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I am an editor at the University of California Press and author of the first full-length handbook ever published on the subject of developmental editing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

DE for a Copyeditor’s Pay

Our first two contributions to the DE History Project share a major theme. Anonymous tells of her relationship with a small medically oriented academic press, which she once served as managing editor and retains as a freelance client. Nancy, also a freelancer, focuses on her work with a mid-sized publisher of how-to books in arts and crafts. Both editors report their clients’ general lack of awareness of what developmental editing is and how much their projects need it. These editors find themselves doing developmental editing for a copyeditor’s pay because their professional training emphasized “sense, organization, and content cohesiveness” as “vital aspects of ‘just’ editing,” and because they feel “as much responsibility to the reader” as to the author and publisher.

In my handbook, I advise freelancers to be clear with clients about the difference between copyediting and developmental editing and to charge a higher rate for the latter. This is easier said than done. Freelancers are understandably loath to turn away projects that ensure income; their major clients are often former employers with whom they have close and complicated relationships; and the line between heavy line-editing and developmental editing can be fuzzy. With a steady client, the freelancer may need to educate the publisher by summarizing the developmental work she’s done on each project as she returns it completed. Over time, she may be able to shift toward expressing separate copyediting and developmental components in her initial bids.

A freelancer may start by charging her developmental rate only on projects for new or “one-off” clients: the risk of financial loss is smaller should a client reject the bid. Once she’s been paid her developmental rate a few times, the freelancer should create a formal rate sheet, along with a list of books she’s edited that distinguishes the developmental jobs from the straight editing jobs. She’ll then have that material handy when new clients call.

As a former freelancer, I realize that self promotion does not come naturally to most of us. We editors are modest types who would prefer that our employers notice our fine work without our having to point it out—and remunerate accordingly. But publishers are struggling to cut costs and will pay as little as they can. So long as we keep the exchange upbeat in tone and constructive in nature, we should look for opportunities to introduce the subject of a developmental pay rate.

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