Professional Editors: Not Keeping Pace with the Indie Market

milkmanI have never lacked an opinion on most topics. In my youth I tended to speak my mind without consideration as to whether my statement might hurt a person’s feelings or upset the delicate balance of an individual’s protected world view. In time, I learned to be more diplomatic in my responses and through my executive career I learned that it is best to say things in a style from which people can hear. My topic today is one of those places where I am experienced enough to cringe at the opinion I am about to reveal, but determined that if said with tact it might still be well-received. I of course do so at my own peril and at insulting a group of professionals I both respect and rely on.

Professional editors are not keeping up with the Indie market in one very important way – they have out priced themselves in the one area of the book market which has growth. I came across a blog post the other day written by a professional editor – by professional I mean someone who has made a living editing for large publishing houses and who continues to generate income through his editing services. The blog author wrote a compelling argument that covered the importance of professional editing for Indie authors, discussed the value of editing services, and argued to other editors the “why” of the professional editing price tag. The last of these speaks volume to my opinion that professional editors may be living in yesterday’s world.

The author of the post did some quick math to demonstrate that a professional editor needs to make (or is worth) at least $100,000 a year and that in order to do so, he or she, is more than justified in charging editing fees of $50 an hour. Of which I thought, “good luck.” Others who commented appeared to also be professional editors and all readily agreed that such payments were not only a discount, but invaluable since a professionally edited book would make the difference as to whether or not an Indie author achieved success. Apparently none of these intelligent, well-written folks have read 50 Shades of Gray or the Twilight Series.

I don’t disagree with the sentiment that a professionally edited manuscript is important to an Indie author. I believe that every Indie author would, if they could, happily put his or her book in the hands of a professional. But in my humble opinion, unless professional editors can forget yesterday, their former careers in Chicago and New York, and really see the new book industry for what it is, then they will long be lamenting the end of their golden age. And here is the why:

1. The Past is the Past: Once upon a time there were dozens of large publishing houses to employ a multitude of professional editors. Like any corporation, they paid corporate salaries, with raises and profit sharing. I am certain many editors rose to six figure incomes. But then their industry began to recede. The recession was caused, in the opinion of financial analysts, by the very fact that publishing houses were not profitable. Many industries have seen this happen. Salaries out pace profits until shareholders decide they cannot make any money and then the retraction occurs.

2. What the Market will Bear: Today there are four publishing (or so) and they are surrounded by several small publishing houses and thousands of Indie authors. The Industry has changed and the buyer of editing services is no longer a large corporation, but the individual. It is no different than web designers who once were highly paid and who now compete with freelance and templates that cost a fraction of what was paid in the late 90’s. A very nice and functional wordpress blog costs nothing. A Website Tonight builder costs under $150. No one, but the largest of corporations, is paying $20k for a website. And no one is paying $50 a hour for editing services. Professional editors are anchored to their old salaries, but Indie authors are anchored to general industry costs. A formatted book at Create Space is $250, good cover art is $400, eBook cover art is as little as $75, and even a Kirkus Review is $375. Professional editing is still $2,000.

3. The Client’s Paycheck: A traditionally published author receives an advance and royalties for sales. The costs of production are initially funded by the publishing house. An Indie author receives no advance, has all the costs and may potentially make royalties. If we assume that Indie author’s day job checks are reflective of national salary averages then we can assume that the average Indie author makes an average of $38k a year (The U.S. national average of earned income). Yes, there are exceptions as some of us are in the Top 4%, but there are also a large number of retired writers and stay at home Moms writing books. I am blessed with a great career both creatively and financially, but I am not paying $50 an hour for editing. I cannot image any but a select few who could afford such and even those who can, can’t get our heads around that kind of hourly rate. It’s not a question of “value,” as editing is a very specialized field…it is a question of cost. An Indie author making $18 an hour cannot pay an editor $50 an hour and an Indie author making $100 an hour won’t pay $50 an hour.

4. Realistic Alternatives: There are plenty of places between a professional editor and no editor. The freelance market, while at times potentially shady, offers lower cost alternatives with set prices. Some charge $1 a page, some charge 1.3 cents a word, others charge flat-fixed rates. A professional editor will rightly argue that you get what you pay for. Perhaps but often you get what you didn’t pay for – like excellent work. I use a company called ProofreadersUS. They are fast and if they missed a grammatical error or a typo neither I nor my readers have noticed. Could a professional $50 an hour editor have done better? Perhaps, but would it have been worth thousands more? No.

I don’t believe that there is a solution that will satisfy this group of professionals because any solution will require they accept less money for their services or rethink the business model. The client is no longer the large corporation who negotiates salaries and pays for the best. Today’s client is fulfilling a dream on a very low budget and many are being successful without investing thousands into editing.

I left a comment on that editor’s blog and pointed a few of these things out. The market is moving beyond them, and although the book industry may not be the same tomorrow as it is today, it will never be what it was yesterday. Every professional knows that one must adapt or become irrelevant. I suggested that perhaps the answer for professional editors is royalty sharing. Charge a smaller up front fee and accept payment on book sales…if professional editing is the key to success, then there is little risk in this arrangement.

That is today’s book market and those are the rules if you wish to be a part of this industry. Without that change I am afraid the Professional Editor will soon hang in the hallow halls alongside The Milkman, The Iceman, The Television Repairman, and the guys selling long distance at 10-10-90.

2 replies »

  1. I agree with you completely. I will never become rich from my editing income, but I get a thrill at seeing an author’s unpublished manuscript and smoothing it out so it can be seen at its best. In fact, when all is said and done, the hours I put in with a book won’t even out to a decent per-hour rate, but I’m still satisfied with what I do. Those who think they can charge an arm and a leg for their services are deluded. An indie author may not ever make up the cost of the editing, much less cross over into Profitland, depending on the book and the market at any given time. I appreciate the fact that you recognize good work can be had for less money, and cheap doesn’t always equal a lack of skill.

    • It’s such a bad division in this new industry dynamic…arguments or criticisms between the traditional players and the Indie players. In the post I referenced there was an off hand dismissal of free lance editors that I felt was just more ignorant thinking. I support indie providers whether they write books, edit books or design the covers. I’m glad datmama that you joined the discussion!

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