The Business of Editing

by Susan Holzman

In an issue of the 21st Century Text dedicated to editorial practice, it is appropriate to talk about the business of editing alongside the professional “doing” of editing. As an experienced editor and a senior member of the teaching staff in the Certificate Program at David Yellin Academic College, I took it upon myself to write an article on this relevant topic. However, in spite of my experience and elevated status, I think some background is in order.

My life has been a series of unexpected, wonderful challenges. I realize that the characterization of what an unexpected, wonderful challenge is might vary. For one person, it might be the opportunity to climb Mount Washington; for another, it could be the opportunity to participate in a marathon; for a third, it might be something completely different. When the time comes to face a challenge and overcome it, we may wonder, “Are we up to it?” “Can we endure?” “Will we succeed?” One possibility is to over-think the challenge and back out. Another option is to rush into a flurry of preparation. Or we could just go for it, come what may.

When the challenge of climbing Mount Washington presented itself, I took the third approach.This challenge did not end disastrously, as it might have considering my lack of knowledge and preparation. I did reach the summit, but with no feeling of exhilaration at my success. But with other challenges that have presented themselves, I have taken the second route, preparation and planning, and this has led to many successes and a great deal of satisfaction.

One of these challenges was the opportunity to teach professional English writing courses at Teva Pharmaceuticals in Israel to research scientists writing for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In this case I did plan and prepare, meeting with the initiator of the classes and reviewing the types of documents that the learners would be expected to produce. The how and why I received the offer are not relevant here, but the offer was made, and I was told to let them know how much I would charge for the lessons. If the truth be known, I would have done it for nothing. The thrill of the challenge! New opportunities! New experiences!

I had always been a salaried teacher. Like my teaching colleagues, I had always been paid as little as the institution I worked for could get away with. What to do? I figured something out; it was probably way too little, but it was the best I could come up with. A businesswoman I am not! On the other hand, I felt that I had reached this experiential summit successfully and gloriously, and I felt the satisfaction of a challenge well-met.

Now I wanted and hoped to remain on Olympus. How is it done? Advertising? Marketing? Creating a web page? Writing a blog? Well, without doing anything much, the challenges came, sometimes in clusters, leaving me frantic; on occasion, they were nicely spaced, leaving me time to breathe and reflect; sometimes they disappeared for months and left me feeling that I really should look into the marketing and webpage options.

One of the challenges that I encountered was what I call “salvage editing.” A colleague of a friend had an article accepted by a high impact journal; she had then worked with an editor on the revisions suggested by the reviewers and resubmitted the article.The next communication from the journal informed her that the article had been re-reviewed and would be rejected unless major revisions were undertaken. The article had probably been read by a new set of reviewers; nevertheless, their decision was binding. She asked me to work with her on getting this article published. So here the challenge was to save the article, revive, and resuscitate it! A definite challenge worthy of my skills! This was my first editing job. Although I had never done any freelance editing before, I had spent years perfecting student papers and I had taught academic and professional writing. But again I was faced with the dilemma, what to charge? I did not know. I took an hourly rate, and I was comforted by the fact that the author had a research fund and the college paid my bills. I never knew if it was a lot, a little, or just right. And yes, the article was accepted for publication. I have since been hired on more than one occasion to reedit manuscripts that had been reviewed and rejected for various reasons.

In spite of my growing experience, I am really not the one to give advice on running a business or charging for a project. I am a thrill-seeker, plain and simple, and I cannot be relied on for any real practical advice from my own experience. I have a steady, albeit small, monthly pension and money is not my prime motivator. I am a challenge junkie just out for my next “fix.” That being said, I can suggest that future freelancers get some very good advice from people in the know. Such people often generously share their expertise on the web, so here is my very practical advice. Read the wise words of Ruth E. Thaler-Carter. She has posted three articles that I deem essential reading for all freelance editors: “The Commandments: (1) Thou Shall Be Profitable,” “The Commandments: (2) Thou Shall Be Efficient,” and “The Commandments: (3) Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement before Beginning a Project.” The third commandment, establishing the rules of engagement before beginning a project is the heart of the matter of pricing a project. It is suggested that the editor define a page, the fee, the service, and who does what.

In addition, there are several LinkedIn groups that offer discussions and support for editors, writers, proofreaders, and freelancers. In Israel, there is an organization that supports translators and editors, The Israel Translators’ Association which has suggestions for what they call “Payment Practices.” There is also a local forum for editing professionals, COPI (Copyeditors and proofreaders, Israel).

And to be even more business-like, there are matters of income tax and local taxes and fees to be considered. Every country has its particular laws, rules and regulations.It is best to consult an accountant for the best advice for your location’s procedures. Moreover, there are always local people who are willing to share their expertise on the net. Mor Getz is such a person here in Israel and she explains some of the mysteries of local taxes and insurance. Another local site gives advice on running a small business in Israel. On such matters, ignorance is not bliss; it is the shortest route to fines, back taxes, and trouble.

My approach to editing is serious, dedicated and professional; I work as hard as I can in tandem with my clients to create the clearest and the most accurate text possible, one that reflects the spirit and message of the author in the best possible way. Business? For me, it is a necessary evil. However, as a serious, dedicated professional, I do what needs to be done while still enjoying the thrill and the challenge of each text.






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