos that occasionally has no value to anyone. I get that. Part of what I do involves editing, and I’m good at it. All of what I do involves being meticulously organized, and I’m good at that, too. Like Adin, I know the dollar value of my work and can shift instantly into militant mode when people don’t recognize it.

But, seriously, none of us should ever allow ourselves to forget, when we’re doing business, that it involves other human beings, their livelihoods, and their dignity.

When freelancers find themselves miserable working for clients who don’t pay well, I always tell them to get rid of those clients, so they can free up hours to work for clients who do pay well. It takes a great deal of self-confidence to trust that the logic will work, but it does.

It’s all about the reader

Alex Belth posted his Q&A with one of my favorite authors, Pete Dexter, on Bronx Banter almost a year ago. I didn’t see the interview until this weekend, but it’s worth sharing. Of course, I’m biased.

In his conversation with Belth and elsewhere, Dexter mentions the importance of storytelling and his desire to be entertained by what he reads rather than dazzled by beautiful writing:

…to me that’s the definition of what it is to be a serious writer. Which is to be good enough to talk about what you’re talking about without being so good that it’s all about your brilliance.

Editors at publishing houses are likely to agree. Their primary obligation, many would say, is to readers. As intermediaries whose job is to improve on writers’ efforts, they can face obstinacy that undermines the collaboration.

Writers can try to avoid severe editing by learning to read their own work with fresh eyes. Good critique partners also help, because they can detect problems long before the author considers his or her work finished. The amount of effort invested in revision based on feedback from impartial early readers of a manuscript can mean the difference between a dilettante and a professional writer.